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Jewish World Review May 5, 1999/ 19 Iyar 5759


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Colorado Exploitation: Why Can’t CNN Just Go Home?

(JWR) ---- (
I’VE WATCHED A NUMBER OF TALK SHOWS about the Littleton massacre this past week and the hysteria is just appalling. This isn’t to minimize the tragedy: Any time 15 people are killed in an inexplicable fit of violence it’s a newsworthy event.

But the glut of coverage is astonishing.

On April 29, CNN devoted four hours of live airtime to the funeral of Isaiah Shoels; that the victim was black had, I’m sure, no impact on the network’s strange programming decision. It’s as if the war in Yugoslavia is less important because it’s in Europe; Americans have such a short attention span that they don’t realize that the spate of high school murders in the last two years isn’t particularly unique. In 1966 Charles Whitman killed 16 people at the University of Texas and it didn’t cause this kind of commotion. Of course it made the cover of Life and other newsmagazines, but not every reporter with a plane ticket was assigned to interview every single survivor, onlooker or relative of a victim.

Politicians, of course, are acting atrociously: from Pat Buchanan and Dan Quayle bashing the 60s counterculture (again), then Al Gore and Hillary Clinton spouting flowery platitudes and, finally, President Clinton issuing popular but meaningless statements about gun control.

According to the April 30 Washington Post, Clinton has plans to assemble a “group of education and entertainment industry leaders at the White House next month to discuss the role of the media in promoting violence.” I’m sure campaign contributions won’t be on the agenda.

Maureen Dowd, perhaps regaining her equilibrium after receiving the Pulitzer, nailed Clinton and his gang in a April 28 Times column: “After Bill Clinton sold the Lincoln Bedroom to Hollywood buddies, after Hillary became a Miramax flak, after Al Gore and Jeffrey Katzenberg hugged, after Tipper soft-pedaled her crusade to raise PG kids in an X-rated society for a decade after Hollywood honchos told her husband it would hurt fund-raising, they should spare us their opportunistic outrage. It’s fine to like ‘The Matrix.’ But you should not be entertained and financed by the same culture that you demonize and trash.”

Jimmy Breslin, still occasionally biting in his dotage, slammed Clinton in Newsday on May 2. First he blasted Hillary Clinton’s foray into New York, playing principal at public schools and cuddling with children.

Breslin, reacting to the NATO missile that killed upwards of 25 civilians north of Kosovo, was withering in his contempt: “Perhaps [Hillary Clinton] ought to go over there and pick up the pieces of kids killed by the war she and her husband are running. If you look at her lovely wave when she comes here to campaign next, you’ll notice the hands are covered with blood.” He then turned his attention to Clinton’s bogus conference described above: “For a fake and a fraud like Clinton, this is perfect. Blame a movie or video game. Stand up and say nothing and say it fast and with love. You pay him to help people make sense out of the moment, and he spreads confusion.”

Naturally, Republican self-proclaimed saint William Bennett and Democrat Joseph Lieberman (the coward who chastised Clinton last fall but then voted for his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial) are joining the drumbeaters. Bennett, singing the same hymn again, is confident in the “growing pressure on the entertainment industry to take responsibility” for its culpability in the decline of American culture. Give me strength. I doubt Paramount, the company that produced Mel Gibson’s Payback, will hand back its profits for a pat on the head from the likes of Clinton, Bennett and Lieberman.

In a pitch for his quixotic White House bid, Buchanan said last week: “It is profoundly regrettable that the President has chosen to exploit the horrific premeditated massacre at Littleton to, once again, scapegoat sportsmen, hunters and [other] law-abiding Americans who use guns for pleasure or personal and family safety. At a time when America desperately needs to hear an authentic voice of moral authority from the White House, the office is regrettably occupied by a draft dodger in the cultural war for the soul of America.”

I don’t particularly disagree with the gist of Buchanan’s statement, but it would carry more weight if he weren’t running for president and had served in the military himself.

