Media Mash: Maher on Drugs, Cornell West and Pacifica Follies

West Getting Roasted

Cornell West's power struggle with Harvard President Larry Summers, and his subsequent departure from Harvard University for the ivy-covered walls of Princeton University in New Jersey, earned him several front-page New York Times stories. The fiery preacher professor was recently quoted as calling Summers "the Ariel Sharon of higher education."

Now West is being slammed by The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Slate, which has started a sophomoric feature called "Cornell West Whine Watch." Maybe they are just having a little fun at West's expense, but it is more likely that these media outlets can't tolerate West's clever manipulation of the media and his populist bent, which led him to record an album titled "Sketches of My Culture" for Danny Goldberg's Artemis Records.

But the young former tiger Richard Just in The American Prospect has come to Cornell's rescue. He makes the obvious point that despite all the pundit-jockeying, it should be about the students. West, by all accounts is an extremely popular teacher -- his intro African-American studies courses at Harvard were always packed, and thousands of students signed petitions urging West to stay. Just writes, "One larger than life professor bent on grabbing a community of young scholars by their collective collar and shaking it out of complacency, can indeed focus the attention of tomorrow's intellectuals and leaders on important issues." In Just's view, Cornell West fits the bill. The Masher salutes fellow tiger Mr. Just, and hopes to see Brother West at a reunion one of these years.

Maher Urges Crowd at NORML Convention To Try To Kill Him

Speaking at the annual NORML Convention at the downtown Crown Plaza Hotel in San Francisco, talk-show celebrity Bill Maher told an appreciative crowd that "the only way marijuana will be legalized is if it becomes a killer like cigarettes, alcohol or incompetent doctors." Maher's point, obviously, is that unlike other legal substances, marijuana is never lethal.

Although Maher was kidding about getting himself killed, he was dead serious on the topic of drug reform. He admonished the crowd to get practical and operate in the real world. "We're in a war," he said, "and it's not like the war on terrorism, where you win just by putting a flag on your car." He reminded people that the world has changed and our methods must change with it: " We have to devise tactics to make people benefit or think they benefit from drug reform. We have to put a human face on this campaign. Long gone is the time when people did things because they are right."

Maher suggested that votes and money are the only incentives likely to motivate policymakers and elected officials to change the laws.

The overwhelming irrationality of a drug war that targets citizens whose only crime is smoking a joint continues to astound Americans who disagree with the policy. But according to Maher, they remain a huge, mostly silent majority. Unfortunately, the toll of pot-smoking victims continues to mount. There are currently more than half a million people in American jails because of drug possession, most of them for pot-related offenses. In New York, the Guiliani Administration arrested 50,000 pot smokers annually -- a humongous 2,500 percent increase from the period under the previous Dinkins administration when the annual total was around 2,000.

All that would change if Bill Maher gets his way. The fiesty, whippet-like Maher is perhaps the most visible advocate of drug policy sanity and pot decriminalization in the U.S. "We suffer from complacency…we ignore and or deny the people who are in jail," he said. "Those half a million (arrested) for drug possession -- if that were a disease it would be an epidemic. And these people aren't even foreigners, they are Americans who are in jail. We should be intolerant of this injustice," Maher railed. "I want to see more anger. We shouldn't have to crawl into alleyways to smoke a joint. It is the triumph of the few and the ignorant. I'm tired of being treated as a criminal and a second class citizen."

Maher offered some strategies for possible success: "We should pursue this as a case of equal protection. I'm not kidding. Equal protection -- there needs to be equal protection with the guy who drinks six scotches ... Maybe we need to call pot a religion -- the Catholics get away with fucking kids and no cop knocked on the door of the rectory, all because it's a religion."

Maher's performance at NORML gave the audience some insights into why his endangered TV show, Politically Incorrect, is a lightening rod. The Masher hopes Maher will stay on the tube because his voice is truly unique in our political culture.

Where Would We Be Without the Nation?

These are trying times for our souls, but the Masher finds inspiration in websites like and, and magazines like the American Prospect and especially the Nation. With world events sometimes changing by the hour, it is reassuring to know there is a progressive media apparatus that can report on and analyze the rapidly shifting landscape as fast as the mainstream dailies and weekly newsmagazines.

The Nation's coverage has been exceptionally good. Bill Greider's reporting on Enron is unparalleled. Sophisticated and yet accessible, his articles help clarify the worst aspects of Ponzi-scheme capitalism -- revelations that make the Masher's skin crawl. His latest piece (in the May 13 issue), "The Enron Nine," deconstructs the lawsuits that are now aimed at Wall Street's most prestigious banking firms -- household names like J.P. Morgan, Chase, Citigroup, First Boston and Merrill Lynch. Greider shows how greed and insider dealing transforms the structure of American capitalism into a pyramid scheme, a system that is totally stacked against the huge majority of Americans.

Mark Schapiro's investigation (done in conjunction with Bill Moyer's Friday night PBS show, NOW) into the multibillion-dollar global smuggling network (in the May 6 issue) was another eye opener. Michael Massing's visit to Afghanistan (May 13) was just as enlightening, helping readers see through the murk and hype that characterize the Bush administration's pronouncements.

And Thank You, Susan Douglas

Speaking of the Nation, Susan Douglas' comprehensive report on the trials and tribulations of Pacifica was the best reporting the Masher has ever read on the topic. Douglas takes the position of the many progressives who are not intimate players in the Pacifica-related mania and are oh-so-weary of the drain imposed by it. We don't want the "Pacifica victory" to turn into yet another wide swing to the fringes, where Pacifica finds itself marginalized because of purges and conspiracy advocates who get major play on its airwaves. It's important to have a network that has room for a broad spectrum of left thinking and can hear voices with whom we disagree without becoming apoplectic. And we also want a network that has roots in the community and is tuned into grassroots efforts across the land. Is this impossible? Let's hope not.

John Dean to Spill the Beans on Deep Throat in Salon E-Book

Innovating and scrambling for media traction, plans to publish an exclusive E-book version of John Dean's "The Deep Throat Brief" on June 17. Dean has promised to reveal the identity of "Deep Throat" in his book. Time Magazine also plans to print an excerpt. According to Leah Garchick of the San Francisco Chronicle, Dean said in L.A. that "I thought that 30 years of hiding was long enough." Hmmmmmm. The Masher wonders if that just might mean that -- drum roll please -- John Dean is Deep Throat? No doubt the suspense will build until June. Stay tuned and get ready to buy the book and download it at Salon.

Fight PVC Toxic Pollution. Shop at E-Bay. Watch HBO on Sunday Night

Go to eBay and type in Blue Vinyl Movie into the search engine and make a bid on a small piece of actual blue vinyl siding, a historic symbol of the very funny film that will air on Sunday night on HBO at 10pm. Your cash will help the cause of Working Films, a community-based organization that supports filmmakers, organizers and educators. And go to and find out more about how you can help campaign against toxic substances in our air and water.

Blue Vinyl, made by Judy Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, is -- as The New York Times reviewer Elvis Mitchell declares -- "scary and hilarious." Or in Roger Ebert's words: "Funny and irreverent! One of Sundance's best Documentaries." The Masher gives it two peace signs. Check it out.
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