This is going to be a somewhat surprising column introduction, for our regular readers. For new or occasional readers, I'd have to recommend just skipping this whole introduction entirely, and scrolling down to the awards section and the talking points for the semi-serious commentary. Because I'm about to talk about something I've been absolutely ridiculing all week long -- the royal wedding. And how the American media missed a joke (not to mention a kiss), despite spending millions of dollars in coverage in an orgy of "reporting on the shiny and the distracting, and calling it news." In other words, they couldn't even get it right at their absolute shallowest. Which is why I certainly won't be offended if you just skip this entire section. In other words, I can't believe I'm about to do this... but here goes.
For reasons which surpasseth all understanding (at least to myself), I was actually up very early this morning, before the dawn as a matter of fact. This was due to a scheduled television appearance which, unfortunately, did not occur (for technical reasons). Since I was up, though, I caught the tail end of the British royal wedding, which (for us Pacific Coast Time folks) happened in the middle of the night. Surprisingly enough, I have a few things to point out about the event.
Before we even get to that, though, if you're wondering why this is such a downright egocentric column of my life and impressions, well, I have to chalk that up to the fact that (shudder) I have just been exposed to the network "morning news shows," which is also a rarity for me. Man, I thought the evening news broadcasts were bad, but that was before I paid any attention to the dreck which passes for "news" in the A.M. Which is my humble excuse for this entire introduction, as well as for the headline I gave this article ("At the time, Your Honor, he was under the influence of a royal-sized dose of sappiness, and simply can't be held accountable for his actions...").
Now, all week long I've been taking cheap shots at the American media for their obsession with the British royal wedding. I intended to write at length about this subject today. Thankfully, that task has already been performed so admirably by Dan Rather that I find I cannot add a word to his recent scathing commentary on the priorities of the today's media. He knows far more about the subject than I ever could, and he does not mince words. So I heartily encourage everyone to read what Rather has to say about it -- especially if, at any time during reading this introduction, you become disgusted with its lightweight nature.
I issue this warning, because we're about to discuss some absolute fluff. The new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to be exact. As I said, I turned on the television after the religious wedding ceremony itself was long over (thank your lucky stars for this, because it means I will not be commenting upon any of it). When I tuned in, I witnessed a solid half-hour of the mechanics of British crowd control, as a large group of people slowly made their way down the wide avenue towards the plaza outside Buckingham Palace. One of the stations (NBC, I believe, but I couldn't swear to it), in order to hold our interest, had a "Countdown To The Kiss" clock running. The British police got the crowd organized (they really were remarkably precise about the whole thing), and the royal family finally appeared (a few minutes after the "Kiss Countdown" had run down to zero) on the balcony for the crowd to see.
But here was the first funny thing -- the media, who had been waiting for this moment for at least a solid half an hour, blew it when it happened. They were so concerned with offering up fancy camera angles and picturesque crowd shots that The Kiss wasn't even shown, at least in live action. They had to "go to the replay." You just can't make this stuff up, folks. In the modern "let's cut camera angles every three-fourths of a second" style, they had forgotten to actually show what was happening in the center ring. Whoops!
To be fair, The Kiss was a pretty brief event. Beforehand, we had been read the odds British bookmakers had been laying on how many seconds The Kiss would last for, and all I can say is all the people who put their money on "less than a second" are going to be the big winners of the day. In fact, The Kiss was so brief, the supposedly-stiff-upper-lipped British crowd actually yelled for more (insert your own "stiff upper lip" kiss joke, here). This popular outcry was another event that all of the American news anchors missed entirely. They were so busy yapping amongst themselves, they didn't even notice the enormous crowd chanting what sounded like "Kiss her again!" behind them. The new royal couple finally acquiesced to their (future) subjects' request, and we got "The Kiss II."
Just on kissing analysis alone (kissology?), The Second Kiss was much better for all concerned (the cameras, the crowd, and the new Duke and Duchess) than The First Kiss.
But the really amusing thing to me (in terms of the cluelessness of the American media, at least) happened a bit later. The happy couple exited the Palace, to get on with their lives (as it were), in dashing style indeed -- in a dashing Aston Martin (and oh, so, James-Bond-esque) convertible, complete with the "Just Married!" streamers tied to the rear bumper. Behind the wheel (no chauffeur!), driving with panache, was Prince William. But the truly funny thing about the scene -- once again -- completely went over the heads of the American media.