Ceci Connolly reported in The Washington Post on April 29 that Gore held town meetings in Iowa (what, is there a key caucus coming up in that state?) and was, according to his adviser Robert Squier, “in such physical and emotional contact with these victims in Littleton, it powerfully affected him.” And this is where the stomach turns: “At a Victorian-era home perched on the bluffs of Dubuque, Gore recounted a private moment he shared with one parent in Littleton last Sunday. As the two hugged, the parent whispered: ‘You’ve got to tell me that these children did not die in vain. We have got to make changes; promise me that you will.’ ‘And I said, “I promise.”’” To the crowd, Gore continued, “I ask you all to join in making that promise come true because, if we all act together, we can; there is absolutely no question in mind.”

Ellen Goodman, the tiresome quasifeminist who’s unaccountably paid by The Boston Globe to spin out two thumbsucker columns a week, offered this stunning insight on April 27: “We need fewer guns and more adults. We need parents to be brave and the people who make money and fun out of violence to be shunned with deep, abiding shame.” But Ellen, how would Teddy Kennedy and his son Patrick get elected without the Hollywood and New York corporate money that funds their elections? The Kennedy fortune isn’t what it once was, after all.

I do agree, however, with Goodman’s May 2 comments about the rush to judgment on the killers’ parents. While Coloradans, and William Bennett, are ready to string them up, Goodman writes, after explaining that Dylan Klebold’s father had gone with his son to place a deposit on a college dorm room, and Eric Harris told his family that he planned to enlist in the Marines, “Before we prosecute parents for the sins of their children, I have a question. Tell me what punishment the law can administer that’s greater than a life sentence of pain for families who will forever ask themselves ‘Why?’”

The Boston Herald’s Jack Williams wrote in an April 30 column: “Hollywood hides behind the First Amendment, saying this video trash is a freedom of expression; artistic creativity. Nonsense! If we start boycotting this dehumanizing drivel and the studios lose money on a film, I assure you we’ll see an end to this filth. To do less is to allow the merchants of pain to dominate our children. It’s time we fight back.”

Is Williams speaking from a soapbox on Mars? Americans love violent and sex-drenched movies; if they didn’t, the film studios would’ve stopped producing them long ago. There will be no boycott: This is all pious and empty jabbering that’ll be forgotten three weeks from now, when the next Bruce Willis shoot-’em-up is the highest grossing film for the week.

Even Liz Smith, not content to document the latest eyelifts and butt tucks in Hollywood, as well as shilling for whatever magazine is paying her at the moment, felt compelled to inject her jest-thinkin’-out-loud opinion. Last Friday, she wrote: “I think schools should equip themselves not only with metal detectors and armed guards, but with a full competent staff of psychiatric guidance counselors. Teens—secretive, in perpetual emotional turmoil—need attention. And, attention must be paid!”

Since when are all teenagers in “perpetual emotional turmoil”? Maybe that’s the problem: the fountain of youth beckons elderly hacks like Liz and they get light in the head. Most teenagers are healthy, alert and socially adjusted. You get a few nutcases and society is turned upside down. This sudden outburst of ministry is out of control. Thanks a lot, CNN.

In addition, now more and more networks, not just ABC, are touting the high viewership they’ve experienced in the past week. It’s absolutely irresponsible the amount of attention Littleton has received in the quest for ratings: You want to talk copycat killings? Blame Rosie O’Donnell, Geraldo, Capital Gang and Hardball. As Clinton and his sycophants (why does Lanny Davis always come to mind when that word is used?) said so many times last year, “It’s time to move on.”

Tattoos and Marilyn Manson aside, there are some basic problems with public schools that have nothing to do with metal detectors. The single biggest hurdle is that today’s teachers aren’t very bright and don’t provide a decent education. That issue is a political football, like challenging the NRA, that politicians won’t touch: Nobody, even Republicans, wants to tangle with the American Federation of Teachers.

This is another reason that unions stink: You can’t get rid of most of these boobs, even if half of them can’t locate Wales on a map. Misfits in the schools? Sure, but one way these maladjusted kids were once brought out of a funk was by an individual teacher taking the time and instilling the thirst for knowledge. I doubt that happens much anymore.

