Monday, May 28, 2001

Week of 05/28/2001

Stomping on Political Eggshells
- by David Matthews 2

"When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual- the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker- and that every device they employ aims at turning men into a manipulable "animated instrument" which is Aristotle's definition of a slave." - Eric Hoffer

For more than five years, conservative Republicans controlled the US Congress.

And conservatives did not want you to forget that. They did not want you to forget that for forty years, they were the minority legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Sure they held some power here and there, including having brief control of the Senate in the early 1980’s. And they certainly did not want you to forget their conservative Presidents like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the elder George Bush. But above all else, they wanted you to remember that every case of government excess, every case of tax-and-spend budget deficits, every bloated regulation book and every over-exaggerated 1040 form came from the forty years that liberal Democrats had control over the US Congress.

So when Inauguration Day of January 1995 came about, conservatives were in sheer political ecstasy! Finally, after forty years, they were in control of Congress! People like Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden would give way to Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Strom Thurmond! In fact, they were having so much fun, that they almost had to outlaw it because it was so close to being downright orgasmic! Conservatives up and down the media dials were throwing parties and singing praises of their victory. Special interest groups such as the theocratic Christian Coalition were elated that they would finally be able to shove their beliefs down America’s throat!

And certainly they were proud that on this Inauguration Day of 2001, after a heavily contested election, conservative Republicans were finally able to remove the stench that was the Bill Clinton regime from the White House, giving them power not only in the Congress, but in the White House as well. With the younger George Bush in the White House, and conservatives controlling Congress, it would be a snap for the conservative movers and shakers to reshape the face of American politics in their favor.

Well, now it appears that the conservative control is coming, in part, to an end.

Despite the myth that the GOP came to power in a "landslide" (when only 20% of the registered voters actually voted in 1994), voters were not really happy with the conservatives in control. They liked the idea of less government, but they really saw little difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Both groups wanted to shove some form of government down our throats. So starting in 1996 and moving onward, the voters started to chip away at the GOP power base, until finally, in 2000, they elected a US Senate that was evenly divided at 50 votes apiece. Vice-President Dick Cheney, as President of the Senate, would be the tie-breaker, and was the only reason why the Republicans held control of that branch of government.

You would expect that the party leaders would be gently walking on political eggshells for the next two years. After all, it would take only one defection, or for one candidate to die, for there to be a change in power.

Certainly the liberal Democrats and the members of the media were anxiously looking at the geriatric Strom Thurmond, who is on the verge of turning 100, and hoping and praying that he would slip on a banana peel and shuffle off this mortal coil. But even that was not a certainty, since not only was Thurmond too crusty an old fart to die, but even if God was to do the world a favor in that regard, it was a crapshoot that the Democrats would be able to get his successor. So the conservatives had a little bit of confidence that they would be able to hold on to that sliver of power until the next congressional election.

But not all was right in GOP-land, and by "right" I don’t just mean content.

There were some politicians who were not happy with the tone of their party, and the direction it was taking America towards. This splintering of the GOP had been going on for the past few years, culminating with the moderate Michael Forbes switching to the Democrats, for claiming that the GOP was too conservative; and with arch-conservatives Pat Buchanan and Senator Bob Smith becoming independents, claiming that the GOP was not conservative ENOUGH. Smith, though, found being a lone wolf too lonely, and crawled his rotund body back to the ranks of the GOP. Forbes, on the other hand, got voted out on Election Day by a Republican.

It was an otherwise little-regarded moderate senator from the state of Vermont by the name of James Jeffords who would be the most pivotal man in the US Senate. For one week, Jeffords would have the fate of the most powerful senators, and five years of GOP control of the Senate, in the palm of his hand.

Imagine, if you will, having that much power in your hand for a brief period of time. Having political movers and shakers, whom would otherwise take you for granted and not even give you a second thought, suddenly at your beck and call, promising anything under the sun. All it would take would be your assurance that you would continue to support a party that was moving contrary to your beliefs. Or, with but a word, you could shift the balance of power more towards your liking. Would you make that deal? Or would you exercise that power, and politically castrate those movers and shakers?

