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From the Pages of Z Magazine, September, 1997
Pol Pot And Kissinger
From Welfare to Profit Shares
Market Democracy in a Neoliberal â€¦
Disney, Southern Baptists, & Children's â€¦
Henry A. Giroux
A Tale of Fear and â€¦
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Clinton And JFK -- Media Myth, R.I.P.
Five years ago, everywhere you turned, journalists were comparing Bill Clinton to John Kennedy. In the summer of 1992 -- when the Democratic National Convention showcased footage of a teenage Bill shaking hands with President Kennedy -- many news outlets proclaimed that manifest destiny was in the political air.
The media hype escalated as soon as Clinton won the presidency a few months later. Newsweek was euphoric about "a film clip that made its way into a widely seen campaign ad: a beaming, 16-year-old Bill Clinton on a sun-drenched White House lawn, shaking the hand of his and his generation's idol, John F. Kennedy." With Clinton's victory, Newsweek declared, "the footage rises from mere advertising to the realm of prophetic history. For it documents JFK reaching across the years to a boy he did not know -- and to whom the torch of leadership now passes in an emphatic statement of America's desire for change."
Camelot II became a media obsession. "Now the torch is being passed to the generation that was touched and inspired by Kennedy," Time magazine reported in mid-November 1992. "Indeed, the most memorable moment in the convention video about the man from Hope was the scene of the eager student being inspired by Kennedy's anointing touch."
It's a sad commentary that so many journalists mouthed such bunkum with straight faces -- and that Americans didn't quickly laugh this grandiloquence out of the court of public opinion.
Clinton and his top aides kept encouraging the JFK comparisons. And a lot of the press seemed happy to oblige. When the former Arkansas governor took his first extended holiday since moving into the White House, he went to the stretch of New England coastline made famous by John Kennedy. The vacation at Martha's Vineyard included several hours on a much- publicized luncheon cruise with a yacht-load of Kennedys.
The New York Times coverage was typical on Aug. 25, 1993: "Thirty years ago, Bill Clinton the boy stood staring at John F. Kennedy, his hero, in the White House Rose Garden. Today, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other members of the family welcomed Bill Clinton the president to the seas off the Massachusetts coast that his murdered predecessor loved so well."
But analogies between Clinton and Kennedy faded from news media during the mid-1990s. President Clinton did not live up to the courageous JFK image. Ironically, neither did John Kennedy. The real President Clinton bears quite a resemblance to the real President Kennedy -- beholden to economic elites, unwilling to cross big business or challenge the Pentagon.
After eight years in the White House, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961. The ex-general warned of "an immense military establishment and a large arms industry." He added that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
Like his hero JFK, Clinton shrugged off such concerns -- preferring to remain firmly in the pocket of the military- industrial complex. In that regard, as in many others, Clinton's presidency has been no profile in courage.
These days, few journalists are comparing Bill Clinton to John Kennedy. That particular canard has worn out its welcome. But in medialand, the focus remains on personal styles and inside-the-Beltway maneuvers. Newer glib notions replace the cliches that have gone out of fashion. Of course, everyone knows that politicians try to feed contrived images to the media. But many journalists act as though it's their job to swallow the hype -- and prompt the public to do the same.
Americans have long been skeptical -- even scathing -- about elected officials in Washington. "Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a congressman can," Mark Twain commented. In 1897, he wrote: "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
But rather than just condemning politicians as a group -- or praising one of them as the bearer of a heroic torch -- we would do much better to scrutinize exactly whose interests they are serving. That way, we'll be far less likely to fall for the next media myths.
If Today's Media Covered Past Eras
Have you ever wondered how today's news media would have covered historic events of earlier eras? If current types of journalism were in place generations ago, the coverage might have gone something like this:
"CBS Evening News," Spring 1913.
DAN RATHER: "Tensions are high in the nation's capital tonight, hours after a militant march down Pennsylvania Avenue by suffragettes. Police say 3,000 ladies were there. Protest leaders claim twice that number. For some perspective, we turn now to CBS news analyst Laura Ingraham."
LAURA INGRAHAM: "Dan, anyone watching the march had to be concerned about the polarization of America. Gender conflict is on the rise. What's next? Refusal to wear corsets? Brassiere burning? Female lawyers? The latest fashion statements are coming from feminists with an anti-male agenda. It's as though men can't do anything right."
RATHER: "But what about the idea that women should have the right to vote, just like men?"
INGRAHAM: "Sounds like some kind of envy to me, Dan. Those of us who are secure in our womanhood don't make these demands. We may not like the results of the male electorate, but it's the height of elitist arrogance to assume that other voters could do any better."
ABC's "This Week," March 1933.
SAM DONALDSON: "A new president -- in a wheelchair no less - - entering the White House after a landslide. How's this going to play out? Cokie?"
COKIE ROBERTS: "Sam, it's important that our new president avoid doing anything rash. Let's remember, he wisely campaigned on a moderate platform. Now, as usual, some Democrats want to push him to the left. It would be political suicide."
GEORGE WILL: "The leveling impulse has always been a hazard to democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out a century ago. He warned that Americans were overly enamored with equality, which can only lead to the tyranny of the mob. Right now, I fear for this republic."
DONALDSON: "George, surely you're not saying Franklin Roosevelt is dangerous. I mean --"
WILL: "Time will tell. There's talk of a federal social- security program. And unemployment insurance. The kind of welfare-state mentality that undermines family values and frays the moral fabric of the free-enterprise system."
