Feast of St. Aloysius Ganzaga*
Once upon a time politicians felt it was important to have on their side in order to govern “the liberal media” …by which they meant the 3 big networks, the big urban papers and the national newsmagazines…known as The Big 3 Plus. That array has been systemically weakened since the `90s. Nowtalk radio, the Internet and the changeover in at least two major papers: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Daily Post has made the old liberal formula redundant. But come with me to yesteryear when The Big 3 Plus ran the media show and made and broke presidents.
LBJ Sought Media As An Ally.
The pro-JFK media saluted LBJ for picking up the dropped presidential flag so smoothly. At first all went well. The liberal media serenaded Johnson for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare and Medicaid (1965), his War on Poverty (1965), the Water Quality Protection act (1965), the Highway Safety Act (1965). a string of consumer protection acts (fair package and labeling; wholesome meat, air quality) and another package of civil rights measures: barring discrimination in sale and rental of housing (1968).
So heady was the media applause that Johnson believed the major media outlets—particularly the networks--were the authentic voice of the people. Their love was music to his ears. His White House made the mistake of letting the media know how important they were: they began to think that with Johnson they constituted a House of Commons in the country where their confidence was key to maintaining the government. Big error.
Then the media music stopped.
And I can tell you the day it stopped: February 27, 1968. That was the day that CBS’s Walter Cronkite, returning from a brief trip to Vietnam, pronounced the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese a victory, concluding the Vietnam war was un-winnable and the U. S. would be smart to negotiate itself out of the fray. He concluded: “And that’s the way it really is.”
With that statement, Cronkite, who was in a ratings war with NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley (ABC-TV was a far-behind 3rd with Frank Reynolds as evening anchor) got all kinds of national attention and laudatory credit from the Left. Huntley-Brinkley were left behind at the ratings post when Cronkite did that report. A few years later, Huntley retired and NBC went into decline for a number of years.
The Way It Wasn’t.
Cronkite, as puffed up and egocentric as LBJ himself, gloried in his network’s description of him as “the most trusted man in America.” For this service he was canonized by the Left and mainstream media until his death 40 years later: a canonization he enjoyed to the hilt—leading him…after retirement… to take other advanced liberal positions on issues of the day: pro-global government, anti-impeachment for Bill Clinton, hot anti-Iraq War.
Watching the CBS news in his office the night of Feb. 17, 1968, Johnson turned to his media aide Jack Valenti with his beagle hangdog look and said: “That’s it, Jack. If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Actually he hadn’t. Cronkite was far from middle America; even then middle America wanted to win the war. But Johnson…believing that media were all-important as a majority in a House of Commons… just didn’t have the heart to fight on alone.
Johnson’s obvious collapse of morale led the other outlets of the media…just as if they were linked by a trip-wire…to echo Cronkite. As he would say in his twang, “with a heavy h-o-r-t [heart]” Johnson, capitulating, started negotiations with the Communists but, of course the Reds, knowing that they had the psychological edge, withheld agreement to see how many concessions they could wangle.
Media gloated that they had caused the demoralization of a presidency. Accordingly, like a prime minister who lost his majority, LBJ announced in March, 1968 that he would not run again. In all he shrank from a tall, swaggering Texan to a quivering, uncertain puddle of Jello. Nervously, he ordered 16 bombing halts, hoping Hanoi would negotiate and beckoned forth with 72 peace initiatives. Ho Chi Minh turned thumbs down majestically.
As we now know, Cronkite, a pompous fraud, had been in Vietnam only a matter of seventeen waking hours. He talked nominally with Gen. William Westmoreland but after that principally with complaining officers off-the-record and drank with a gang of lefty Ivy League-educated “mainstream media” reporters, relying for the most part on David Halberstam of The New York Times, a chronic Lefty, who shared the same view of the decadent West that The Times’ Walter Duranty had a two generations earlier about the “rising tide of the Soviet Union” and Herbert Matthews regarding Castro.
So deluded was Cronkite that he didn’t realize…and consequently LBJ didn’t since he believed Cronkite more than Westmoreland…that Tet was actually a turning point for us in the war--equivalent to the Civil War’s battle of Vicksburg becoming the first major victory for the Union, giving it absolute control over the Mississippi.
