Skip to comments.One Thousand Monkeys(CNN, Tom, Peter, and Dan et al.)
Posted on 10/30/2001 4:43:31 PM PST by Dane
A Thousand Monkeys
October 30, 2001
If you chained a thousand monkeys to a thousand laptop computers, no doubt given time enough they would produce the nightly news.
It's been eerie to watch the abrupt souring of "war coverage," which of course was never really war coverage in the first place -- and not only because the Pentagon has been so extraordinarily tight-lipped, although there is that, too.
At heart, these new journalists, these bright boys and girls of the new media, simply don't know what to make of war, although they learned at Oberlin that it is a very bad thing, waged by ruthless capitalists against agrarian reformers with superhero names like Che and Ho.
Many of them are now, with dizzying swiftness, retreating from their brief excursion into mature reporting to resume the cartoon Kulturkampf that passes for journalism in so many newsrooms nowadays.
In their disdain for America, they remind me a little bit of Cinderella's step-sister (I'm thinking of the gory pre-Disney version), who lopped off her own toes with a butcher's knife so she could squeeze her foot into the slipper. They chop away at courage and hope and perseverance -- not to mention points of fact -- in order to cut this war down to size, until it fits the vision of American guilt that is a core doctrine of radical media fundamentalism.
Anthrax! they wail. Mixed messages! Clumsy spokesmen! Bombs gone astray!
A parenthetical rant: if even one journalist, ten days ago (back when anthrax was still a bit of a joke amongst the Smart Set), had stopped gloating about Tom Daschle's triumph over bacteria long enough to wail, "But what about the mail carriers? Have the mail carriers been tested for exposure? Doesn't anybody care about the MAIL CARRIERS?" then the current media howling about tainted mail and Bush administration bobbles would have at least a kind of rough integrity.
As things stand, though, no-one uttered so much as a preemptive peep about the postmen, and all this hullaballo is transparent opportunism.
Still, for all the hacking and trimming, reality occasionally slips past the scribes.
Consider those Arab street demonstrations that decorate the nightly news, full of fire and rage.
On the whole, our press treats the demonstrators with melancholy sympathy. Sure, there are occasional reluctant expressions of journalistic distaste for their more homicidal excesses ("it's not that I'm DEFENDING mass murder"), but these are framed in pompous footnotes about the awful suffering our Middle East policy has spawned.
Alas, the footnotes themselves are often wildly lopsided. For instance, a recent CNN 'analysis' of the long friendship between the US and Israel -- offered as a kind of tacit piece justicatif for Palestinian rage -- failed to mention, even once, even in the tiniest parentheses, the equally durable alliance between the former USSR and the Arab world during the decades of Cold War. Not a hint was offered of the way in which the superpowers maintained competing spheres of influence in the region, or the way in which the Soviets exploited Arab misery and murder to nourish their own imperial ambitions. On the contrary, CNN excised all such inconvenient details from its own particular draft of history.
Face it: the average American journalist is inclined to be considerably more put out by, say, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's ham-handed if well-intentioned blunderings, than by the ravings of some al-Qaida madman.
Still, no amount of smug conventional journalizing can entirely erase the objective impact of these raging mobs who strut and fret nightly on our little screens.
The mobs are almost always exclusively male, befitting a world in which women are quite routinely and quite thoroughly dehumanized, though occasionally a few veiled and frenzied women may turn out, ululating as they waggle English-language signs cameraward (the signs themselves, with their deft slogans, are too obviously designed to inflame the biases of Western journalists and intellectuals -- well-baited hooks, in fact, for guileless Western fish).
The mobs chant and leap and fire off automatic weapons into the sky, burning American flags and red-white-and-blue effigies: and however urgently Peter Jennings explains the mitigating circumstances, the real impression cannot be altogether shaken, that there is something depraved and nihilistic and profoundly evil at work in this violent public display. (If these were white lynch mobs, surely even Peter Jennings would understand.)
By contrast, consider Sunday's memorial service in Manhattan, at the ruins of the World Trade Center, as thousands of men, women and children of every race and faith and politics gathered quietly to remember their dead, who had been ripped away from them in an act of incomprehensible cruelty.
They listened, of course, to the mandatory Clerics of Every Faith: an imam, a rabbi, a priest. My local news -- perhaps it was exceptional -- mentioned only the imam and the rabbi, leaving Cardinal Egan out of the equation altogether, but he spoke, too, of course, simply and movingly. The rabbi was similarly eloquent.
As for the imam, well -- no doubt it's unforgivable prejudice on my part, but I confess to feeling a little frisson of alarm these days, when I hear an imam offer a prayer for peace and understanding.
So many of them seem to have quite another point of view, when they're speaking strictly among friends.
In any case, on Sunday in New York, for this crowd united by its heartbreak and its dignity, musicians played Barber's Adagio for Strings. One of the most haunting and gorgeous pieces of music ever written, it is in itself a reminder that Western civilization is well worth fighting for.
There were no shouted threats from these mourners, no glittering eyes savage with hate, no gunshots. Wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and friends, they did not brandish Uzis, but mutely held up photographs of the dead. They did not scream death threats into the brilliant, chilly, smoky autumn air, but murmured words of comfort to each other.
Our journalists are made faintly uneasy by such dangerous public demonstrations, which might, after all, remind the rest of us of all the wrong things.
Indeed, the press considers it a kind of duty to gloss over such proofs of the deep instinctive goodness of Americans, rooting about instead to unearth the latest civilian casualty in Kabul, or, absent that, the latest indigity against an Arab cabbie. (As with the famous church-burnings of the 1990s, documentation is not always required.)
What might such journalists as these have made of a Hitler, of a Hirohito, or the populations that cheered them on?
I take it back. Even a thousand monkeys would know better.
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