“I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my remarks may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat such a slander at any time in the future.” – John Cleese, while being dangled from a window by Kevin Kline in the 1988 film “A Fish Called Wanda.”
“I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.” – George Bush Junior.
“A vicar has apologized for telling children at a Christmas carol service that Santa Claus was dead. . .The Reverend Lee Rayfield, of nearby St Peter’s Church, has now admitted he made a terrible mistake.” – Ananova News Service, UK
Sam Smith, 2003 – Among America’s elite the line between words and reality have become hopelessly fused – not only intentionally in order to fool others, but in its own mind. Words are, on the one hand, supposed to express one’s true feelings but, on the other hand, are totally fungible – retractable, replaceable, and retroactively reinterpretable.
The other day, the president of Southern Utah University exhibited the problem magnificently. Attacking an article in the student newspaper, he described freedom as a “word” we cherish. Not a concept or a value, but merely a word. Such men do cherish words; they have a whole bunch of them they use repeatedly in order to raise money, win support, or calm a restless questioner. And when they use the wrong ones in the wrong place, they just stand in front of a mike and try again.
It is the self-assumed business of the Washington media to treat such deceit and chicanery as if it were reality. And when someone corrects their carelessly chosen words, they are permitted, as they say here, to “put it behind them.” Thus, the fact that Trent Lott was still actually nostalgic for the good old days of segregation and still thought Strom Thurmond would have made a good president got lost in the shuffle far longer than it should have.
The media’s willingness to let politicians cynically talk their way out of things is not partisan; it rather reflects the media’s deep respect for, and desire to remain close to, power. Here, for example, is a case cited by the National Review: “On Tuesday, October 22, 2002, Bill Clinton traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas to honor the life of the late Arkansas senator, J. William Fulbright by dedicating a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of the man. . . Among other things, Clinton said, ‘If [Fulbright] were here today, I’m sure he would caution us not to be too Utopian in our expectations, but rather Utopian in our values and vision.’ “And back on May 5, 1993, in what the Washington Post characterized as a ‘… moving 88th birthday ceremony for former senator William Fulbright, President Clinton last night bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the man he described as a visionary humanitarian, a steadfast supporter of the values of education, and ‘my mentor.” Clinton added, ‘It doesn’t take long to live a life. He made the best of his, and helped us to have a better chance to make the best of ours. The American political system produced this remarkable man, and my state did, and I’m real proud of it.’ “Of course, the man Clinton was praising, who he called his “mentor,” who supposedly embraced Utopian values and made the world a better place for everyone, was also a rabid segregationist. In 1956, Fulbright was one of 19 senators who issued a statement entitled the ‘Southern Manifesto.’ This document condemned the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Its signers stated, among other things, that ‘We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means.’ . . . Fulbright later voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And he did so because he believed in separating the races in schools and other public places.
He was a segregationist, heart and soul.” How Trent Lott or William Fulbright feel about segregation is of little importance to the Washington media – until someone with power notices – because it is in the business of covering perceptions rather than reality. Thus if nobody in power notices the similarity between the NASDAQ decline and the crash of 1929, if nobody in power wants to talk about the unwillingness of the recession to go away, or Bush’s unprecedented assault on the Constitution, then why bring it up? It’s not that the media is anti-black, it’s just that blacks largely belong to the unpowerful who are, by current definition, not newsworthy. Others, for example, include labor, farmers, union members, and consumers whom the media reduces from being the better part of America to being a minor group of, god forbid, ‘activists.’ Trent Lott got in trouble not for making blacks angry, but for making those with real power nervous.