Senator Jeffords chose to exercise that power by quitting the Republican Party and becoming an independent. In doing so, he shifted the balance of power from 50-50 to 50-49-1, and gave the Democratic Party control of the Senate for the first time in five and a half years.

Now the conservatives are in panic mode. Instead of having a lock on all three branches of government, they now once again have to share power with their hated enemies, the liberal Democrats. Instead of delegating, they now have to go back to deal-making. Instead of presuming authority over any issue, they now have to work to get that support.

Boy, it must suck to be them!

Conservatives are also looking for someone to blame for this turn of events. The most common question being asked by talking heads is not "What now?", but "Who dropped Jeffords?"

Some are blaming Jeffords for not being a "party player." They claim that his moderate-to-liberal leanings don’t really make him a "real Republican", but simply a political opportunist. They are trying to convince their associates that they really don’t need Jeffords anyways, and that he was always a liability.

But hold that childish temper tantrum for a minute.. Jeffords was a Republican Senator for over twelve years, long before the so-called "Republican Revolution." He could have switched to the Democratic Party at any time they were in power! Certainly he could have crossed over when Bill Clinton came to power in 1992 and further cement the Democratic power base.

And while we’re on the issue of political opportunism here, how about we go back in time to that 1994 election, shall we? A certain Georgia congressman by the name of Nathan Deal had just been re-elected as a Democrat. The minute he realized that the balance of power in the House was going to shift to the GOP, he switched parties. Now how is it that Deal’s defection to retain his seniority was a "decision of conscience" and Jeffords’ abandoning the GOP considered an act of "political opportunism"? You can’t have it both ways!

Some people are blaming Da Big W for his failure to retain Jeffords. They claim that Jeffords felt slighted when President Bush forgot to invite him to the White House to honor one of his constituents. I realize that politicians can be extremely petty, but do you actually think that a senator would be willing to make that kind of monumental shift in power just over a forgotten invitation? If you do, then you also believe that the GOP shut down the federal government in 1995 over House Speaker Newt Gingrich being snubbed on Air Force One.

Some are blaming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for not keeping a tighter control over his more moderate members. It was Lott, after all, who kept Jeffords from serving as chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, and instead had this ardent environmentalist chairing a committee he did not want to work in. Certainly Lott could bear some of the blame in that regard, but running the Senate does not work in a vacuum. There were others who also made it their point to keep Jeffords out of key positions of power where his moderate-to-liberal leanings could undermine their efforts.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. the conservatives have nobody to blame for this shift in power but themselves! They could have easily used this fragile balance between Democrats and Republicans as a working demonstration of how they could work with other groups. Jeffords’ political leanings were not concealed like some kind of hidden affair (a topic some politicians know more than others). They could have easily used this as their proof that the GOP really IS the party of "the big tent", where ALL levels of the political spectrum were welcomed.

But then again, it really would be against their nature, wouldn’t it? Much like the old story about the scorpion and the frog, the conservatives cannot help but be what they are, even if it means losing power.

Deep in their hearts, conservatives have never been for compromise. Being a conservative has never been about deal-making and finding consensus. Those things have been as alien to conservatives as air is to a fish. Theirs has been to make standards and to hold others to those standards.

Conservatives have never been comfortable with the "big tent" theory of political parties, unless it is a "big conservative tent". In the minds of many a conservative, the GOP is THEIR party. Period. Moderates, liberals, and libertarians are more than welcome to join so long as they sit down, shut up, nod their heads, open up their wallets, and vote the way they are told to vote.

When Pat Buchanan sided with the Reform Party, he did more than just assume their party’s name. His people did their damnedest to turn the Reform Party into the kind of party he wanted the GOP to be.. in other words, a conservative party. When Bob Smith was looking for a political party in his brief absence from the GOP, he wanted the American Taxpayer Party to not only become an ultra-conservative party, he wanted the name of the party changed to the Conservative Party. Smith, however, quit that party when they would not change to suit his demands. And Buchanan’s transformation of the Reform Party not only alienated the more libertarian members, but it also cost him the support of the man who brought him into the Reform Party in the first place, namely H. Ross Perot.