Johnson’s fall…and the foolish guilt-ridden Robert MacNamara’s resignation (a book could be written about his tearful trauma as he felt he was bombing innocent Asian peasants: a kind of irreconcilable nervous breakdown)… gave the media the joyous conviction they really ran America. This spurred them to a frenzy. Their pro-North Vietnamese stories here were ecstatic: They seemed to make a hero of North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. They chronicled how he had spent six months hauling 61,000 tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail for the Tet Offensive. They gloried how he had thrown 150,000 North Vietnamese into the attack.
In reality, which they never reported, Giap lost 80,000 at Tet. Moreover every single South Vietnamese city he “took” he couldn’t hold and had to evacuate later. The cities were rolled back into South Vietnam and U. S. hands—but our media weren’t interested.
Later Giap… still alive in Vietnam today at age 99…boasted that a demoralized U. S. media caused a demoralized U. S. public which led a fearful U. S. Congress…dominated by Democrats but interspersed with liberal Republicans e.g. Oregon’s Mark Hatfield… to wave the white flag and surrender the war. His true boast has not been heard by America which has consigned Cronkite who died at 90 as a great journalistic “hero” who supposedly “told it straight.”
Nixon Stood Up to the Media…
Johnson was followed in the presidency by Richard Nixon, a strange, solitary man, envious to the hilt of the Kennedys’ favor with the media and angered at media hostility that surrounded him since he had triumphed over Alger Hiss as an interrogator on the House Un-American Activities Committee(which media never forgot or forgave). Nixon thumbed his nose at them scheduling an incursion into Cambodia to secure South Vietnam’s southern border even though he knew he would be decapitated by the media for doing so. He was decapitated—but before he lost his head, he was on the way to winning Vietnamization…coming very close to either ending the war with honor or—more likely—winning it altogether. The major pundits of the media did not want that to happen.
What the media didn’t record…and still haven’t… was this about the Nixon tenure:
During his time as president (1969-Aug. 1974), we beat the North Vietnamese on the battlefi eld, readied the South Vietnamese to assume control of the war on the ground, pacified 90% of the Vietnam countryside and was set to begin pulling out 80% of our combat troops.
The proof is contained in almost inexhaustible detail in thoroughly documented histories—of which these are only a few: A Better War by Lewis Sorely;A Rumor of War, Philip Caputo; Don’t Tread on Me by H. W. Crocker; Lost Victory by William E. Colby (whom I knew personally); Stolen Valor r, B. G.Burkett; Street Without Joy, , Bernard Fall; Triumph Forsaken, , Mark Moyar; Vietnam at War, Philip Davidson. The best compact volume is The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Vietnam War by Philip Jennings. An excellent book is the one written by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap himself, Big Victory, Great Task which states that without the demoralization of the media and the U. S. public the war could not have been won. Then The Pentagon Papers edited by Leslie Gelb who said: “At the end, American public opinion was the last domino.”
But these facts were not marshaled in time to compete with the then three networks, the big urban papers and the three national newsmagazines which drummed incessantly “it’s an un-winnable war.” They gave Super Bowl-style coverage to Tom Hayden, the student radical who married Jane Fonda; Daniel Ellsberg, who married the Singer sewing machine heiress, who stole copies of secret documents that became the Pentagon Papers and gave them to The New York Times (actually the papers carried within them some pretty good arguments for winning the war); Noam Chomsky the academic who’s with us yet, professing the war “is basically an American attack on South Vietnam” and that “we are fighting most unarmed people.”
Abbie Hoffman, arrested during the Democratic convention for organizing riots, later busted for dealing cocaine (who ultimately committed suicide from a bi-polar disorder); Jerry Rubin who later became a successful businessman; Ramsey Clark who moved from LBJ’s attorney general to offering his services as a defense attorney to a number of anti-American figures including Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein; the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr. the head chaplain at Yale; and Bill Ayres and his wife Bernardine Dohrn who were full-fledged terrorists.
Nixon, flawed, insecure, ill-at-ease, with all the charm of Shakespeare’s humpbacked Richard IIII, was nevertheless a brilliant and resourceful American patriot. He was impervious to liberal media defeatism. He pulled his negotiators from the Paris peace talks and continued bombing the north. He had masterminded an all-Vietnamese ground offensive into Laos in January, 1971 with U.S. air support that killed 20,000 North Vietnamese while losing 200 U. S. troops. In fact, the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi…754 B-52 sorties, 640 fighter-bomber sorties dropping 20,000 tons of bombs…sent the North Vietnamese scurrying to the negotiating tables to meet with Kissinger in Paris. Had he been allowed to continue he would have gone down as one of our greatest presidents: having split the Sino-Soviet bloc with a brilliant overture to Mao—and winning the Vietnamese War.
