Monday, September 3, 2007

Sunday with the New York Times

The Roll of the News Media in America
by Charlie Leck

I had a bachelor's weekend this labor day. On Friday, my wife flew to New York City. She'll return on Monday evening. That means I could do whatever I wanted over the weekend.

Saturday was my 67th birthday. I can't believe I have already spent 67 years upon this earth. It doesn't seem at all possible, but every person in his or her late 60s or older is saying the same thing and young people are extremely bored by us continually saying it. But, this is not the point of this blog, so I'll move on.

The great thing about the weekend was a lovely, lazy round of golf on a perfect day on Saturday. I played with a friend and his wife at their private club. Great fun! I didn't have to rush home and we had a quiet, casual drink or two after the round and some hors d'oeuvre galore. I had arranged for a ride and didn't drive. I'm pretty adamant about the dangers of drinking and driving.

I slept late for me on Sunday morning and didn't rise until a few minutes after six. I made a fresh pot of coffee and headed for the Sunday New York Times. Nothing is more fun for me. Normally I have to rush through it – taking about two hours. On this particular day I had no reason to rush. It was three mugs of coffee and four hours later when I finally came up for air and decided it was time to turn to the Minneapolis paper. The question was: Should I take a walk first? I did. I have a long, winding driveway that's about a quarter mile long. I love walking down it. One can count dozens of birds and will probably encounter a deer as well – or a rabbit or two at the very least. When I walk alone I can stop as I will, rest and think. Then, when I'm prepared, I walk on.

When I returned from my walk, I turned first to Garrison Keillor's column in the Opinion Section of our local paper. I don't think his columns ever disappoint me and this occasion was no exception. On this particular Sunday he wrote in tribute of one of his journalism professors, Robert Lindsay, who was one of the contributors to the skills Keillor developed as a writer. It was an easy going, gentle, respectful column about his late teacher. Those of you who don't read Keillor every week are missing something very special.

There seemed words on every page about the U.S. Senator from Idaho and his escapades in a Minneapolis Airport restroom. I couldn't read a word of it. There are more important things to move on to. If there is any point to be made about Craig and why his resignation was required, it is the hypocrisy of the man. That is what brought him down and not the action itself. The American public is quite forgiving of dalliances. We saw that in the Bill Clinton case. We hate hypocrisy, however, and we didn't appreciate the hateful howling from Craig about homosexuality in America nor his strong stance against gay rights. Sara Whitman wrote on the Huffington Report []: "This is a man, who for his entire political career has worked in fervor against any LGBT issues on the table." As King Henry VIII might have said: "Off with his head!" Or, so to speak! The conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, [] wrote about the double-standard of the Democrats. She brought up the sex-life of Barney Frank. She missed this point about hypocrisy and its importance here. Ed Morrissey, in his Captain's Quarters blog [], asked a popular question that's been repeated in many places: "How long before Craig checks himself into rehab or finds Jesus?"

E. J. Dionne compared the coverage that has been given to Leona Helmsley and the will she left behind, establishing a 12 million dollar trust for her dog, and Michael Vick's guilty plea in a criminal dog fighting case, to the lack of attention that has been given to a Census Bureau report that the number of Americans uncovered by health insurance continues to rise dramatically. Sicko indeed! He writes about the shameful veiling of the poor from sight. He makes a powerful case that the media could play a central role in casting light upon problems in our nation, motivating state and national leaders to solve these predicaments.

"Why is it that the poor – and, for that matter, the struggling middle class too – disappear in the media, barricaded behind our fixation on celebrity, our titillation over personal sin and public shame, our fascination with every detail of every divorce and affair of every movie star, rock idol and sports phenom?

Sometimes I get angry with all the conservative criticism of the news media. Maybe they have a point. Highlighting America's problems can't be left only on the editorial pages either. Action comes when they are featured on the front page and in powerful video clips on television. I understand that the media cannot be expected to be America's overseer. Stop! Stop right there! Yes they can! That, historically, has been the roll of the media and it is one of the important parts of its mission. I wonder what the journalism professor, Robert Lindsay, would think of this bold concept.

George Will wrote a column contending that war sometimes is the answer. I agree, but, as I have written here before, it should be the very, very last option and an option seldom chosen. In one's life time one should expect not to see one's nation entangled in a war. In my lifetime, I have seen our great nation involved in five major wars and several other brief military skirmishes. That's nonsense! It's absolutely sick!

The cost of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is something a lot of writers have addressed in the past week. When the tally is done it will show the cost has been astronomical; yet, so many problems remain and so many people are still left on the outside. This is a case that will be studied for the next decade, looking at misspent funds, corruption and downright piss-poor planning.

The question has been raised by many: Who will be the next Attorney General? Some have speculated that it might be Senator Joe Lieberman. Let's dismiss that out of hand. Senator Lieberman has a six year run ahead of him. If he were to accept an appointment to the AG's office, he'd have only slightly more than a year to serve. I know Joe and he's no dummy. My money is on Michael Chertoff.

A number of editorialists are writing about New York City and its brilliant mayor. I just got off the phone. My wife and I chatted about her long weekend in NYC. She's moving our daughter into a brownstone in Harlem as she prepares to teach for two years at the Thurgood Marshall Baccalaureate High School. My wife was impressed with the city and the atmosphere and attitude of New Yorkers. I'm mighty impressed by Bloomberg. I think he tries to rise above politics in solving problems. Good luck to him! Politics doesn't work that way.

Paul Krugman wrote about a Snow Job in the Desert. Krugman has got it right. The President is trying to apply campaign politics to the situation in Iraq. He's thinking he can convince the American public that things are okay now and, by showing 10 second sound bites of the situation, he can convince the American public that this has been a worthy war. After Krugman sent his piece in for publication the news came that President Bush landed in Iraq to meet with servicemen everywhere and with Iraqi political leaders in Bagdad. The President's strategy will have a short-term benefit for him and his popularity will rise a few points and the polls will show we should stay the course. Give it two weeks and everyone – including conservatives – will be crying that we should bring the boys home. Campaign politics will not work in salvaging the terrible mistakes we made in Iraq.

I've told you this before, but I'll repeat myself. Stanley Fish is the most brilliant political observer and writer in the country today. His sense of logic is brilliant. His common sense is superb. Fish gets it and he gets it right. He is not a liberal. He is not a conservative. He is a thinker and scholar. This weekend's piece in the NY Times is worthy of your attention: "Liberalism and Secularism: One and the Same." My liberal friends are right now raising an eye brow or two, wondering if I've gone mad. No, Fish has some words of wisdom for us about critical thinking and open-mindedness.

"In saying this, I am not criticizing liberalism, just explaining what it is. It is a form of political organization that is militantly secular and incapable, by definition, of seeing the strong claim of religion – the claim to be in possession of a truth all should acknowledge – as anything but an expression of unreasonableness and irrationality." []

As much as I enjoy reading Fish, I must say he's correct here and I'm happy about it. Religion – especially Christianity – has lost its way and it has little to say in the political dialogue of the day to which we should listen. That's a tough statement, but I believe it.

Dick Cavett wrote strong words about obesity in America. He's made me feel guilty enough that I went and worked out today and resolved to repeat it every day until I'm just too old to do it anymore. Fat people won't like want Cavett wrote, but he's right on. Many Americans do treat the human body "as if it were a Strausbourg goose."

My look at the time! My wife will be coming home soon and the sink is full of dirty dishes and pots and pans. Here comes the difficult part about being a bachelor for the weekend. I must clean up or she'll kill me.

I won't be writing for 3 or 4 days. I'm off to an uncivilized part of the state for a bit of a vacation.

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