Way or the Highway
March 16, 2002
By Taylor Sias
It is said that every good story needs a villain. Heroes
are born out of opposition to an evil. The heroic reach their
status by defeating the evil, proclaiming victory, and riding
off into the sunset a la John Wayne. When evil is discussed,
names like Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein come to mind.
Their blatant disregard for all cultures but theirs, allow
them to be subjected to the title "evil".
The aforementioned characters commit actions so heinous,
so vile, that they are truly demonic. These figures are reviled
not just because of their beliefs, but instead their actions.
The attack on beliefs distinctly has begun in America. The
GOP, exuberant about their recent successes and high approval
ratings of their president, and more specifically conservative
pundits, are dropping the hammer on all dissension. They have
finally found their man, an individual to blame everything
from 9/11 to the feces they stepped in on their way to the
Capitol on. He is the face of evil. The man is Tom Daschle.
Tom Daschle by all accounts is a reasonable man. The Senate
Majority Leader, a South Dakota democrat, is being groomed
to replace Bill Clinton as the face of liberal evil. Rumors
run abound that the Senate Democratic Leader is prime to make
a presidential run in 2004. Publicly, Daschle exudes a calm
exterior and moderate nature that should be hard to exploit.
He displays none of the characteristics of many Republican
leaders, who fuel controversy with outlandish comments. Unlike
Newt Gingrich who was easy to hate, Sen. Daschle is a likable
In late February, Sen. Daschle spoke up for a significant
population of the country who are uncertain about the war
effort."We really don't know what the direction is, frankly.
We talk about going into Yemen. We're talking now about going
into the Philippines and other places." Daschle expanded,
"Before we go into a lot of these other locations, I think
it is important for us to better understand what our purpose
is, how long will we be there, how many troops will be there,
how does it affect our efforts in Afghanistan." The comments
made on FOX News Sunday, and other outlets, have allowed the
conservatives to label Daschle as unpatriotic and practically
See, Daschle is becoming the face of patriotic opposition.
The kind of opposition right-wingers are trying to quell.
It is becoming evident that the liberties the military are
fighting for conflict with the actions politicians and pundits
present inside national borders.
Perhaps the best example of censorship of expression is seen
at the top. After Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect,
made some controversial comments (which I will expand on)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer provided a harbinger
of future events. When asked a question by a reporter regarding
Maher, Fleischer suggested that people had better, "...watch
what they say." There was a time that an individual could
say what they want in America, under the condition that the
speech was not slanderous. Americans can say whatever they
want, regardless of how stupid, and individuals can dismiss
it if the remark has no merit. While Mr. Maher was not offended,
it offers some foreshadowing as to the future of free speech.
Most Americans don't have a television program to articulate
ideas, but citizens have the right to opine in other forums.
Opposition is being restricted by Republicans because they
can. The idea of loyalty to our President is an easy one to
sell to the American public. Hanging a flag from one's residency
or a "United We Stand" bumper-sticker are patriotic gestures.
These symbols mean that their owners love America and would
never disagree with our Emperor. While stickers and flags
represent commitment that must be applauded, it is not patriotic
per se. Patriotic is what Sen. Daschle does, and countless
others do on various media outlets. Patriotic is staying informed,
and disagreeing when necessary in a respectful manner. When
discussing matters of national importance in an open forum,
the fair-minded can make concessions and understand the positive
components of debate.
The reaction to Daschle's comments have contradicted patriotism.
Republicans have set out to defame Daschle by calling him
names. Anything to divert attention from the issues he introduced.
It is easier to take a quote and manipulate it into controversy.
The complexities of a war-effort cannot just be handled by
a group of individuals with similar ideologies. As evidenced
by the split in 2000's presidential election and the near
50-50 nature of the Senate, the whole country does not concur
completely with the Bush Administration. It is the sign of
egomania to believe that no other opinion is valid. The act
of raising queries and expecting legitimate replies is the
personification of loyalty. Loyalty is not defined by picking
a side, refusing to allow opposing viewpoints, and controlling
Tom Daschle in this sense is not merely a man, but a voice
for those afraid or not allowed to vocalize theirs. Tom Daschle
represents what our nation's majority is afraid to hear. Once
one person begins questioning authority, more can follow.
The domino effect can eventually rob those in leadership of
their power. The act of putting oneself on the line, with
knowledge of impending repercussions, is courageous and patriotic.
For all the comments of traitor and troublemaker, it is necessary
to understand those are only insults, not views. Intelligent
discourse is perhaps the best quality of democracy. Free speech,
symbolic speech, and speech plus are all protected by the
First Amendment of the Constitution. That does not allow any
Tom, Dick, or Harry to go around verbalizing seditious speech
or fighting words. On the liberal side, it is wrong to call
George W. Bush simply a "thief". Instead of calling Mr. Bush
a thief, liberals should investigate the intricate nature
of election law and precedents. Only then can it be seen a
discussion worth taking seriously, and not simply name-calling.
Once the initial hysteria of 9/11 calmed, and accepted views
began to dissipate, we saw how America would react. Certain
issues, like the horrendous loss of life and Osama Bin Laden's
evil, are nearly impossible to dispute. The agreement was
not the collaboration of Democrats and Republicans, rather
the consensus of the majority of the world. Republicans were
able to garner support for Bush, resulting in very high approval
ratings. Gradually, they hoped to form a consensus of Americans
that would overpower their opponents. In today's politically
correct climate, the content of statements are examined after
the controversial nature of them. Bill Maher's comments about
the terrorists not being cowards and implying America was
cowardly, made on September 17, has almost cost him his job.
