For increasingly the America rendered today in the American media is illusionary and delusionary disfigured, unreal, disconnected from the true context of our lives. —Carl Bernstein, The Idiot Culture
That's how things looked to one of America's most famous investigative reporters back in the long-vanished, more rational world of 1992. Poor Carl had no idea what was coming.
The man whose diligent reporting had helped bring down Richard Nixon was then scandalized by the media obsession with the likes of Ivana Trump and Marla Maples.
Today, we have progressed from the world of Bernstein's classic New Republic essay to something far worse. Today, the "idiot culture" looks downright dignified, and intellectual compared to what is daily portrayed in our media.
Viewed from the Age of Charlie Sheen, Maples looks prim, H. Ross Perot statesmanlike, and Geraldo Rivera seems a harmless clown. We now live in a nation where the bellowings of a defiantly ignorant hater — a dropout former druggie and drunk named Glenn Beck — are treated reverently by millions.
We live in a world where the Republican Party, after nominating a profoundly and proudly dimwitted governor of a backward state for vice president, has made her a cult figure whose devotees hang on her every utterance.
We live in a world where our leaders not only lie frequently, they — and increasingly, we — don't seem to give a damn whether anything they say is true.
Consider Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor whose main accomplishment in life seems to be once losing 100 pounds. Recently, he said on a radio talk show of President Obama: "If you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."
While it isn't clear whether Huckabee is stupidly ignorant, deliberately lying or both, this does clearly fall under what libel lawyers call "reckless disregard of the truth." Obama never went anywhere near Kenya until he was an adult, when he visited the grave of his father, something discussed in one of the best-selling autobiographies in history.
Later, a spokesman for the pork belly philosopher said that Huck had meant to say "Indonesia," which, if true (not) would have been even stupider, if possible. Those black Mau Mau terrorists would have felt especially out of place in Indonesia, given that there were no British or black people.
Back in the day when literacy was prized, comments like that would disqualify Huck from any job where a pitchfork wasn't considered high tech. But today's media doesn't care.
Probably the biggest disgrace, however, is the tolerance of the bawling moron Glenn Beck. Ignorant, hate-filled broadcast babblers are nothing new in America. But Beck may be a new low. In the past, most of the ones who went national had some credentials to abuse. Father Charles Coughlin, the Twelve Mile and Woodward Nazi, made it through the seminary. Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) earned a law degree before becoming a demagogue and a drunk. Beck, now 47, took a short cut.
He managed to drag himself through high school before getting heavily into alcohol and drugs, but that was it. Eventually, he says, he sobered up, became a Mormon, and decided to educate himself by reading, for starters, Adolf Hitler, Billy Graham and Friedrich Nietzsche. Possibly he also stumbled on a book about how to run a carnival. At any event, he became one — or, at least, learned to his delight that he could make millions by delivering clownish, hate-filled rants on the airwaves.
President Obama, he's said, "has shown a deep-seated hatred for white people and the white culture ... the guy is, I believe, a racist." Isn't that cute? More recently, Beck said that Reform Judaism was a lot like "radicalized Islam."
He apologized for that one, probably fearing he would lose sponsors. His excuse was that he "didn't do enough homework." When caught in an open lie by someone he can't ignore, Beck used to refer to himself as a "rodeo clown."
True, that's insulting to rodeos. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is anything but a liberal, but had the integrity a couple years ago to denounce Beck's know-nothing hate show as cynical and "antithetical to American values."
That's more than most of the mainstream media has done. The New York Times Magazine put Beck on its cover a few months ago, treating him as a serious subject. Howard Kurtz, the longtime media critic, called him a "talented, often funny broadcaster."
Last month, Beck crawled into local news here, showing some old pictures and ranting on the theme that Detroit is in worse shape than Hiroshima, and blaming "socialism." Ironically, he was right in a way he didn't understand. A government with a more vigorous public sector, something supposedly capitalist Japan has, would have pumped billions into rebuilding Detroit. That's what actually happened in Japan, with the American occupation government also providing vast amounts of aid.
What Glenn Beck did on his Fox segment was just rehash a right-wing rant that has been circulating on the Internet for years. Unfortunately, some of Detroit's leaders got defensive and acted as if Beck deserved respect.
Mayor Dave Bing invited him "to see and experience Detroit for himself." The Rev. Horace Sheffield said he was attempting to reach Beck's staff to schedule a meeting with their boss.
Coleman Young would have smacked them upside the head. Beck has no more interest in truth than my dog Ashley does in Jacques Derrida. My dog, however, did, as a puppy, sometimes turn belly up and emit a few drops of urine when a big, scary dog confronted him. Detroit's leaders don't need to do that.
They are, however, more moral than the American broadcast media, which, in the last month, morphed from mere portrayers of what Bernstein called the "lurid and loopy," to a public relations machine for a dangerously out-of-control, clearly mentally unstable drug addict.
We speak, of course, of Charlie Sheen, who brags of spending vast sums on drugs, prostitutes and porn stars and has consequently been provided with the airwaves as a platform to self-destruct. It took the earthquake in Japan to drive him, temporarily, from the air.
Naturally, the effects of the tidal wave were bound to eventually reach Detroit, where Sheen, if still alive and at liberty, will disgrace himself further at the Fox on April 2. Since there are no longer free public hangings, the idea is to get Detroiters to pay $35 a pop or more in the hope of seeing him self-destruct on stage. That intellectual sage of our time, WRIF disc jockey Drew Lane, told the Free Press, "Every time he opens his mouth, it's breaking news. ... I can't tell you why it's important, but ... everyone's completely fascinated."
Right. Nineteen years ago, Carl Bernstein concluded that both the media and public had abdicated their responsibility, and the consequence was "the spectacle and the triumph of the idiot culture." Poor Carl had no idea he'd ain't seen nothing yet.