Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

May 4-May 18, 2005

Issue #74

  .........................Buffalo's Best Fiend
Musn't-See TV
Democrats Sucking for America
by Matt Taibbi
The Falling Value of Domocracy
by Russ Wellen
Stadiums & Phony Capitalism
by Matt Taibbi
Spirited Debate on the Filibuster

Tomorrow's News Today!

by Ian Murphy

For Earth Day

ISSUE#74 PDF FILE (right-click & "save target")
Cover Page
Buffalo in Briefs
Separated At Birth
Blind Date Scenario
Kino Korner
Cruise Korner NEW!
Clasifieds & BeastWord
[SIC] - Your Letters

Last Issue: (73)
Attack of Tom Cruise


Shill Your Television
Musn't-See TV

by Allan Uthman

Lots of things have been happening in the last week or two, most of them very troubling. Congress passed sweeping bankruptcy legislation and got rid of the estate tax, which should have caused widespread rioting. Bush’s media friends are happily lying to the public about his Social Security privatization plan. Iraqi insurgents, apparently having missed the memo about how elections have transformed the region, are blowing even more people up than usual. North Korea tested a short-range missile, and Iran asserted its determination to pursue nuclear technology. Also, there’s an election going on in Britain.

But then there was the really big story, the one that blew all the others off the map, the one whose grave import required constant, round-the-clock coverage on all channels, leaving little time to inform us of these other events: some woman from Duluth, Georgia, bailed on her wedding.

At first, it looked like just another pointless media frenzy over a murdered white woman. Some bullshit detail about the husband waffling over a lie detector test. It gets easier and easier to detect the patterns. This had “Hacking II,” or rather “Peterson III,” written all over it. At least with O.J., he was already famous for something besides spousal murder. I braced myself for several consecutive days of nothing but this, a human-interest story which affected only a handful of people in any significant way, and that’s what I got. No matter how hard I tried, I could not avoid the story.

The detail that Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared just days before her wedding, pitched as tragic in the murder context that the media was clearly salivating over, made me wonder. “What if she just took off?” I thought. “Wouldn’t that make this whole exercise the most ridiculous non-event in the history of American media?” Lo and behold, a few days later, Wilbanks turned up in New Mexico, briefly auditioning a bullshit abduction story, probably cooked up in a panic when she realized she was getting more airtime than the President.

Rather than engaging in any kind of self-examination, the completely unembarrassed media dove right into the new wrinkle without so much as blinking. Nobody apologized for basically accusing the jilted groom of murder. Nobody questioned the news value of covering a single missing persons case as if it were the most vital, significant story in the world, for hours and hours and days and days. No one said, “what the hell are we doing here, anyway?” They just kept right on going with it, flogging the dead horse back to life. There is no level of irrelevance or pandering which is beneath the modern American reporter. There are pimps with more dignity, and spooge moppers at strip clubs who take more pride in their work.

As I write this, the “runaway bride” is still the dominant story, occupying more airtime than even the all-important Jackson trial. Little, unimportant items, like “Ex-'Idol' claims Abdul affair” and “47 die in Iraq suicide blast,” barely register in the din. While congress goes about methodically dismantling every consumer protection and worker benefit system we’ve enjoyed since the depression, the people are presented with the same damn five seconds of footage of this inconsequential flake walking through an airport with a towel over her head about seventeen times an hour.

The new angle is: “will she be punished?” This tack is at least in part driven by the media’s resentment of Wilbanks for turning up alive, prematurely killing the story before they could get in a good long frenzy of trial coverage. Still they milk the story, with piece after piece about the family’s reaction, public reaction, and even other reporters’ reactions, and running that towel footage again, and then that one picture they’ve got of her, and then the towel thing again.

Meanwhile, an entire world of violence, corruption, and despair turns unabated and largely unknown. To say this is ridiculous just doesn’t really do it justice. It’s not just stupid; it’s a moral crime.

These unwatchable onslaughts of obsessive media overkill are coming faster, staying longer, with briefer intervals of relative sanity. Recently, it’s been unbearable, and decidedly Christian-themed: Terri Schiavo, dying Terri Schiavo, dead Terri Schiavo, dying pope, dead pope, who will be the new pope, new pope, dead Jennifer Wilbanks, alive Jennifer Wilbanks, and now Jennifer Wilbanks, inconsiderate bitch.

This isn’t news. This is something different. It’s some kind of communal orgy of distraction, a new weeks-long anticipation ritual which effective shields its participants from ever learning anything of importance. Stories about government or corporate wrongdoing, when they achieve a certain critical mass are allowed into the room, but dealt with easily through inadequate explanation and clownish “discussion.” Tom Delay’s just another famous personality, skulking around the dim corners of the party. He’s in trouble or something, but it’s probably just that muck-raking media.

The currently popular theory as to why the news is so stupid goes like this: after the cold war ended, news organizations cashed in on the “peace dividend,” closing many foreign bureaus. This just sounds stupid to me—what kind of journalist decides that the rest of the world isn’t important anymore, especially when an empire collapses? The truth is that looser FCC regulations enabled larger organizations to simply buy up their competition and run whatever lowbrow garbage was cheapest to produce.

What we are witnessing is a not-so-gradual power shift in news, away from an inquisitive, suspicious urban audience to a sheltered, naïve rural one. I have no doubt that the trend will continue until “60 Minutes” is virtually indistinguishable from “Inside Edition.” The news used to be designed for people who wanted to know things. People who didn’t, didn’t watch. Now they’re all watching, but because they still basically don’t want to learn anything, the programming has changed to suit them. In other words, it’s stupid, self-indulgent, and infantile; a perfect mirror of its target audience. I’m not just talking about FOX News, either.

So what’s left for those who want real, hard-hitting coverage of big, important issues? PBS? Fat chance.

The new Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence,” said the New York Times on Tuesday. “Without the knowledge of his board, the chairman…contracted last year with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests' political leanings on one program, ‘Now With Bill Moyers.’” It continues:

…Mr. Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member…While she was still on the White House staff, she helped draft guidelines governing the work of two ombudsmen whom the corporation recently appointed to review the content of public radio and television broadcasts…while a search firm has been retained to find a successor for Kathleen A. Cox, the corporation's president and chief executive, whose contract was not renewed last month, Mr. Tomlinson has made clear to the board that his choice is Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who is now an assistant secretary of state.

Great, just great. They already took NPR’s testicles years ago. Is there anything these people won’t do? They’ll regret it when mobs of Saab driving tea-drinkers in Boston burn down a Starbuck’s after Frontline’s new episode, “Activist Judges: Why Do They Hate America?”

They’re taking over. Karl Rove knows his Orwell as well as his Machiavelli. Don’t fall for the “balance” ruse. The GOP doesn’t seek peaceful coexistence, it seeks total domination in all things. The only sane choice is to simply stop watching, stop listening. If you need to watch “Family Guy,” go ahead, but don’t even click over to CNN during the breaks; they’re selling poison over there. Find better sources of information (warning: may involve reading), and keep your head down. And for god’s sake, if you abandon your fiancée, spare us the brain cells—call someone.

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