It seems very quaint and all 20th Century to say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In the currency of today's social-media driven world, a dramatic or emotional image is worth so much more than that. In the midst of the Summer of Trump, Deflategate and other shark-flavored Lite News stories, America had been paying almost no attention to the burgeoning refugee crisis of mostly Middle Easterners, mostly seeking access to Europe. That changed a bit last week with news that 71 people had been found suffocated in the back of a truck that was trying to smuggle them through Austria.
Still. the news of such a tragedy -- illustrated by bland pictures of a poultry truck on the side of an expressway -- wasn't a conversation changer here in the United States. That all changed yesterday because of the death of just one lone boy, a 3-year-old Syrian named Aylan Kurdi who washed ashore on a beach in Turkey still wearing his tennis shoes and shorts, drowned as his family attempted the perilous sea crossing to Greece in a rubber raft.
The hard-to-stomach images of such a youthful corpse, left for a rescue worker to scoop from the shallow surf, hit the front page of almost every newspaper in a grief-stricken Europe, and many here in the U.S. There are conflicting reports tonight over whether the family, fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, had taken to the water only after Canada had turned down a request for a visa. But the images of a dead child did place an indelible stamp of inhumanity on a crisis that should not have reached this point.
One of the easiest things in this world is to leap to a conclusion -- especially when there's some circumstantial evidence that fits what you're looking for. It's also a very bad thing to do. I know because I've done it myself -- and I regret it to this day. Six years ago, a part-time census worker in rural Appalachia was found strung from a tree with the word "Fed" scrawled on his body. Although I was careful to note that the case was still under investigation, I wrote about the man's death in the context of right-wing anti-government chatter during the first year of the Obama administration. I was writing a book about the Tea Party at the time and had just gotten back from a gun rally in Kentucky (true story). Anyway, it turned out the man had staged his suicide so his beneficiary could collect the insurance. I'd made a mistake...and also learned a lesson.
You'd think if anyone would know better than a lowly journalist/blogger not to leap to conclusions -- especially on little or no evidence -- it would be high-ranking law enforcement officials in a major American city.
Most of you reading this know my schtick by now: When it comes to blogging, my style is strictly hit and run. I'm too adult-ADD-addled to stay on any topic for more than a day or two. Even what became, inadvertently, my most read and most discussed blog post of the year, about the Philadelphia's papal PR blitz and its descent into hell. I wasn't planning to harp on the issue, and I haven't.
But it hasn't escaped my notice that since I wrote my open letter to Mayor Nutter on the planning for Pope Francis' visit later this month and he responded, a new, kinder and gentler PR campaign has emerged, and, lo, it's been pretty good. The Inquirer's Maria Panaritis and Julia Terruso wrote about this today:
Last week, as hoteliers grappled with large blocks of unsold rooms and transit agencies were holding thousands of surplus rail passes, organizers of the papal visit launched a rescue marketing campaign.
This week, President Obama is in a state of Denali...also known as Alaska. This is continuing in Obama's lame duck tour of places he'd never have visited if still facing election...the non-swing states of Alaska and North Dakota, or even Kenya, the place where our next president Donald Trump still seems to think he was born. On the eve of his Alaska trip, Obama jolted every Fox News neuron in America by announcing that his administration had taken it upon itself to change the name of North America's highest peak from Mt. McKinley -- for that solidly pro-business GOP president of days gone by -- to the original native name, Mt. Denali.
The controversy over McKinley/Denali is probably an intentional ploy to divert attention from the real state that Obama is spending time in -- a state of denial, which ironically is Denali spelled sideways, sort of. You see, the president says the real reason to visit Alaska is to show the world his resolve in fighting climate change, amid this land of disappearing sea ice and melting glaciers. That would be great, if Obama hadn't completely trashed that commitment earlier this summer, when his administration gave Shell the OK to drill offshore for oil in the frigid Arctic waters, an endeavor that carries a huge risk of an environmental catastrophe.
Shell's first attempt at drilling for oil in the waters off Alaska, two summers ago, was an unmitigated disaster, plagued by mishaps large and small, punctuated by the dramatic wreck of its rig the Kulluk at the end of the season. Environmentalists say the likelihood an an accident on the scale of 2010's BP oil spill in the Gulf is not only higher off Alaska -- thanks to the frigid conditions, high winds, and rough waters -- but it would be much, much harder to clean up. And yet -- despite creating a new form of protester called "kayaktivists" who tried to block Shell's rig from leaving Seattle -- the Obama administration green-lighted this lousy plan anyway.
It's only August, but the pattern has been pretty much set for the GOP presidential primary for the foreseeable future. Donald Trump has shown himself to be a master of manipulating the media, especially MSNBC and CNN which (from an admittedly small base) have gotten quite the ratings bump from going almost-all-Donald, almost-all-the-time. His rallies and news conferences usually drop at the best possible time -- like 8 p.m. on Friday, when the older folks who actually vote in primaries are home watching TV. One or two Jon Stewart-style, substance-free comedy riffs -- Friday's digression on "perv" Anthony Weiner was pure gold -- and the short-fingered vulgarian has dominated yet another news cycle. Is this a great country or what?
