Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bits N' Pieces

The "edited" version of the latest newspaper column is here. This is the version as originally written.

I’ve got a lot on my mind this week, so this week’s column’s a bit of a grab bag, with entertainment, politics, and my usual disdain for what passes for journalism these days thrown in:

  • If there’s ever been anything that illustrates up the lameness and absurdity of the 24 hour news cycle, it’s the way the press has handled the recent tragic death of actor Heath Ledger. That coverage perfectly illustrated what seems to be the current motto of the sensationalist press: “Get it Now, Get it First, Get it Wrong.” When the 28 year old actor was found dead in his New York apartment, numerous headlines blared that it was “an apparent suicide.” He died, the papers reported breathlessly, “surrounded by pills scattered on the bed.” A “rolled 20 dollar bill with drug residue” was found near the body. Then, lo and behold, much of the lurid detail reported by even such supposedly reputable news sources as the New York Times was balderdash, not to mention poppycock and ballyhoo. The NYPD reported there was no residue, drug or otherwise, on the bill (and one now wonders if was even “rolled up”). Prescription medications found at Ledger’s apartment were not “scattered around,” but instead were in their proper bottles, most of them in the medicine cabinet, with one bottle of sleeping pills in the nightstand. By the very next day, the NYPD coroner was leaning towards an accidental overdose, but, they admitted, they really didn’t know yet. Not that that will stop even the supposedly “legitimate” press from ill-informed and irresponsible speculation and pious attempts to find lessons in “facts” that aren’t really there.
  • On the positive side, it looks like someone in the campaign press has finally grown a spine. Unfortunately, the reporter who actually dared act like a reporter instead of a stenographer is being roundly booed even by some of his own colleagues. At issue is an exchange during a campaign photo-op in Columbia South Carolina by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney, whose already well established gift for flip-floppery has now been augmented by a penchant for just making stuff up, asserted “I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign.” AP reporter Glen Johnson, sitting on the floor a few feet away, had apparently had enough. He interrupted to point out that Romney advisor Ron Kaufman, who’s described himself as a “top adviser” to the Romney campaign and who’s coached Romney for the debates, is indeed a lobbyist working for the Washington lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide. But, said Romney testily, he’s actually not the campaign manager, so he’s not “running the campaign.” Later, Johnson revealed the chairman of Romney’s policy committee, former Representative Vin Weber, is also registered lobbyist, as is adviser Jim Tallent, former Senator from Missouri. I’m sure the chairman of the policy committee doesn’t have anything to so with running the campaign, oh, no. I’ll bet Romney doesn’t even listen to the lobbyists all around him that he pretends aren’t there. The Romney campaign criticized Johnson for being “argumentative.” Even the Huffington Post’s media critic Rachel Sklar slammed Johnson for “heckling” the candidate, while admitting that everything Johnson said and later wrote was absolutely true. Apparently, some people feel the job of a reporter is to just sit there and take down whatever a candidate says and publish it without challenging obvious prevarication and the parsing of words. Frankly, I hope more reporters, whether they’re following a Republican or a Democrat, are willing to speak up when they hear the candidates spouting pure malarkey.
  • In other campaign news this past week, Fred Thompson announced he was dropping out of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Fred was leading in the polls. Of course, that was before he was actually running. Fact is, the only reason Thompson looked like the guy who was going to save the Republican Party was that he wasn't any of the other gimps they already had running at the time. When he actually got into the race, however, people began to realize that, in the words of Dorothy Parker, there wasn’t any there there. Thompson always looked like an actor who was playing someone who was running for President, and doing a terrible job in the role. Maybe it was because no one had given much thought to the script. Thompson, unlike any of the other candidates, never managed to look like he was enjoying running. Of course this may be because "enjoyment" is not in his limited repertoire of expressions. Anyone who’s ever seen “Law and Order” could have told the Republicans that he wasn’t a good enough actor to fake it. Come on, be honest. Did you ever see him do anything but "gruff"?

See y’all next week.

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