…Lost to a Media-Exploded “Scandal.”
But the mainstream media brought him down with the Watergate imbroglio which was a “scandal” involving threats of impeachment over—believe it or not—not what Nixon actually did… but what he in outraged anguish said… on tape. As one who had been ignominiously fired by Nixon and his aides over a serious domestic policy dispute at the start of his administration in 1969 I am probably the last person to say he was a Great President. Yet in studying this record…having nothing but time on my hands, in retirement at the age of 81, and having reviewed for hours many of the documents of Vietnam includingThe Pentagon Papers…I wholeheartedly believe this to be true.
Thus thanks to the Democratic Congress…and some GOP defectors like Oregon’s Hatfield…the country stood by under a hapless Gerald Ford, observing while American Marines evacuated American nationals and tens of thousands of South Vietnamese. Eisenhower had produced the image of the domino theory. Well, on this he was right. The last domino to fall, then fell: In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge killed a third of the population and almost that many in Laos. And the fruits of U. S. weakness were felt far behind Southeast Asia…in Europe and the Middle East.
Now to the similarities…and some dissimilarities…with Obama.
Obama’s Catching Liberal Media Flack.
Unlike any other modern president, Barack Obama came to the presidency as a symbol, bathed in media adulation. His Chicago guru, David Axelrod whom I knew well, was in a time warp born of his own simpatico with the Big 3 Plus.
He believed, fallaciously, that the Big 3 networks, the big metropolitan papers (where he himself had once worked, at The Chicago Tribune) and the Ivy League university elites, would dominate the public consciousness as they had with Vietnam, Watergate and other salient issues of the Left.
But Axelrod had not learned the lesson of the `80s and `90s. Ronald Reagan was transformed from a seeming B actor into the perception of one of the great presidents but the simple calculus of a New Media. And from the `90s on, a new media force has matched the Old Left media and in some areas overtaken them. The great media empire that is transcendent now is News Corp. which runs Fox, The New York Post t and probably the most influential newspaper of all The Wall Street Journal.
Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel took a relatively slender Obama victory…not a landslide to be sure…and sought to inculcate it with FDR’s magnetic “100 Days.” The public of this still center-right country didn’t want it. But the view of astute Bob Creamer a successor—and in many ways the intellectual superior of Saul Alinsky, Creamer the husband of a revolutionary Left congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois-- prevailed. His counsel: Give the public a stiff does of Leftism in programs that will become too popular to repeal…and Obama will go on to unimagined heights. Axelrod and Emanuel bought it. It goes without saying that Obama did—since he has seen himself as a world and global leader, far more than president…whose birthday will be celebrated by a free school day throughout the world.
Weakened Left media and the university elites plus Obama have this in common: They believe that the future of America as a world power is passé; both believe unregimented capitalism is grossly evil; the glories of powerful labor unions; the boon of a classless society; the evils perpetrated by whitey against minorities; the need for an overthrow of old-fashioned morality particularly where it involves gays; the unlimited right of women to abortion; the need for powerful skepticism concerning the existence of a personal God.
So compulsively does Obama believe this that he allowed himself to dine out on a fatuous prediction which the adoring media did not contradict at first. He said after his nomination that “the seas will recede and the planets will heal.”
But what the Obama people have failed to understand is that the nature of media and indeed of all liberalism is far weaker, far more stupid than it was under FDR, JFK and LBJ: in fact definitely anti-American, anti-God and is being rendered obsolete by the Center-Right.
The three TV networks are far less important than they were. Cable, talk radio, the internet have given the basic center-right force in this country a voice. Newspapers that used to carry the liberal broadside are failing.
Four things happened.
First, the Obama-ites, estranged from Fox cable, talk radio and the Internet, put maximum pressure on the old liberal reliables: : the fast-fading big city newspapers, national magazines and networks to support them. But Obama himself is not much of a wooer. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama himself is not chummy with the old reliables. He has an icy reserve, a faux hauteur that says: I don’t need you.
