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A call to arms: It is deja vu all over again: Our Galileo 'You Are There' Moment

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As I listen in on the health care debates that are consuming the political players and journalists and nearby associates, a kaleidoscope montage seems swirling.

Gotta stay with me here. A la the late, great Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be bumpy ride."

On the one hand, Republicans and conservative Democrats and other right-wingers remind me of a vignette I've created in my mind. The driver is rather mindlessly motoring along when he all of a sudden notices the temperature gauge needle is pointed clear into the red. So what the alarmed motorist does is to stop at the nearest garage . . . and replaces the gauge!

It's the messenger he doesn't like.

Several years ago, I asked my now deceased mother whether she had seen Saving Private Ryan. I asked her the same question concerning Schindler's List. On both occasions her reply was much the same: "Oh, I don't need to see all that ugly stuff."

Speaking of Walter Cronkite, I bet there are few who remember the recently deceased, famed news anchor once hosted a half-hour series on CBS, You Are There. The program was a play that sought to recreate historic events, with Cronkite inserting his voice only in a sort of interview with the main characters; Julius Cesar, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, and so forth. Each program began with the same introduction: "What kind of day was it? A day like all days, filled with the events that alter and illuminate our lives. All events are as they were then, except 'You Are There.'" Near the end of this piece is a parody reprise of the program, sort of.

As I was a kid growing up outside Detroit, my friends and I knew the starting lineups of all eight teams in the American League. We knew the day-to-day batting averages of every starting player on the Tiger roster, and the won-loss records of every starting pitcher. On any given day, we knew how many home runs Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash and Willie Horton had it.

Like preferring books with "lots of pictures," everything was pretty black-and-white stark; no thinking or action on our part required. We were kids, and that was okay. However, I am no longer a kid, a child. And per 1 Corinthians, ". . . I put away childish things." But far, far too many Americans, when it comes to news, either never left childhood, or have reverted to it. They don't want to know about the ugly stuff. And they like stories with a lot of pictures; towns demolished by a tornado, or the wreckage of a crashed plane, where all 178 passengers and crew perished, or of an 11-year-old double-amputee who has made the swimming team - "Action 5 Newsteam film coming up at 6:00!"

I have asked folks whether they ever tune in to the news on the BBC, or Jim Lehrer on PBS. "Oh, I did that once. But I couldn't stand it: it's SO boring."

The "press," and "freedom of the"; it's all there, in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was put there for a reason. And that reason was not to facilitate the dispensing of stories with a lot of pictures where no thinking or action on the part of the viewer or reader would be required. It wasn't to entertain an audience or to support a president, or an administration's policies. Its job was to dig in, see whether the rascals were lying, and, if there was skullduggery going on, to bring it to full-Monty view, for the country to know about. It was referred to as the Fourth Estate, a quintessential pillar in a democracy: its most important check against any abuse of power.

But that's not how Americans, or even the press itself, see things now. I had to scratch my memory to try to recall where I'd seen the cat most vividly let out of the bag. It was during January 15th's Colbert Report. The guest was David Gregory, now the host of Meet the Press. As the interview is now in the public domain, the interview no longer retains a copy right. (click here)

Colbert: The press got a lot of razzing from guys like Jon Stewart, for not holding the [Bush] administration's feet to the fire. Are you proud of the questions the press asked of the administration? Because I'm proud of the questions you didn't ask."

Gregory: I actually do think that the right questions were asked, and I think - this criticism is certainly out there of the press corps, and I tried to be thoughtful about it, reflective about it, but I do think the right questions were asked, and I think people view our job through their own ideological prism, and they've made some judgments along those lines."

Colbert: "In other words, only a leftist ideologue thinks that the press should actually report when government statements are false and baseless. What a warped, leftist view of the media that is! Good, solid, reasonable, post-partisan moderates and objective journalists know that the role of a journalist is simply to report accurately what government officials say and leave it at that."

I had pulled up Glenn Greenwald's January 20 Salon article (click here) as supportive refreshment. In it, he brought back to mind Colbert's (bombing I watched, and I winced. It really wasn't funny.) performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner. (click here) President Bush was on the dais as the feted guest of honor, and Colbert, intended as the evening's entertainment, was there to poke light - but respectful - fun at the president. That Colbert chided the president, albeit not especially respectfully, is not what I am now pointing at. Rather, how Colbert smoked the gathered press for the amusement fun-house contorted way it had redefined its primary role: "Let's review the rules. The president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you, the people of the press, type them down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel that you've been kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know, fiction."

The terribly misshapen definition was on full display during last Sunday's (July 19) Meet the Press. (click here) One of the guests was Kentucky's Republican Senator, Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Gregory asked McConnell whether he thought the Senate would produce a health care reform bill before congress left on its summer recess. McConnell responded with a long verbal trail of lies and GOP strategist Frank Luntz' market-tested, fear inducing words and catch phrases. (No! Do NOT believe me - Watch it for yourself.)

