August 4, 2003
I have been a teacher of economics for some 27 years. One of the extra-credit assignments that I give, and have given for some years, involves the following assignment: "With respect to any culture, any period of history and any person or persons with real power over life and death, present a list of taboo questions that, if posed, would likely get the person posing them either killed and/or a totally destroyed career."
I am truly amazed at some of the responses I get. They reflect some real critical thinking as well as knowledge about important issues, persons and events -- past and present.
These are the types of questions that the typical careerist whores -- with all due respect to whores who make no bones about what they are selling and are prepared to do -- in journalism, academia, politics, religion, etc., would never dare to pose.
Many journalists, for example, will say that their editors never once asked them not to do a particular piece or take a particular ideological angle on a given piece. Sometimes they are telling the truth. No one had to tell them what to write, what not to write, what ideological angles would be permissible or not permissible; that is why they were hired. They came with ready-made "acceptable" paradigms, backgrounds, careerist aspirations and general awareness of the "rules of the game" such that these journalists knew the limits and taboos to be aware of and could be trusted to act accordingly. The same applies in academia, politics, entertainment, religion and other spheres and dimensions of society. This metaphor of journalists as whores -- that applies to many academics, businessmen, politicians and "mainstream" elements in other groups, and, I might add, is employed with all due respect to whores -- is not new. Upton Sinclair's muckraking analysis of the press, entitled "The Brass Check," was based upon the infamous brass coins or "brass checks" that were handed to turn-of-the-century brothel women by their tricks to be turned in by the women to their madams for pay at the end of a working day.
Sadly, with increasing and mutually reinforcing economic concentration and centralization in all segments of the media, with the profits and interests -- stakes -- getting larger and larger, we are not likely to ever see journalists of the caliber of Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, Wilfred Burchett and others -- who dare(d) to pose the most taboo questions -- again soon. And yet we need their kind now more than ever as the direct and opportunity costs of having the corrupt, sycophantic, mediocre, moronic, predatory and duplicitous in media, politics, academia and other spheres of society -- the "mainstream" status quo -- are more threatening to overall human society and survival than in any time in human history.
The Spiral of SUCKcess in Journalism, Entertainment, Politics and Academia
The Spiral of SUCKcess in Journalism, Entertainment, Politics and Academia typically goes like this:
THE BIG "SCOOP"/HIT/GRANT/
There are several ways into the "Spiral of SUCKcess." For example, not asking nasty questions, and being known for not asking nasty questions, gives initial and continuing access to celebrities and powers-that-be (The Larry King Syndrome or the Fox "News" Syndrome). Or, possibly, one hits upon a "big scoop" by relative accident (Woodward and Bernstein) that leads to further exposure, celebrity/power and expanded access. Or, perhaps one employs a gimmick to get some instant exposure (Milli-Vinilli Syndrome) that leads to celebrity, expanded access (to big recording studios and marketing) and they are off and running. Or, perhaps, a person is already an established name in another realm and makes a lateral move to instant celebrity/power in one realm (e.g., a sports star becoming an instant news celebrity) that gives them enhanced access (e.g., to prime time) and they are off and running.
The spiral of SUCKcess is not only an upward spiral; it can be a downward spiral as well. A reporter who fails to go along to get along or who crosses the line into taboo questions will soon find not only his/her own access denied, they may also find expanded access deliberately fed to their more compliant competition as payback. Of course denial of access and or expanded access to the competition means the competition gets the "scoop" leading to more exposure for the competition and less for the one suffering the payback. And as more exposure means enhanced recognition/celebrity/standing/power leading to even more expanded access, so it is in the reverse: less exposure means diminished recognition/celebrity/standing/power and even less access and....