Second, Middle America and then even the liberal media saw that there would be no fast recovery, no spate of boundless new jobs, from TARP.
Third, Bob Creamer’s advice after the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts…far from abandoning ObamaCare, rev it up and ram it down the country’s throat (and it will one day grow to love it)…alienated many of the liberal media themselves—because of the authoritarian “force-feeding” the Dem legislative leaders administered to the American people heedless of their opposition.
Fourth, Obama’s not having run so much as a candy store administratively in real life…not having had but a few years in the Illinois legislature and a few ones in the U. S. Senate…taught the liberal media that he is not a “do’er” but a “dreamer.” Not a man of action but a kind of impractical vague poet.
They came to see a man consumed with his personal destiny on the World Stage, is bored with details, the nuts and bolts of legislation, the necessity for schmoozing with congressional leaders. He wants his staff to do his heavy lifting, not him. He wants to concentrate not on just being president but on becoming a kind of guru to the world, a kind of Woodrow Wilson who didn’t lose his League of Nations, a Nelson Mandela.
In contrast to this Dreamer personage, media…even mainstream…are slowly coming to their senses. They see…at least some of them do…that we are the only nation capable of exercising global leadership to keep the peace. Obama disses that but as media look around this is what they see:
While the Iraq war is abating and on the way to being won without much Obama interest since he was opposed to the Surge from the start;
Afghanistan festers and Obama insists on publicizing the date we pull out…giving the people no incentive to fight along with us;
Iran is impressed at how North Korea thumbs its nose at Obama and gets away with it; how Cuba gives Obama the finger and spurns his pleas for a re-opening of negotiations; how Obama screws Israel and flirts with the Palestinians…showing that this nation doesn’t know who it’s friends are.
The belief grows internationally that it is much better to be an enemy of the U. S. than a friend for you get more attention that way. Of all media moguls, none other than Mort Zuckerman (owner of The New York Daily News and U. S. News) says it best…and he voted for Obama in 2008:
“The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of, and apologies for, America’s foreign policy…One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe in the lands of others.”
Reawakened to reality, dismayed and disheartened as well as feeling ignored by the one they have loved, media are determined to pay him back. They are doing so by a strange device:
They’re telling the truth about him.
They say truthfully he is detached, engaged in his own destiny, unemotional like TV’ s Mr. Spock. And worse: a lousy administrator. They have decided the Gulf Spill will be his Bay of Pigs…a Bay of Pigs with which they would have zinged JFK had they been as estranged from Kennedy as they are with Obama. (Unrelated to the spill: Last May 27 Obama said he’d sent 5,000 national guardsman to Arizona to protect the borders. By June 17 they hadn’t arrived and the White House was evasive about when they would get there). But now back to the Gulf.
They justifiably ask:
There is a serious administrative incompetence here—not just with his government but Obama. What other president facing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by BP would not have gotten the CEO of BP the phone within the first hour? Obama didn’t feel the need to talk to Tony Hayward for more than 50 days! He figured someone else…his secretaries of Interior and Homeland Security…would do it. As result, stories of his late reaction to the oil spill come as “pay back” from the Left-wing media…a strange phenomenon.
The mainstream breakaway started with ultra-liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich; then the paper’s well-read fifty something oldest teenage columnist in the country, the catty Maureen Dowd. Then there followed the most significant defection: The Times editorial board which has been viewed as indispensable for any liberal president to have in his arsenal.
Last week this is what the Times said editorially:
“[On the oil spill] the country is frustrated and apprehensive and still waiting for Mr. Obama to put his vision into action…Americans need to know that Mr. Obama whose coolness can seem like detachment, is engaged. This is not a mere presentation or stagecraft, although the White House can do both. (We cringed when he told the `Today’ show that he had spent important time figuring out `whose a—to kick about the oil spill)…
“A year and a half into this presidency, the contemplative nature that was so appealing in a candidate can seem indecisive in a president.” ”
The same day Dowd again skewered the president for his aloofness to the press.
“[H]e is an elitist, too as well as thin-skinned and controlling. So he ends up regarding scribes as intrusive, conveying a distaste for what he sees as the fundamental un-seriousness of a press drive by blog-around-the-clock deadlines…But that’s the world we live in. It hurts Obama to be a crybaby about it and blame the press and the `old Washington game’ for his own communications failures.”