ROBERTS: "But I'm convinced cooler heads will prevail. That's the word on Capitol Hill."
Headlines, July 1946.
PEOPLE MAGAZINE: "Bob Oppenheimer, the Sexy Brain Behind the Bomb Tests"
WALL STREET JOURNAL: "Bikini A-Bomb Blasts Encourage Investors"
USA TODAY: "We're Happy About Atomic Weapons!"
ABC's "20/20," September 1957.
HUGH DOWNS: "It's not so easy being a governor these days. Is it, Barbara?"
BARBARA WALTERS: "Certainly not if your name is Orval Faubus. I visited him yesterday at the governor's mansion in Little Rock. He was kind and charming. But his life has been quite stressful with all the well-publicized controversy about integration at Central High School. Next: a look inside the private life of the governor of Arkansas, a gentle man in a difficult time."
"The McLaughlin Group," April 1963.
FRED BARNES: "This kind of lawlessness can't be tolerated. It's outrageous."
MORTON KONDRACKE: "A big publicity stunt, that's what we're seeing. Some of my gullible colleagues in the press corps are falling for this smear campaign against the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the United States of America. These demonstrations give comfort to our country's enemies."
PATRICK BUCHANAN: "The protesters say they want `civil rights.' What a laugh. They want special rights. If the media would ignore these troublemakers, we'd have some racial tranquility in America. The police measures have been entirely justified."
JACK GERMOND: "Gosh, I can't agree with that. Maybe the fire hoses are necessary. But using attack dogs on those young demonstrators seems too extreme."
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: "Jack, is that the bleating sound of a bleeding-heart liberal?"
KONDRACKE: "Ha ha."
BARNES: "Ha ha."
How Bush Got A Golden Parachute From Moon
When George Bush jumped out of an airplane last spring, his sky-diving feat was big news. But this country's media outlets have failed to inform the public about far more important activities by the former president.
Last November, four months before his leap with a parachute, Bush traveled to South America -- where he provided a major boost for the launch of a newspaper that belongs to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Since leaving the White House, Bush has been quite helpful to Moon. However, the news media have lacked curiosity about Bush's ties to the shadowy power-broker who heads the Unification Church. Moon's global empire combines cult-like authority over "Moonies" with extensive media holdings.
"President Bush has no relationship with Rev. Moon or the Unification Church," Bush spokesman Jim McGrath assured me in a recent interview. But the facts tell a very different story.
On Nov. 23, 1996, Bush walked to the podium at the Sheraton Hotel in Buenos Aires and delivered a speech to 900 guests invited by Moon to celebrate the opening of his regional daily paper, Tiempos del Mundo. As Moon beamed a few feet away, Bush lauded his host.
"I want to salute Rev. Moon, who is the founder of The Washington Times and also of Tiempos del Mundo," Bush said. He praised the Washington newspaper for fostering "sanity" -- and added that Moon's new paper in Argentina "is going to do the same thing."
The 15-year-old Washington Times doesn't rank among the top 100 U.S. dailies in terms of circulation. Yet, financed by the Unification Church's deep pockets, it wields enormous influence in the nation's capital. Elevating innuendo into "news," the paper excels at smearing liberals and centrists.
During the last couple of years, Bush has spoken at high- profile Moon events on three continents. He went to Asia in September 1995, giving several speeches for a group led by Moon's wife, Hak Ja Han Moon. In Tokyo, Bush addressed a gathering of 50,000 Moon followers. Ten months later, in Washington, Bush spoke at a Moon-sponsored conference.
Instead of growing, press attention to the Bush-Moon links has gone from scant to almost non-existent. Bush's role in Buenos Aires last fall barely got reported in the United States.
But this month, former Newsweek correspondent Robert Parry will shine some light with an extensive report, "The Dark Side of Rev. Moon." It's about to appear in I.F. Magazine, a new periodical named in memory of the late journalists I.F. Stone and George Seldes (the editor of the muckraking newsletter In Fact).
A few samples of Parry's findings:
Prior to the premiere of Tiempos del Mundo, much of the Latin American press was hostile to the newspaper project. But Bush's ringing endorsement allayed some concerns about Moon's ownership. In the words of a Unification Church bulletin, "Mr. Bush's presence as keynote speaker gave the event invaluable prestige."
Although Bush won't disclose how much money he has received from Moon-affiliated organizations, Parry reports that "estimates of Bush's fee for the Buenos Aires appearances alone ran between $100,000 and $500,000. Sources close to the Unification Church have put the total Bush-Moon package in the millions." According to one source, Bush's net could be as high as $10 million.
Bush's lucrative courtship of Moon may help the ex- president to lay groundwork for his son George W. Bush, the current governor of Texas, who is expected to run for the next Republican presidential nomination.
"A silent testimony to Moon's clout," Parry writes, "is the fact that his vast spending of billions of dollars in secretive Asian money to influence U.S. politics -- spanning nearly a quarter-century -- has gone virtually unmentioned amid the current controversy over Asian donations to U.S. politicians."
What Moon seeks to accomplish with his riches is chilling to consider. As Frederick Clarkson's book "Eternal Hostility" explains, Unification Church operatives "have been close to neo- fascist movements all over the world."
Here in the United States, it remains to be seen whether the national media will finally focus on the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his tacit alliance with George Bush.
(If you'd like to read Robert Parry's full report on the subject, you can subscribe to I.F. Magazine by calling 1-800-738- 1812 or visiting the web site at www.delve.com/consort.html.)
An important question about American journalism hovers in the air: Who's afraid of the Rev. Moon?