Wednesday, April 06, 2005

April 5, 2005

Notes From the Underground

When I wrote my piece yesterday accusing our mainstream media of becoming little more than peddlers of maudlin misery, I figured I was going to get slammed. After all, I was way off the media's mourning script on both the Schiavo and Pope’s deaths. I came bearing no platitudes of praise, no flowers, no Teddy bear for the Schiavo lawn shrine, Worse yet, I even pointed out that there were dark sides to both these individual’s lives that were being swept under the blanket of manufactured media mourning.

Well, I did get slammed. But not from outraged pod-people who slipped their media-leash just long enough to inform me that I was going to burn for all eternity in hell. Instead I heard from a ton of folks who were mightily relieved to discover they were not the only one who was sick and tired of being force-fed 24/7 coverage of the lives and deaths of two individuals. It was like a ripple of applause from some long lost Diaspora of the sane and rational.

Yes. Good news. They may be in hiding, but they still exist. And they are onto the failings of mainstream media – big time. On to the panderers to the lowest common of denominators, peddlers of pabulum, milquetoast media, soap opera masquerading as news.

Whew. What a relief. Not that I didn’t get a lot of hate mail because I love hate mail. When I get hate mail from right-wingers it makes my job easy. I just have to reprint the email verbatim. Case closed.

I am less enthusiastic about reprinting mail from those who agree with me. Not because I am ungrateful, I love reading them. Everyone has an ego, after all. But I hesitate to publish them. It just fee;s a bit too self-congratulatory for my tastes.

But the batch of mail I got yesterday was different. There was something common in all these emals that should send chills up the spines of mainstream media folk. If the outpouring I got in response to my piece yesterday is any measure, lots of folks have had it right up to here with the crap being peddled as news by formerly respected sources, particularly broadcast and cable sources. Mainstream media may be on the cusp of losing it’s grip on what little respect the public still has for it.

Having said that, I have no idea what happens after viewers lose their last shred of patience and respect for these tumorously large broadcast news outlets. Only time will tell. But I was so impressed by the email I got yesterday I am reprinting some of them below. I also left the original piece at the bottom of this page in case you missed it.

(PS: Oh, just a quick note to those readers who have suggested I get a editor, I am not ignorning you. I will comply just as soon as someone sends me a year’s salary to pay such a brave soul. Everything I am today I owe to my former editors and I'd love to have one. Until I do, just pick through my dyslectic spelling and fractured prose the same way you would walk through a minefield… very carefully.)

Readers Respond to Mainstream Media Misery Pimps

As usual, you are able to say it better than most and today's missive on the media is right on point. For the very reasons you have stated, I gave up watching television, I mean ALL television on November 4th, 2004. I just could not bear another babbling day of CNN, MSNBC (I never did watch Fox) or the network news. It became obvious such activity was a waste of time.

Now the only time the T.V. set goes on (it's hidden behind a painting and so we have to make an effort to turn it on) is my husband's sometimes nightly visit to the Sci Fi channel. Even more gratifying is the fact that our 10 year old granddaughter, an almost daily visitor to our home, doesn't even ask to watch cartoons anymore. I feel we have been liberated.

All of my news comes from the Internet - Buzz Flash, Bush Watch, Talking Points, Daily Kos and your site along with my local paper here in St. Louis and the occasional New York Times. I also admit to listening to NPR in the morning, although with the loss of Bob Edwards, it is not the same. I am as well informed as anyone and I don't have to listen to the likes of Bill Hemmer or around the world in how many degrees does it take Anderson Cooper. I don't bother with the screeching of Chris Matthews and the superior attitude of Joe Scarborough. For their antics I can pull up Media Matters and see what garbage they are spewing out.

I know more than I ever wanted to about Terri Schiavo and the Pope's death. I’m Catholic and I'm sick of his death. This morning, as I listened to yet another story on NPR about the crowd gathering in Rome, I thought back to the death of Pius XII who died when I was a child. We heard it, it was announced at Church, he was buried and then they elected a new Pope. End of story. The Pope died and Terri died, just as we will all die.

