Sunday, August 30, 2009

TV: Ghoul Watch

Last week saw the death of a politician. The Wednesday death could potentially effect multiple countries and the future for many years to come. It's the sort of death that actually merits extended coverage.


So naturally, the media either ignored the death of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim or treated it as something minor. There were exceptions. For example, Friday on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, guest host Susan Page (USA Today) and panelists David Ignatius (Washington Post), Barbara Slavin (Washington Times) and Janine Zacharia (Bloomberg News) demonstrated that grown ups actually could explore serious issues.

It wasn't that the media was death phobic. Please. We doubt they're done with Michael Jackson but they happily set him aside to jibber-jabber about US Senator Ted Kennedy all last week following his Tuesday night death. Despite the non-stop coverage, we rarely learned much. Maybe that had to do with the 'experts'?

Appearing Thursday on PBS' NewsHour, historian Michael Beschloss was asked by Judy Woodrfuff about Ted's father Joe Kennedy and what he wanted "for himself and for his children?" Beschloss replied, "He wanted to build a political dynasty that cranked out presidents, and he succeeded. And that's what's unusual about the Kennedys, because you look at the Adamses. You know, John Adams was not averse to the idea that John Quincy Adams might become president, but despite some of his critics, he didn't really have in mind creating a long political dynasty. Same thing with the Roosevelts; same thing with the Lodges and the Tafts, as Richard mentioned."

Did you catch it? Joe Kennedy "wanted to build a political dynasty that cranked out presidents and he succeeded." Uh, no, he didn't.



Now the Adams and the Roosevelts can claim "presidents." But the Kennedy clan? There's only been one Kennedy in the White House. You expect an 'expert,' a historian, to grasp the problem with his own answer.

And how is history served when facts fall away, when topics are judged unmentionable?

Wednesday night on The NewsHour, Tom Oliphant may have walked as close to the topic of
Chappaquiddick as the taste makers would allow, "I mean, he did not always have the best of relations with Catholic officialdom because of his personal life and also some of the issues that he championed, but he was a devout believer. I wish I had a dollar for every mass I've been to with him on the road when there was, like, nobody else except a driver." The word "Chappaquiddick" could be mentioned on Wednesday's Democracy Now!, it just couldn't be illuminated.

Amy Goodman directed Ted Kennedy hagiographer Adam Clymer to "talk about Chappaquiddick and how it derailed so much of what he wanted to do and also how he came back from that." Clymer yammered on about the 60s and "Jack's death and then after Robert's death" before finally stating, "He did run in 1980. And I think that what crippled his race then was Chappaquiddick. We know the whole story. He was -- drove off a bridge on an island with a young woman who drowned. He took too long to report it. And he got probably fairly gentle treatment from the local constabulary. He's said this was with him every day of his life and that he deeply regrets it. But I think it crippled his run for the presidency, and he hadn't expect it to, because he was easily forgiven and reelected by the voters of Massachusetts, so that that --."

A woman drowned?

Golly, Adam, did the woman have a name?

And when did it take place?

"We know the whole story," insisted Adam Clymer forgetting that not everyone is, like him, 72-years-old. Some hearing the story for the first time might assume this incident took place in 1980 since that was the only year he mentioned.

It was July 18, 1969 and Teddy was driving the car. The passenger was Mary Jo Kopechne. Ted had been drinking. Ted managed to drive off the bridge and into Poucha Pond. He also managed to extract himself from the car and swim to shore. Ted left. The next morning, fishermen saw the car, the police were called and the body of Mary Jo Kopechne was pulled from the car. The next day.

Whether Ted Kennedy's a murderer or not is something for speculation (barring any new evidence emerging now that he's dead). But there's no question that he was responsible for Mary Jo Kopechne's death. He was the driver of the car. He wasn't a child, he was already in the US Senate and, in fact, four months shy of celebrating his seventh year as a US senator.