To their credit, top conservatives like Rush Limbaugh supported
Maher's right to freedom of speech. Still, the majority of
Americans never took the time to examine the validity of the
statement. Although the comment might be wrong, it was no
reason for the ABC affiliate in Washington D.C. to pull the
plug on his show. The idea expressed on that day now goes
into an eternal file of questions that could be debated intelligently.
The question that must be asked is why discussion is not
flowing like a sieve. The answer is multi-faceted, but our
country's biased media is the main culprit. Reality in America
is that people believe what they see on TV and radio. In the
1990's the Internet has garnered a massive following, but
still has not made television and radio obsolete. The Internet
provides a set for multiple philosophies. The colossal size
and worldwide connection allows for immense dialogue. The
Internet is a friend of freedom, and that is more than I can
say for other mediums. The mainstream media, which I classify
as TV, print, and radio, as a result of their demographic
studies, have observed that more conservatives pay attention
to their work. Since major media-tycoons are established entrepreneurs,
they know how to make money. The advent of FOX News Channel
in the last five years has forced the media to move further
right. FOX, founded by Rupert Murdoch, pragmatically decided
adopt a conservative attitude to garner a targeted audience.
FOX has been highly successful, forcing markets to adopt their
programming by the masses. FOX stunned CNN and MSNBC by competing
remarkably with them. CNN, established for over 20 years,
is being beaten regularly by FOX. Consequently, CNN and MSNBC
have raced to catch the eye of the "Rush Limbaugh" audience.
The bias of media take away the defenses of the everyday
American. Shows like Hannity & Colmes on FOX exemplify the
media's corruption of perception. Sean Hannity, the conservative
half of the program, is a bona fide star in the conservative
community. He also hosts the nationally syndicated The Sean
Hannity Show on radio. When the premise for the show was discussed,
it was originally titled Hannity & Liberal TBA. From the beginning,
it showed balance was going to be in name only. The network
eventually brought on Alan Colmes, a former stand-up comedian
and hardly a known quantity. Admittedly, he's not as far left
as Hannity is in the polar opposite direction.
More familiarly was CNN's long-running Crossfire. For years,
the network pitted liberal Bill Press versus die-hard conservatives
Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak. It would be impossible for
Press, a jolly fellow and former DNC Chairman in California,
to compete with such stalwart conservatives. The networks
have treated their programming like carnies at the fair midway.
It's going to be damn hard for the liberals to win, because
the tilt is on unbeknownst to most.
The cable-news networks, also owned by corporations, are
afraid to offend. AOL Time Warner, which owns CNN, isn't prime
to have protests and boycotts because of a controversial figure.
General Electric, which controls MSNBC along with Microsoft,
would not be willing to risk their credibility on a non-mainstream
viewpoint. Disney, Murdoch, and other corporate leaders are
no different. Therefore, every show is nearly indistinguishable
from each other. The poll numbers are shoved down the viewer's
throat, making them insecure if they do not constitute the
majority. Since America is the home of conformity, people
change their views to fit the norm.
Radio, although not as powerful as television, holds similar
biases. The overwhelming amount of radio hosts are conservative.
Rush Limbaugh, talk radio's star, serves as a template for
competitors. Mr. Limbaugh attracted such a following, causing
others to milk the cash-cow. Radio personalities like G. Gordon
Liddy, of Watergate fame, and Michael Medved lead the group
of conservatives on radio. On WJNO 1290, West Palm Beach's
primary talk-radio station, conservatives are showcased more
than liberals. WJNO aired Laura Schlesinger and Rush Limbaugh
back-to-back. The only dissenter is Randi Rhodes, a combative
liberal aired locally. Ms. Rhodes agonizes that she cannot
advance in radio because conservatives are too dominant.
Ironically, Ms. Rhodes has the top-rated show on WJNO. Her
program is popular, indicating some people agree with her
views. The ratio of conservatives to liberals is not overwhelming,
so why are the talk shows aired?
Skepticism in America is being replaced by unwavering belief
in government. Cynicism, as some might call it, leads the
truth to be told. The Pentagon Papers never would have been
released if not for committed opposition to the Vietnam War.
Skepticism keeps the powerful honest. The power in a democracy
only can obtain influence if the majority of its subjects
consent to it.
Every story reported in media should require stark evaluation.
Personal motives, bias, and many other factors need to be
considered. Most humans are not stupid, but consciously choose
not to think. It is much easier to say "I believe in President
Bush." A central-command figure provides the proverbial "security-blanket".
Thinking can cause pain. It can cause apprehension. Criticism
can be downright scary. Those emotions are unpleasant, but
compare favorably to the alternative. Knowledge is power!
It is better to know why the world is on the brink of nuclear
catastrophe, rather than have it come out of the blue. With
the advantage of information, civilization has a fighting
chance to survive.
The post 9/11 world has been compared at times to a novel
of great prominence by George Orwell, 1984. Another analogy
is fitting too. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury mirrors a prolonged
effect if 9/11 behavior continues permanently. At a measured
pace, those who can will censor the unpopular. When people
finally realize the dire straits civilization has amounted
to, it will be past the time for a simple solution.
After September 11, many Americans took the time to evaluate
what was important to them as individuals. A lot of Americans
went to Church, and others just spent some extra minutes with
their loved ones. In that evaluation, what it means to be
American should be included. The duty of every American is
to be controversial sometimes. When people become afraid of
being different, they become too alike. If that happens, we
might as well start saluting Fuhrer Bush and killing the Jews
Taylor Sias is the news editor for the William T. Dwyer High
School newspaper, "The Panther Prowler."