I was also struck by the fact that no one was petitioning Congress to keep the Pope alive by any means possible and that somehow his release from this life and his multitude of health problems was legitimate. He could go peacefully to a better life in heaven but Terri, she was not entitled to the same release. Apparently she was headed towards something more sinister since she was young and had lived with a tube in her stomach for fifteen years not knowing or caring who or where she was.

I, too, shared the same thought about the news that the Pope was responsible for the demise of Communism. Last fall it was Ron Reagan. Wish someone would get their stories straight.

What have we gained by turning off the T.V.? More than anything a sense of control over our lives. I don't care about Desperate Housewives (and the fact that I know about the show is a testament to advertising), Trading Spaces, Trading Spouses or Trading Kids. Give me a good book, an evening with my granddaughter discussing what is going on in her 4th grade class or a glass of wine with my spouse (and no background noise) and my life is good.

Thanks for all your hard work Steve. Keep it up. It is appreciated.

Connie Warner

This pandering to ignorance by the media is most responsible for the mess the nation's in. Prior Reagan this ignorance reproduced a la mushrooms in chicken manure, in the dark, mostly in the south. Now they're in power. Politicians in power wanting to stay in power pander to this ignorance via the media.

Today's media lacking self esteem, having no self respect, is but a whore to power and so the circle is complete. So it is that it is left up to those like you (and me) to point out the hypocrisy of being pro life while supporting the death penalty and letting a million children starve to death, of being opposed to the right to die while thinking it just dandy to kill hundreds of thousands of black, brown or yellow for oil; it is left to us to tell them first thing every morning of every day what ignorant asses they are.

Alas, we must do so because lo these hundreds of years no one told them, the ignorance fermented, reproduced and now threatens the nation, the world.

Ken Melvin

Well, thank you for finally SAYING it! I have stopped watching all the "news" programs and reading, with any seriousness, all mainstream publications. Will these eventually cycle back to actual news products some day?

Or will they become the next generation of National Enquirer(s)? Dare we hope for this? Something's gotta give... surely.

What a bunch of crap. Thanks for really really putting it out there.

Leila Parratt

Thanks for that opinion and I could not agree more. I find it particularly telling that it is the so-called "saved," from death and damnation or whatever, who are so afraid of death.

As a 57 year old woman who has lived through Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, Ronald Raygun, Poppy and their illegal wars, endless reports on Clinton's penis and now this nightmarish hell called the Bush administration; I can honestly say I am not afraid of death. Perhaps the only people who can truly live without being very disturbed in this environment, made toxic, not only by Bush's corporate cronies, but by the radical right and their self-righteous blowing of smoke about everything from that poor, brain-dead woman to whether or not we should give equal protections under the law for men who sleep with dogs and box turtles, or something like that, are the brain-dead.

It is often funny what is the straw that breaks the Camel's back, so to speak. This Terry Schiavo thing is the last straw for me. I think we are way too whacked out on brain twisting religious beliefs in this country. Worse yet, are the corrupt, cynical sons-of-bitches who use religion to manipulate the Crusading-crackpots of the Radical Right, and some genuinely faithful people, who are good and kind people; who really live their faith in ways that help others everyday and without a contract to Jesus, or anyone else.

I have never been one to criticize another person's belief system (BS), because my mother told me it was impolite and because you can never tell what you might be getting yourself into. I was more than fine with that practice and policy until now. I believe when people set themselves up as the epitome of anything they are aching for a breakin'. If other's are very public with their BS and insist that I partake of it, I am gonna get a little pushy. If they attempt to force-feed me anything under penalty of law, I am going to go ballistic on them.

