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Allow Me To Introduce My Spleen

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I'd like to say something about news coverage in this country.

It sucks.

There, I said it.

Okay, okay. That's a gross generalization, I know. But something awful has happened, and the situation is far more advanced than a trend. I'm not even going to harp on serious stories here, though I could. From Judith Miller's WMD fetish fest, through last week's absurdist Iowa shmaucuses. The mainstream media's embracing and endorsement of fictionalized vignettes as hard news has metastasized from an insignificant epidermal inflammation into major organ failure, and I'm now seeing otherwise outside-the-box thoughtful people being pulled into the vortex of the infection. Apologies to all who felt inspired and reinvigorated, but I can't get behind the notion being embraced that Iowa's results "transformed" the presidential race, or any other aspect of our nation's current malaise. The Iowa caucuses were the first contests of the presidential race. Nothing can be transformed in its first instants. That's like a baseball game being transformed in the first inning. There is no new front-runner, because there was no front-runner before. These were the first votes cast. Any person or organization trying to sell me door-to-door on the prospect that frontrunners exist prior to any voting, based solely on fundraising and polls, will have my door slammed in their face. And my apologies to all the people of depth throughout the Midwest, but what I saw on television looked like a bunch of PTA meetings. I saw people counting off, like we did back in the boy scouts. Only the caucus goers kept losing count around ninety or one hundred. They had to count themselves again. And then again. They looked like the kind of people who come to New York for a vacation and have Domino's delivered to their hotel room.

(Wow. This is only my second post. Man, this blogging is fun.)

All that vented, what I'm writing about today is the foaming-at-the-mouth coverage of the BIG PREMIERES last week of the late night talk shows during the WGA strike. All this second-by-second charting of whether or not Letterman has instantaneously overtaken Leno's ten year lead in the ratings simply because he had a bunch of writers working for him while Jay didn't. Do the people writing these articles actually believe any of what they're spewing? Are they really as enthused as their prose would lead us to believe about anything they can turn into another Kentucky Derby, another weekend box office gross report, another American Idol? Hey, maybe that's actually the answer. Let's choose the candidates by having their fans (that's what the Iowan's seemed like in relation to their chosen candidates to me, too; like fan club members) phone in votes. Fifty-cents a pop. Then at least the money count and vote count really would go hand in hand, just like the news outlets seem to want it to.

People choose Dave or Jay based on their personality preferences. Not by who's got union writers or who doesn't. Not even by who's the guest. If that decided it, then Dave would win the night every time he had a good lineup. He doesn't. The fact is the two viewer groups don't tend to overlap.

There's not even any logic to the article that I saw reported virtually everywhere. Why would Leno fans suddenly abandon their man to watch Letterman if they never liked him, or his writers, before? It's just another glaring symptom of news editors and producers paying no attention to the actuality of a story and instead focusing solely on reporting today whatever makes the best set-up for tomorrow's prefabricated follow-up. So there you have it. The editors and producers of our print and broadcast news outlets have become the equivalent of sit-com show runners. Set-up, set-up, set-up, punchline. Commercial break. Repeat.

My take on Letterman's first night back was that most of the scripted material was pretty flat, as it often is. Unless you count Dave's playing up the tepidness of the material and the jokes that leads to as scripted material as well. If so, then the grade would be slightly higher. For me, though, the hilarity of the night all flowed from Robin Williams, whom I don't even always appreciate. But on this night he was wicked and sharp, subversive and lovably obnoxious. He teased Letterman relentlessly, reducing him to laughter and speechlessness on several occasions -- none of which are easy tricks. Yet everywhere I looked online and in print I read of Dave's superior rehearsed material (because he had WRITERS) -- and of Williams' hit-and-miss performance. I had the feeling I get when I read reviews of something terrible that's been praised as brilliant, or something brilliant that's been dismissed. I think, that wasn't the show I saw. That wasn't the food I ate. It's the same feeling I got after Colin Powell's infamous comic strip presentation at the United Nations. "Well, there it was," report after report, and person after person, said. "Now there are no more questions. He showed us the proof."

"Proof???" I screamed at my television set, and my newspaper, and my magazine (and my uncle, and my senator, and my neighbors). "He didn't show us proof. He showed us drawings."

And then the inevitable, scripted turnabout months, or merely moments, later. "Who could have known? Who could have known there wasn't anything there?"

Lots of people knew. The ones who were shouted down and called "un-American" (Earth to America...Earth to America...nineteen-fifties calling). The ones who were called traitors for not playing their assigned roles in the farce.

So, have I really done it, you might ask (and you might be right to). Have I just compared news coverage of Colin Powell's inducement to war with reviews of Robin Williams' performance on Late Show with David Letterman?

I have. Because it's all theater of the absurd now. We're all rhinoceroses, either wallowing in actual mud, or waking up transmogrified in our eleventh floor apartments. We're the bits of flotsam and jetsam that waft through the cabin of a capsule drifting in space. There is no center anymore. No gravitational force to tell us what's up and what's down. We're a rudderless ship, floating on an ocean of Hi-C. Artificially flavored, artificially colored, but now with 10% real fruit juice.

10% real. Imagine that.