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Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2000 / 20 Elul, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Ventura's media backpedaling makes fiction of his new book -- JESSE VENTURA is a man of exclamation points! His new book is full of them!

This might not surprise anyone. The Minnesota governor was a Navy SEAL ("Ready, aim, fire!"), a bouncer ("Get your hands off the lady!"), and a professional wrestler ("Hulk Hogan will pay!").

Though these jobs require lots of exclamation points, governors don't necessarily need them, certainly not during a time of low unemployment, budget surplus and almost no social strife at home or conflict abroad. Yet, Ventura feels the need to shout on every page: "If your state is handling welfare well, they cut your federal money!" "Career politicians love low voter turnouts!" Etc.!

Written exclamation points set off my phony detector. Unless a book or screenplay calls for someone to yell "Fire!" or "Don't shoot!", exclamation points shouldn't be used. In reasonable, persuasive discussions, exclamation points usually substitute for seriousness, rather than emphasize it. That certainly holds true for Ventura.

In "Do I Stand Alone? Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals," Ventura denounces the media for valuing sensationalism over substance. He deplores the press's tendency to "portray every story as a battle because that's what gets the public's attention." He inveighs against the "spin doctors" who package politics for the voters. And he condemns politicians who put their own interests above their constituents'.

In other words, Ventura declares war against every media trend, fad and tendency that created him. Now, I happen to agree with many of his media critiques; in fact I believe in them more than Ventura does because, you see, he barely means any of it.

It would take some serious brass for Ventura to call the TV network elite "jackals" - especially since they love Ventura. Recently, on ABC's "This Week," Sam Donaldson sounded like he was trying to buck up the governor's self-esteem: "People admire you because you say what you think. You step on people's toes, and you take a lot of heat for it." Tim Russert has had "The Body" on "Meet the Press" at least eight times since Ventura was elected.

So when given the opportunity to support his bold title, Ventura backpedals. "Tim, if you read the book, you'll find I'm actually very kind to yourself and the national media," he told Russert.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer gushed: "I love the title of your book ... . Here's the question, I may be a Wolf, but am I a jackal, as well?" The governor replied: "Well, you'll find, Wolf, that I was very complimentary on the national media on a whole basis. That was really focused at the Minnesota media, which I battle with much more." Indeed, the book offers virtually no criticism of the national press, just flattery for the people who put him on television.

And Ventura has another way of telegraphing to the heavy-hitters that he's not serious. When Katie Couric questioned him, Ventura replied: "Well, remember now, we always put provocative titles on books. You have to, Katie, you know that, to sell them." Ventura even told Russert: "Why are the media jackals? It's a great name. It fits good on the cover. And, you know, you have to be a little provocative because (we're) in the book business." After all, the profits from his book go into his bank account.

And why does Ventura think the Minnesota press is a bunch of jackals? When Russert asked him that, Ventura recounted how they sent more people to cover his appearance on "The Young and the Restless," than when he spoke about Minnesotan trade with China before the U.S. Congress.

"But," asked Russert, "what is the average viewer more interested in?"

"Well, that's the point of the book. Why are we interested in me being on 'The Young and the Restless,' other than entertainment? The media is turning into entertainment." Alas, Russert didn't ask why the Minnesota governor felt it was necessary to be on a cheesy soap in the first place.

Ventura's right when he says the line between politics and entertainment is blurred. Perhaps he should ponder that as he flits from soap operas to guest appearances on the World Wrestling Federation's "Summer Slam."

Ventura admitted recently in a speech that his biggest fault was having a thin skin to press criticism. That's honest of him. But it doesn't change the fact that the only reporters whom he calls "jackals" are the ones who know him best, disagree with him the most and don't get invited on "Meet the Press" to defend themselves.

Maybe there's a reason for that.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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