Democratic Underground

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 presidential debate.

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 gay."

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 running mates."

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 country back.

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.

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