Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kiss the Ashes

I was at the gym when I heard the "Crunch Time" segment about Rudy Giuliani on ATC yesterday. The beginning of the piece was really horrid, a virtual worship ceremony of Giuliani's performance on 9/11. But a little less than three minutes into the piece, some criticism of Giuliani found its way into the report, and I thought "Well, they did offer some dissenting information." Then at home later I noticed the angry comments in the Open Thread post below and figured, all right, I'll give that story another listen. It was a revelation.

First, break the story down by time segments: From beginning to 2 minutes, 46 seconds the piece is 100% positive (downright worshipful) of Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001. Then the major critique of Giuliani (the inoperative emergency radios and the placement of the Emergency Command Center) air until 4 minutes, 7 seconds. That comes to a whopping total of 1 minute, 21 seconds. The rest of the piece is basically a positive treatment of how the voters already know and like Giuliani. The total time of the report is 6 minutes, 18 seconds; 4 minutes and 57 seconds to the positive and 1 minute and 21 seconds to the negative. If I were Giuliani, I'd take that.

Second, look at the way the positive and negative comments are reported. Jaffe introduces the report by saying there are "some images from September 11th that will never leave us, one of them is Rudy Giuliani marching out of lower Manhattan through the dust and ash of the collapsed World Trade Center." Notice how there is no qualifier such as "for many people," or "some will always remember"; instead Jaffe simply speaks for the collective "us." She authoritatively says he "found just the right tone." We also are treated to a Dave Letterman clip where Letterman emotionally tells his audience "Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage."

Here's were Jaffe gets really sly. The critiques of Giuliani are devastating, and Giuliani's spin of his 9-11 performance are essentially big lies. He completely botched the preparations for a terrorist attack on NYC, doing nothing about the radios, and ignoring expert advice about where to place the Emergency Command Center. He ignored the health risks to the crews at ground zero. These were failures that cost hundreds of lives. And of course his police chief was a sleazy criminal who he wanted to put in charge of the "homeland" several years later. Jaffe reduces the overwhelming (and easily confirmed) truths of Giuliani's failures to "some say that difficult situation was made worse by decisions that Rudy Giuliani made before September 11th." Some say? Makes it sound like chit-chat at the barber shop. We hear from one of these "some," Wayne Barret who wrote the Village Voice "Big Lies" piece linked above. And Jaffe concludes his contribution with "Barrett and other critics have also blamed Giuliani for failing to enforce safety the wreckage..." That's it. No attempt to establish facts, just "Barrett and other critics."

Lastly, consider how the whole report is framed. It begins with high praise nailed down with universal truths. It's briefly interrupted by some pesky discontents with their "blame." And then it turns to rightwing pundits to explain that voters "know Giuliani." We hear a lot from Matthew Dowd (Bush pollster and campaign strategist) and Dan Schnur, former McCain campaign advisor. But especially ugly - from a journalistic standpoint - is the way the report ends. Here's Jaffe's closing remark:
"...and to so many voters who remember that day when the nation was under attack and Rudy Giuliani was the one who gave them comfort and made them feel safe."

(The graphic comes from this spot-on send-up of Giuliani's BS from The Onion.)


Porter Melmoth said...

Excellent analysis of the Giuliani piece.

To me, Rudy is a retread. He's today's version of Bush2: a figure with minimal background but all the right connections.

This is not are era of great leaders. Great minds exist, but they are not in power. When I saw TV coverage of Bush and Rudy on the scene during the 9/11 saga, I was waiting for some sort of extraordinariness to emanate from them, whether it was manufactured or not. Even their handlers and scriptwriters couldn't come up with remarkable material. So these two figures came off, at least to me, as rather ordinary inspectors who were just doing their obligatory jobs. No poetry was necessary, but what we got was about as inspiring as a leftover eggroll. It was left to the media to build up the 'bullhorn' and 'podium' moments. On repeated viewings, Bush looks like he's merely inspecting a construction site, but no one would dare make fun of his 'nukular-isms' now. And Rudy, in his golden moments of screen time, sounds like he's dealing with a transportation strike or something. No one would dare make fun of his lisp now. In the meantime, the people down in the trenches were doing all the work while these pinwheels took all the credit. I just don't know why people were so impressed with Rudy's performance, even now. Letterman's emotionalism was to be expected, but it looks pretty feeble today.

As Lord Byron said, 'I want a hero: an uncommon want, when every year and month sends forth a new one . ..' Well, in media-managed America, and in such an emergency as 9/11, heroes had to be created, and fast. Who better than Hizzoner, who, despite his flaws and botches, was nevertheless readily available for hero-dom. Keeping cool is part of an actor's skill, and apparently, Rudy wowed 'em on his stage. He failed to wow this child though, and I don't trust him further than I could spit in a hurricane. It is a sad fact that most of the heroes of 9/11 . . . are dead.

Plus, I still think 9/11 was preventable, but we'd better not get into that here.

As far as Rudy's world view is concerned, he fits in nicely with wacko/toxic opinionist Tom Friedman's feeling that, in order to fight terrorism, you have to have leaders who are crazier than the terrorists. It's a hollow comfort zone, a veritable hallucination for a public that wants to be swayed. To keep us safe. Hell, I feel more vulnerable walking to work, dodging SUV-driving, backwards baseballcap-wearing, cellphone-dialing goofballs than the prospect of the looming Islam-o-fascists, who are waiting to pounce. But - how petty of me.

NPR is happy to go along with all of this. They have prospered under Bush, and it is certain that Rudy's machine would keep them a going concern. With a more 'liberal' administration overseeing public broadcasting, things might revert to the bad old days of low ratings and indeterminate audiences out there in the wilderness somewhere.

Liberality said...

I did some research about the think tanks that NPR uses and it was really instructive. I did not realize how many times they used words such as "some say" or "many feel" which is just their way of saying we at NPR do not have a source or we aren't going to quote one you can nail down. Anyway, they use conservative think tanks more often that not (see I can do that too!) when they do bother to quote their source. But what I want to know is why do they rely so heavily on biased sources for their news? Isn't a reporter suposed to do their own research and report? Oh yeah, I forgot, those were the good old days and all they are paid to do is sound convincing and somewhat bemused by this stuff called the news.

Misty said...

Good words.