If you see footage of the cute little convertible, driven by the new Duke with new Duchess by his side, take a close look at the front of the car. On the grill is a square badge with the letter "L" on it. This is funny, to the Brits, because it is a somewhat-traditional wedding prank usually performed on the groom.
The "L" stands for "Learner." This plaque is required by law on all cars being driven by young Brits who only have what the Americans would call a "learner's permit." It's actually a really good idea, because it warns all the other drivers around that there's a newbie behind the wheel. Which is why it makes for such a good wedding-car prank...
Get it? (Wink wink, nudge nudge?)
Prince William, one assumes, got his real driver's license a while back. He doesn't need an "L" plate to drive on British roads. It refers, instead, to his... um... marital abilities (and we would strongly advise against inserting your own "royally screwed" joke here, as that would be just ever so "common").
Like I said, it's a funny prank to pull on a British groom, and nobody else in the media seemed to even notice it, so there you go -- you are now "in" on a joke which millions of American media dollars spent on researching Britishness failed to uncover. You're welcome, America.
I can't believe I just wrote all of that. Maybe the morning television news fog is (hopefully) beginning to wear off....
Getting back to our usual (but still snarky) attitude towards both politics and the media (in preparation for the remainder of the column), Dan Rather was sadly right. As I admitted, "morning television news" is a foreign concept to me ("Why would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to this drivel?" is my basic attitude), but even so, what was stunning was the lack of coverage of the disastrous tornado attack on the American South yesterday. As Rather all but predicted.
In recent years, network news has decided that "the weather" is a national story. The media as a whole has been led into this situation mostly by NBC, who is still desperately trying to recoup some of the billions of dollars it spent on The Weather Channel a few years back. Any mildly-heavy rainstorm, any mildly-heavy snowfall, any flooding anywhere -- all are treated as just short of Armageddon by the national news media these days.
Then, when a truly monstrous weather event happens, they can't even be bothered. After all, there's a wedding to cover, people!
Dan Rather was absolutely right. I'm sure this morning's newscast will come as a great comfort to the families of the hundreds of people who died in tornados yesterday, or otherwise had their lives shattered by Mother Nature.
[Note: This was all written very early in the morning, and once I had finished the entire article, I had found another brilliantly scathing take on the American media's royal obsession. So I heartily encourage everyone, after reading the Dan Rather article, to also check out this piece by David Sirota, as it is just as worth reading.]
Sigh. Well, enough of that. Let's get on with our weekly look back, starting with the awards.
Before we begin with Democrats, here, I'd like to at least mention two journalists who, this week, did the right thing -- both of them, by walking away from the shiny object in front of them. Being journalists, they aren't really eligible for our MIDOTW and MDDOTW awards, but we felt they deserve a mention for their actions.
The first is Brian Williams, of whom I am not a big fan (although I do like him when he does comedy, I have to admit). Williams reportedly hit the ground in London and was being whisked away from the airport to the big wedding-stravaganza, when he got the call to turn the car around and head back to the U.S. to cover the tornado story, which he then did (as Williams tells it, he made the decision, not the producer, but that's a minor detail). After spending millions to broadcast Williams from the royal wedding, NBC decided there was a more important story for their anchor back at home. For keeping the world in proper perspective, both the organization and Williams deserve a pat on the back.
The second journalist to "just walk away" was the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (with whom I also don't always agree), who wrote an extraordinary column about why he's making other plans this weekend than attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner. This is an era-of-the-Caesars-style extravaganza where the politicians, the media who are supposed to be their watchdogs, and random Hollywood celebrities (for no apparent reason whatsoever) all get together and yuck it up for a night. Milbank's newspaper invited, to sit at their table (are you sitting down for this?), none other than Donald Trump. For putting this entire fiasco in the proper perspective in quite scathing terms, Milbank also deserves a pat on the back.
A third non-political honorable mention must also go out to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who just gave the first scheduled news conference ever by a sitting head of the Federal Reserve. Yes, you read that right: "ever." Bernanke is moving the Fed towards a new model of openness, at least when it comes to answering questions from the press, and says he's going to give regular pressers from now on. Well done, Ben! It's about time.
