Jewish World Review August 11, 2004 / 24 Menachem-Av 5764
Adventures in medialand
In the great, tabloid tradition of papers like the New York Post and Daily News, not to mention the Boston Herald, here's a front-page headline spotted-no, not in New York or Chicago-but in a little suburban paper in Brookline, Mass. Which is just a short ride on the T from Fenway.
No, it isn't quite "Ford to City: Drop Dead," or "Headless Body in Topless Bar," two of the classics, but it still deserves a place of honor.
Over an otherwise dull, statistics-ridden story about a study showing that people seem to live longer in Brookline than in other Massachusetts communities, the headline in the Brookline Tab declares:
Brookline comes in dead last
There's hope for copy desks yet.
Can this be a headline out of the Onion, the nation's leading satirical weekly? "Inquisition Not So Bad, Says Vatican." That could be the gist of this dispatch from the AP the other day:
"VATICAN CITY -- Torture, burning at the stake and other punishment for the faithful condemned as witches and heretics by church tribunals during the Inquisition was not as widespread as commonly believed, the Vatican said Tuesday.."
Whew. That's a relief. Pity it's too late to tell Joan of Arc.
For people starved for Onion-like coverage of the news, there's always a daily dose of the New York Times. Here's a headline from the Times' front page last week: "Campaign Dogged By Terror Fight."
It's as if an American daily, in the election year 1944, had reported: "War Keeps Getting In Way of Politics.''
But the headline from the Times is real. You can look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say. (Page 1, New York Times, Monday, August 2, 2004.)
It's not easy deciding which piece of litigation is the silliest filed of late, but MoveOn has just made the task easier. That outfit has just filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission demanding that Fox News stop advertising itself - excuse me, cease and desist from advertising itself - as Fair and Balanced.
That's DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING! shouts MoveOn.org. (It tends to speak in all-caps.)
Of course Fox isn't fair and balanced - any more than the New York Times carries "All the News that's Fit to Print" - despite what it says every day on its front page. Fox is no more fair and balanced than NPR is objective, or, for that matter, MoveOn.org is "Democracy in Action," to quote its slogan. It's more like Hysteria in Action.
MoveOn hasn't moved on since the Clinton impeachment, or the Bush-Gore imbroglio of 2000. The particular candidate or issue may change, but not the slant. MoveOn stays stuck in its same political, rhetorical and high-pitched groove. Which is its right under the First Amendment, just as it is Fox's right to call itself "Fair and Balanced."
Besides, compared to MoveOn, Fox is fair and balanced.
And consider the effect Fox has had on American television:
For years, for decades, Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and their epigones (Dan, Tom and Peter of the Big Three) exercised a genteel ideological monopoly over televised news. The major networks made respectable news synonymous with liberal views, which were always presented in the most objective tone of voice. And to object to their well-modulated prejudices was considered, well, vulgar. Ask former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg, author of "Bias."
Just by coming into existence, Fox has made television news as a whole fairer and more balanced. Not just by offering a different point of view - but one the competition can't afford to ignore. The old established media now have got to at least pretend to tell the other side of the story. For that Fox can take much of the credit.
What's the media's greatest (aesthetic) crime of the season?
No, it isn't Michael Moore's ripping off the title of Ray Bradbury's great little book, "Fahrenheit 451," for the title of his propaganda film, "Fahrenheit 9-11." That cheap little trick gets only second place. The winner is . the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" as a campaign video!
Happily, the one and only hilarious, brilliant, campy, original "Manchurian Candidate" is still available, and it seems to get only better with the passage of time. As an Extra Added Bonus, it features not only a wholly different Angela Lansbury from the one we'd come to expect till then, but the affectless Lawrence Harvey in the role he was born to play - that of a mindless, inhuman robot.
When his brainwashed buddies from the service are asked to describe the thoroughly dislikable character Lawrence Harvey plays in the film - Raymond Shaw - they all turn into zombies, and mechanically recite: "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
It reminds you of the way all the defeated presidential candidates at this year's Democratic National Convention endorsed John Kerry.
(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and author of "No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton-Watching.)
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