It’s time to bring back the original Nightline. For those of you too young to remember, Nightline was born almost 40 years ago during the “Iranian Hostage Crisis.” Each nightly broadcast began with the words “The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage” that would eventually be followed by the numbers of days that had elapsed since their seizure. This continued for 444 days. After the release of the hostages, the program began to devote more of its thirty minutes to probing in depth a single political or social issue. Over the years, having to compete with talk-over-shouting-matches-on-demand cable and the click-bait internet, the once venerable news program has since degenerated into little more than an infomercial for the exploits of Lindsay Lohan and R. Kelly, providing the latest celebrity gossip, politically safe human-interest stories, and the 411 on films and TV shows produced by Disney, its parent company.
The revival of Nightline – and hopefully corporate tele journalistic due diligence – would be motivated by another national crisis: the fact that as of January 13th, for the last 723 days, America has been taken hostage by homegrown radical extremists, although the true dimensions of this siege did not become clear until their righteous leader decided to shut down the government and hold Americans ransom to pay for his Wall. Of course, Trump being Trump, the magnitude of his hostage crisis far exceeds the 52 Americans seized by Iran, as it includes some 800,000 federal workers and their families and promises to impact the lives of millions more the longer it continues.
Yet for all its current chest beating about the truth and protestations against being labeled fake news, the corporate mainstream media has not learned the lessons of its past. Had it done so, it would not have provided Trump with prime-time national coverage to bamboozle the nation with more drivel about his Great Wall. Recall that these self-avowed defenders of democracy and Diogenesian seekers of truth and honesty are the same networks that in 2014 refused to provide President Obama the airtime to promote his own immigration plan because, according to a “network insider” cited by the Washington Post (November 21, 2014), they thought it was “overtly political,” as if, some four years later, Trump’s was any less so (and by almost any measure far more so). Then again, their denial may have been motivated by other less high-minded considerations: As the Post’s Jaime Fuller reported, November also “happens to be ‘sweeps’ month, when programming tries and encourage more viewers to turn in by promising more exciting content. Presidential sweeps don’t always ensure the exciting cliffhangers and plot twists that networks are looking for.” Did I mention that Diogenes was a Cynic?
Apparently, these networks, still under the sway of the former reality TV star, who as presidential candidate and President boosted their sagging ratings, believe his address would have the same impact, albeit it turns out the ratings were less than stellar, with the Democratic rebuttal drawing slightly more viewers. Despite the fact that Trump is, as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen recently dubbed him, the “Michelangelo of bullshit artists” (a more fitting description, I think, would be the Dali of deception, since his masterworks dabble in surrealistic distortions of reality), the media, conflicted patron of the arts that it is, continues to provide him its canvas free of charge.
The impetus behind Trump’s wall seems to be “if you build it, they [read those rapine, murderous, subhuman immigrant hordes from shithole counties] won’t come,” but mainstream media’s coverage of Trump obeys, as one might expect from a corporate entity, the laws of supply and demand: provide Trump with a limitless stream of airtime and the viewers will come, including his orgasmic evangelical supporters. Despite corporate media’s grumbling obituaries on the death of truth in the age of Trump, it is all the more ironic that it would provide him a platform for the dissemination of lies, untruths, distortions, and misinformation, given the all too predictable fact that Trump’s ten minutes of taxpayer-supported airtime was filled to the brim with the same mendacious talking points he and his spokespeople have been making since his presidential campaign. Moreover, it is more than disheartening that the media seems to have forgotten that one of the reasons Trump resides in the White House today is because the networks and cable news that ran over themselves to provide almost wall-to-wall coverage of candidate Trump; now they provide wall-to-wall coverage of his wall of lies. And while both networks and print media have grown less reluctant to call out these (and other) lies, they nonetheless continue to repeat them. Now there are so many, it is virtually impossible to keep track of them all, if only because the exact subject of those lies shifts constantly, and with it the woefully fragmented attention of the American people.
Indeed, it has proven difficult to keep track of precisely what kind of wall Trump actually wants to build. Initially he wanted a concrete wall (or fence or, to use one of his favored expressions, “whatever”). Currently our large-brained, polymath commander-in-(mis)chief, who know more than anybody about everything except, conveniently, collusion and when and if he authorized his lawyer to pay to silence women who allegedly had affairs with him, says he wants a steel one. He has also said that he wants a “see-through” wall. Perhaps it will be made from the same magical material that, according to Trump, renders stealth aircraft literally “invisible.” Given Trump’s tenuous relationship with reality, it is not hard to imagine that his initial plan was to build an invisible wall and have the fabled Amazons of Themyscira pay for it, but Wonder Woman turned him down. Maybe now he’ll requisition Star Trek’s Mr. Scott or the US Naval Laboratory for some “transparent aluminum,” though it may not survive dedicated “special interest aliens” armed with death rays. Invisible or not, while Trump maintains that construction of his steel wall would boost the U.S. steel industry, he has remained silent on the material resources he will actually tap to build it. I do not believe it would be beyond the measure of the man to melt down the Statue of Liberty to salvage its steel for the project. Whether or not he actually does so, if and when his wall is ever built, Trump will finally have the satisfaction of completing his violation of Lady Liberty, another as yet unpunished “#Me Too” moment, this time financially paid for by the American taxpayer, for him to crow about – but at the even greater expense of the very soul and identity of our Republic.
In some ways, we have seen this played out before, though in a different register, a different medium. As played out in Washington and at our southern border, we have the makings of yet another reimagining of Planet of the Apes, the iconic last scene of the 1968 original rewritten in real-time. In this version, instead of some unidentified tide-cascading shoreline, Taylor, our stranded misanthropic astronaut anti-hero, rides his mount along the Forbidden Zone, now America’s southern border. Gazing out toward the horizon, he suddenly stops. Stunned by what he sees, he dismounts, collapses to his knees and, pounding his fist into the dirt, shouts the unforgettable lines from the original: “You finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell!” The camera pans away from Taylor to reveal not the obliterated carcass of the Statue of Liberty but a massive steel wall – with several gaping holes sawn through it. The camera takes us through and pass one of these holes to provide a glimpse of the other side of the wall, where an orange figure in a red MAGA cap and ludicrously long red tie, flanked by a milling troupe of see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil Republicans, looks into the camera, and between sniffles, boasts, “I made this.”
Fade, like the nation, to black.