Monday, May 1, 2006

Monday with McKenna: The Taste of Truth

Many Americans like their truth as they like their food—covered with preservatives and chemical flavor-enhancers. Thus, when they're fed something without the intellectual MSG that they've grown accustomed to, it can taste pretty bad. The President got a splash of this organic tartness at the annual press dinner, most notably from Stephen Colbert (video).

And whether or not he paid attention (the mass media generally didn't), he got it from those of us at the march in New York City on Saturday. So before we get to Monday with McKenna (to hear another blunt message on truth), perhaps it would help to think for a moment about how truth is supposed to work in our lives. We've all had the experience of it in private life, but it seems to happen quite rarely in public life. I've seen it in my lifetime from afar, watching news reports of the tumbling of the Berlin Wall; and up close, four and a half years ago, in the response of plain old working stiffs like us, who lined up at volunteer centers and blood donation clinics after those two buildings came down. When things like this happen, there is no act of government, no institutional force, that says, "do this or suffer the consequences." The force that brings people together at moments such as this one is the quantum breath of the universe that connects us all. Some call it Love; you can also call it truth.

That's what was walking down Broadway Saturday, amid a cool, sun-splashed Spring.

And now for some more truth from my colleague Mr. McKenna:

I wish I could have been at the anti-war protest in Manhattan. As it was, I spent a large part of the day helping my wife with one of her book stores. So today (Sunday morning) I hopped on the internet to enjoy the news coverage. But there was nothing. I started with the NY Times. All they had was a small story by a wire reporter - but no pictures, and clearly no first string coverage.

Then I tried the NY Daily News… nothing there either. (But an awful lot about Maury Povich and Connie Chung!).

Unbelievable. Here we are watching the collapse of the George Bush presidency because of the reckless (and pointless) Iraq war, and yet the anti war protests are being ignored.

Oh yes, I did hear a little bit on the Sunday morning NPR new magazine, but I expect that from NPR. To the rest of the media… where were you?

Then I went to the website of the Democratic Party, for surely they should be lending their voices to the war protests. But there was nothing there either. Nothing about the protest and nothing about the war, either. All they had was a market-tested bit of nonsense about national security:

“Strength Overseas: Our nation stands as a shining example to all the world of freedom and democracy, a unique honor that comes with a responsibility to lead. Democrats believe that strong international alliances are the cornerstone of our foreign policy. The threat from international terrorism and rogue states requires a new era of alliances led by the United States, based on mutual respect and shared vision.”

Is that it? We are in the middle of a collapse as big as Lyndon Johnson’s was during the height of the Viet Nam debacle, and the opposition doesn’t even acknowledge the problem.

We need a Robert Kennedy but we get the likes of Harry Reid and Howard Dean.

The Media are of no help here. The front page story in the NY Times – is ….. gas prices. That’s right, gas prices. Yes, everyone who drives is worried about the price of gas. But the gas prices story is trivia compared to the big issues.

So how do we develop a genuine and meaningful opposition? Maybe we need to start with a reform of the media. The press should do more than just show a clip of the president standing in front of a banner. It’s time to react to the message. Thus, when the president says - as he did yesterday in his weekly radio address: “Good morning. Last weekend, the people of Iraq formed a national unity government. This is an important milestone on the road to democracy in Iraq, and it marks the beginning of a new chapter in America's involvement…“—the story should not be his words, but the disconnect between the words and the continued disorder.

A re-focus on meaning would of course impact coverage of both parties. Thus when the Democrats send up a policy statement on health care (this one, again, from their website):

“In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, no one should have to choose between taking their child to a doctor or paying the rent. Democrats are committed to making sure every single American has access to affordable, effective health care coverage. We can make sure every American has that access while preserving the high quality of our health care and keeping the choices that we enjoy. We can leave decisions about health care to patients and doctors, keeping the government and insurance companies out. Democrats will not stop fighting this battle until every single American has access to affordable health care.”

The news media should jump on this with the question: how will you do this?

To the natural question of how will this help create an opposition, my answer is, before you take a position, you need to know the options. When the news coverages exposes the bullshit on both sides, perhaps one or the other side will begin to speak the truth.

Years ago, in the heyday of the cold war. There was a public service TV ad that highlighted the lack of truth in the state-run Soviet press (I’m guessing now it was made for Radio Free Europe). This was maybe 1963 or 64. A group of voices said the word “PRAVDA, PRAVDA” then the same voice said.. “GIVE US THE TRUTH.” In the Soviet era, the name of their premier newspaper was PRAVDA (The Truth).

Back then, in the heyday of the cold war, Americans felt privileged to live in the so called free world. We constantly trumpeted the free and open nature of our society and its institutions. Not so today. Though we are free, our press is afraid of the thought police on both the left and the right. And our leaders have learned that in the face of failure, the best course of action is to admit nothing.

Maybe that’s where we need to start an American renewal. Maybe that’s where it needs to start—with the truth. Give us the truth.

—T. McKenna

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