This is the Fourth of July, 2004, it is muggy and judging from the sporadic concussive noises, every small boy in town is trying his damnedest to blow his thumb off. As a lover of anti-personnel fireworks myself, I would be right out there with them if it didn’t look so bad for an unshaven, late middle-aged tub of lard to be setting off cherry bombs along these venerable tree-lined streets. And besides, it would mean getting out of my boxer shorts before 4 PM on a Sunday, thereby breaking my cardinal rule: Never get dressed on the Sabbath until an hour at which it is appropriate to drink.
To occupy that torpid expanse between lunch and the cocktail hour, like all good American liberals I listen to NPR. Or maybe Pacifica, or maybe Air America Radio. Well, I did until a couple of months ago, anyway. There is only so much pain a lefty can suffer, in my case 14 years of it. But being a booger for self-punishment, I gave it another crack today,
Here is of NPR’s offering for this 228th anniversary of our nation.
1–an interview with an author about his book on wine and half-million dollar bottles not meant to be consumed.
2–a history of gunpowder (Fireworks. Gunpowder. Get it? Will associative genius never cease?)
3–a story on the trend among upscale suburban high school kids toward poker parties in their homes. Evidently it keeps them off the streets of their dangerously plush neighborhoods.
4–the history of the saxophone’s role in brass bands. Another stunning associative connection for middle class liberals to pick up on while they stir their Columbian dark roast.
5–news that Bill Gates barely missed, by a few billion, becoming a trillionaire in this year’s round up of the fabulously rich. Broke the listeners’ hearts, for sure.
Has anyone told the folks at NPR that on this very Fourth our country is fighting a fascist junta takeover? What do they think about as they look at all that barbed wire and concrete barricades around the White House and other points in downtown D.C.? Sure, the Fourth is another “feel good” day and according to those cannons of American media, the proper offering is yet another paint-by-numbers feature about hot dogs, gunpowder and brass bands. That still leaves us with a fundamental question that should govern serious programming on this day of reflection upon our liberties—When it comes to liberty, what do we have to feel good about on July 4, 2004? I get from 2000-3000 emails a month from readers who agree with me that the answer is this: Not Much.
In fact, someone might also remind NPR that quoting research from ultra-conservative institutions such as the Heritage Foundation—which were set up by ultra-cons, polluting corporations and Christian right wingers beginning in the Reagan era specifically to influencing the media— are not the first places to run to for objective information. Hell, I know a Christian Reconstructionist fellow who makes a fat living supplying these right-wing foundations with reasons why war is a very good thing! According to a recent study by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) of 2,334 NPR quoted sources in 804 stories, 61% were GOP sources and 38% Democratic. Nor were the numbers substantially different during the Clinton administration. 57% Republican-42% Democratic. If anything this constitutes a rightward drift.
Anyway, what’s going on in this country is a class war, and class wars are always about the money, so, gauche as the topic is supposed to be, among refined liberals, I insist on bringing it up. The folks at NPR are quite snug in their self-referential reality down there on K Street. Prosperous too. Susan Stamberg gets $9000 a crack, plus expenses for speaking at public events. Bob Edwards probably gets even more, plus the keys to your house as a tip. Even a very local public radio “personality” such as Kojo Nnamdi in D.C. gets two grand a pop. I doubt if Bob Edwards or Cokie Roberts ever consider what it takes the working puds listening pull down an extra 60 K on the side, or that the tax dollars of even poor working people in this country go into their paychecks and pay off their company Visas. Before they club me over the head with the fact that they do some freebies, let me say that most listeners would do a helluva lot of freebies between 10-K, one-hour gigs. Does the NPR party wagon stop for peasants? If so, let me on! I’ll run my mouth for an hour ANYWHERE for two hundred bucks, plane fare and three vodka martinis. But I’ll warn ya, I’m not the precious type and tend to warm up in the hotel bar waiting for the gig to start.
In all seriousness though, there aren’t many real media options in this country. As an alternative to the alternative NPR is supposed to be, we can turn to Air America Radio network (online here in the D.C. area) and suffer Al Franken’s bad stand-up comedy about Bush, and a lot of raucous unfunny hyperactive spew assumedly mimicking AM radio. One Saturday morning was enough.
Then there is poor old rowdy, fucked up stumbling Pacifica—the only network out there showing courage, charging forward and sticking spears into our oppressors as best they can. Unfortunately though, the joke about Pacifica is true: What is the difference between the mating call of Bigfoot and Pacifica Radio? Answer: More people have heard the call of Bigfoot.
