May 23, 2003
Messages from Prime Time: Is the Truth Sneaking Around Out There?
MEDIA WATCH SPECIAL REPORT
So what exactly is this "BIG FACT" thing at FOX News?
Late last week FOX News inadvertently blew its cover with a particularly weird logo even for the "Fair and Balanced" crowd. Flipping through the channels I saw Brit Hume mouthing something, but my attention went immediately to the bright blue strip with the words "BIG FACT" emblazoned across the screen. BIG FACT? I haven't seen it since, but it struck me as the next level down for FOX -- way more over the top than the "Fair and Balanced" shtick.
What are you saying when you label a report as "Big Fact"? Are you saying that it's so unusual for you to be reporting facts that you have to announce it? Or are you just making sure you're going to convince the viewers who sit at the lowest intellectual level on the planet that what they want to hear is actually not just spin? Perhaps it's just another way of branding the news –- "FOX presents 'Big Mac' or 'Big Slurp' with Brit Hume." Notice the logo didn't say "THE Big Fact" -- that would be too close to sounding like "THE BIG LIE," which FOX is most interested in delivering for the Bush Administration! Anyway, we'll just have to wait and see if "BIG FACT" joins the FOX News graphics tool chest on a regular basis.
It's things like this that have made me give up on watching cable "news," but the truth is, I also rarely venture out into the morass of what constitutes the networks' prime time TV offerings these days. However, a flurry of shows over the past week has left me wondering if there are some brave souls hiding in the ventilation systems at some of the networks, people who are sending messages to the outside via prime time.
Take The West Wing, for example. There are those that believe this show has "jumped the shark" and that may be true. And with Alan Sorkin leaving the show, who knows where it's headed? Certainly, NBC has been pre-empting it enough this spring to make one wonder.
I missed most of the show on Wednesday, but did manage to catch the last few minutes. There I was watching the elected President relinquishing power to the next in line . . . not the Vice President, who had resigned a couple of episodes ago for passing classified information to a lover, but to the Speaker of the House, a member of the opposition party. I noticed how the "temporary" President, marched in and as soon as he took the Oath, started talking like a bully to Bartlett's staff.
Sound familiar? Wasn't the scene a replay of the elected President (Gore) being forced to hand the power over to the opposition? And isn't Bush a BULLY? Sure, the details weren't exactly the same, but the visceral response I had to this scene sure was. John Goodman, surly and physically massive, played the part of the new president, assuming office without grace and with a brutality that seems to have become the norm of this Administration. The looks of alarm that passed between Bartlett's staff members where echoed in the disquiet I felt as I watched the scene unfold.
The next night I tuned in to NBC to watch the finale of ER. In this episode, Dr. Carter joined a "doctors without borders" organization in an African nation embroiled in civil war and met up with Luka, a colleague who has already been working there. All around them were horrific medical conditions and needless death. The lack of medicine was emphasized. In one story thread, a little boy died of pertussis -- whooping cough -- only because a $15 dose of erythromycin was unavailable and the staff had to make do with one of the few, less-effective antibiotics that they had on hand.
As ER viewers know, Luka comes from Croatia and had lost his entire family during the war there. Sitting with Carter, he recounted what happened to his family and explained how he felt like he was now doing something that mattered. He mused about how the American military drops bombs then retreats to the safety of aircraft carriers to watch Drew Carey and says troops aren't on the ground to see the killing, the raping, and the wounds.
The violence of the war then visited the medical camp as soldiers put guns to the heads of the doctors and nurses. After surviving this ordeal, Carter left Luka behind and returned to Chicago, almost shell-shocked by all that he experienced.
This episode of ER was a heartrending hour and almost overwhelming
in its sadness and poignancy. The next morning I was still thinking
about it and I wondered if this program had been an analogy for Iraq
or one of many other places in Africa or Asia that have been laid
to waste. Or perhaps it represented the Palestinian-Israeli situation?
Ironically, ER and NBC showed viewers more human suffering caused
by war in one hour than I've seen on our TV news reports about the
various conflicts in the world today.
Then there's CBS' miniseries about Hitler. One might argue over the end result, but the description from CBS' website for Part 2 shows that even a bare bones retelling of Hitler's rise to power seems appropriate for today's political climate:
"Hitler proposes an enabling act that will effectively override the constitution, take power away from aging President Hindenburg and put him in control. The tenets of this act take away individual freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to privacy and orders that all of these rights be suspended at once. Because the Reichstag must approve the act before it can come into effect, Hitler threatens dissenting voters into submission and the law is passed."
You have to wonder what prompted the network person responsible
to think about putting Hitler on in prime time even without a whole
lot of corporate sponsors buying ad time. Sure, lots of well-read
Democrats are getting excited over the "message" they're seeing.
But, of course, one must question whether the average American could
spot the parallels between Hitler's Germany and Bush's America. And
maybe our intrepid CBS suit just figured America would never see
the connection and simply enjoy watching "evil." Maybe the whole
thing is just an accident and there's no message to be had.
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©2003, Gloria R. Lalumia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Radio for the Left at http://www.zianet.com/insightanalytical/radio.htm
otherwise noted, all original