by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 30, 2009
WHO HAS 'THE RIGHT STUFF' IN THE POST-APOLLO AGE?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Has Michael Jackson been buried yet? And is his brain in the same place as his body? Inquiring minds want to know.
Looking back on the week after Jackson's death, one thing was abundantly clear: the broadcast media desperately wanted another O.J., Anna Nicole or Princess Di moment, and they were having hell's own time making it happen.
The police, believing the media, closed off the roads that Jackson's body traveled. Did you notice that very few people lined those roads? Huge screens were set up in New York City for the memorial service. Barely a hundred people stood and watched.
A group of mourners up in Harlem cried, screamed and professed their love, but I have a feeling that if the camera had pulled a long shot, it would have revealed that this was a very small crowd - sort of like the time the U.S. Marines tumbled a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and had to bus in a crowd to cheer them on.
After all, who really cared? And why was Brian Williams, NBC's vaunted news anchor, in Los Angeles covering the event?
The desperation of the broadcast media was all too evident during the faux-orgy that followed Jackson's death. So when Walter Cronkite - a true, if flawed hero - died last week, the broadcast media that he had helped to create and which he had represented so well for so many years had already revealed itself to be an empty shell crawling with worms.
As "the most trusted man in America," Cronkite played an important part in the national psyche. Although we had other working anchors, somehow Cronkite was the one who told us the story of our lives.
We've been inundated with clips of him telling the world that JFK was dead and that a man was walking on the moon. And of course, there's the famous shot of LBJ watching Cronkite on television. Supposedly, that was the moment when Cronkite told the nation that the Vietnam War - which Cronkite supported for years - was unwinnable. Not immoral or incomprehensible, mind you, but, at the very least, unwinnable. And by saying so, he still saved a great many lives.
Cronkite, who died at 92 after a long, comfortable and profitable life, was a good journalist and a decent man. He deserved his many tributes. What he didn't deserve was what came after him.
According to Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon, "Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do - directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed."
To twist the knife, Greenwald included this quote from MSNBC's David Gregory, from May of 2008: "I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] ... . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role."
Gregory, by the way, is the late Tim Russert's successor, and Greenwald contrasted the mourning of Cronkite with the orgy of self-congratulation that followed Russert's death by quoting Lewis Lapham, the longtime editor of Harpers Magazine. "Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege," Lapham said. "That's why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn't matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo."
It's always been journalists' job to report the news. Abroad, many literally die for this privilege. They are given access to the wise, the wealthy and powerful ONLY because they serve as the peoples' representatives. And in a democracy, the people have a need to know what is being done in their name and with their money.
If we have forgotten this - and with all the Jackson coverage corrupting our minds, it's possible - tune in the BBC News Service on Vermont Public Radio some morning and hear interviewer after interviewer asking pointed, discomforting and aggressive questions of heads of state.
Of course, it helps that in Great Britain there is still some agreement about facts and shared values. In a country like ours, one that engaged in a long and pointless debate over Creationism and where public radio still refuses to call waterboarding torture because it implies a lack of objectivity, mental vacuums certainly exist.
So what was Brian Williams doing in Los Angeles, covering Jackson's death? And where is Jackson's brain? For that matter, where is Williams'?
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a freelance journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.