Moving into the political realm, President Barack Obama deserves an Honorable Mention for -- after years of saying "this is too silly to dignify" and "how many pieces of proof do you clowns need to see?" -- releasing his birth certificate. By doing so, he has taken the wind out of the sails of one of the worst slurs against him by his opponents. The entire episode just served to make Obama look (once again, following a recent theme) like "the adult in the room."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may be eligible for a MIDOTW award soon, if he follows through on his pledge to force Republicans in the Senate to actually vote on the Ryan budget which passed the House by party-line vote. Republican House members (some of them, at any rate) are already realizing that this may blow up in their faces with the voters, and the Republican senators really really wanted to avoid actually going on the record. Harry is going to force them to do so. But until he actually does, he'll have to settle for an Honorable Mention, for showing he can still play hardball.
But the real winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is the current head of the Central Intelligence Agency (there's a sentence I never thought I'd ever type).
Call me biased (Panetta is a "local boy done good," I should mention, where I live), but naming Panetta to be our next Secretary of Defense is looking like a pretty good move by President Obama. Panetta, from all accounts, did a pretty good job at the C.I.A., and (more importantly, these days) would likely face no resistance at all to Senate confirmation. He can be counted on to continue the Gates model for the next two years, at a bare minimum. The "promotion" alone was the most impressive news out of the past week, in a purely literal sense.
We can't help but think of how Obama's first two years might have been different if he had named Panetta to his old job in the Clinton administration -- White House Chief of Staff. How might things have been different -- how might Obama have accomplished more -- if Panetta had been in charge instead of Rahm Emanuel? We'll never know, but we do know that Panetta will likely do a great job overseeing the Pentagon.
All of which adds up to the first time in our history -- and, quite possibly, the last -- that we've awarded the MIDOTW to a sitting C.I.A. director. But Leon Panetta was, indeed, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week last week.
[Just on general principles, we're not going to link to the C.I.A. here. Instead, we suggest you send your congratulations to the White House contact page.]
Does Gloria Allred count as a Democrat?
If she did (under our rules), we would easily have handed her the MDDOTW this week for the idiocy of this press conference. Did the kids really need to be in the room, Ms. Allred? Don't you think that might actually even undermine your legal case? Sigh. Enough said.
Instead, I'm going to hand out a group Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, to "every single Democrat in Congress who didn't speak up about this nonsense." Which is, pretty much, "all of them."
Let's see, what's on Congress' plate right now? Earthquakes, nuclear accidents, three wars, spiking gas prices, budget fights, lightbulb bans, and 600 tornados this month alone. Plus the impending doom of not raising the debt ceiling, which would (not "could" but "would") send the world's economy into drastic and unprecedented chaos which would likely take years to recover from, as Congress destroys the "full faith and credit" of the United States of America to the rest of the world. So, in other words, quite a few things to do, right?
So why did they just take two weeks off?
The sad answer is: because they can, and because they are used to it. This will never, ever change -- right up to the point when Americans wake up and realize what they're getting for their tax dollars when it comes to "days worked by Congress." Heck, at this point, I'd even cheer on the Tea Partiers if they decided to tackle this gross abdication of duty by our elected officials (from both parties, I should mention).
There's just no excuse, guys. Harry Reid, in particular, is in charge of setting the Senate's schedule. No excuse. This is pathetic, and it should end. For every member of Congress just getting back from their most recent two-week vacation, you guys and gals should hang your heads in shame, as you all are awarded a collective Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[You'll have to contact your own individual senators and representatives, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 165 (4/29/11)
Well, we seem to be running a bit long here this week (insert your own "How can you tell?" joke here, if you must), so we'll just get right to the talking points we're suggesting for Democrats to use this week.
After, that is, we shamelessly troll for online votes for a very worthy blogger. Vote for Matt Osborne to win a Democracy For America scholarship to Netroots Nation! I wrote about this earlier this week, so please read all the details. And then vote for Matt! He needs your vote, so do it today! Get your buddies to vote, too! Go Matt!
OK, back to being non-biased... or at least less blatant about our biases. Ahem.
The Ryan budget
This first one is actually catching on. Not only does it personify the Republican budgetary ideals, but by "branding" it in such a fashion, more and more people are starting to hear about the details. This can only be a good thing for Democrats.
"I've noticed that the angry town hall meetings Republicans have been facing in the past few weeks haven't gotten nearly as much media attention as they used to -- and I wonder why that is. Go out into the country, and you will find plenty of people who are outraged over Paul Ryan's budget, which every Republican in the House except four voted for. The Ryan budget has really lit a fire under seniors, which is no surprise. Once people find out what is in the Ryan budget, the overwhelming majority thinks it is the wrong way for America to go. If you haven't heard about the Ryan budget, just spend a few minutes online and learn what it will mean to you and your family."
Why are Republican senators afraid to vote?
This one is a taunt worthy of the schoolyard, I realize. That doesn't mean it isn't a good idea, or can't be effective for Democrats.
"When the House of Representatives voted on the Ryan budget, all but four Republicans voted in favor of immediately hiking seniors' medical expenses. Now the Republicans in the Senate appear to be scared of putting their vote on record. What is the problem? If this is the wonderful Republican plan for the future, you'd think they'd be the ones begging Harry Reid to bring it up for a vote. Now that Reid has said that he will do so, Republicans seem terrified of voting on it. Perhaps they've heard from their counterparts over in the House what the public thinks of the plan. Senate Republicans should put their votes on the line, or else they are nothing more than political cowards trying to avoid a vote which will come back to bite them in the polling booth."
Seniors actually care about their progeny
Who knew Grandma and Grandpa would actually care about their children's and their grandchildren's future? I mean, who could have possibly predicted that? Note: rolling your eyes at the end of this quote just drives the point home.
"The Ryan budget had a trick in it, by attempting to reassure seniors that they won't be the ones paying the outrageous costs out of their own pockets -- it'll just be all those folks under the age of 55. Did the Republicans really think Grandma and Grandpa wouldn't care about what their children are going to face at their age? Or their grandchildren? It's like Republicans just got a news flash -- 'This just in... The elderly care about future generations!' I mean, who could have ever predicted that?"
This one is short and sweet and has a nice ring to it. It ought to, since it was dreamed up by the Republican Talking Points Corporation, LLC (a Cayman Islands entity). Kidding aside, they're good a this sort of scare tactics, so why not just be all "green" and recycle it? Heh.
"Republicans, a few years ago, were telling voters that they were going to be the ones who would, quote, save Medicare, unquote. Now that they're in power, they've pulled a bait-and-switch, and are actually working to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system -- ending Medicare as we know it today. Back then, Democrats were working to save Medicare. When the Republicans said they were going to 'save Medicare' it was because they were against the Democrats' money-saving plans. Now those exact same plans are a part of the Ryan budget. But Democrats didn't want to destroy Medicare back then. Republicans now do. The voters are fast realizing who is truly working to save Medicare, and it certainly isn't Paul Ryan."
This, again, is a taunt. It is calculated to send chills and shivers down the spine of every single congressional Republican up for re-election next year. And it's an easy one to remember, too.
"Well, all I can say about the Ryan budget is that seniors remember this sort of thing. And Republicans should be quaking in their boots over one very simple fact: seniors vote."
Don't take Unions for granted
This one, to be somewhat even-handed, is one calculated to send shivers down national Democrats' spines.
"I see the national firefighters union has just announced that they will not be making any donations on the national level to Democrats in next year's election. Instead, they will be putting their money towards electing Democrats at the state level, where politicians are more accountable. The firefighters have apparently gotten tired of being taken for granted by the national Democratic Party. It doesn't surprise me, since Democrats couldn't manage to move any legislation friendly to Unions through Congress when they controlled both houses, and instead just gave lip service to the Union ideas. The big battles on the Union issues are now happening at the state level, so it makes perfect sense for the Union campaign donations to bypass the people in Washington who couldn't get the job done. This should serve as a warning for Democrats: don't take your core constituencies for granted."
Playing the Trump card
OK, I just couldn't resist that heading. Heh.
I'm with Obama on this one. When faced with fringe opinions, you should either ignore them or ridicule them. Especially after you've already proven them wrong previously. Alas, though, this didn't work, and the fringe was in danger of becoming (at least in Republicanland) "the mainstream," especially when the carnival barkers of the political world gnash their teeth. Now that Obama's proven (once again) that there simply was no gigantic conspiracy over the circumstances of his birth, it provides a handy way for any Democrat to semi-politely call any Republican on the lunacy which, at times, comes out of their mouths (on all sorts of subjects). The following is a generic response, to be given when a Republican says anything laughably inane to your face. Ridicule is a strong weapon, if wielded correctly.
"Really? That's interesting. Hey, you know what I heard? I heard President Obama was actually born in Area 51, and that one of his parents was from Alpha Centauri, and that his other parent was part of the plot to levitate the Pentagon, back in the 1960s. And you know what? There's absolutely no proof which shows this isn't true! Really! Maybe we should adopt the system the British use for their royals, and demand that a member of Congress be physically present whenever any baby is born which has a chance of becoming president some day -- that would solve the whole problem, don't you think?"
-- Chris Weigant