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Marshall McLuhan Was Wrong: The Media Is the Mess, Part One (I Think)

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It's Memorial Day weekend and I just finished watching the annual musical tribute held in Washington, DC. The extravaganza was hosted by Joe Mantegna (because I suppose, he plays an FBI guy on TV), and Gary Sinise (most likely because he once played a soldier in a movie). By the way, I have recently noticed that Sinise has an uncommonly small face, almost like the decal on a banana).

There were a lot of stars on stage to honor America's troops, past and present. Gladys Knight, John Schneider, and Sarah Brightman sang. (I know, Sarah Brightman's British, but since England is the only real ally we have left, it was certainly proper that she join the festivities). Denis Leary and Gail O'Grady added some drama to the proceedings and Charles Durning--both live and on tape--brought a little pathos to the show. The Joint Chiefs of Staff made an appearance on stage and Gen. Colin Powell sat in the front of the audience, wearing a well-deserved look of pride at his military service, along with a subtle accessory of shame for his service in the Bush administration.

I'm a fan of the military, and not just because uniforms are hot, but because I come from a bit of a military family. (Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that whenever women, gay men or toilet-hopping Republican senators get turned on by "men in uniform," they're always referring to soldiers, sailors, firemen or cops? None of them seem to get hot and bothered by the local garbage man, or the UPS delivery guy...surely, someone, somewhere must want to know what brown can do for them?) My father served proudly in the U.S. Navy, and my cousin, Seymour, was a Colonel (Ret) in the United States Army until he passed away at 83, a few years ago. I myself would be proud to serve, if only my government didn't believe that my love of Judy Garland outweighed my love of country, or that my collection of toaster cozies would render me incapable of protecting my fellow soldiers from enemy fire.

And, as I watched the concert, a lot of emotions passed through me: pride, joy, frustration, gratitude. I remembered, as a kid, watching the Viet Nam War unfold every night on television on the evening news--the napalm attacks, the carpet bombings, the guerrilla fighting. The names of cities like Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay came back to mind instantly. I remembered watching the horrors of My Lai, the Pueblo incident, U.S. helicopters making that final trip out of Saigon at the end of the war.

I remember WATCHING all of this...on TV. Network TV. In those days, we didn't have any cable or Internet--just three channels--and a couple of UHF feeds if the wire hangar my dad tied to the rabbit ears managed to pick up a signal that didn't short circuit the toaster. And yet, those three channels brought the truth into our home every single day. Today, we have 260,000 different channels to watch and there's not real footage of what's going on in Iraq on any of them.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. All we're getting is the thousand words. We get Wolf asking Anderson for his opinion on what Candy said to Richard about Katie's report on Fallujah. We get Brian and Charlie reading statistics about how many American soldiers died, but we never actually see them.

And we don't see any of this because our press--our free press, has been bought and sold by the Bush Administration. The administration "forbade" the network news divisions from showing our brave troops fighting the fight, or showing their caskets coming home. And I'm wondering, why? Why didn't any of the three networks--OK, three-and-a-half, if you count CNN (I don't count Fox as news, and why would I?)--or even ONE of the networks tell the administration to go fuck itself? Why didn't anyone say, "No, our job is to tell the American people exactly what is going on in the world, in their country and in their good names?" What would the administration have done? Shut down CBS? Put NBC's executives in jail? Rounded up everyone at ABC and sent them to Guantanamo?

No one at the networks said anything because in addition to having no footage and no photographs they also have no balls.

And not just when covering the war--we're in the midst of a crucial campaign and all we keep hearing is that Hillary insulted the Kennedys and Obama's pastor is a crackpot and John McCain's wife is really rich. How about "journalists" asking the candidates important questions, probing for answers and pressing the issues when they don't get them? In the last debate, George Stephanapoulos and Charlie Gibson's questions were so smarmy and puerile I don't know why Hillary or Obama didn't say, "If you don't have anything of substance I'm going to leave" and then just walk off.

It's time for the media to stop sucking up and start digging in. And since I'm a solutions-kind-of-guy (admittedly, the solution is gin) I'd like to help the media do just that, and in the process maybe help them reclaim their cajones, so I'd like to pose a couple of questions they should ask the candidates in the upcoming months:

Barack Obama keeps talking about change and coming together and bipartisanship. Ask him exactly HOW he plans on doing that, given the fact the Republicans have absolutely no interest whatsoever in cooperating?

John McCain says the U.S. will stay in the Middle East until we win, even if it takes 100 years. Ask him, "With WHAT soldiers?" Does he plan on sending these same troops back to Iraq year after year after year? Or does he plan to start a draft?

Hillary Clinton talks about the glass ceiling women face in America. Ask her, exactly how she expects to manage diplomacy in Muslim countries where women aren't even allowed to show their faces, let alone wear pants suits.

And while you're at it, you might want to say to all three of the candidates, "We appreciate your lapel pins and 'God Bless America' sentiments, but exactly what the fuck are you going to do to catch Osama bin Laden?"

Oh, wow, listen to me, all feisty and worked up in a patriotic American way. I have a lot more to say about this, but it's late at night and I have to do something even more important than honoring our veterans and supporting our troops.

I have to watch the season finale of CSI:Miami that I TiVo'd, and try to figure out why David Caruso rips off his sunglasses, tilts his head to the right and walks out of frame in every single scene.