Much like their symbolic elephant, conservative Republicans cannot find it within themselves to tread lightly. Rather, they can only stomp mightily wherever they go and deal with the consequences afterwards.

It has always been the arrogance of the conservatives that has been their undoing. It was that arrogance that cost Newt Gingrich his role as Speaker of the House. It was the arrogance of Buchanan that cost the Reform Party their fleeting support. And it was that arrogance that inevitably cost the GOP their position of power in the US Senate.

Now that they are reduced to being the minority power in that branch of the Congress, perhaps they can once again discover humility and cooperation. Perhaps they can take it upon themselves to work with others instead of lording over them. They will certainly have to try in order to get President Bush’s programs passed.

Monday, May 21, 2001

Week of 05/21/2001

Wertham Revisited?
- by David Matthews 2

"I just feel that there's something wrong with this current system, that if a book does not bear the stamp of the Comics Code Authority that there's something wrong with the book. I think frankly that's just bullsh*t. And that level of bullsh*t has really hurt the comic-book business in America for the past 50 years. If you get to other countries in the world where there hasn't been this institution, comic books have become a significant, interesting, lively mainstream form of media with a tremendous amount of creative freedom and a hugely diverse offering." - Bill Jemas, Marvel Comics

On May 16th, 2001, the people who brought the world Captain America and the X-Men gave their own blow for freedom and the American way of life.

In a press conference that garnered little attention, Marvel Comics made the announcement that they would be abandoning the Comics Code Authority. Executives said that they would no longer adhere to the fifty-year old morality code of the CCA, declaring the code to be outdated, and it’s "seal of approval" meaningless in today’s comic book market.

Of course, Marvel would not be the first to abandon the CCA. DC Comics had strayed from the CCA decades ago, first with mainstream comic characters such as Green Arrow, Vigilante, and the Doom Patrol, then later with their own Vertigo label.. and then again when DC purchased Wildstorm Comics. Wildstorm itself came from Image Comics, an organization of writers and artists who felt constrained by both the CCA and corporate mentalities. And there have been scores of other smaller publications who have also made the decision to abandon the CCA.

But you never really heard of these others flat-out abandoning the Code, did you?

As a matter of fact, how many of you even HEARD of the Comics Code Authority? Or know the history behind it?

That’s precisely Marvel’s point. Most people don’t know. Or care, for that matter.

But once upon a time, they did.

The Comics Code Authority was the comic book world’s unpleasant alternative to government censorship fifty years ago. Back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when the only "freedom" actively practiced in America was the freedom to suppress, the moralists began to turn their attention to a popular publication called the comic book.

Quite predictably, they didn’t like what they saw.

They saw a wide array of comic books and comic strips, geared towards all ages of readers. They saw fan favorites like Superman, Batman, the Human Torch, Wonder Woman, the Phantom, Popeye, and Bugs Bunny. But they also saw the horror books like "Tales from the Crypt" and "House of Horror." Clearly these were not books for kids, and they discussed issues at the time that they themselves did not like. So they piously made the declaration that comic books were evil and had to be stopped "for the good of the children."

The man leading this charge against the animated world was a New York psychiatrist by the name of Fredrick Wertham. From his lofty intellectual world, he stood in judgement not only of horror books, but also the mainstream "superhero" books, and declared them a menace to the youth of America.

To prove his point, Wertham related dozens of instances where children leaped off rooftops trying to fly like Superman. He pointed to testimonials from parents who said that their "precious little angles" became sadistic demons once they began reading comic books. And when he couldn’t use words from paranoid parents, he began to make his own judgements. Batman, for instance, was not a nighttime vigilante, but rather a wealthy pedophile who has a young boy (Dick Grayson), who is given a girl’s nickname (Robin), and is forced to wear shorts to expose his legs, and they both live reclusive lives without any sign of an active heterosexual social life. Wonder Woman was initially dressed as a Can-Can girl, which in those days was considered a floozy. Her costume back then consisted of a red bustier, blue skirt, and boots. The bustier, of course, exposed her shoulders and her cleavage. The skirt barely reached to the knee. Clearly not something your average "upright" woman would wear in public in those days.

