CITY WATCH EASTSIDER-I hear you asking, what do icons have to do with the press? Well, the normal meaning of “icon” may have to do with religious objects or graphic representations. But a secondary meaning of the word has to do with “a person or thing that is idolized.” That’s the Icon of this piece.
Hillary Clinton is “Madame Secretary”, Dick Cheney is “Mr. Vice President”, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are “Governor.” Heck, even Antonio Villaraigosa is “Mr. Mayor.” These “honorific” titles used by the media are being horribly misused. There is a vast difference between a former job title that has specific meaning, and the use of those job titles as misplaced gestures of respect toward people who no longer hold the actual offices.
What the heck happened to a free press in what used to be a democracy? These titles are being used just like the titles of royalty were in the old days. Do it long enough and we will have a new class of termed-out or voted-out political royalty. Royalty? I think not.
The television millionaire talking heads who “report” this drivel have to spend around an hour in makeup before they read prepared scripts from their teleprompters -- as if it were truth. Their print counterparts should take a big time editing class because any real reporting they do is doomed to get killed on the spike of “editorial review.” In either case, if they persist in honest reporting, the billionaires who own the media outlets have them fired.
My god, Ida Tarbell, author of “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” and Frank Norris, author of “The Octopus,” would be rolling over in their muckraking graves. Upton Sinclair of “The Brass Check,” and I.F. “Izzy” Stone would be throwing up. Hard core gonzo reporters like John Ross and even Hunter Thompson would be shaking their heads over the end of honest reporting as we know it. They might just retreat to do some serious drugs.
Take my current pet peeve: meaningless fawning. In our system of electoral musical chairs, a person runs for office, holds that office then leaves that office. The office itself, Mayor, Governor, President, Assembly/Senator, etc., is the title. The office remains the office before, during, and after all the frail human beings assume and leave their positions. The office is permanent, the occupants of the office change all the time. So when did these statutory positions suddenly become permanent honorifics for every person who has ever inhabited them?
These politicians are not royalty. They are a bunch of folks who got in bed with whomever was willing to buy them their public office; afterwards they revert to who they really were all the time – plain Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee…even Antonio Villaraigosa. Not Madam Secretary, Mr. Vice-President, Governor or Mayor.
Why does the media act like a bunch of genuflecting lick spittles towards these folks? And why do we let them get away with it? On the media side, of course, it’s simple. The people who own the media want us to think of these people as true blue authority figures so we will believe whatever horse puckey they spout. It’s a fraud, pure and simple. And it’s bought and paid for Citizens United capitalism -- foisted on all the suckers who will unthinkingly assume we should believe ex-elected officials -- even when their words and deeds are blatantly unbelievable.
If you and I can separate ourselves from our iPhones and Android devices for a few seconds, we can all see what I’m saying is true. These politicians are not authority figures. Increasingly, they are not even, by and large, very honest. Generally, they are simply folks who have some kind of weird narcissistic need to tell other people what to do in exchange for a bunch of money and a great pension plan. They are absolutely not role models. No mas.
Remember the four phases of a politician who gets caught: (1) I didn’t do it, (2) I’m in rehab, (3) you can’t prove it, and (4) my plea deal was to spare my spouse and friends. Some role models, right?
Now, I am not silly enough to argue that journalism used to be all about the truth. As Upton Sinclair proved beyond any doubt in his really cool book, “The Brass Check,” all too many journalists have always been for sale.
I should note the title of his book refers to an old custom in which the customers of a brothel were issued a chit (the brass check.) Written way back in 1919, it’s a must read to provide context for our contemporary media. Really. No one these days has ever heard of the book and I suspect that it’s not on the reading list for journalism/communications majors. However, it should be.
Also, take a look at Izzy Stone’s attempts to make a living as an honest muckraking reporter, and how he was hounded, vilified, and trivialized for his entire career. Check out his great biography, “All Governments Lie!”
Let these real reporters wake us up to do our own research. It’s easy these days. All we need is to spend a little time on the internet and our view of politicians will never be the same. Do a Google search on almost any of these folks (remembering to skip the first couple of pages that pop up since they’re mostly ads) and incredible bags of details will emerge. In fact, I can do better research online in an hour than I used to be able to do in a whole day spent in the stacks of a really well stocked library. Read and you will no longer believe the 15 second “sound bytes” that the mass media is trying to sell you!
Try a little internet surfing and you will never view the news media and their products the same way again. C’mon, take a walk on the dark side and do a reality check on what you’re being fed as truth. Who knows, you might just turn into the next gonzo journalist or muckraker!
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.