That McConnell conducted himself on the program as he did is not the issue I'm raising, however. David Gregory, comporting himself in the redefined role he outlined to Colbert, challenged McConnell on anything not a single time! And that is the role in which he sees himself. That also is how, overwhelmingly, the American populace and the rest of news media sees media's role; makes no difference: ABC, CBS, NBS, CNN. (FOX, however does see its role quite differently. FOX sees its role is to, however it can, destroy every last aspect of progressive and liberal and Democratic Party influence in the United States, and to insert in their stead as rightwing fascistic power over every governmental entity as they can manage.)

To illustrate the perfidy, I'm releasing a preview of a David Gregory Meet the Press interview featuring Galileo Galilei and the astronomer's Republican Inquisitor.

GREGORY: Mr. Galilei, you've recently published "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems." In it, you claim the earth revolves about the sun. How do you defend the charges against you, charges from the most highly respected authorities in the Church?

GALILEO: First of all, I want to thank you for inviting me onto Meet the Press. It's a real honor: sitting here, across from the chair once occupied by Tim Russert. As to my heliocentric theory: For years I used the most up to date, cutting edge, technical equipment; the telescope, which I refined from the crude implement first invented by Lipperhey, in Holland. For years, I traced the paths of the stars and of the planets. And of course, the sun. It was after all these years of observations and mathematical calculations that I arrived at the conclusion that it is the earth that travels about the sun, not the other way around.

GREGORY: Well, Mr. Inquisitor, you've just heard what Mr. Galilei had to say. Do you think there's any truth to his theories?

INQUISITOR: Good morning Dave. It's good to be back on Meet the Press again. As you and all your viewers know, there's no truth whatsoever to the absurd claims made by Mr. Galilei. None whatsoever. It's all just a godless government takeover, intended to raise taxes, to take away the peoples' right to own guns, to have the government pay for abortion, and to promote other godless theories like evolution. And I'm not basing my conclusions just on my opinion alone. For starters, the pope finds what Mr. Galilei says disrespectful . . . even heretical. Look, Pope Urban VIII is the highest authority. His words come directly from God. And who's prepared to argue with that? You are a Christian, aren't you Dave? You're not some heathen, or worse, an atheist . . . are you?

GREGORY: (Squirming in his chair. Beads of sweat growing on his forehead.) No. I mean, yes; I am a Christian. And really, please call me David.

INQUISITOR: Very well, Dave. Or, whatever. But as I was saying, about being a Christian: We all are, aren't we. Or, those of us who aren't with the terrorists. It's what being free in America is all about: your right to be the good Christian you want to be. Except for some left-wing crackpots, like Mr. Galilei here. His type of leftists are the very reason, in America, we have an Inquisition. But I'm not relying only on the pope's word, although that is good enough for me, I assure you. No, not at all. It's right here in the Bible, which I would remind all viewers is the word of God. Let me see . . . Here it is! Right here, in Psalm 93: "The world also is established, that it cannot be moved." Says the same thing in Psalm 96, and in Psalm 104. Again in Chronicles, and in Ecclesiastes, where it goes on to say, "The sun rises and sets, and returns to its place." The word of God, five times, Dave. That's pretty darn conclusive, seems to me. Besides what we actually see for ourselves every morning.

GREGORY: (Looking into Camera 2) Thank you, Mr. Galilei. Thank you, Mr. Republican Inquisitor. Well, there you have it folks. The unsettled debate between the two sides continues. Next week on Meet the Press: South Carolina Governor Sanford will be here to tell us all about renewing one's religious faith by hiking backwoods trails. He'll be joined in that discussion by Nevada's Senator John Ensign. For now, remember, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

Look, the country is tottering on the edge of a precipice. And we have a myriad of options available. We can turn away, not see anything disturbing; just concentrate on stories with happy endings and a lot of pictures. We can restrict our efforts to praying that things will improve. We can continue tuning in to our favorite half-hour news programs, and then blame them for not giving us the information we need in order to make the tough decisions we need to make, as citizens of a democracy. In fact we can blame everyone else, except ourselves: the Republicans for doing what they do best - being duplicitous and conniving in a ruthless ends-justifies-means pursuit of power; the corporations for doing what they do best - privatizing profits while socializing risk.

Or, and this is the really tough option: we can put away those childish retreats from responsible adult behavior, and accept the fact that for anything to change we must become more than passive spectators, content in our socially acceptable victimhood. And we can demand as well that those with whom we voluntarily associate also turn from childish retreats from adult responsibility, that they too refuse to fall into the trap of woe-is-me victimhood. It is not someone else's job to make useful, necessary information either easily obtainable or palatable.

Relative to the health care reform issue, I receive care through the VA. It's free to me. My income consists pretty much to what I get each month from Social Security. So I suppose I shouldn't care much about the level of care others receive. But I do. This is my country. There are groups, organizations, that are dedicated to the cause, and I have donated my time, my efforts, and what sums I can afford to two of them: BoldProgressives.org, and DemocracyforAmerica.com.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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