Armed with their so-called "expert judgement" from Wertham and others like him, the moralists went to Congress to demand action. And it was the self-named House Subcommittee for Un-American Activities, that bastion of tyranny that made a publicity whore named Joe McCarthy famous, that would call hearings on the "appropriateness" of comic books. And no doubt many in the comic book publishing world feared those hearings would eventually lead to censorship legislation, or else they would not have agreed to self-censorship through the creation of the Comics Code Authority.

Almost fifty years have passed, and a lot has changed.

For one thing, comic books have moved away from the "kids only" tag and moved back into the adult crowd. Frank Miller’s "Dark Knight Returns" presented a grittier Batman who wasn’t afraid to bloody a nose or break a few bones. "Watchmen", a mini-series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, gave the world more realistic superheroes, and showed their effects not only in society, but also in history. I mean, how could America lose the Vietnam conflict with the help of the most powerful men in the world?

Even mainstream comic books became more and more grittier. The nobility of Captain America and the ethics of Daredevil gave way to the killers and assassins named Punisher and Wolverine. Green Arrow dropped his sidekick after his heroin addiction, and he abandoned his Batman-like trick arrows and became a killer after his girlfriend Black Canary was brutally assaulted.

American readers were also getting introduced to Japanese comics, or Magna, which not only had a children’s section, but also an adult one. The Japanese had no mental stigmas about comic books being a "kids only" genre, and American adults were eager to read quality work that wasn’t watered down. All of which, by the way, were without that CCA seal on them.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… Marvel did not have to make a big production about their departure from the Code. They could have easily crept away from the CCA without completely abandoning them, as did rival DC. In fact, if you look carefully with a microscope, you should still find that "Seal of Approval" on the covers of DC’s more popular titles. Or they could have abandoned the CCA without even so much as a notice.

But by making a public announcement and making it clear why they are abandoning the CCA, Marvel Comics has once again placed itself squarely in the sights of the moralists, daring them to once again take action.

And this commentator has no doubt that at some point, the moralists WILL be taking shots at Marvel Comics. For while times have changed for the rest of us, moralists have not. They continue in their anti-American ways to suppress freedom under the guise of "protecting children" by getting the local police to shut down comic book stores and arresting store owners. It really doesn’t matter if the charges are later dropped
(as recently happened to one store owner in Texas) or if the owners are found not guilty. Quite often the intent of the moralist is not to win cases, but simply to drive the struggling owner out of business. Essentially they engage in economic terrorism.

And given the recent crusades against anything "violent", it would not take long before the Federal Trade Commission starts peering into the comic book world just as they are doing now with movies, music, and television. It would not be much of a leap before the FTC starts doing an "expanded study" on print media.

Marvel, however, is not the same publishing organization of fifty years ago. They have much more money, not to mention much more support today than ever before. Comic book writers, artists, and fans have also banded together to form the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting moralism and defending the rights of responsible comic book store owners, artists, and publishers.

Other comic book publishers will no doubt make their own decision to stay or to leave the CCA, but they shouldn’t expect the CCA’s "Seal" to protect them from all moralists. Former 2000 Presidential candidate Harry Browne said it best when he said the following:

"The first step in freeing yourself from social restrictions is the realization that there is no such thing as a "safe" code of conduct - one that would earn everyone's approval. Your actions can always be condemned by someone - for being too bold or too apathetic, for being too conformist or too nonconformist, for being too liberal or too conservative. So it's necessary to decide whose approval is important to you."

Much like their X-men, Marvel Comics and their supporters will have to prepare for a conflict that hopefully will never materialize. Much like the anti-mutant bigots of their world, the moralists of the real world are also self-righteous and scared of the things they have no control over. But unfortunately, it will not be adamantium claws or eye-beams that will win this struggle. Rather, it will take good hearts to stand up against the self-righteous, and to remind them what freedom really is all about.

Monday, May 14, 2001

Week of 05/14/2001

The Making (And Unmaking) Of A Martyr
- by David Matthews 2

"I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom." - Voltaire

By all rights, Timothy McVeigh should’ve been a dead man this week.

McVeigh was scheduled to die this Wednesday, May 16th, 2001, for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, and the hundreds of lives lost that day, some of whom were but children.

McVeigh supposedly did this as payback for the deaths in Ruby Ridge and Waco by federal agents. An eye for an eye, as the old law went.

He even went so far as to admit what he had done, and had asked that his attorneys stop any appeals in his case. He asked, even begged, for an execution date. And the federal government was all-too eager to give him one.

If carried through, it would have been one of the speediest executions in recent American history. Most executions take decades to be carried out, mostly because of the myriad of appeals filed by lawyers. McVeigh put a stop to that, saying that he was ready to accept his punishment and meet his maker.

But that’s not going to happen. Not now anyway. And quite possibly not for a while.

And we can thank our government for that.

That’s right.. OUR government screwed up. It seems in their zeal to convict McVeigh and his buddy Terry Nichols, the Federal Bureau of Investigation forgot to disclose some 3000 pieces of evidence, which they are obligated to give to both the Justice Department and the defense attorneys. They just... forgot! Just slipped their minds. Whoops! Sorry about that!

Because OUR government screwed up, the execution has been postponed for a month.. and quite possibly longer, should McVeigh decide to change his mind and start appealing his conviction.

That certainly is a bummer for anyone eager to see McVeigh die, but until it is determined that the evidence that was withheld couldn’t either validate the conviction, or vindicate McVeigh, we can’t execute him. Goes back to that "rule of law" thing. You remember the rule of law, right? We once tried to oust a US President on that.

Now I’ll be brutally honest with you.. I am certainly NOT a fan of what Timothy McVeigh did. Despite any and all possible disagreements I have with government both large and small, I am not someone who would advocate - never mind initiate - violence against the government for their past crimes. The malicious deaths of a mother and child at Ruby Ridge, and the needless deaths of hundreds of Branch Davidians in Waco are not justifications for ANY kind of like response. If it were up to me, I’d have a hand on that lethal injection, making sure McVeigh gets exactly what he deserves.

Timothy McVeigh and those like him would have us think they stand up for freedom against a tyrannical government. They picture themselves as modern-day patriots and liberators. But instead of fighting FOR freedom, what McVeigh did was strike a huge blow AGAINST freedom.

Because of what happened in Oklahoma City, the federal government went into its stereotypical security overkill mode, wanting restrictions the likes of which would’ve made Josef Stalin proud. They wanted tagging agents put in anything that could conceivably cause an explosion. They wanted to monitor and control all sorts of so-called militia groups, even wanting to ban so-called "cookbooks" that would explain how to make explosives. The public scrutiny ended up destroying much of the militia movement, drying up their ranks, and causing some to re-evaluate why they were there in the first place.

Worse yet, the explosion in Oklahoma City turned public opinion TOWARDS the government, not away from it! As long as it was only the government that was the aggressor, as long as it was only the government that was taking lives, public opinion was against them. All of that changed when the federal building blew up. And it became the perfect forum for anti-freedom politicians like President Bill Clinton to espouse their beliefs that we have "too much freedom".

Nice going, Tim. You actually did your own cause a disservice!

Look, I know we have a government that is at times running out of control, but I seriously do not think we have reached that point of no return where we can’t make peaceful changes to the system. We can shake things up without resorting to violence or acts of terror. But in order for us to do that, we need to get the people not only on our side, but also pissed off enough to take that peaceful course of action. They will not do that if they fear the solution just as much as they fear the problem.

Some people are suggesting that Tim McVeigh wants to die a martyr to his cause. The problem being, though, that his cause died the minute he decided to be like his enemies. Much like the warnings of Friedrich Nietzsche, McVeigh had stared into the abyss, and the abyss became him. He became a freedom fighter alright, but only in the same way that a fire fighter fights fire and a crime fighter fights crime. If that is the way he wishes to be remembered, so be it, for that is the way history will view his actions as.. as those of a terrorist.

As for the FBI’s handling.. or mishandling.. of the case, it’s a good thing that Director Louis Freeh is on the way out. Given the number of scandals that have surfaced in the past few months, this would’ve cost someone their job anyways. But bear one thing in mind.. even if the evidence they withheld does nothing but validate McVeigh’s conviction and support his execution, the fact that it WAS withheld vindicates the mistrust in government that initially created people like Tim McVeigh. That’s something that Freeh’s successor should always keep in mind.

Monday, May 7, 2001

Week of 05/07/2001

Network News or Network Fluff?
- by David Matthews 2

"Half the American population no longer reads newspapers: plainly, they are the clever half." - Gore Vidal

TV journalism has always seemed to be a double-standard. All too often, those who aren’t out there in the field doing investigative reports, or talking about the latest scandal or tragedy, are seen as "air-fluffed egos" who only read off of what is presented to them. From Ted Knight in the old "Mary Tyler Moore" series to William Hurt’s character in the movie "Broadcast News", TV anchors are seen as photogenic airheads whose only talents are to look good and read off the TelePrompTer. And yet, seasoned journalists would kill to get that kind of a spot.

When we think of "respectable" network anchors, we think of people like Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. Men and women who have been with us for years, who have worked their way to the anchor desk. These are people for whom we want to trust to present the news.

Ironic, isn’t it? The people we so desperately want to trust are the same ones we tend to think of as being nothing more than glorified media parrots.

Well, now it seems that the journalists are beginning to panic.

They’re panicking because their lofty position as THE "fourth estate" has been slowly eroding, and they are only now starting to recognize it.

For the past two weeks, laid-off employees from the Cable News Network have been doing double-takes over the decision of their former bosses to bring in a new face for Headline News. That fresh-face’s name is Andrea Thompson, and it’s not really her face that they’re throwing fits over.. it’s her body and her experience.

You see, Andrea Thompson is not a seasoned journalist. She didn’t even graduate from high school. Aside from an 11-month stint at a local TV station in New Mexico, she had virtually no experience whatsoever in journalism. Before that, she was an actress, appearing in movies and TV shows.. and apparently a model as well, appearing naked in one artistic magazine appropriately named Black & White.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to see veteran reporters throw temper tantrums over this decision. After all, CNN (now a subsidiary of America Online) is laying off dozens of seasoned reporters, and yet they’re going through with the hiring of what could essentially be an "air-fluffed ego".

Conservatives are getting into the act too, bemoaning about the posting of Thompson’s nude pictures all over the Internet, and asking out loud whatever happened to the "good old days" of TV journalism. After all, they can recall when a local TV anchorwoman by the name of Shelly Jameson posed nude for Playboy over ten years ago and ended up being fired. Now one of the most popular websites on the Internet is one dedicated to "Naked News", where the anchorwomen (and, sadly, one anchorman) read the news completely in the buff.

Well let’s get brutally honest here… SHOULD it make a difference that a network personality once posed nude for some magazine, whether it be Playboy or some other artistic publication? Should it matter that the network personality was once an actress who appeared naked in some European movie?

The answer is NO. No, it shouldn’t make a difference whatsoever. Especially if they knew in advance what that person’s past was like! What.. you don’t think the people at CNN didn’t do their homework on her? You don’t think that they would forget to check her education credentials and her past experience, do you? Do you really think that CNN’s human resources department is THAT inept?

And, as it turned out, it didn’t really matter to the people at AOL or CNN that one of their incoming network personalities once appeared nude. In fact, they relish the publicity it is generating!

And bear in mind what I referred to Thompson as.. a network personality. Not a journalist, but simply a face in the media. And that is exactly what the network executives see them as, just a bunch of faces in the media.

I mean, come on, do you really think that Katie Couric and Matt Laurer got to be the hosts of the Today show on their journalistic experiences? How about their predecessors? How about their competition? Yes, these people could interview heads of state, and the movers and shakers in Washington.. but then just thirty minutes later, they’re sitting next to some guy wearing a sock puppet who’s singing to them. Now, do you want to tell me that’s "serious" journalism at work?