And then there was the predictable Howard Stern revolt. After the Columbine shootings Stern made the following off-hand comment: “There were some really good-looking girls running out with their hands over their heads. Did those kids [the perps] try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls? They didn’t even do that? At least if you’re going kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn’t you have some sex?” I didn’t hear this segment, but I’m sure sidekick Robin Quivers said something like, “Oh Howard, there you go again!” while Fred Norris played some tasteless sound effects in the background.

That’s Stern.

And if you don’t like him by now, just turn the radio dial, just as I do when Rudy Giuliani pollutes WABC’s airwaves every Friday morning.

But no. Yahoo columnist Dusty Saunders of the Rocky Mountain News, stuck in a dead-end job on a dead-end tabloid in a dead-end city, raced to his computer to grab some fame of his own. Saunders wrote with his two thumbs: “Stern is a foul-mouthed, unfeeling slob who has carved out a career based on his callous insensitivity to his fellow humans.” He then called on the local radio station, KXPK-FM, to cancel his syndicated show in Denver. “If [KXPK] were really serious about ‘putting their arms’ around the community, Howard Stern would be off the air. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. Think broadcasting bottom line.”

Think salary envy, Dusty.

The Rocky Mountain News editorialized: “Let Howard Stern make his millions in other broadcast markets. He does not belong in Denver.” The Colorado House of Representatives, not to be outdone in a grab at constituent sympathy, voted 54-7, according to the April 28 Washington Post, “for a resolution asking that Stern be taken off the air in Denver and that the station manager apologize.” What? I’ve lived in Denver, and it’s true the air is thin, but you’d think the members of Colorado’s House would’ve heard of the First Amendment. There’re those ill-equipped teachers skipping work again.

The Boston Globe’s John Ellis, a columnist whose views are close to mine on most subjects, was aghast at Stern’s shtick. On May 1 he wrote: “The fact that Stern expressed no remorse and tendered no apology was hardly surprising. He has made a career of bad taste and offensive behavior... What was surprising was that not one person from CBS said or did anything to rebuke or even reprimand Stern.” Actually, as reported in the April 28 New York Post, Stern did offer an explanation of his Columbine routine. According to John Mainelli, he said, “I had zero intent to make fun of the situation. I’ve spent five days and 25 hours [on the air] trying to understand why it happened. I’ve got three kids in school. There isn’t a person on the planet who isn’t freaked out by this.”

But again, criticize Stern’s employers all you want; boycott their programming, but don’t expect them to muzzle a cash cow. In the unlikely event that Stern was fired over Littleton, he’d be hired by a competitor within 24 hours, probably by some GM who’s raising a stink about him now.

I applaud Newsday’s Paul Vitello for a more reasoned response to the Stern controversy. In his April 29 column, Vitello wrote: “Personally, I learned more listening to Howard Stern, the radio disc jockey who is being criticized for saying crude and inhumane things on his show the day after the massacre... It was a meaningless comment from a man famous as one of the nation’s greatest purveyors of meaninglessness. But in the midst of our phony national search for meaning, it seems about as good as any insight we’ll get.”

Start Talking, Shrub

While most of the media attention paid to presidential politics has focused on Bill Bradley’s surprising, if ultimately doomed, challenge to Al Gore, the George W. Bush backlash has begun with gusto. Part of it stems from the fact that he’s all but coronated as the 2000 GOP nominee and is raising money so fast that even Steve Forbes has to take notice. More significantly, however, have been Bush’s own missteps—not gaffes—an eager Beltway pundit pack is ready to pounce on. Bush, who’s consistently said he won’t start campaigning until the Texas legislature adjourns in June, is nonetheless drawing criticism for not making appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This is silly: Take the man at his word. Just because also-rans like Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer and John Kasich are toting their sleeping bags in those states, ravishing attention upon the locals, it isn’t necessary for Bush to do the same quite yet.

