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Looking Back: “Leave It To Lieberman”


Danny Schechter

Don’t

say independent media analysts can’t get on the air. On Wednesday might, hours

before Joe Lieberman would speak to the Democratic Convention, Seth Ackerman was

invited to have his say. Seth, who works with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

(FAIR), was asked to comment on the media coverage in Los Angeles. No, he wasn’t

on any of the big networks, just a radio show hosted by Joan Rivers, the

on-the-way-down comedienne who went from prime time to less time and

occasionally shows up with a good one-liner on ABC’s "Politically

Incorrect." She demonstrated her lack of political correctness once more as

she welcomed Seth into her studio and asked with a straight face: "Why are

the police getting such bad coverage in L.A. after being treated so badly by the

protesters?"

Seth,

who had come on the show to release a detailed new FAIR study

documenting

the way the protests had been ignored, distorted and misreported, couldn’t

believe what he was hearing.

"I

was stunned by the question, and I tried to change the subject back to

reality," he told me at a book party for John Nichols and Robert W.

McChesney’s call to arms, "It’s the Media, Stupid" (Open Media

Pamphlet-Seven Stories Press.) "I told her about an ACLU report and law

suit against pervasive First Amendment violations by the Los Angeles Police

Department. But then she changed the subject."

Joan

had not been to L.A., of course, and was relying for her prejudices on the

skewed media coverage. She herself has been doing some convention commenting for

CNN but not exactly on politics. Her task has been to give expert commentary on

what the politicians are wearing, a subject she may be better suited to handle.

(Pun intended!)

I

am not sure what she thought of Joe Lieberman’s attire, but in the end it didn’t

really matter. The chairman of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC), the

Party’s right wing, wowed the crowd with a speech that tied Al Gore to

"larger themes of American legend and myth," according to one obtuse

analyst on PBS. As the minions chanted "Go Joe Go," he galvanized the

crowd, with shtick, chutzpah and cliches like "Only in America." When

it was over – after he had invoked the name of God and his "Republican

friends" more times than I could count – NBC’s Tom Brokaw compared him to

the GOP’s Dick Cheney, rather negatively, as someone who also couldn’t really be

called an orator. I flipped to CBS, and there was Ed Bradley weighing in with:

"They said he wasn’t much of an orator, but to this crowd it didn’t

matter." My partner Rory O’Connor compared Lieberman’s performance -

unfavorably – to Mr. Roger’s on PBS.

While

the major media enthused about Lieberman as a breaking-through -the-barriers Jew

making it to the top, and as a symbol of tolerance and Al Gores’s

"courage," other Jews who are critical of Lieberman’s politics were

not being heard on any network that I saw. Reported Jenn Bleyer on the Indy

media Web site: "Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of progressive Jewish

magazine Tikkun and author of "Spirit Matters: Global Wisdom and the

Healing of the Soul," echoed others’ mix of pride and criticism."

"On

one hand, I was celebrating American society for being able to transcend two

hundred years of Christian anti-Semitism. On the other hand, I was very unhappy

that it was Lieberman who was chosen, because he is bad for Jews and bad for the

country. He has further moved the Democrats from being champions of working and

poor people, at least in their own eyes, to being a clone of the Republican

party."

Lerner,

who spoke at the Shadow Convention about the dangerous convergence of the left

and the right, also commented on the media’s relentless infatuation with

Lieberman’s orthodoxy. He asserted that though Lieberman adheres to religious

law, he is an "assimilated Jew" nevertheless, having assimilated to

the American values of materialism and selfishness, a trap into which many

American Jews have fallen. "America offered Jews an incredible deal when

they came here," Lerner explained. "They said we could be white, as

long we turned our religion into ritual and reinforced the status quo."

Speculating on how non-Jews might react to a Lieberman vice-presidency, Lerner

predicted that "it will intensify negative images about who Jews are,

namely as people who support corporate power over human needs."

As

the network cameras roamed the arena, they spotted celebrities who were out in

force – Stevie Wonder, Whoopie Goldberg and a movie star in every aisle. Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, who was Al’s college roommate, was there to tell us what a

great guy Al is and then nominate him for president. Gore’s daughter later

seconded the nomination. Whatever happened to political leaders and party

members nominating the President? Seems those days are gone. Today, all of this

is being treated as family-friendly entertainment with frequent cutaways to

Tipper and the daughters with the great teeth. I noticed that AFL-CIO President

John Sweeney was seated in the box along with former Secretary of State Warren

Christopher, but they did not get much face time.

Soon

we were told that Al G. himself was in the room. The cameras caught him briefly

in a back hall of the Staples Center surrounded by "his friend and

donor" media-mogul David Geffen and some of Geffen’s colleagues from

Dreamworks. Gore, clearly big media’s new darling, will soon be getting the full

Hollywood treatment, although, paradoxically, the New Democrats want to distance

themselves from what they call "Hollywood liberals." According to

Doyle McManus in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times: "A Gore advisor, speaking on

condition of anonymity, agreed [with Gore's strategy of moving away from

liberals]. ‘If Hollywood liberals are complaining, that’s fine,’ he said. ‘We

kind of enjoy that.’ "

And

some liberals are complaining. At a meeting Wednesday afternoon, there was

criticism that the Gore-Lieberman ticket had strayed too far into the middle of

the road. "I long for the day when we are inside the convention delivering

the keynote, and most of the corporate interests are outside protesting,"

said Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. of Illinois, the Rev. Jackson’s son. "This

should be the last convention we come to where our position is not represented

on the ticket."

We,

the viewers, don’t see or hear too much of this debate. In fact, we barely saw

Al Gore. The needs of the TV business come before the needs of the political

culture – at least in the East, it was time for the networks to cut back to

local news. Football games that go into overtime may get to override the

cash-cow news shows, but political conventions no longer have that status. I had

to swing to C-SPAN to see the states cast their ballots. As a kid, I loved the

mix of accents and boasts about the Great State of Wherever of this part of the

convention process, but that fun political ritual is no longer considered worthy

of mainline TV coverage. So suddenly, we New York viewers were yanked back into

stories about the dying Russian sub and its condemned crew and yet another

murder in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile,

back in the convention hall, many journalists are not just being massaged by the

"on message" DNC spinmeisters. For some, the message became the

massage. I have the Online Journalism Review to thank for a report that many of

those covering the convention are having more than their brains massaged.

"That’s

right," reports Jim Benning. "At the DNC the stories can wait. The

journalists are getting massages. In droves. Just don’t tell their editors.

Event411.com, whose representatives are eager to tell you that they built the

planning software incorporated into the Democratic Party’s Dems2000.com site,

has sprung for the service for the week, providing massages, gratis, from 10 to

2."

And

if you talk to Vivian Geffen, one of five massage therapists working in the

hall, she will tell you that this a very good, very important thing.

Journalists

at the DNC, she reports as she kneads a weary left arm, are very tight.

"Camera people have big shoulder problems," Geffen says

matter-of-factly, shaking the arm and then tugging at it. "Reporters have a

lot of tightness in their wrists from their computers."

I

am jealous not to have one of those all-access credentials. At this point, after

watching hours of convention speak and pouring over mountains of conventional

coverage, I think my eyeballs need a massage just about now.

Maybe

its finally time to let these eyelids down…

Danny

Schechter ([email protected]) is the executive editor of MediaChannel,

and the author of News Dissector: Passions, Pieces and Polemics (www.electronpress.com)

and the forthcoming Falun Gong’s Challenge to China (Akashic Books, 2000).