What those in journalism need to recognize is that they no longer hold the reigns to the wild horses we call the media. It’s long been considered more style than substance, only now there are no pretenses about it.

Anyone can read the news in front of a camera. It doesn’t take a degree in journalism to do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s by some seasoned newshound, or by a beautiful woman with no journalistic experience who slowly takes her clothes off as she’s presenting the news, or even by a computer program called Annanova. If they look and sound good in the presentation, it works. And that’s all that matters to the network executives.. and, quite frankly, to the public as well.

The so-called "fourth estate" has slowly been losing their dominance in the media as news has gravitated away from informing the public, and has instead tried to entertain the masses.

Once upon a time, the only people who could comment on the happenings on the world were seasoned political reporters. Men and women who spent years reporting on the movers and shakers in Washington and the various state capitols. Now, just about anyone can be a commentator.. myself included.

Once upon a time, only trained and certified meteorologists were allowed to give the weather. But who is the most famous weatherman we all know? Willard Scott, who is known not as a weatherman, but someone who was once Ronald McDonald.

Monday Night Football on ABC is now hosted by a trio of men, one of whom is not a former athlete, but instead a stand-up comedian and actor who hosts his own profanity-laced show on HBO. Dennis Miller didn’t get the job because of some obscure history as the water-boy for Joe Montana. No, he got to be the color commentator for Monday Night Football because he was snappy on the play-by-play and he knew the inner workings of the sport just as well as anyone else. Listed as an also-ran in that very slot was Rush Limbaugh, a nationally syndicated talk show host, and someone with some experience in reporting on the sports world. NBC’s venture into Vince McMahon’s XFL football gave the world another unique sports announcer.. former professional wrestler, and now Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. Ventura (who did not want to be referred to by his political title while on the air) gave the XFL viewers exactly what they expected when covering the upstart football league.

I’m sure the seasoned journalists are wincing in pain every time they have to remember that one of the biggest media stories in the 1990’s.. not to mention the most hyped story in that decade.. was that the President of the United States once dallied with an intern. In fact, the so-called "seasoned journalists" at Newsweek had already shelved the story when it was picked up by a self-styled Internet reporter by the name of Matt Drudge, and it simply snowballed from there. In fact, many of the stories from the Bill Clinton era came about BECAUSE traditional journalists were shelving them.. only to be out-scooped by the "upstart" Internet news services.

And I would be remiss in my examination of journalism if I didn’t point out that former Vice President Al Gore.. of whom many in the media wanted to be the next president instead of George W. Bush.. just got done teaching his first semester of class at Harvard University. The course? Journalism. His experience? Well, he once worked for a small-town newspaper in Tennessee, not to mention he was a reporter for the Army during his two-month stint in Vietnam.

And academia considers him enough of an "authority" to teach journalism at Harvard? I’m sure tenured professors all across America were reaching for the aspirin when they heard that news!

Now, we’d like to see how well Gore taught his class, but in true Clintonian fashion, he imposed a media blackout. Students couldn’t ask him about his political career, and reporters couldn’t report on what he was teaching his students. However, one of those aforementioned "upstart" Internet media services did say that "Professor Gore’s" performance, as graded by some anonymous students, was "mediocre."

The sad truth is that the news media is more foam than cappuccino. Reporters need to realize that their covering everything from impeachment trials to stamp collections will not get them that anchorman’s chair on the 6 o’clock news. That is a fact of life, and both the journalists and the media critics need to suck it up and deal with it and be thankful that they aren’t flipping burgers.

Yes, reporters can cover tragic accidents, political scandals, world wars, the breakup of "Friends", or even some redneck’s prized snot collection, but the closest most of them will ever see themselves as the hosts of the nightly news will be in their dreams. That job will always go to the media personalities.. the people with the snappy comebacks, the fresh faces, the perky attitudes, the neatly coifed hair… or the neatly coifed toupee as the case may be. They can be seen as America’s favorite grandfather, or the spunky girl next door. As long as they can deliver what’s presented to them, and be appealing enough to keep the masses tuned in, that’s all that really matters.