I find Bush’s slow reaction on the crises of the day more troubling. At this point, after organizing a huge staff and crew of advisers, he should’ve issued rapid-fire statements on the war in Yugoslavia and the Columbine shootings. And not waffled. Also, after an April 19 New York Times column by William Safire about Bush’s foreign policy views, a piece that was intended to trap Bush (Safire has never liked the family), the Governor said he expected to be the Republican nominee and then President of the United States. That was a bold declaration.

Unfortunately, he then backed away from it, saying he still hadn’t officially announced his candidacy, and “misquoted myself” in his comments to Safire. I certainly hope that fire alarms rang in the Austin war room after that fiasco.

Despite all this, it’ll take an unforeseeable disaster to derail the Bush campaign. I’ve talked to many Democrats in the last several weeks and all they can muster against the Texan is the possibility that some “bimbo eruption” will torpedo him during the fall. This is laughable:

If, in fact, Bush has lied and hasn’t been faithful to his wife, as he’s repeatedly said, then he’ll be drummed out of the race; deservedly so, if only for pulling a Gary Hart type of challenge. But those who know Bush well say he’s got nothing to hide. As for the alleged nude dancing on a bar while in college, dabbling in drugs in his 20s, too much drinking at the same time, so what? Bill Clinton has inoculated all candidates from ancient shenanigans, John McCain included.

This wishful thinking that a Bush bombshell about his personal life will surface is a sign that the level of panic in the Gore camp is approaching the red zone. Count on a major reorganization in his campaign apparatus soon.

Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg wrote a prescient column on April 12 that was most likely dismissed by the conventional wisdom slaves who think they’ve seen it all.

Rothenberg suggested that the 2000 campaign would be similar to that of 1960, when Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged sitting Vice President Richard Nixon. The parallels are there: The country today is desperate for a change from the present administration; it’s Gore’s bad luck that he’s associated with such a moral reprobate such as Bill Clinton.

If Bush’s campaign is rolled out as advertised, with a strong and virtuous leader ready to take over not just the Republican Party but guide the country into a more sane social environment, it will be a landmark election. Before you start with the nonsense that George W. Bush is no JFK, just remember that Kennedy, in 1959, wasn’t either. He was an undistinguished senator who happened to be ambitious, as well as under the thumb of a fabulously wealthy and influential father. He only became “JFK” after he defeated Nixon in an extremely close, and some say crooked, election. The myth of Camelot wasn’t even romanticized until after his assassination.

Writing in the April 20 Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz criticized Bush for his tepid comments on the events of last year: Clinton’s parade of lies and scandals that should’ve ended his presidency. At the time the impeachment hearings were gearing up, Bush didn’t want to touch the issue, saying only that Clinton’s actions were “embarrassing” and gave him pause to even pursue the White House when Washington seemed like such a cesspool. Rabinowitz, like most Journal editorial board members, I suspect, doesn’t think Bush has the fortitude to make a great president.

In any event, she wrote: “It may be, of course, that George W. Bush will in time find his tongue and speak on these matters. Or he may not. If not—if this frontrunner of the moment outruns John McCain and all other contenders for the nomination—the nation will confront, it would seem, a Democratic candidate, the vice president, whose view it is that William J. Clinton ranks as one of the greatest presidents of our history. In the Republican corner, we will have a candidate whose response to the first impeachment of a president in 130 years is that it was good to get it off the TV screens. What a duel of titans that promises to be.”

That’s a dire assessment of Bush that I’m convinced will prove inaccurate. It’s true that he’s erred on the side of caution so far, perhaps too reluctant to make a statement that will immediately backfire, but there are many months before the campaign really begins. When Bush frees himself from his self-imposed exile in Austin, I think he’ll be ready to claim the mantle of putative Republican leader—with minnows like Denny Hastert and Trent Lott in charge right now, that won’t be a tall order—and put forth a bold, conservative agenda for the country.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/30/99: John John: I’ll Moonlight, Too
04/28/99: T.J. Walker’s The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
04/21/99: Sharpton’s Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain’s Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It’s No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood’s Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton’s a Broken Man: The GOP’s Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It’s George W.’s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain’t No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith