So Many Herrings, So Little Time
October 22, 2004
By Mark Drolette
As I was slogging my way through William Safire's sanctimonious
rant of a column the other day and wondering if a person could doubly
lose his mind (him, not me), I thought I might have found my latest
topic about which to write: the Bushies' manufactured non-issue
of John Kerry's allusion to Mary Cheney's lesbianism in the last
Perhaps I'm being unduly harsh on Safire. I guess it makes total
sense to be more concerned about the object of his sputtering ire
than, say, the completely pointless and immoral war in Iraq, strident
American nationalism/imperialism, record deficits, the shredding
of civil liberties, unprecedented government secrecy, 45 million
Americans without health care, low wages and poor benefits, lost
jobs, a crappy environment, religious doctrine replacing sound science,
the indistinguishable and corrosive melding of corporations and
blah, blah, blah…
But, just because, I Yahooed "Mary Cheney" to check out how long
her sexuality has been public knowledge. In about ten seconds, I
found an August 8, 2000, USA Today piece
in which Tracy Moran subtly, slyly, and cryptically hints at Mary's
deep, dark secret: "In case you haven't heard, Mary Cheney is openly
This may not be the earliest such report, but it does sort of put
the lie to Safire's assertion that "Until [Kerry mentioned she was
gay], only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family
serving on the campaign staff was homosexual." Unless, that is,
USA Today is read solely by "political junkies" searching
for the latest scoop on American politics, in which case I'd better
mail off my subscription right away.
Here's another hyped hyperventilation by Ol' Bill: "One purpose
[of Kerry's remark] was to drive a wedge between the Republican
Gosh. Who knew our top two guys, a couple of Texas big oil bidness
men, were so sensitive? I naively would have thought that if anything
would divide these two on this issue, it would have been Bush's
proposed constitutional amendment to codify discrimination against
about ten percent of Americans, including his partner's daughter,
rather than Kerry's recounting of a well-documented fact. See? That's
what I get for not reading USA Today.
Of course, Safire's not alone in his hysteria. Ruben Navarette
Jr. outscreeches our New York Times columnist with this beauty:
"As someone who has gay family members, I can't stomach what the
Kerry-Edwards campaign did to this young woman and her family."
Hmm. I can't figure out which is worse: the ugly "but some of my
best friends are black" simile, or the implication that a gay relative
somehow shames a clan's reputation.
At any rate, for those of us who are not Bushie groupers -- er,
groupies -- it's tempting to swallow this type of bait, along with
all attendant tackle. Our eely administration regularly engages
in so many slippery dealings that writing about them is akin to
peering into a barrel and shooting the proverbial fish within; it
just looks so damn simple. Tellingly, though, the easily accessible
finny critters inside almost always turn out to be certain rosy-hued
members of the family Clupeidae.
This brings us to Karl "The Fish King" Rove, the one who keeps
that cask fully stocked with as many red herrings as possible so
valuable time and column inches are wasted by poor saps who unwittingly
try to catch and gut them all. Rove's supply of these special water-breathers
is endless, and as long as folks are a-fishin', he's a-stockin'.
So, to devote an entire piece on the GOP's faux indignation over
Kerry merely restating what is already known about Ms. Cheney (wouldn't
this be like pointing out Michael Jackson is black, or, at least,
used to be?) would be to hand Rove another winner. I'll focus instead
on the broader picture, and something that does legitimately demand
full attention: the Sinclair Broadcast Group's now partially aborted
plan to sabotage the electoral process.
Conservative-leaning Sinclair reported recently it was ordering
62 of its nationwide affiliates to pre-empt prime time programming
to air an anti-Kerry program, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,"
just days before the election. Naturally, many of these stations
are located in critical swing states.
This is not just another herring; it much more accurately resembles
the 80-ton whale in the living room: decayed, putrid, and fairly
tough to miss. (For the piscatorially pure, I know whales are not
fish; they are amphibians, or something. I just wanted to use my
recently renewed artistic fishing license.)
It is not hyperbole to say Sinclair's initial decision involved
nothing less than the ongoing desecration of certain fundamental
American democratic principles, like, for starters, the First Amendment
rights of free speech and free press. There's nothing remotely free
about a company that reaches 25 percent of U.S households ordering
its affiliates to pre-empt prime time programming days before a
presidential election in a clear attempt to influence same, labeling
the hit piece as "news" in an attempt to skirt responsibility of
offering its target a fair rebuttal. This is the antithesis of freedom,
and the price paid by citizens who suffer because of misinformed
voters who cast ballots on the basis of such cynically disseminated,
slanderous propaganda is incalculable.
It is also mind-bending to see the people's airwaves -- our
airwaves, already incredibly whored for the pursuit of power and
profits -- used like a club against their very owners to con enough
of them to keep in power the same cads who immorally allow such
distinctly undemocratic media consolidation in the first place.
Media and government are now in bed like never before, yet we're
the ones constantly getting screwed.
I am exceedingly proud of my fellow citizens for being right on
top of this one. Knowing full well no relief would be forthcoming
from the Bush toady Federal Communication Commission, people decided
to fight fire with fire by threatening boycotts of Sinclair's advertisers.
It has worked. If there's one thing corporate greed heads like
those at Sinclair understand and pay attention to, it's money. Associated
Press writer Alex Dominguez reports
on October 20, 2004: "Threatened with a shareholder revolt, Sinclair
Broadcast said it will not air in its entirety a documentary critical
of John Kerry's anti-war activities, but will instead incorporate
parts of the 42-minute film into a news special…The announcement
came hours after shareholders challenged Sinclair's plans to air
the film, saying the controversial broadcast may hurt their investment.
[Sinclair's original] decision had also prompted several advertisers
to ask Sinclair not to run their commercials in or around the program."
Dominguez also writes that only 40 Sinclair outlets will now run
the "news special."
From 62 stations down to 40; from a whole program down to parts
shown within another program. It's not a complete victory, but certainly
a critical message has been delivered to those who have been running
roughshod over our democracy for a long time now: we are paying
attention to the damage you are inflicting, and taking immediate
and powerful action to counter it. We are serious about taking our
Finally, it's also just as important to let folks like Rove and
others of his ilk know that we've had more than our fill of herring,
and we're just not going fishing for it anymore.
Mark Drolette is a political satirist/commentator who lives
in Sacramento, California.