Since then Obama’s whole media world has come crashing down. After his Oval Office speech on the oil spill last week, none other than his major three mainstays on MSNBC, cable’s most liberal…indeed lefty radical… outlet, blasted the president royally: Chris Matthews (who had earlier said that thinking about Obama “sent a thrill up my leg”), Keith Olbermann, an Obama idolater, and Howard Fineman, lefty political columnist for Newsweek. They sounded like talking heads for the Republican National Committee.
Struggling without much media support, Obama—like LBJ before him—is seeking to use the arts of huckstering carnival barker p. r. to rehabilitate himself. His use of “kicking a--” as a tough guy vulgarism is one. But, he plaintively asked (without recognizing the sublime, delicious irony), he needs to be told which a—to kick! And he says it politely, low-key so it has no effect. He is trying to make BP the boogeyman, to change the subject of his lagging response to the crisis. To get headlines he has mandated a 6-month deep water drilling and exploration moratorium.
It was done to get supposedly good headlines. But the old games sketched out by Axelrod don’t work. Last week, the Sun-Times’ business columnist Terry Savage…one of the two great contributors to that far-left paper (the other cartoonist Jack Higgins) made these devastating points:
Offshore drilling is responsible for more than 200,000 jobs…The Obama administration sees possible good headlines in crushing BP but that is childish, born of futility and ineptitude….The Obama-ites are threatening wholesale punishment and even “take-over” to show how tough the president is…BP’s stock is down 50%. Long before Obama’s fatuous attempts to squeeze the life out of it in revenge, BP could become a takeover target at its current low share prices.
Takeover by whom? Savage points to PetroChina.
“If BP is taken over by a Chinese state-run company,” she writes, “our president will find out just how little leverage he has in getting those damage claims paid. He won’t be able to bully the Chinese owners around at the same time he is depending on China to finance our growing budget deficits and national debt.”
Obama is going down, my friends; the sun is coming up but storm clouds still threaten. The liberal media are losing their power. Obama who fawned about how open and above-board he will be is ironically far more transparent than he intends—but is still a moral danger until at least January 20, 2012 when the presidency is due to change.
The ditzy Tale of Two Cities duenna, Mme. Defarge our Nancy Pelosi, who as House Speaker still knits lists of socialistic “reforms” as she weaves our straitjacket. Although she’s running out of yarn and is simply clacking her knitting needles together as played by Cloris Leachman in 1981’s History of the World, Part I.
Good news but not til this November can things even begin to change.
…Leading me to cry out in a parody of Cicero’s First Catiline Oration: :
“How long, O Catiline, how long shall all these things endure? How long will you abuse our patience? What’s to be made of that unbridled audacity which you mislabeled the audacity of hope…of yours? Our land is studded with the whitened skulls and crossbones of your broken promises. We expected from you leadership—but have only seen shots of you peering down the green fairways of indifference.”
*: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga [1568-1591]. Another saint born to nobility. He was the son of the Marquis of Castiglione and his wife who was lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Spain. Aloysius was destined for a military career and was a page at the court of Francesco de’Medici at Florence when he suffered a severe kidney disease which in recovery gave him time to read the Lives of the Saints. While accompanying the empress of Austria to Spain (1581-3) he determined to become a Jesuit which angered his father greatly. Estranged from his family and friends for giving up a life at Court, he entered the novitiate and nursed the sick in a plague hospital where he caught the plague and nearly died.
The short remainder of his life was spent in suffering which he utilized to purify his soul and prayerful contemplation. There was about him a kind of radiance that told his attendants that he was indeed undergoing a profound spiritual renaissance. When he died at age 23 he was regarded as a paragon of silent suffering and sanctity. Saint Robert Bellarmine who tended to him and was his spiritual confessor said that one does not have to wage great battles for the Faith but that the lesson of Gonzaga is that all may achieve sanctity by offering suffering up as recompense.
Correction: In the June 28 edition, I mistakenly referred to an Italian Cardinal as special pleader with the Vatican in behalf of the corrupt late Legionnaires of Christ founder. Fr. Marcial Marciel Degollado who serially abused teenaged seminarians under his care and fathered at least one child. The name was wrong. It was Angelo Cardinal Sodano the dean of the college of Cardinals whom prominent Catholic journalist Philip Lawler suggested resign his post. I deeply regret the error.