And let’s not even talk about PBS. Oh hell, as long as we are pissing in the laps of the so-called public media, lets’ do. PBS was a lost cause years ago, and now its last shred of dignity and real reporting, Bill Moyers, an American treasure for sure, is being replaced upon retirement by David Branccacio. Here’s hoping DB can handle it. Still, one show doth not a network make. And if you’ve been watching out for a good film documentary on anything even close to the subject of American politics, forget it. Every good documentary filmmaker I know who once produced for PBS has been cut loose. They simply were no longer funded. Those who delved into the funding dry-up were pretty much told outright that if they lightened up on things, the funding just might come back. Still, though, my friends haven’t worked in a year, proving that not everyone with a camera and a big ego is necessarily a whore.
Even the genuine liberal mass-readership columnists have gone downhill. Burnout I guess. None less than Molly Ivins, god bless her soul, is sounding very tired and has declined into liberal shtick with a Texas accent. Oh, there are plenty of columnists decrying the mounting corporate and government lies, stacking fact upon fact, proving the case over and over again, Norman Solomon being the best of them. But there are so many lies thus far tabulated, a virtual mountain of them, and still nothing happens. Meanwhile, our strange, shadowy director of homeland insecurity, Tom Ridge, asks Congress to review the Posse Comitatus Law, which forbids the military from policing our cities. Jeezits Krist what does it take to trigger mass public reaction in this country?
It is a real problem that our most educated liberal leaders tend to be considerate, well-read, navel gazing, pussies. This makes for great human beings but poor warriors against this developing fascist state. We need to get enough balls to whip the tar out of neocons instead of cataloging their latest lies and amputations performed on the Bill of Rights. Not too long ago many of us were demonstrating in the hundreds of thousands for no less than world peace. Now we have accepted the only offer on the table, perpetual war.
Americans are going to be forced to face the fact that half the world cannot eat and shit regularly because Americans like you and me and Linda Werthhiemer and Al Franken suck up a quarter of all the resources. Obviously we have not faced it, so it is coming home for us to deal with strapped onto the chest of suicide bombers or deep within the holds of cargo ships…
Let them eat fireworks.
Tonight in my town, a couple of millionaire brothers are putting on a fireworks display for their friends at the family mansion on the hill. The display is bigger and better than the city’s and visible from quite a distance. They have a lot to celebrate because free market capitalism has been very good to them indeed. Yet, those thousands of dollars up in colored smoke would have done an awful lot for some folks who live in the 85 blighted rentals they own across town. Interestingly, these brothers putting on the display are among the town’s few active Democrats. Which goes to show that Susan Stamberg or the local rich kids, it’s all the same—comfort breeds uncaring. Breeds blindness. Which is why that old saw about the job of a journalist, NPR or otherwise, being to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” remains ever true….
The rich have never and will never give up anything. That is why the rich men who wrote our constitution wrote it essentially as a property document. Property has always had priority over freedom in America from the beginning (consider that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia slave laws that prohibited George Washington from freeing his slaves upon his death.) But as the results of this have congealed over two centuries, aggregating property and its inherent power into the hands of the few. Again. It has been so wildly successful that property now has far, far more rights than people in America, and gains daily. Presently, when it comes to property, the little guy is driven to buy and own as many cheap junk electronics as humanly possible (his patriotic duty to the almighty economy) and the big guy owns all the little guys by owning the government and the businesses that sell him the junk.
In between these classes are you and I, the cadre of professionals and semi-professionals required to conduct the business of the rich. A cadre inhabited by the college educated liberals—journalists, economists, managers, people whose job it is to rationalize the whole mad, unjust scheme—who write the story line that protects the rich from any proper accounting for their wealth, the story line that says we are engaged in a “culture war,” not a class war. It is a helluva lot easier to write crap about culture than stand up and point out just who has a lock-down on the public’s dough… or admit that the problems have been socialized but the profits have been privatized. Nobody in media gets paid to say that, so no one will say it. We are dying from the lack of the truth out here. Sure, many of us already know the truth, but it would be nice to see at least some small, cloudy reflection of it in the media.
And now that the NPR story on saxophones is winding up and I’d better start coming down the home stretch on this tirade. GODDAMIT! I wish those kids outside would lay off the firecrackers. My dogs are in an uproar and I have been screwing with this piece off-and-on all day and now it’s time for “Cold Case Files” and I’m still not out of my boxers. With that repulsive image, I will leave you, say good night and may providence bless what remains of our Constitution.
JOE BAGEANT is a magazine editor and writer living in Winchester, Virginia. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2004 by JOE BAGEANT