It's truly a sad state of affairs when civil, civic discussions of most significant social legislation in years, town halls about national health care, are reduced to a series of staged media events for 24-hour cable news channels.
It's also a sorry situation when major TV news operations (e.g., The CBS Evening News this week) can't bother to differentiate between citizens with honest questions about this legislation and mobs of loudmouths and loose cannons bussed in -- and coached by -- various right-wing and corporate outfits.
"The media is superficial in its coverage," said legal analyst Norman Goldman this week while filling in for Ed Schultz on Big Ed's national radio talk show. "We need to promote investigative journalism. We need to find out if these people represent a tiny majority. The media really needs to do its job." This long-time TV critic isn't holding his breath.
So far, among TV news operations, only MSNBC has investigated these people in depth, starting last Friday when Newsweek's Richard Wolfe (filling in for Keith Olbermann) first headlined the corporate-funded roots of these loudmouthed disrupters, aka Astroturfers (artificial grass-roots support.)
Ron Reagan, Jr., on his own Air America show this week, accurately and disdainfully called these media-filmed town-hall disruptions "health care shout-down mob scenes."
"This is just the beginning of August," said an exasperated Goldman, who starts his own national radio talk show Sept. 8. "We've got to stop it now."
If this critical national debate, as now seems inevitable, is to be trivialized and reduced to providing faux-news footage for YouTube, FoxNews, and CNN, among others without any investigations of the organizers, here are a few helpful suggestions to deal with these attack dogs from the "boob-wah-zee:"
1. Get Up In Their Grills: Don't just sit quietly and let these congenital know-nothings take over meetings and try to rattle our Congressional reps. Fortunately, as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports, many unions are gearing up to do just that -- to directly engage these wingnut Tea Party alums at town-hall meetings. Good on them.2.Boo Who? Air America's thoughtful Thom Hartmann has this suggestion:
Let's see the Astroturf crowd boo someone in a wheelchair with a breathing tube. (Come to think of it, these morons just might just do that. But it, um, looks bad on TV).
"Start the meetings by introducing someone who's terminally ill and who has been rejected for health insurance or who has had treatment denied."
OK, two more ideas that are even more telegenic and media-driven:
3. Sign Language Print up big signs for each meeting reading "I'M WITH STUPID." Also draw a big arrow on each, and every time one of these loudmouths (they're often wearing ball caps or carrying Bibles) stands up and starts ranting, just stand next to him/her and hold up the sign. Makes a good photo and great "B-roll" for TV!
Finally, arguably the most effective and creative idea. Since we're getting involvement from the working class (union members), how about the theatrical/creative community helping out with this tactic:
4. Men in White: Have two guys dress in white, loony-bin attendant coats. Then, provide them with a large butterfly net (easily built by a local theatre's prop department.)
Then, each time an Astroturfer starts ranting, have these two guys throw the butterfly net over the ranter and gently guide them out the door.
Now that's the kind of funny footage even Fox News might use, albeit grudgingly.
Follow Bill Mann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/newsmann