It was a huge story and it was pretty much vanished last week. Despite multiple segments on three days worth of programming, The NewsHour slipped Chappaquiddick by in three brief sentences during a lengthy Kwame Holman report. Unlike Amy Goodman's program, however, The NewsHour did give Mary Jo Kopechne's name and the year she died. It's rare that a member of Congress is directly responsible for the death of an American citizen on American soil. But that is Ted's history and part of his legacy even though everyone worked overtime to cover it up or minimize it last week.

ABC worked overtime. Tuesday's Nightline featured not one but three segments on Ted: "Lion of the Senate's Storied Career" [watch here], "A Life Remembered" [watch here] and "The Kennedy Men" [watch here]. It and other coverage, anchored by Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, is already available on DVD from ABC for the they-think-it's-a-bargain price of $29.95. Wednesday, Nightline was back with three more segments, "Remembering Senator Kennedy," "Living in Camelot" and "The Kennedys Unite." But no matter how much time was spent, very little got said. For example, Wednesday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Jim Axlerod spoke with the Boston Globe's Marty Noland who'd spent 40 years covering the senator and this is all Noland could produce, "He was full of charm and he enjoyed the odd drop after hours and so do I. He could sing an Irish song like a Clancy brother put together. He could do that and he'd do it at an AFL-CIO meeting as well as he'd do it in a saloon somewhere." That's the best a reporter who's covered Ted for forty years could do?

Apparently so and apparently that's all anyone could offer. Whether it was CBS Evening News offering 'memories,' or Democracy Now!, or The NewsHour or Nightline, there was no difference and little more than cheers and platitudes.

Now we personally believe a death does not require days of coverage. The networks disagreed with us and turning on Saturday's evening newscasts was 'discovering' the apparently unexpected development that Ted Kennedy had been buried. Seems to us if you're going to use all that time, you should have something to show for it otherwise it appears the entire point was to manipulate reactions and, as Noam Chomsky and Edwards S. Herman would put it, manufacture consent.

It's really a juvenile to offer these Little Golden Book portrayals of politicians and indicates either a lack of respect for honest discourse or a lack of respect for the audience. Or maybe both.

Lance Selfa (Socialist Worker) observed Friday:

In the early 1970s, Kennedy and Rep. Martha Griffiths of Michigan supported the creation of a government-run "single-payer" system to make health care a right for every American. Kennedy and Griffiths ran into opposition from Republican President Richard Nixon and business organizations.
Kennedy abandoned his own bill in 1974 and later supported legislation that preserved the role of the private insurance industry in the health care sector. "My feeling is that this is the central cop-out of liberal leadership," long-time single payer advocate Dr. Quentin Young said in an interview with Socialist Worker in 2003. "Ted Kennedy was the author of an excellent single-payer [universal insurance] bill of 1971. But now, since it's not considered feasible, they don't even push for it."

Lance Selfa wasn't invited to share by the networks or by Amy Goodman. CounterPunch's Alexander Cockburn wasn't allowed to pass on this observation via the airwaves, "We also have Kennedy to thank for 'No Child Left Behind' -- the nightmarish education act pushed through in concert with Bush Jr's White House, that condemns children to a treadmill of endless tests contrived as 'national standards'." If he hadn't been shut out, Steve Early (CounterPunch) could've spoken this directly to the cameras: "But here’s what I remember about the same Ted Kennedy, who sided with corporate America in its late 1970s drive for deregulation, who was MIA during the biggest anti-concession battle of the 1980s, who pushed trade liberalization in the 1990s, and who settled short on health care reform for the last several decades." WSWS editorialized, "After 1980, there was little substance left in Kennedy’s professed devotion to social reform, despite his becoming the perpetual target of right-wing Republican attacks, which demonized him as an unrepentant liberal. From then on, Kennedy became what could be called a political minimalist -- eschewing any serious attempt to enact major social reforms."

Now had the networks and Goodman done what was required to note the passing of a 77-year-old from an illness, they would have each spent about three minutes and could then say, "Well, we really didn't have time to explore." But they made time, they devoted endless and never ending segments to the Death Pageant and, in the end, it all added up to so damn little reality.

