I was already pissed off.
A few nights ago I set out to hear a friend dj-ing at a bar in Manhattan's Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. I brought with me a printout of a lengthy Rolling Stone piece by Matt Taibbi titled "The Rip-off in Iraq: You Will Not Believe How Low the War Profiteers Have Gone." Another friend had e-mailed it to me a week prior but I hadn’t had a chance to read it. The 45-minute subway ride into the city from Brooklyn would prove perfect for me to sink my teeth into it.
As I got further and further into the article it’s subtitle was made clear and my disbelief became dismay and later turned to anger as I read accounts of how a series of hand-picked private US contractors in Iraq, through cronyism, ineptitude and blatant greed, had defrauded millions and millions of dollars from the government. And what was worse, these criminals of war—with the assistance, implicit and not, of our own judges and government officials—avoided prosecution or jail, while whistle-blowers were threatened, demoted and ostracized. Where the hell was the public outcry?! Where the hell was the media?!
Woo-hoo, Halliburton and its ilk win again! And again. And again.
The next day I was off from work and made the mistake of tuning into CNN in the early hours of the afternoon, only to find repeated clips of President Bush’s recent speech littered with lies, half-truths, and misleading comments concerning the current state of Iraq. I was starting to lose it. But it got better: it turns out that this administration’s Criswell, Vice-President Dick Cheney, had just compared US-installed Afghani puppet Hamid Karzai to Nelson Mandela.
Yes, you read right. Speaking to troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Cheney had compared a long-time oil company shill to a Nobel Peace Prize-winning champion of peace and reconciliation, who’d endured 3 decades of imprisonment and torture. And no one seemed to bat an eyelash. No one. But if a hero and symbol of unity and hope could be so callously and disrespectfully brought down to that level while the media just sat there complicitly—where’s Al Sharpton when you REALLY need him?—imagine the kind of irresponsible sensationalism the "news" people could inflict on the most hated man in America, second only to Bin Laden himself, as he found himself in trouble with the law again.
I don’t know about you, but the first mental picture I got from the "OJ Simpson Suspect In Casino Armed Robbery" headline bandied about the news that day, was Simpson cracking into a Vegas casino vault, and with ski-masked, automatic rifle-toting accomplices making a getaway while hauling out a flatbed worth of cash. "Wow, he’s cracked. He got that desperate? Damn." The big, evil, black man strikes fear into the hearts of America once again. Mission accomplished, indeed.
While watching a live press conference with the sheriff in charge of the investigation—as well as some web surfing on my own—I learn that Simpson, having been alerted by a an auction house of a secret sale of allegedly stolen memorabilia of his, went to a Vegas hotel room where the secret sale was being held to reclaim what he believed were his stolen belongings. The sheriff further stated that Simpson was cooperating with the investigation, had not been charged, and was free to leave the state of Nevada. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, Simpson has since been arrested and charged with multiple felonies in this case.
But 48 hours prior, at that moment in time when the headline announced what looked like the potential plot of Ocean’s Fourteen, no one cared that a man may have been unfairly characterized in the media at this level. Of course, not. After all, not even Hitler is as despised in this country as Simpson is. (Before you accuse me of hyperbole and invoke Godwin's Law ask yourself this: does OJ have hundreds of thousands of adoring adherents ready and willing to rise in his defense and, if necessary, kill innocent women and children in his name?)
So, because a massively hated individual is subject to irresponsible accusations in the mass media we’re supposed to be fine with that? Hey, he deserves all he’s got coming to him, right? Fine.
But, hope to God or whatever higher power you may or may not believe in, that you aren’t in the middle of some sensationalistic ratings-driving situation. ‘Cause now, we’re all guilty before proven innocent. So don’t complain when they come knocking at your door, OK?
Don’t start bemoaning the lack of respect for principle when they plaster your name and irrelevant but possibly juicy details of your personal life all over the place.
And no getting all self-righteous by calling your fellow countrymen a nation of mindless, desensitized, B-list celebrity-worshipping, shop-a-holics just because you’re being dragged through the mud and nobody cares.
After all, when the Supreme Court-picked worst president in history ignored urgent warnings of an Al-Qaeda attack prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and further endangered us all by dragging this country through a blood-for-oil quagmire in Iraq, rife with corruption and incompetence, coupled with outright disdain for the American people, we let him and his henchmen get away with it. So why should we get up in arms at Nelson Mandela’s name and reputation being used as a cheap, political toy, let alone the media’s early handling of this most recent episode in the OJ Simpson soap opera? Who cares?
Screw it, let’s just go shopping.