I am not a disinterested party when it comes to religion. I studied comparative religion for 15 years and then became a confirmed Episcopalian, because they were a community that was interested in things like Human Rights, Poverty, homelessness, the working poor, good educations for children (including science) for everyone, all over the world. They ordained gay priests and welcomed gay parishioners. The Church in America is still a little too white and upscale in most areas for my taste, but I hear things are getting better.

Haven't been to Church in awhile; since I moved to Georgia, but I think I will find a Church up north this summer, because I am beginning to believe that moderate to Liberal Christians may well be all that stands between us an Armageddon.

These will have to be the voices that challenge the radical right on their hypocrisy and the true teachings of Jesus Christ, with which they are apparently not all that familiar. Fortunately for all of us, it is already happening. What will it take for the corrupted media to report on it? They report every sanctimonious utterance that falls from the lips of the Crusading-crackpots; like Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson and the holly-rollin' politicians.

Dot Dedman

I am a Catholic, not practicing since being disillusioned some years ago. I am sure this Pope has done some wonderful things but I am remembering so well the pedophile issues, the stand the Vatican took during the 2004 election that anyone pro-choice should not be voted for and lastly last week the statement that whomever took out Terri's food line are "murderers".

I resent the fact that this man could not support all the men who, as boys, were sexually abused by priests . These suits cost the Church millions of dollars and the closure of many parishes because of lack of funds. Then he enters the political world and makes very strong dictums as to who the Catholics should vote for, and more importantly, NOT vote for. Inexcusable!

The statement about "murderers" was so over the top as to what a Pope should do or say or even delve into, that I am speechless! I understand that the Church can only have one Pope at a time, precluding a Pope from ever retiring, but I question the mental faculties of a man in such poor health and in pain. I don't believe his last few years of serving the Church were served with dignity.

Mill Valley,CA

I think our addiction to drama is a function of two factors:

First, who among us can drive past a traffic accident without rubber-necking, at least a little?

Second, excitement is itself addicting, the tolerance level moving ever so slightly upward as we are bombarded, saturated, leaving us shouting, demanding MORE. The war death in Iraq are now boring. See how quickly the tsunami deaths became boring.

So we want something new. Actually, the focus on change, on figure versus ground, is evolutionarily desirable. Even the receptors in our retinas and on our skin function as to highlight novelty and change.

The Pope meant little to me. The selection process for his successor is much more interesting. I was fascinated to hear one of the Big Dudes opine that abortion, celibacy, and female priest are not the significant issues because they are "inevitable." The big issue is choosing a Pope who will lead us to see that even the poorest among us, etc. Oh, if only that were true.

Terri Schiavo had some idiosyncratic appeal, but obviously, the big issue there was, what is life, and when is there justification for ending it, one of the Great Questions as we lurch into the age of the gene and the virus.

On public radio over the weekend, I heard an editor talking about how newspapers could be on the verge of extinction because anything in print was available via TV or the Internet 24 hours earlier. As a result, journalists are changing their way of writing.

Instead of the traditional “W's” - Who, What, Where, When? - articles now begin with implications and significance and get to the w's in the third or fourth paragraphs. On that basis, I classify myself a fossil. I subscribe to two newspapers and several magazines because the sound bite is scarcely enough. Actually, I use the sound bite to guide me to print articles in which I am likely to have interest. I will send you the fruit of one such recent labor, and oddly, people thank me for that labor.

Carry on. There will always be inquiring minds that want to know.

Jim Sorrells

You named your poison and they're selling it to you! Here's an idea -- TURN OFF THE F--KING TUBE!!!, if something important happens, it's likely you'll hear about it sooner or later anyway.

Mark in Tulsa

Mr. Pizzo,
Great commentary! I had been thinking about that very thing. I challenged myself to come up with one word to describe today's TV news (network and cable.)

The word I came up with is: MAUDLIN.

Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Bonnie M. Matheson

I live in Scott County, Ky., home of Toyota, a pregnant teen shot by her boyfriend in the county park in 2003. Your paragraphs on the media grief process immediately brought to mind the circus surrounding her death here in Georgetown.

The family, and their emotionally hysterical relatives, have made everyone's life miserable. Everybody, especially the beleaguered county commission, has had to tiptoe around while this bunch demanded all sorts of concessions to their grief, which they cannot seem to limit to her gravesite or their home.

Numerous objections by the public to using the county park as a memorial to her death have been met with hysterical hyperbole and EMAILS TO THE EDITOR IN ALL CAPS. The whole family also trooped to DC to watch Bush sign the fetal victims bill or whatever. Most of us in the county just want this to be gone.

Jane Hay
P.S. - great Pope comments, too - my sentiments exactly.

I have been saying the same thing for a long time. I got cable because I am not always home at 6 o’clock and wanted to know about what is going on in the world. I am so sick of the cable news. I have been complaining to the cable company because there is no news. I figure that we will have to hear about the pope for the next week or two.

Not that I'm not sad, but that it makes me angry because I know that they don't want me to realize what is going on in this country and the world. I am paying $70 per month for this garbage and I am really getting angry. You have to turn on the weather channel to find out there is flooding in the east.

I don't mind hearing about the pope's life history but how many times do I have to hear it? I agree with you whole heartedly and couldn't have said it better.

Beccy Bank

MakingWhine from the Grapes of Grief

April 4, 2005: I wonder how many people died last week. There are about 6 billion of us worldwide. So, let’s just pick a low number. Say 1% of us croak every year, that would be 60 million stiffs worldwide. Divide by 52 weeks and we get about 1.5 million former folks.

But, unless one of the dearly departed happened to be a person close to your family, you would have thought only two people had died last week, Terri Schiavo and the Pope. Now, I am not trying to be a smart-ass or insensitive here. Any death is a loss no matter the circumstances that surround them.

But really folks, is it just me or didn’t we overdue the coverage of both the Schiavo and Pope’s passing by, oh let’s say about ten thousand, two hundred and three quadrillion percent?

Yes we did. Man, did we ever. But you better get used to it, because it’s trend in the news biz -- because we have become a nation of drama-queens. We apparently have so many people in this country whose own lives are so empty of purpose that they must find in the suffering and misery of others. Leach-like, they attach to the misery du jour.

And the mainstream media (MSM) have become American’s misery pimps. Bring a heart-wrenching case to their attention and they are off and running. Queue the serious sounding music, roll the new tear-jerker graphic whipped up just for this story, fly a talking head to the corpus locale, satellite trucks with microwave masts fully erect as though they were running on pure Viagra. It’s show time!

Rock and roll, 7/24! Time to whip up some tears and ratings. Be it a child abduction, a brain-dead girl whose relatives in a tug of war over her carcass, or someone famous, like the Pope, dying of natural causes. Never mind. It’s an opportunity to make media wine from the grapes of grief. All that matters at that point is to figure out how much drama can be leveraged from the personal history of the soon-to-be-deceased. Misery Pimp producers have it down to a science now. Each case has three distinct phases to exploit:

- Pre-death: A child goes missing. Where is the child? Could the parents have done it? Drag out footage of earlier cases that ended badly. The drama builds. It’s working. Fat ladies begin to arrive uninvited at the home of the missing child bearing Teddy Bears and flowers and begin building an impromptu shrine on the lawn. Great visuals. Keep it going. Interview the grieving parent(s) as they sob through pleas to the kidnappers to return their child. Great stuff. Mention that the police have not ruled the parents out as suspects.

- Death: They find the body of the missing child. Time to switch from “America’s Most Wanted” bravado to somber mode. Roll the photos of the child in life, the blowing candles out on the birthday cake photo. (Yo! Camera 3, get a shot of the fat ladies sobbing at the lawn shrine. This time they brought their own kids with them. The whole pack of them is in tears. Get a close up. )

- Post-death: The perp is caught. Get footage of him being led to jail in cuffs. Cut to two lawyers, a defense lawyer and a prosecutor, as they argue the case. They both agree, the perp is probably toast. He will almost certainly get the death penalty. Ah, closure.