The closest any got to reality was on Wednesday's NewsHour when Judy Woodruff spoke with Senator Orrin Hatch who declared, "Well, naturally, I'm grieving. Let's face it: I knew Ted was going to die, but I prayed for him every day hoping for some sort of a miracle. [. . .] I mean, let's face it. Of course, he had the best health care in the world, but I've got to say, it was an extremely bad diagnosis, and he knew about it, and he still had that same sense of humor, that same gift of gab, the same ability to try and do things, and I just totally respected him for the way he handled this illness." The news angle to have then pursued was to have asked Hatch about obligations and responsibilities. For instance, "Knowing he was terminal, shouldn't the 77-year-old senator have resigned?" But, no, that issue had to be avoided as well. To watch the scramble now to replace Kennedy, you'd assume he'd been struck by a bus or some other completely unexpected tragedy. In light of all the talk about Barack Obama's desire to include an "end of life" counseling option in whatever health-insurance-company-give-away finally emerges, it's surprising no one thought to offer Ted some end of life counseling.

And the Death Pageant continues. Yes, Ted has been buried, put into the ground, but still cheap and easy, non-investigative, non-news dominates. This morning, ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos serves up "Sen. Ted Kennedy's closest friends from both sides of the aisle -- Sens. Orrin Hatch and John Kerry." CBS' Face The Nation finds Orrin double dipping on the chat & chews as he joins fellow Congress members Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain and US House Rep. Barney Frank to share memories of Ted Kennedy. Two half-hours on ABC and CBS but step quickly, the pageant's float is coming down the road, yes, NBC's Meet The Press devotes the full hour to Ted ("tribute to the life, legacy and political career") where David Gregory sobs with Senators John Kerry (also double dipping) and Chris Dodd, eternal failure Bob Shrum and Kennedy clan members Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Maria Shriver plus historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who's spent the last four days comforting her bender prone husband.

Remember we told you there was a death with actual global and political implications? With the exception of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, try to find any program treating that death as news. Of course, it's Iraq-related and they all want to wish Iraq away. Not end the illegal war, mind you, just wish the entire topic away. The Project for Excellence in Journalism most recent findings are a 92% drop in Iraq coverage this year from the first part of 2007.

As disappointing as that is, it just studied Real Media, not Panhandle Media. Last week, Panhandle Media appeared to go overboard to demonstrate just how hard they'd work to avoid covering Iraq.

For example, Friday on CounterSpin, Janine Jackson declared in the alleged-look-at-this-week's-press, "Embedding reporters with US military forces is troubling enough on it's own." She then went on to sketch out Stars and Stripes revelations (click here for Charlie Reed's report) about the US government hiring the Rendon Group (p.r. outlet who helped sell the illegal war on Iraq) in order to 'vet' reporters attempting to embed with US troops. Embed with US troops? According to Janine, embed with US troops in Afghanistan only: "On August 24th, the paper revealed that potential embeds in Afghanistan were being screeened [. . .] Though military officials insisted that they would not deny a reporter an embed slot because that journalist's coverage was deemed too critical. As Stars and Stripes pointed out, though, that was precisely what happened to one of its reporters." It's sad to see someone sleep her way to the top of ant hill but then she opens her mouth and you realize how damn lucky Janine Jackson is to have made it that far.

Stars and Stripes had a reporter denied from embedding with troops in Afghanistan? No. Stars and Stripes had a reporter denied from embedding in Iraq? Yes. Heath Druzin. Janine screwed everything up and there will be no correction because (a) CounterSpin doesn't 'do' corrections and (b) they don't give a f**k about Iraq. What idiot Janine couldn't tell you, Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) did, the vetting is for reporters embedded in "Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere".

Another good example would be the white-ing-out of Cindy Sheehan last week. Peace Mom arrived on Martha's Vineyard Tuesday. She was there to protest War Hawk Barack Obama's wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Amy Goodman, like all others in Beggar Media, ignored her. As complaints began to get to Amy and as she got called out publicly for being a Barack Whore, she decided she had to note Cindy in some small way. Tim Robbins? He's got another bad play that most people will be avoiding and it's playing in LA -- no one sees theater in LA. No one. But there was Timmy Bob-bob-bobbings, apparently done with his 'nature' photography, shucking and jiving with Amy for an entire segment. Only one of many people given unneeded coverage last week by Amy Goodman. Cindy Sheehan?

