Ain't That America, Part I

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

From the November, 2003 edition of The Valley Scene

This Media Rant initiates the first of what I call "Ain't that America" (ATA) columns. ATA columns will appear at least twice a year, highlighting people and events that perfectly capture the absurdity of the times. ATA topics will be local, state, and national. What each topic has in common is that significant numbers of people in the press and in the public at-large do not see them as symbols of much bigger problems related to our fractured political, economic, and social arrangements. So without any further adieu, here's Ain't That America:

*The Sniper Shuffle: Late in 2002, snipers terrorized the Washington D.C./Virginia
region, murdering innocent people pumping gas. On the Internet, I saw a photo of a man hunched over in a fetal position in the back seat of an SUV as gas filled the guzzler. Gas station attendants came up with "sniper shuffle" to describe the dancing maneuvers patrons performed as they pumped gas. Filling up a gas-guzzling vehicle with cheap fuel while fearing gun violence. Ain't that America?

*Governor Terrorizes Cub Fan: By now we've all heard of the poor SOB who interfered with Moises Alou's chance to catch a foul ball, leading to a big Florida Marlins' inning and knocking the Cubbies out of the playoffs. The fan has had to seek protection from physical harm and has literally been offered an all expenses paid living arrangement in Florida.

The topmost asshole in the entire episode was Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who called the fan's actions "stupid" and said, "When you are five outs away from a potential world championship, you gotta be thinking about your team, not yourself." A man almost gets offed over touching a foul ball while an elected moron piles on the abuse and reinforces the vigilantes. Ain't that America?

*Ceo-Worker pay ratio: Every Labor Day, but only on Labor Day, we get a chance to hear about the dreadful disparity in average CEO compensation versus average worker pay. In 1982, the CEO/worker wage disparity was 42-1. In 2002 it was 281-1. Every one of those CEOs will fight like hell to make sure the Congress doesn't raise the minimum wage. Ain't that America?

*Troops living in squalor: In October, UPI investigative reporter Mark Benjamin revealed that, "Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors." This at the same time the president and congressional leaders question the patriotism of war critics and suggest that dissent harms our troops. Soldiers live in squalor while hypocritical politicians responsible for the disgrace try to shift blame. Ain't that America?

*Gals, God, Gays, Guns, Graft: In case you thought the Wisconsin legislature had grown weary of being a national joke, think again. The Republican majority agenda for the fall session centers on limiting birth control to sexually active teens (gals), stopping stem cell research (God), changing the definition of marriage from "husband and wife" to "man and woman" (gays), and making legal the carrying of concealed weapons while reducing penalties for weapons possession in schools (guns). Meanwhile Democrat Marlin Schneider wants to restore the partisan political hack caucuses that are at the root of the corruption scandals plaguing the capitol (graft).

Except for Schneider's proposal, which appears to be rooted in sheer arrogance and stupidity, the others represent Republicans trying to humiliate the Democratic governor in time for the 2004 elections. Petty politicking while the economy is in shambles and the structural budget deficit looms over us like an evil specter. Ain't that America?

Mistaken Impressions: Last month Knight Ridder released a study demonstrating that a majority of Americans have held at least one of three mistaken impressions about the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The three common mistaken impressions are that: (a) U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (b) There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists. (c) People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

These mistaken beliefs are a large part of the reason why the war gained popular support. The study found that the war was supported by only 23% of those with none of the misperceptions. But 53% of those holding one misperception supported the war. For those holding all three misperceptions, 86% supported the war.

Anyone who believes Fox News is a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration would get some support from the Knight Ridder study. The study found that 80% of those who relied on Fox for news about the war held one or more of the misperceptions. But other sources did not fare much better. Seventy-one percent of CBS viewers held at least one misperception, 61% for ABC, 55% for NBC, 55% for CNN, and 47% for print sources. Only those relying on NPR/PBS held none of the misperceptions by a wide majority-only 23% of these folks held at least one of the misperceptions.

A nation led to war on false pretenses by an administration aided and abetted every step of the way by a lazy, co-opted, and commercially corrupted news media. Ain't that America?

Tony Palmeri is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh.