my pissant two cents

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

welcome to the new normal

"nobody seems to know exactly what happened next, except that rather was beaten like an egg-sucking dog for not knowing the frequency."

hunter s. thompson wrote that nearly 20 years ago. it was a grim little dispatch on the strange goings on in october of 1986. not least among them was dan rather's vicious beating at the hands of a couple of goons in new york city who demanded of him to know what, precisely, the frequency was. it's well known that they were calling him "kenneth" for reasons that need not be made clear; the type of guy that doles out savage beatings on the street is not your typical nightly news viewer. i know these things. i used to work in tv.

the beating rather has taken over the past few months will probably leave deeper scars on the newsman's soul. by now you've been bombarded with speculation that rather's announced departure from the cbs evening news is the final turn of the screw from his "60 minutes" story on president bush's highly questionable, obviously favorable treatment in the texas air national guard. the story was based on documents that could not be verified (which is very different from saying they were falsified), and the right wing howled for rather's head the moment the story hit the airwaves.

i am among those who are very suspicious about karl rove's role in this debacle. it seems to have the earmarks of a black-bag job. think about it. a professed enemy of george bush's ends up with documents that show the president avoided a trip to vietnam by jumping well ahead in line to get a cushy gig in the air national guard, which was doing yeoman work defending the skies over the lone star state from the vietcong luftwaffe. those documents make their way to dan rather, who has a noted history of dust-ups with the bush family. the story goes on the air. the documents are tooth-combed in a fashion that one would hope could be attached to the search for osama, and suspicion is cast on them. the story then becomes not whether the substance contained in them was true-- that w got preferential treatment because his dad was a congressman, a position that has not been discredited-- but instead, whether the media in general, and dan rather in particular, are biased against the president.

from what we've learned about karl rove, his history of dirty tricks that leave no fingerprints but somehow do megaton damage, doesn't it seem to fit surprisingly well? the damage here pulled the teeth out of the well-founded argument that the president is a prep school cheerleader who never earned a damn thing in his life, while simultaneously the swift boat liars were offending the honor of john kerry and anyone else who risked his life in the rivers of vietnam.

(disclosure: i once had my own dust-up with dan rather. while a student at columbia journalism school, i drove rather into a snit by agreeing with author mark hertsgaard's characterization of media coverage in the reagan years: on bended knee. "i NEVER served any president on bended knee," rather spat through clenched teeth.)

looking back at hunter thompson's column from october 13, 1986, there are some curious coincidences to recent headlines. he speaks of yassir arafat long before president clinton helped broker a peace deal between the p.l.o. and israel, and in ways that ought not be addressed to the dead. there's a bit about the capture of eugene hasenfus, the pilot whose plane was shot down while running guns and money to prop up the contras' puppet army in their illegal, terrorist war against the sandinista government in nicaragua. compare and contrast to the current situation, where we're running an illegal, terrorist war in iraq, while the insurgents attack the puppet government we've propped up.

the good doctor wrote some fantastic stuff in the mid '80s. he had long passed his journalistic prime, but hunter thompson wielded, and still occasionally wields, a mighty skewer for the pompous, evil and hypocritical in the halls of power. his book generation of swine collects his columns from the san francisco examiner, where he looked through whiskey-colored glasses at the iran-contra scandal, the 1988 presidential race, the televangelist sex scandals and a rainbow variety of the bizarre and treacherous in the reagan/bush era.

that mean-spirited saga seems like "the wonder years" looking back from these troubled times. we've got far bigger problems than jimmy swaggart's wayward willy. the bush/dukakis battle? a girl scout camp hair puller compared to not one but two suspect presidential elections.

(by the way, did anyone notice that the u.s. rejected the ukrainian election results as unreliable? colin powell said the results could not be accepted because "there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse." apparently, the secretary of state is leaving the administration because he is suffering from irony deficiency. he needs to take an irony supplement.)

the real nutcracker is the iran-contra affair vis-a-vis the iraq war. as bad as iran-contra was, what with the violation of the constitution by the reagan white house, the arms deals with a sworn enemy of the united states, and the illegal, violent interference of the internal politics of a sovereign nation, what's happening in iraq is orders of magnitude worse. take everything in the preceding list, crank it up to 11, and break off the knob.

the new normal is the absense of any real outrage in the mainstream press. you could sift through the s.f. examiner or any other major metropolitan daily newspaper the livelong day, and never find anything near as incisive and visceral as what thompson wrote about the reagan/bush people two decades ago. and, let's face it, reagan's lackeys were like the j.v. corruption team, deep in the shadow of w's varsity squad. and at least they had the good sense and decency to resign when their high and low crimes were exposed. but then, they were being eyeballed by a democratic congress that seemed to care about such esoterica as accountability and integrity in office. the arrogance that trickles down today from the oval office prevents the current roster of malfeasors from admitting their wrongs, while a compliant republican congress insulates them from responsibility.

and don't expect the mainstream media to step into the breach to take up the watchdog role. you will see dan rather selling herbal viagra on late night infomercials before you find someone willing to take a hard, hard look at the white house. karl rove still runs free in those halls, and he's already tasted anchorman blood.


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