Reduced to a headline. And reduced to Friday (as Barack prepared to leave the island) where it could do the least 'damage' to Barry O. And because Goodman's such a War Enabler, she made it the thirteenth item out of . . . thirteen items. Here is Goody's item:

And antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan arrived in Martha's Vineyard to lead a protest near the home where President Obama is vacationing. Sheehan made international headlines four years ago when she led large protests outside President Bush’s home in Crawford, Texas. On Thursday, Sheehan criticized Obama for expanding the war in Afghanistan.
Cindy Sheehan: "The only change I see in the foreign policy of this country has been a change for the worse. As Obama promised his base that troops would be out of Iraq, so far not one troop. He said that he would -- he did say he would send more troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and unfortunately that’s a promise that he’s kept."

Cindy arrived Tuesday. Friday, Goody Whore's telling you, "Cindy Sheehan arrived in Martha's Vineyard . . ." No, you don't arrive "in" an island. But apparently the Little Red School House doesn't teach grammer, just Marxist theories.

Goody Whore devoted four segments to Ted Kennedy's death and included him in every day's headlines as well. Apparently "Ted Kennedy Still Dead!" was news to some. By contrast, this was her full coverage (fool coverage?) of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim who died Wednesday:

In other Iraq news, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has died after a battle with lung cancer. The sixty-year-old Hakim helped lead Iraq's exile movement against Saddam Hussein before returning to Iraq after the US invasion of 2003. Hakim helped form the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite coalition that has dominated Iraqi politics since winning parliamentary elections in 2005.

A headline item, the sixth for the day. By the Thursday Goody was noting the above, Liz Sly and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) had already hailed al-Hakim as "a towering figure in the post-U.S.-invasion political landscape," Nouri al-Maliki (thug and installed prime minister of Iraq) was paying homage, arrangements had been made for a memorial in Tehran Thursday, one in Baghdad Friday and one in Najaf on Saturday.

The Shi'ite politician's death came as his party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, had joined with ten other Shi'ite parties in Iraq to form a new alliance -- one that excluded Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa party. Nouri was up for joining . . . provided they'd guarantee to appoint him prime minister if they won in January's upcoming elections. They refused to make that promise. Iran's Press TV called SIIC "Iraq's most powerful party" and adds, "The death of Hakim will add to political uncertainty ahead of national polls in January and after a series of devastating bombings." Who would succeed him? The Iranian Students News Agency explains, "Since his hospitalization in Tehran, his elder son Ammar Hakim has taken control of the SIIC." Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reports that Ammar al-Hakim is expected to be his "likely successor as party leader". The Angola Press observed, "Correspondents say the death of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) leader adds further uncertainty ahead of national elections next January." The Telegraph of London added, "The alliance includes Muqtada al-Sadr, and -- if it prevails at the polls – could introduce a new era of Shia dominance in Iraqi politics."

The death will most likely have huge implactions for the future of Iraq including the prolonged and no-time-soon ending US occupation. It will have implications on Iraq's immediate neighbors including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and those implications -- on an oil producing region of the globe -- will have further implications around the world. And the death was mourned by many Shi'ites in the US. Niraj Warikoo (Detroit Free Press) reported on Iraqi exiles in Dearborn Michigan holding memorials Thursday and Friday.

All of which makes it all the more shocking that Red Amy elected to sleight the passing while going ga-ga over the passing of a White, American male. For Amy Goodman 'expanding' the focus is leaving the parameters of NYC to cover 'far-away' Boston. As Nanci Griffith once sang, "There's a light beyond these woods, Mary Margaret." Someone tell Amy Goodman.

And someone tell all the media that we get why they love the Death Pageants. It's cheap to produce. You just find some archive footage, bring on a few guests who will rush to share unexamined thoughts and, as ABC's already demonstrated, in a matter of hours you can slap that puppy on a DVD and try to make a little money off of it. Actually, Death Pageant may be too kind of a term. It's really just the Ghoul Watch.
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