Thursday, February 5, 2009

Personal Asides: Good News About Vallas… Back to the Allegory of the Cave to Ascertain Liberal Media Hand-Shadows. Leni Riefenstahl Lives.


Good News About Vallas.

News that Paul Vallas may run for president of the Cook county board as a Republican is indeed exhilarating…if you can believe it. I’m second to none in my enthusiasm for him—but I remember well when he all but announced his candidacy for governor at the City Club of Chicago…and when he appeared on my radio show the week after, he had done a double-take and scoffed at it.

But if he indeed does want to run, I would hope that whatever remains of the Republican party’s finance organization can pitch in…because here is a man who is extraordinarily well qualified as an urban administrator.

Having been burned before, though I’m a little dubious.

Hand Shadows on the Wall.

Do you remember `way back when you took Phil. 101 in college? There in Plato’s The Republic was the “Allegory of the Cave.” Remember? It was Plato’s way of telling us how so many of us mistake shadows for reality. Let’s go over it once more.

Plato has us imagine a group of people chained in a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. Outside, it’s a bright day, brilliant with sunlight. Real people pass by the cave, their figures blocking the sun. But to the prisoners facing backward inside the cave, all they can see are shadows as people pass by the sunlight and their forms are flashed on the wall in sometimes grotesque exaggeration.

Now…to build on Plato…suppose all this is happening to us today. You and I are chained facing the wall; the shadows are flitting by…but in addition, some rogues are making deceptive hand signals to superimpose additional distortions on the wall. Ideological hand signs portraying distorted shadows on the wall: That’s been the distortions by the liberal media misleading many of us which…until recently with no alternative comparison…have been a controlling factor in our lives.

Except that now our chains are gradually being relaxed…through the Internet, cable TV as alternative to broadcast and talk radio... and we are ever so slowly able to turn around to see reality through the bright sunlight. Our eyes are squinting with the strain since for so long we have been in the dark—but we are gradually seeing reality now. And their hand shadows are distracting—but increasingly meaningless.

The Radical Big 3.

To explain an updated version of the allegory: The hand shadows which have distorted reality have been largely prompted by a Big 3 who have influenced our lives almost without our knowing it. No. 1 is the atheist and secular humanist whose philosophy has been imposed for the last 100 years on academia, politics and morals. He was John Dewey [1859-1952], a Vermont Yankee, of the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Dewey proclaimed the universe is “self-existing and uncreated”; man is “a part of nature and…has emerged as result of a continuous process.” There is no God, no absolute morals, no certainty except what fills the bill at this particular moment.

No. 2 of the relativist Big 3: Hans Kelsen [1881-1973], called “the jurist of the [20th] century,” a Jewish scholar, born in Prague, reared in Vienna, matured to full influence at Columbia in New York. He was influential in Germany between the two world wars whose teaching has influenced generations of lawyers here and abroad to believe (a) there is no such thing as absolute truth and (b) “what is right today may be wrong tomorrow.” The ironic thing about Kelsen is that the Nazis whom he fled applied his theory of relativist law to justify the killing of Jews, something you would imagine would horrify him to see his views so applied. But radicality and atheism are strong components. In this country, as a professor of Columbia University law school and even the U. S. Navy War College, Kelsen didn’t change; his relativism was too strong and thus he influenced generations of modern lawyers.

And No. 3: a Northwestern University scholar who is known today as the father of modern journalistic theory, Curtis D. MacDougall [1903-1985]. Born in Fond du Lac, Wis., known fondly as white-haired old “Dr. Mac,” MacDougall became a pioneer in the work of turning news-writing into an academic exercise. He was a foe of journalistic objectivity. His landmark text is called Interpretative Reporting. Attesting that the journalist cannot know the full truth, MacDougall urges fledgling writers to use their journalistic trade as advocacy for social change.. His teachings in journalism square with Dewey’s in education and philosophy and Kelsen’s in law. And it’s about slanted, left-wing journalism ala MacDougall that up to now has torturously distorted the image of America and its leaders on the wall of our cave with which I am concerned today.

Yes, Journalism Must be Partly Interpretative…but--.

Now, let me hasten to say as one who began his journalistic career 56 years ago, every reporter since the beginning of newspapers in this country, the broad-sheet The Boston News-Letter in 1704, has had to be (a) selective rather than overwhelm his readers with a plethora of facts and has to be (b) somewhat “interpretative,” else the reader would be swimming in detail without obvious concluding judgment. But MacDougall was far more interested than in merely instructing novice journalists how to pick a “lede” paragraph, to pepper stories with active rather than passive tenses and shuffle the facts from the most important up front to the middling to the lesser significant at the bottom. With every new edition of his indispensable text--he advocated cruder and more basic slanting keyed to the journalist’s “responsibility” (as he saw it) to achieve social progress…even radical change… through subtle advocacy in the news columns.

