Contemporary Mainstream News: The Problem Behind Every Solution
By John Harris
Wieder Shüsse in Schule in den USA—“Again a School Shooting in the USA,” ran the title. I at first thought that two people had been killed, because the news site upon which I try to practice my German doesn’t exactly recycle the vocabulary of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Even after I had untangled my translation, however, I was still left with a major headline emphasizing the chronic nature of such violence in the neo-fascist U.S.—whereas American outlets, to my original shock, practically ignored the story.
The reason must surely be a) because the shooter—a kid named Pierson—employed the Biden-recommended shotgun, b) because he was cornered and restrained from further harm (except for killing himself, which was no great loss) by a happily armed opponent, and c) because he was known to his classmates as a rabid communist. My German source simply skimmed off the top, poured into the mold, and went to the oven. The American Fourth Estate prefers to airbrush out of existence stories from which awkward details would sooner or later emerge. Better to save the template for another day that to do it structural damage by exposing it to the open ridicule of bloggers. As it was, KTLA-TV in Los Angeles initially tried to sell Pierson as a Bible-thumping “hater”, suppressing the already abundant testimony of his classmates to the contrary.
I would have gotten to the bottom of the story sooner had we not been trekking 900 miles up to darkest Iowa and 900 miles back to bring my son home for Christmas. I was a little out of the loop for several days. Yet I did manage to learn over the radio that Paul Ryan cheated the Democrats of a chance to shut the government down again and blame his party for it. The sly dog! And Sean Hannity never seemed to tire of replaying John Boehner’s testy response to a reporter about Tea Partiers who had “lost all credibility,” wanted no compromise, and didn’t understand politics. Putting the pieces together, I deduced that Ryan and Boehner had contrived to deprive the media of another chance to tar and feather them as incendiary anarchists, thus all but assuring their side’s victory next November—at which point, they would “get serious” about addressing a debt bigger than Carl Sagan’s cosmos and his ego combined.
What hath a Colorado gunfight to do with Washington politics? It didn’t hit me until after my head stopped buzzing from the long drive… but in both cases, the driver’s seat (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) is occupied by the communications media. Any incident involving a gun can be spun to support the newsroom’s confiscatory crusade if only the general public can be insulated from the bothersome details. And the “genius” of Ryan’s plan is all about starving the media of scandal-fodder the way the spaceship commander staves the Blob of nutrients in bad sci-fi movies. It’s all about our handler, the Press Corps, and how we handle our handler. The biggest story of the new millennium, it seems to me (as we end yet another of its misbegotten years), is precisely the story-teller. The song’s singer, the meta-story, is the news we never notice—and the blind side is the side from which you always get killed.
When I check my mail at Yahoo, I find at least once a month now a sidebar of subliminal advertising for the progressive faith. Last week there was some pop-up about our urging Hillary to believe that we need her. A few weeks back it was a smear of Ted Cruz for… well, for shutting down the government, of course. (Both “ads” were paid for by Yahoo.) Last year the “news flashes” that Yahoo loaded with my mail were a steady orchestration of slant, spin, and hit-and-run during the presidential election cycle: Romney was always discovered to have done this or apologizing for having done that. Yahoo, I’ve decided, is rather like a slutty electronic secretary who slips her fingers inside your shirt every time she delivers a file to your desk.
How does Ryan propose to beat this meretrix maxima at her own game? Say that a new crop of budget-hawks is elected next November. Who will preserve them from the Hawk Dynasty of uncouth, saliva-spraying Ed Schultzes and Keith Olbermanns? The first move they make toward fiscal responsibility will draw more fire than a wild hog at Redneck Tryout Camp. And these green recruits, of course, will be lectured sternly by the likes of Boehner (who will then be one step closer to facing his own reelection bid) on congressional etiquette and not giving the whole team a bad name. What gets put off today can be put off tomorrow—and the reasons for putting it off today will apply equally tomorrow. La paz empieza nunca, to borrow the title of a pro-Franco classic: “peacetime begins… never.”
I don’t have the answer, or even the beginning of an answer, for what to do about our formidable and crippling propaganda machine. When that Duchess of Info-chatter, Barbara Walters, publicly announces that she supposed Obama to be the Messiah, the attack upon our culture acquires all the tones of a holy war. I’m not sure how a charitable, forgiving Christian people wins a holy war against slandering fanatics. I do know, however, that giving way to the Irresistible Juggernaut is not a strategy of resistance just because it leaves opponents alive to give way again tomorrow.
Who knows? Perhaps a “duck dynasty” approach would work best. Say what you mean, mean what you say, let them call you a hick and a hayseed, admit to being a rube at all times, advertise your poverty, revel in your naïveté… play the part to the hilt—a backwoods Daniel Boone, and bucolic Mr. Smith in Washington. Americans appear to love dopiness in their popular culture. What they cannot abide is Daniel Boone turned unctuous Baptist preacher, a flintlock in one hand and free food stamps in the other. Pick a part and stick with it. Don’t mix roles, even when CNN crowds you into a caricature. Revel in the caricature.
A really shrewd mind might even caricature the caricature, blowing it up so that Wolf Blitzer has egg in his beard. (“Hell yes I hate little babies! Can’t stand ’em!”) But then, men of such talents do not run under the Republican banner.
As I left behind the casinos of Indian Territory (a.k.a. Oklahoma) and the sprawl of Kansas City on my drive north, my ears began to detect the same siren-song that always woos them on the edge of Iowa. We stopped in a tiny burg on the border named Hugo: it always becomes palpable along about there, that sweet, seductive song. Here are the fabled fruited plains. An innocence comes blowing down from those hills in the eastern distance—hills of such incredible abruptness and perfect roundness that I have only ever seen them elsewhere in the paper-mâché geography of a kid’s train board. I’ll bet people don’t lock their houses or cars in these little towns—or that they don’t have to, anyway. Good German Catholics who like their beer and cheese, who send truckloads of ice cream into the universe, who marry often and always the opposite sex, and who raise large families… why would such people vote ever vote Democrat? Because of unions—because of an industrial past that touches the state’s fringes and a farmer’s populism that belongs to another century? But why do they cheer on the dissolution of our national border in Texas? Why do they promote with their votes gang warfare in the cities of their fellow-citizens to the south? That doesn’t seem very neighborly.
It’s the media—it’s the images. It’s the propaganda that has infused even their pulpits on Sunday. It’s the “narrative machine”. And they will applaud these fairy tales and fantasies until, like Obamacare, the truth bursts upon their personal lives, like a handsome prince turning—in narrative reversal—into a toad. Ryan, I gather, is essentially one of these people. Whatever we need to help us snap out of our collective daze, it doesn’t seem to be part of his princely skill-set.