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The Joke Is on You

by J. Orlin Grabbe


"I don't make jokes. I just
watch the government and
report the facts."
--Will Rogers

In Thomas Pynchon's novel Vineland, the character Zoyd Wheeler specializes in transfenestration--throwing himself through windows. He does this on a yearly basis, with full television coverage to provide the documentary evidence he needs as proof of derangement in order to continue receiving his government mental disability check. But one year he encounters a problem. The media has rescheduled the location of this annual event for their convenience. And Zoyd is ultimately forced to go along, and to transfenestrate through a window not of his own choosing.

Zoyd's problem was he needed to be publicly observed as nutty in order to make it so. The converse proposition is if a person is portrayed by the media as truthful, honorable, "caring", and wise, then no further evidence need be considered. Niccolo Machiavelli said it well in A.D. 1532:

"Generally, men judge by the eye rather than the hand, for all men can see a thing, but few come close to touch it. All men will see what you seem to be; only a few will know what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose the many who have the majesty of the state on their side to defend them" (The Prince).

So in today's world we see brief glimpses of Bill and Hillary Clinton leaving the Presidential jet or helicopter, walking hand-in-hand, all lovey-dovey. Therefore this is the truth, and those who dare say otherwise will bring the wrath of the many down upon them.

Sandwiched between the pharmaceutical and financial service ads, we see video clips of the President at a dais or a table, making a statement to the press or signing a congressional bill into law, and are led to believe the welfare of the republic is the President's constant concern.

We see the First Lady smiling cheerfully at a Hollywood party, or making concerned cooing sounds about a possibly "depressed" and "suicidal" Dick Morris, and do not ourselves appear to grasp that it only takes a global village to raise a chimera.

CNN does not show us the behind-the-scenes screaming fits. We do not see a purposeful Hillary Clinton determinedly on the phone arranging the transfer of files out of Vince Foster's office immediately upon receiving word of his death. We do not see a cold-blooded bitch plotting with I3 to murder Dick Morris.

ABC news does not tell us about Bill Clinton doing five plus lines of cocaine a day, about plane loads of government-sanctioned illegal drugs traversing the Canadian border into Montana, about FBI agents falsifying evidence, about the Justice Department stealing software and taking payoffs, about billionaires hiring international assassins, about NSA spying on domestic banking transactions, about "family value" politicians who are pedophiles.

After all, such things only happened in medieval Florence, or among the Roman emperors, not in our country today. Surely not in today's White House or at the Department of Commerce. The Secret Service and the FBI are not political arms of the Emperor. Our government is good, this we know, for the television tells us so.

At a high-level intelligence briefing convened shortly after the downing of TWA Flight 800, there was an almost uniform chorus of voices: "We can't let the public know it was a terrorist incident, because they will be all over us to do something about it. We can't let the public know how easy it is to take down a plane with a missile, because they will be afraid to fly, and it will depress airline stocks, and it will induce copycat crimes."

The government does not lie, but if it does lie, it is only for our own good.

Day after day we get treated to the FBI's explanation of the course of the investigation. And we know that we are hearing the truth, that it couldn't be an exercise in liar's poker, because the people who report the news would already know the truth, and would have clued us in that this is all a charade. And the fact that purveyors of news scarcely set foot outside a broadcast studio or a news office, except to visit urban dining and drinking environments, has no bearing, we feel, on their ability to discern the facts. For otherwise, why would we listen to them or read what they write?

What is the most astonishing thing about this process is the degree to which the captive press believes their own bullshit.

"A variety of nationwide voter surveys show that while many Americans harbor misgivings about Clinton's character, only about one in 10 worry greatly about Whitewater--either as it may harm the Clintons though nothing substantive is there or produce a scandal to drive them from the White House." ("Clinton Steps Up Effort to Portray Whitewater Prosecutor as Partisan," The Washington Post, Sept. 27, 1996.)

But why should anyone think there is anything to the Whitewater charges? The Washington Post has long assured us there is nothing there. And after assuring their readers there is nothing to the story, the Post takes a poll of their readers and--lo and behold!--their readers think there is nothing to the story.

Truth, you see, is a matter of voter preference.

With more Starr indictments due out this coming week, and the Clinton resignation only days away, some attention should be given to the way the press will react when forced to reverse their previous posturing. What spin will they choose?

I suspect they are going to blame it on you. After all, they will say, Our audience doesn't want to hear the truth. They want to hear things that make them comfortable. The bad Saddam Hussein. The good Bill Clinton. They want to believe in things that are "obvious" and "inevitable". The Presidential debates are restricted to Clinton and Dole because it is obvious and inevitable that one of these two men will be elected President in November.

The news is, after all, a business. And a business becomes successful by delivering to its customers what they want. Much like the Grand Inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, the media will tell us they have delivered us from the burden of the truth, just as the Grand Inquisitor's Church delivered mankind from the burden of their freedom:

"For fifteen hundred years we were pestered by that notion of freedom, but in the end we succeeded in getting rid of it, and now we are rid of it for good. . . .[O]n this very day men are convinced they are freer than they have ever been, although they themselves brought us their freedom and put it meekly at our feet. . . . They will marvel at us and worship us like gods, because, by becoming their masters, we have accepted the burden of freedom that they were too frightened to face, just because we have agreed to rule over them--that is how terrifying freedom will have become to them finally!"

So maybe the media will have a point. Or maybe they are full of shit. But what are you going to do about it?

After all, the joke's on you.

September 28, 1996
Web Page: http://www.aci.net/kalliste/