Looking Back: "Leave It To Lieberman"
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
who had come on the show to release a detailed new FAIR study
the way the protests had been ignored, distorted and misreported, couldn't
believe what he was hearing.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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
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."
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.
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.' "
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
its finally time to let these eyelids down...
Danny Schechter (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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).