SOLOMON: Media Show At GOP Convention Excludes Reality
SAN DIEGO -- Soon after the Republican convention began, CNN was rating the speeches by how much prime time they had snagged on the big three TV networks. That says a lot about the media echo chamber that has surrounded the political process in America.Let's face it: Both major parties depend on a high degree of collusion with national news media -- and vice versa. The mutual sniping that goes on is more synergy than anything else. The politicians and journalists need each other; their shows must go on.Inside the San Diego convention center, the press gallery provided a clear view of the superb choreography. All over the hall, eyes tilted to the giant screens. And reality didn't have a floor pass.In fact, authenticity did not intrude on the TV movie known as the 1996 Republican National Convention. Again and again, the lavish facades and careful rhetoric filled the almighty screens on behalf of the illusion-promoters.Even the most genuine human emotions were grist for the propaganda mill. Nancy Reagan spoke movingly about "the long goodbye" of Alzheimer's disease -- but she did so in a speech that was marbled with bedrock partisan schlock. Even that was not enough for the convention's choreographers, who piled on more soft-lens footage of the former First Couple in happier times.It was fitting that the initial big media bounce of the convention came from the speech by Colin Powell -- a man who became a national hero as a result of the Gulf War. His current stature owes much to the refusal of the TV networks to convey the human suffering inflicted by that war.At the podium in San Diego, the retired general denounced "violence" and lauded the sacredness of "families." Naturally, no network pundit was willing to mention that Powell had overseen the decimation of many Iraqi families when his career was capped by the Gulf War's massive carnage.While delegates and journalists dispersed from the convention each night, in the hours between dusk and midnight, other Americans gathered a dozen blocks from the lavish spectacle. Not ready for prime time -- now or ever -- they rolled out thin blankets on sidewalks in San Diego's warehouse district and went to sleep.For the politicians scaling new towers of babble, the destitute of San Diego -- and throughout the country and beyond - - are unimportant. That's politics. But journalism should be a higher calling than imitation of the priorities of the powerful.At convention time, the usual patterns of media politics intensify. Partisan struggles, more than ever, resemble the battle for market share that pits Coke against Pepsi. Yet, in politics, while some commercials are paid for, others are provided gratis in the form of de facto propaganda often called "news coverage."Many people imagine that journalists are a rather cynical bunch. But, whatever they may say in private, most reporters are routinely deferential to the conventional wisdom on the job. In San Diego, few seemed interested in departing from their colleagues on the crowded media trail.A shortage of independence in journalism can have dire consequences. When the media focus excludes some people, then they -- and the human realities of their lives -- are rendered invisible.That invisibility makes it easier for us to assume that some people don't matter. Out of sight, they remain out of the public mind. Ignored by politicians and media, the wretched of the Earth cannot even tug at our consciences unless we go out of our way to consider their plights.So, if you visit San Diego in a few months, or a few years, and take an evening stroll several blocks east of the downtown area, the chances are good that you'll find people on the same sidewalks where I saw them -- laying out their blankets and going to sleep on cement as matter-of-factly as most of us brush our teeth and go to bed.But, the truth is, you'd hardly need to travel to San Diego to see impoverished people whose lives of quiet desperation get little notice from news media. Many of our communities are suffering from extreme gaps between the comfortable and the powerless, the wealthy and the poor. The selective coverage of what has just occurred in San Diego is a distant mirror of problems closer to home.**********************************************Politics '96: The Power of Babble By Norman SolomonCONVENTIONAL RHETORIC, GOP-STYLE"I'm proud to say that because of Bob Dole and the common- sense Republican Congress, we finally ended welfare as we know it." -- Rep. Susan MolinariIn other words: Clinton signed the bill into law, but we forced him into it. The Democrats are the imitation welfare- bashers, but we're the originals.***"It's time we had a president who will put the rights of victims before criminals." -- Sen. Alfonse D'AmatoIn other words: Clinton has made it tougher lately, but we're still going to play our election-year crime card.***"Thirty-three years ago, the greatest Georgian of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood before the Lincoln Memorial and declared, `I have a dream.'" -- House Speaker Newt GingrichIn other words: I realize that undue modesty is called for in this situation. Besides, like plenty of others at this podium, I've got to do what I can to boost the Republican vote among blacks above the usual 10 percent in November.***"Never forget, my friends, the primary purpose of a political party is to win. Since I first ran for Congress in 1948, we have generally won when we practiced a policy of inclusion, of expanding our Republican tent to welcome every American who believes in liberty and justice for all, special privilege for none, and a decent respect for the convictions of others." -- Former President Gerald FordIn other words: The far-right-wingers in this party should cool their jets for the next couple of months. You've got to win before you can rule. If we want the votes of more minorities, we're going to have to serve up more symbols and rhetoric of racial inclusion. But don't worry, that doesn't mean we'll have to do much for them.