amusing ourselves to death

I forced myself to watch an entire hour of ABC's Good Morning America, from seven to eight. Here's the breakdown:

The big news was what the press is calling Bush’s "PR campaign" in defense of spying. This is a classic case of non-investigative journalism. The press is content to be played, and politicians are content to play them, so everybody wins, but us.

What we get is a rogue's gallery of scoundrels like Alberto Gonzales (is it a surprise that the man who proclaimed torture legal would argue in favor of the president's power to spy on Americans?), Karl Rove (who broke the news that the Demon-crats plan to run Bin Laden in '08, and keeps using the inane line, "if Al Qaeda is calling you we want to know about it"), and bald-headed freak and former head of the NSA, Gen. Michael Hayden, who assures us that had illegal wiretapping been the order of the day prior to September 2001, there would never have been a 9/11 to have to justify it to begin with. Hmm. You've also got a chorus of panicky conservatives saying it was going on under Clinton. You know it's bad when the "blame Clinton" mantra starts up.

This PR blitz is a freakshow, and should be treated as such.

Next came another in an endless line of stories on obesity, with some fat priest telling a reporter that his obesity was his business and he didn't want to have to see a doctor about it. Here's a priest telling other people to mind their own business. Hmm. Apparently there's some debate about whether or not a certain new diet pill should be available over the counter. I'm all for it. Whatever you gotta do, do it, and shut up about it already. You ever go to dinner with someone who's dieting? Spoils your appetite, doesn't it? They’re worse than vegetarians. At least with vegetarians you have the pleasure of eating meat to spite them, but with these diet-nazis, they want to bang on about themselves, and what they can't eat, and then they want your sympathy for ruining your meal!

Weather was next. Lots of it up in Boston. Here on St. Armand’s Isle it’s like paradise. I’m not looking forward to going back tomorrow.

Then, after an epic commercial break there was more on wiretapping. The funny thing is the tone was very casual, as if this was really not a big thing. Just something those crazy ol’ pols in Washington are fussing back and forth over. Charlie Gibson shook his jowls and rolled his eyes introducing his obligatory partisan guests to “discuss” the issue. He had the over-ripe Paul Begala, CNN’s “voice from the left” and dried-up old conservative hack Bay Buchanan, “debating” the legality of the wiretaps and the President’s PR blitz. But these little “debates” are worthless. We know exactly what both parties are going to say, and that neither will be convinced by anything the other has to say, so really it’s a reiteration of the party line, and reinforcement of what the acceptable parameters, the limits of the debate are. It’s a kind of highly stylized liturgical exercise, which shows as much what is proscribed as what is permitted in our theatircal "public debate" on the issue.

What you get out of it is the “talking points”. You can pick up the slogans and sound bites that stand in for real inquiry and debate. And then you’re supposed to recite them sagaciously around the water cooler later in the day. Here’s a nice phrase you can slip into your banter, from Bay Buchanan: we’re dealing with “enemy communications in a time of war” here, gosh darnit! Another good one: “The president’s job is to protect us!” BB also had a great argument for the legality of wiretapping (this is a direct quote, and no, I am not joking): “Clearly if he [President Bush] can bomb people’s homes, he can wiretap.” That one’s good to stun the opponent and then go in for the kill: “Americans are going to support that without question.” Because that’s what good Americans do. You’ll notice, these are not arguments so much as declarations and commands, which are handier than arguments when it comes down to brass tacks, anyway.

If you’re on the other side of the water cooler, you can say, as PB did, citing Senator McCain’s opposition to the president’s newfound omnipotence, that “this is not a partisan issue.” You can then quote chapter and verse of their own Bible to conservatives. Reagan: “trust but verify.” That’s the key. Try not to sound too strident. Try to sound more conservative than the conservatives.

Ford’s big reorganization was the next story. Diane Sawyer needs an eye-lift. There were two sad-eyed female anchors assuring us everything would be OK. It was a human interest story, see. They had some poor slob who’d been laid off mewling, “but we did everything they asked in that plant.” Golly, and that big, nice corporation didn't appreciate you? Well, McDonald's is hiring. And there's a nice clown in charge there!

Then came the Russian spying fracas. With the rock. After which came the obligatory crack: “Rock-n-roll!” snickered Robin Roberts, the token black anchorwoman. Tee heee heee! Laughed the others, as if something clever and funny had been said. Cut to commercial.

Back to Bush. Here we’re dealing with the illegal activities of an amoral administration and all the clowns in the media have to say, after a cursory, irrelevant “debate” is that our wacky prez has gone on “a humor offensive”.

“Bush goes Unscripted!” Big news after nearly six years in office. I mean this is how low our standards have plummeted. Weekly briefings before Congress and unscripted Q+A should be required of our president, as they are of the British PM, for example. I mean, who is this clown? We’re praising him for taking silly questions about Barney and Brokeback Mountain from a screened crowd? “He’s very relaxed, very relaxed” noted Robin. “Yes, very relaxed,” the others concurred. Well, of course he’s relaxed. Why shouldn’t he be? It’s the rest of us who should be nervous.

Then they went to commercial again, and came back with a story on that utter scumbag Scalia, the very personification of judicial hubris. He skipped John Roberts’ swearing in for some junket at a fancy resort paid for by The Federalist Society, a conservative group that often argues cases before the Supreme Court. There may be an Abramoff conection there, too. Not the least bit surprising.

More weather. The GMA weatherman—I don’t know his name, but breaking with morning show tradition, he’s not a jolly fat man—he’s outside the studio chatting with the tourists, and he’s like, “Did you know that January 24th is the official most depressing day of the year?” No one did. He asked a woman what she does when she’s depressed. She said she baked a big batch of cookies and ate ‘em all herself! Then he asked her husband, who sad he put on his speedo and looked at pictures of Hawaii. The meteorologist said something like, “Speedo! Dude, stay away from me!” And scooted away from him, and then laughed like he’d made a funny. (Notice how all these sods are always laughing at their own jokes?)

And can someone please answer me this? Why are Americans so freakin speedophobic? Here you’ve got guys practically in bloomers at the beach. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care if you go naked, but there’s not a thing wrong with speedos.

What I think is interesting is how girls’ fashions these days is getting skimpier and tighter all the time, while boys are wearing these big, clownishly oversized styles. It’s like they’re hiding themselves under their frocks, and frankly I don’t understand it. Is it because the ones who are showing it off actually have something to show off, and it’s shaming the others? Is it because our ideal of male beauty has become at least as exacting as the female version, and if you can’t achieve it, you have to cover up evidence of your “inadequacies”? It could be that it’s just easier to conceal weapons under a cassock. All I’m saying: personally I’m not afraid to don a speedo. And when you come bumbling down the beach in your big, goofy jams, well, who's the bozo?

Then came this twenty–minute human disinterest story on an all-female fire brigade. Hoorah for women firefighters! Um, is this news?

Finally, more on our friendly, folksy president. Awe, come on, he ain’t so bad! He’s jess tryin to protect us, y’all! And he's havin' himself a good ol' time doin' it! And that's what America's all about! And the American People KNOW it, too! In his historic unscripted Q+A “he got 61 laughs!” Charlie informed us. “61!” clapped Diane, her sad-eyes sparkling. “Like a pro!” chimed in Robin. Like a pro what? I mean, is he President of the United States or Dick Cheney's jester?

But hey, so long as Al Qaeda's not calling you (just hope they don't dial a wrong number, har har) and you're not disappeared by the CIA and renditioned off to one of their secret torture prisons, well then, yuck it up! IT'S ALL GOOD!


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