Even in reporting the weather, of all things, this reverse spiral of SUCKcess can operate. In their book "Wizards of Media Oz," Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen note the story of TV weatherman Sean Boyd who, in April 1995, was fired from his job for refusing to distort his weather predictions (high likelihood of rain) for the day of his station's "Annual Dittohead Picnic" honoring Rush Limbaugh fans. The management of KMJ in Fresno, California, it seems, wanted him to predict "an even greater chance of no showers." (Solomon and Cohen, p. 53). As thousands attended the picnic, and got, by the way, thoroughly drenched, Boyd lost his job. There are many, many more such cases.
So fasten your seatbelt. Imagine, for example, the following scenario: A veteran news celebrity, perhaps at the level of a Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather, after years of doing Faustian Bargains with the powers-that-be, that is precisely why he or she is at that level, a level such that no one dares not call on them at a press conference, suddenly finds out he or she is suffering from a terminal illness. Imagine further that this top news celebrity is going through a kind of "Willie Loman moment" (see "Death of a Salesman"), thinking about all that he or she could have done and didn't, thinking about all the really penetrating questions he or she could have posed and didn't, thinking about the carnage that ensued partly as a result of failing to ask penetrating questions in the past, and decides to try to "get right with the Creator," atone for his/her past sins of omission and commission, and go out in this last press conference in a blaze of glory.
Got the visual? Here we go.
1. "Mr. President. It is an established and irrefutable fact that what might be termed 'presidue,' with your DNA, was found on a dress of Ms. Lewinski suggesting that you were not wearing a condom in your sessions with her. My question, Mr. President, is: Did you ask Ms. Lewinski if she had had an AIDS test, did YOU take an AIDS test, and, did you suggest to Hillary that she take an AIDS test if you had been intimate with her after having been intimate with Ms. Lewinski? If not, why not and what message and example does this send to the broader public about the need for safe sex?"
2. "Mr. President. You looked straight into the camera, shook your crooked finger, and said, as you later testified under oath, that quote 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinski...' Further, Mr. President, you met with Dr. Lewinski, Monica's father, in the oval office where you had been intimate in some fashion with his daughter. And you later said that whatever went on with you and Ms. Lewinski was 'adult,' 'consensual,' 'not an abuse of power,' 'private,' and basically, 'no one's business.' My question, Mr. President, is: If your daughter Chelsea, close to Monica's age, had decided to do 'a Lewinski' on her Professor at Stanford to, say, improve her grade in a particular course, would THAT be a) not sexual relations, b) a private matter, c) not an abuse of power on the part of the Prof, and, d) no one's business?"
3. "Mr. President. You testified that your relationship with Ms. Lewinski 'gradually' or 'later' became intimate and inappropriate. The unrebutted record and fact is that you got your first oral sex from Ms. Lewinski a mere four hours after her thong underwear revealing/snapping and your meeting her for the first time. Is this another example of your disingenuousness in/through use of language (like 'It all depends upon what is is.') or a comment reflecting on your sense of time and elapsed time?"
4. "Mr. President. When a relatively low-level intern, whom you did not know, first snapped her thong at you and suggested something further, which did occur for the first time four hours later, did it ever occur to you that she could be a plant from either a foreign government or the Republicans, sent to spy and/or entrap and that responding to her overtures could easily constitute or lead to a breach of national security? And as a follow-up, Mr. President, would you comment on the report that the Israeli Mossad had Lewinski's phone tapped long before her story became public and that you called off a 'mole hunt' for a Mossad agent in the White House after threats to make the Lewinski relationship public?"
5. "Mr. President. What does it say about the real nature and quality of the political processes of the U.S. that we have had a number of presidents, including yourself, commanders in chief with access to nuclear codes and warmaking capabilities, that would not be qualified for even a basic security clearance if they were subject to the same security clearance protocols and standards to which all those working for them in the White House are required to submit?"
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James M. Craven (Omahkohkiaayo-i'poyi) is a member of the Blackfoot Nation and a Professor of Economics, Business Division Chair, Clark College, Vancouver, WA. Biographical Subject in Marquis "Who's Who" in: The World; America; The West; Science and Engineering, and Finance and Industry. A longer bio is available at http://www.home.earthlink.net/~blkfoot5.
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