For the 16 Republican Dwarfs not named Trump, each weekend is a mad scramble to say or do something outrageous enough to get the few remaining crumbs of air-time. It is here, among the bottom feeders, that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- clinging by his fingernails to his slot in the GOP's just-barely-ready-for-prime-time Top 10 -- has been making his play. You remember Christie: He was going to be like Trump, saying outrageous things and speaking for the angry "little guy," before we realized there was going to be an actual Trump. Except that people find the real Trump, with his comic riffs on Weiner or Lindsey Graham or whoever, to be highly entertaining, while Christie's pseudo-Trump -- saying he'd like to punch the teachers' union, for example -- is kind of sad.
This weekend, Christie had a breakthrough idea. Trump's signature -- and arguably only -- policy move is to erect a massive wall to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., and somehow get Mexico to pay for this. A wall?...that is so low-tech, so Han Dynasty, am I right? Christie is a man of the 21st Century -- he said he's going to hire FedEx shipping guru Fred Smith to teach the government how to scan undocumented immigrants and presumably ship them out of the country, when you absolutely, positively have to move Mexicans overnight. Well, something like that.
Even if it's a reality show pretending to be a presidential campaign, the Summer of Trump -- because it's grown so massive and all-consuming -- has a weird way of accidentally raising important issues. That's especially true about the current sad state of the American news media, which has appeared utterly clueless in its 24/7 Trump bamboozlement.
On Tuesday, a prominent journalist -- Jorge Ramos, the Univision news anchor who probably has more viewers than Scott Pelley (whoever that is) -- cut against the grain and challenged Trump on immigration. Ramos got pushback, literally, from goons working for the short-fingered vulgarian, who briefly even removed the anchorman from the Iowa room where the event was being held. That was appalling...yet not surprising.
Also appalling yet not surprising: The reaction of a big chunk of the media, especially inside the Beltway, which was to support the pseudo-politician over the real journalist, their alleged colleague. Glenn Greenwald -- who has neither journalist training nor the kind of instincts you'd need to get ahead in Washington, which is probably why he broke the biggest story of the 2010s and won a Pulitzer Prize -- did a great job today of breaking it all down:
Today at the dog park (the best place, I've found, for maintaining sanity...maybe the only place) I found myself thinking about the next blog post. I was still mentally reeling from Tuesday night's brief exposure to cable TV news, which again was all-Trump-all-the-time -- to the point where CNN apparently postponed a Hurricane Katrina article to show the latest blatherings from the short-fingered vulgarian. I was going to write about the fight between Ronnie and The Situation -- I'm sorry, I meant Trump and Jorge Ramos. Some nights it's hard to know if you're watching the campaign to elect America's 45th president or "Jersey Shore," or some new reality thing called "The Apprentice Candidate -- or whether news coverage of the young campaign belongs in the New York Times or Us Weekly at your checkout counter...
Anyway, the thought process was interrupted by the horrific news out of Virginia. The murder of two young journalists -- Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27 -- on live TV won't be the only senseless killing today (every hour in America, on average, seven people are shot and three people die by the gun). Nor is it any more awful than so many of the others, like last week's murder -- in Ferguson, Missouri -- of a 9-year-old girl, Jamyla Bolden, who was hit by a bullet as she sat on her bed doing homework. It's all sad and it's all overwhelming -- the violence and the seeming collapse of our political system to deal with this, or anything. Truthfully, someone should politicize today's murders, but not me. I can't do it. I'll just offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Alison and Adam and their journalist colleagues.
I will just note in passing: The center is, yet again, not holding -- even less so than when Joan Didion channeled Yeats a half-century ago. It's probably not a coincidence that this American opera of political farce and .44 caliber tragedy plays out as the Dow sheds a couple of thousands points. The panic on Wall Street has been greeted with mostly calm on Main Street, because everyone knows this is the 1 Percenters' game, and the game is rigged. It's just one more sign that the unraveling is getting faster. The last 24 hours have felt like a bad sequel to Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant-if-talky 1976 "Network," the film that put our country's dueling penchants for violence and mindless entertainment into a satirical blender.
Why is Pennsylvania so corrupt? It's a question that you hear over and over, right after the latest headline about the Kathleen Kane soap opera, or the latest court appearance by indicted longtime U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, or the stunning case against ex-state treasurer Rob McCord, or the plethora of convictions or allegations against state legislators, from Bill DeWeese and John Perzel and Ron "Happy Birthday to Ron Waters" Waters, to the felony conviction of a former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, to the latest reports there's a probe of the Philadelphia DA's campaign spending. There's a lot more where that came from, but there's only so many hours in the day, right?
It all reminds me of a question that people were asking back when I started working at the Daily News -- 20 years ago this month! Why, people asked in 1995, is Pennsylvania so corrupt. Remember Buddy Cianfrani and Abscam and "money talks, BS walks"? Remember a guy named Vince Fumo? Nothing ever changes around these parts. What is the deal?
We've heard a lot of unsatisfying answers. The political-science eggheads will tell you about the Industrial Revolution and the rise in Pennsylvania of what they call "transactional politics" -- blue-collar folks, recent immigrants, etc., depending on their neighborhood committeeman to help navigate City Hall, and not caring when the bosses took something for themselves. But the Industrial Revolution died 50 years ago. Why is bribery still alive?