Next case?

Why do the cable news channels do this to us? Well, because, we want it. No, we need it. Like most addictions it started innocently enough, a televised car chase or two. But then that got old. The thrill was gone. We needed to up the dose. Reality TV was born and we were able to watch people act badly on camera. That was fun for a while, but hey, no one actually died or anything. We needed something more powerful to stimulate emotions lacking in our normal lives. For a short time we had the best of all reality TV shows, the War In Iraq, live from the battlefield. But that too got old.

Our titillation nerves have become so dulled we now need fresh stuff all time. And so MSM Misery Pimps were born. And, they have succeeded beyond even their own perverted dreams! If most American viewers were not drama queens, believe me, the networks would not dedicate the vast amounts of valuable airtime on of these events, coverage that all but eliminates all other news.

(By Sunday I began to wonder if the war in Iraq had ended. All I had heard all weekend was that one man had died, the Pope. Surely if the war was still going on in Iraq someone must have died there too, or more likely, several someones. Of course, several people did die in Iraq over the weekend. But you see the war is old drama, like reruns of the first season of the Sopranos. It fails to move us any longer. America’s drama queens had long since slapped a yellow “I Support the Troops,” sticker on their SUV and moved on. I mean, how long can we expect them to feel for young soldiers dying ten thousand miles from home, or a cute little Iraqi kids with legs and arms blown off? Been there, done that. Boooooring. Next?)

It seems almost weekly they find a new case that can grab our attention, cry about, and praise the Lord over. The Terri Schiavo case was a jackpot. It had all the right elements.. a Jerry Springer-style family feud, a husband with girlfriend, lawyers, doctors, and religious wing-nuts. Even the friggin President, Congress and the Supreme Court made cameo appearances. Holy cow, how are they going to top that!?

Oh, the Pope, of course. What a godsend, and the perfect segue. And in the nick of time too! When Schiavo finally died there was a serious risk the MSM Misery Pimps would lose all those teary eyeballs. What to do?

For a moment it looked as though they would have to settle for the death of O.J. Simpson’s lawyer, Johnny Cochran. The MSM began gearing up for Cochran Watch; rolling out obit pieces that made a scumbag who got a double-murderer off scott free, sound like a modern-day Martin Luther King. They got O.J. to interrupt his golf game to get a statement from him. O.J. described Cochran as “a good Christian man.” Perfect.

But Johnny Cochran was no Terri Schiavo. It wasn't working. Then fate smiled on the MSM Misery Pimps. The Pope began to slip towards the grave. Time for CNN’s Bill Hemmer to climb onto a jet for Rome. And so began 36 hours of wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Pope’s bedroom window. (Don’t even bother to reach for the remote. It’s on every channel. There was no escape. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated into the media’s ministry of misery.)

To fill airtime as the Pope took his time dying, the Misery Pimp producers scoured the earth for anyone who may have met the Pope, walked by the Pope, went to the same barber as the Pope or came to the faith after the Pope's face appeared to her in custard pudding.

At 3 a.m. the morning the Pope died, a puncy CNN anchor stationed above St. Peter’s Square reported, “The crowds are still flocking to the square even at this time of the morning.” The camera panned to the giant square to reveal about twenty people milling around. He quickly caught himself. “Of course the crowds have thinned considerably.” Yes, but not the coverage. It was thick as ever. (Damn Italians! Where are those blubbering American ladies with the Teddy bears when a network really needs them?)

