Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Lights and Wires in a Box
Item: California legislators propose lowering the voting age to 14. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds' votes would count half an adult vote, 14- and 15-year-olds one quarter.

Comment: It's another of California's nutball gifts to America--first Governor Schwarzenegger, and now this. A Democratic supporter says it would "increase the richness of our democratic dialogue." Republican legislator Roy Haynes says, "There's a reason why 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds don't vote. They are not adults. They are not mature enough. They are easily deceived by political charlatans." Whoa, Roy, think about that for a second: If immunity to deception by political charlatans becomes a criterion for having the right to vote, how the hell is Bush going to get reelected?

Item: Gay marriage! Threat to all we hold dear! Icky icky ewwww gross!

Comment: Dan Savage has written two terrific columns in response to letters he's received about same-sex marriage, here and here. And the award for the most hysterical--in both senses of the word--quote of the controversy so far goes to Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition: "America stands at a defining moment . . . . The only comparison is our battle for independence from England."

Dude, get a grip.

Item: John Ashcroft having his gall bladder removed today.

Comment: The gall bladder is, of course, the organ that secretes bile. Insert your own punchline here.

Item: It's 50 years tonight since Edward R. Murrow's famous See It Now news show about Joe McCarthy.

Comment: In the journalistic community today, where Murrow's name is still frequently invoked, he's more icon than living inspiration anymore. Nobody I can think of today has the stones of Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly. Murrow and Friendly used their own money to advertise See It Now after CBS refused to promote it. (Even then, the corporations who owned the media outlets were afraid of hacking off the powerful.) But 50 years later, most historians agree that the March 9, 1954, broadcast of See It Now was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy Era. Later that summer, wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Army/McCarthy Hearings revealed more of the bullying McCarthy Murrow had first shown to the nation. In December, the Senate would censure McCarthy for his conduct, and his career would be over just as swiftly as it began.

People who celebrate Murrow often forget that he was as critical of his peers in broadcasting as he was of McCarthy and other newsmakers he reported on. In 1958, Murrow told the Radio and Television News Directors Association, "This instrument [television] can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely lights and wires in a box." The idea that such a powerful medium should have as worthy goals education, illumination, and inspiration sounds rather quaint in an era when the medium's primary goal seems to have become showing us attractive young people trying to get laid in some island paradise, get turned into singing stars, or get out of a coffin full of cockroaches. And in an era that's more like the McCarthy Era than most people want to admit, it's too bad that no modern Murrow exists to do for the people of our time what he did for his.

Late note: Last post here until Friday. See you on the road.

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