Not that all graduates of journalism—at Missouri, Minnesota , Northwestern and the University of Illinois public affairs reporting program in Springfield have been automatons of liberal evil. George W. Bush’s last White House news secretary, 37-year-old Dana Perino, an excellent spokeswoman, was a graduate of the U of I state government reporting system (although I must say I was dismayed when in banter with the press she never heard of the Cuban Missile crisis a fact I put down to lousy graduate education in U.S. history, an experience I found teaching at Wharton, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton—even Oxford. But it is right to become aghast…perfectly aghast…at the flippancy of journalists who make no bones whatsoever editorializing in print or on the tube with views that are unsubstantiated, merely left-wing doggerel.

Crude Brokaw Advocacy Journalism.

Case history during Barack Obama’s inaugural, Jan. 20, 2009 was this journalistic so-called NBC super-star: the network’s reigning establishment figure Tom Brokaw said Obama’s swearing in “reminds me of the Velvet Revolution [the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia] which he covered. Believe it or not, Brokaw was comparing the second-term ending of George W. Bush to the peaceful overthrow of the pro-USSR communist regime in Prague on Nov. 28, 1989 when the government fell and was succeeded by Vaclav Havel as president of the new Czech Republic. Brokaw: “While a Communist regime is not being overthrown, an unpopular president is leaving and people have been waiting for this moment.” Definitely prejudicial and hate-filled “analysis” substituted for commentary.

Also, Brokaw on seeing retiring Vice President Cheney in a wheel-chair (having pulled his back earlier in the week): “It’s unfortunate for Vice President Cheney to have had this accident, obviously because there will be those who don’t like him, who will be writing tomorrow that he had a Dr. Strangelove appearance as he appeared today in his wheelchair.”

A dirty poke in the eye. Strangelove was an ex-Nazi scientist , a film version of Werner von Braun, played by Peter Sellers in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Strangelove designed how the U.S. could live after a nuclear attack where a few hundred thousand people would be packed at the bottom of a deep mine shaft where they and their descendents would have to live for 100 years.

These and other comments like them on national TV reflected not just subjectivity but mean-spirited slurring. All literal descendents of “interpretative journalism” ala MacDougall.

Film Fiction Masked as “History.”

But irresponsible commentary by poisonous-minded journalists are less influential than the invasion of so-called news-entertainment documentaries to drastically influence history. I have cited this many times but there is no rival to the upcoming candidate for the academy award, the film Frost/Nixon.

By all odds, no one should be less impressed with Richard Nixon than I. I was fired as an assistant commerce secretary by his minions (principally, Maurice H. Stans and John Ehrlichman) because my program involving minorities which I was hired to perform had caused anger with Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), dean of the southern strategy which Nixon was counting on to win his reelection. Being fired at age 41 with a wife and four kids to support was no fun but I landed a berth as number 3 in the Peace Corps, becoming a foreign service officer. Later it was sweet solace when those who fired me could not go out to lunch without checking with their parole officers.

But nevertheless, I recognize that in the broad sweep of history, Richard Nixon was an outstanding president. More than any other president in the Cold War, he succeeded in effecting a break-through that lives with us yet: the brilliant building of a relationship with China which split the forces of Communism, the effecting of a détente with the USSSR, the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War (which if allowed to proceed would have been concluded with honor). The 37th president, in all, was far more effective than John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson in foreign affairs. The one glaring defect is Watergate.

But no one died at Watergate, no one drowned at Watergate; there were break-ins at the files of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist but no proof these rogue actions were anything other than the gyrations of a fevered campaign staff with ; no broad repeal of civil liberties on the American public. Then what was Watergate? In essence, it was a blundering break-in similar to other dirty tricks played by FDR, JFK and LBJ…by operatives of little astuteness which was used skillfully by the liberal media to square accounts with the 37th president for his earlier landmark achievement—putting liberal radicals on the FDR generation on trial for flirting with communist intrigue and subversion by tolerating a high member of the Red apparatchik, Alger Hiss.

The denouement: A brilliant, complex, often duplicitous president—but a patriot-- was driven from office not for what he did—but for what in his own rage and resentment he SAID. What he said was adjudged obstruction of justice. With his fall came the loss of the Vietnam war, the blood-bath in Cambodia, the Arab oil embargo with its devastating effect on the world’s economy.

Why with so-called rogue presidents like FDR, JFK, LBJ not to forget Bill Clinton lying under oath, was Nixon of all of them the one forced to leave for relatively minor transgressions? The reason: liberal journalism had turned viciously adversarial (as we have seen with Brokaw and others). Now journalism has invaded fiction and the entertainment business to even further distort public consciousness. And here there is no greater example than a movie that has already won many awards—and stands foremost to win the coveted Academy Award this year.

Already it has been nominated as Golden Globes’ best motion picture, best actor (Frank Langelia playing a hollow-eyed, slope-shouldered, guilt-obsessed Nixon), best screenplay, best director, best editing , best film. It is known as Frost/Nixon and was directed and produced by Ron Howard, whom you will remember played the lovable little boy Opie on TV’s long-running sitcom The Andy Griffith Show.

Howard has grown up from a tow-headed little kid to become an unsmiling leftist who earlier sought to invade a Catholic church in Rome to film the surrealistically mad The Da Vinci Code which pretends under guise of suddenly revealed fact that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalen which the Church has been trying to keep quiet for 2000 years. In writing the screenplay he was aided by James Reston, Jr., son of the estimable Scotty of The New York Times…a son with the same name… who has never forgiven himself for not matching his famous father and is a teacher of “creative writing” at a few Virginia colleges. “Creative writing” indeed.

Frost/Nixon: The Anatomy of a Smear.

I watched the original interviews between David Frost and ex-president Richard Nixon every evening for three nights when I was teaching at Harvard in 1977 with several other instructors including a group of youngish Kennedy clones of John and Bobby as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, associate director of the Kennedy Institute (later to be celebrated as author of Team of Rivals).

By our memories, it was a serial yawner with no meaningful conclusion. I remember all of us saying…Democrat John DeSasso particularly (who later became a Dukakis operative in the 1988 presidential campaign)… that since Frost had paid Nixon $600,000 for the interview, he was truly taken for a ride by the man known as “tricky Dick.” As a matter of fact, unannounced at that time was that Frost and Nixon were engaged in a joint business venture on the project ensuring the interviews were not adversarial. The TV program passed without much national comment and a book written about it I Gave Them a Sword by Reston, Jr. was insignificant.

Frost/Nixon pretends that in the film Nixon confessed to his totalitarian view of the presidency, saying “well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” In the interview, Nixon was referring to a spec document about how to survive terrorism written by one Tom Huston who applied the same tactics Abraham Lincoln used during the most terrifying days of the Civil War when Lincoln could look from his bedroom in the White House across the Potomac and see the Confederate campfires burning. To cause the nation to survive, Lincoln indeed performed extra-legal and flagrantly illegal acts for which history has not blamed him. Nixon’s discussion of the document was in that context. None in our group, consisting of pro-Kennedy activists, saw anything in the comments from Nixon related to the Huston proposal (tied to Lincoln’s experience) that were out-of-line in the context of a president at the last gasp fighting to destroy a terrorist attack on the country.

Instead, Frost/Nixon pretends in the film that Nixon has “confessed” and was defending a criminal view of the presidency. Other bald-faced canards in the film, the product of fevered Howard-Reston imaginations and not verified by any fact: A dramatic phone call from Nixon to Frost after Nixon had been drinking where Nixon reveals his most inner torments—a phone call that never happened and which is Howard’s fabrication…a scene where Jack Brennan, Nixon’s aide, invades the set to interrupt the filming and do harm to Frost—never happened…Brennan’s threat to ruin Frost if the interview continued—never happened…a last meeting between Nixon and Frost at San Clemente where the ex-president mulls that he has been unmasked and undone by Frost—never happened. And the finale: Frost presents Nixon with a pair of expensive tasseled shoes which Nixon rejects because they look effeminate—a thrust intended as homophobia to please the sector of Hollywood that resents any criticism of homosexuals.

Bad as this re-write of history is, the odds are that with the new alignment of news media encompassing conservative talk radio, the Fox News Network and the Internet, the scheming of Ron Howard and the Hollywood left will not succeed. The chains that have affixed us in Plato’s cave where we see only shadows and hand-motions…the contortions spawned by Messrs. Dewey, Kelsen and MacDougall and their heirs…misrepresenting the truth and blocking actions of real people are fading away…and we’re gradually turning round to squint at the sunlight and the true reality. Brokaw, Ron Howard and Reston, Jr. are insignificant cogs in a mud-gun machine similar to the propaganda bund run by Josef Goebbels as dramatized by Leni Riefenstahl.

And they will be seen as equally propagandistic.

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