Once the Pope was officially dead they moved into the final, post-death phase of the show. There’s still plenty of drama to be squeezed from this baby before the MSM Misery Pimps have to come up with fresh meat for their growing flock of professional mourners. During this final squeezing of the grapes the MSM Misery Pimps goal is to maintain the misery momentum so viewers don't fade away. So, they found people willing to nominate the Pope for Sainthood and tell viewers that the reason they have to keep watching is that this was no run-of-the-mill Pope.. nosiree. This was a Pope for all the ages. That we haven’t seen the likes of him since Jesus himself. And that watching coverage of his funeral would be almost as good as watching Christ's burial. (Right after this message from our sponsor. “My man uses Levitra for a quality, lasting erection…)

Of course, there was no mention during Pope-Watch about how he failed to use his Popedom to do anything meaningful about the fact that his Church had become the largest organized pedophile ring in modern history. Or that, despite the all the suffering in the third world from overpopulation, he continued the ban on birth control. Or that he continued the Church's longstanding discrimination against women. There would be none of that right now. No throwing cold water on what was shaping up as a world-class, once in a generation, sob job.

Instead they talked up the Pope’s humble childhood in Poland. And, oh, oh… oh,… don’t forget that he was the guy who defeated Communism…. (Note to Producers. This is only true unless you are doing a tear-jerking retrospective on the life of Ronald Reagan, in which case HE is the guy who defeated Communism.)

Just keep those tears flowing for the Pope for as long as it lasts. Roll footage of midwestern drama kings and queens filling the pews of Her Mother of Perpetual Blame church, tears glistening in flicker of votive candles. Ah, nice stuff. (Camera 5, can you get a close up of the little girl in the white dress sobbing uncontrollably? Perfect. Roll dead Pope ID. Overlay ID over crying girl. Fade in somber churchy theme music. Fade out to commercial.) “Our non-stop coverage of the death of Pope John Paul will continue, after this.

Okay, okay. I agree, the Pope’s death deserved more news coverage than, say, the passing of some schmuck who’s only claim to fame was that he lived to be 80 without getting arrested for anything. So, give the Pope’s death 10% of all news coverage for two days. Then, for chrimmeny sakes, move the hell on.

The Schiavo case didn’t even deserve that much coverage. Hundreds of people die under the same circumstances every year and we never hear about them. And Terri Schiavo herself (rest her poor soul,) was not exactly a candidate for personal adulation. After all, (and let’s be brutally honest here,) this was a woman who had puked herself into a vegetative state trying to stay thin. The MSM could have used her death as an example to young girls where thin-mania can lead.. But no mention of that.

Okay, go ahead, yell at me for saying that about poor Terri right out loud. But damn it, someone had to. Certainly none of the those drama queen, born-agains outside her hospice, waving their hands in the air and praying to the pretend friend of their choice, were going to deal with that little sympathy-dampening fact. They were enjoying their moment in the spotlight of this production of the Mainstream Media Misery's latest reality TV production far too much to risk letting facts get in the way.

I’m sick of it. Sick, sick, sick of it. I beg someone to start a new cable news network that swears it will NEVER engage in a non-stop deathwatch, no matter who the hell is dying. Just tell us he/she is sick and might die. Then, when he/she dies, tell us that too. I’d like to know that. Then let me deal with that piece of news as I please. Don’t force-feed me one more factoid about that person’s life. Just move on to the other news of the day.

I want a news network that respects me more than CNN and MSNBC apparently do. They seem to think I want to spend an entire week focused on one story, one person’s personal struggles. Well, they’re wrong. I have a larger attention span than that. And I want a news channel that respects that. I don’t want to pay an already too high cable bill just to be forced to stare at shinny object all week. I want a news channel that understands the difference between news and manufactured news. I want a news channel that would fire the first person that uses the term “entertainment value” in the same sentence with the word “news.”

If I want to have my emotions fiddled with and exploited, I will tune into Days of Our Lives, Dr. Phil or Oprah. But when I turn on CNN or MSNBC I want news. Remember news? The world is lousy with the stuff, though you might not have known it last week.

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