and Sears to First Amendment: Piss Off and Die
By Warren Pease
Two of America's flagship corporations - which is to say, two of the most conservative, risk-averse, controversy loathing, soulless, spineless entities on the planet - have pulled their advertising, and with it a whole bunch of dollars, from Bill Maher's "Politically Correct" late-night TV talk show.
On his September 17th program, Maher blandly questioned the effects of US foreign policy and agreed with guest Dinesh D'Souza's assessment that, contrary to administration doctrine, the hijackers were warriors, not cowards.
Since September 11, our Dimbulb-in-Chief has been telling us that driving jumbo jets into buildings is an act of cowardice. Maher and his guest disagreed. They said, essentially, that the hijackers may be murderous thugs, but it takes a hell of a lot of moxie to run an airliner directly into a building knowing that what's left of you wouldn't satisfy a hungry sardine. And even though he tried mightily to clean things up the next day, his hastily issued "clarification" wasn't enough to keep the advertising dollars flowing.
Not that Maher is particularly deserving of buckets of tears. His idea of political incorrectness is better suited for Bill Clinton, cigars and female interns than it is matters of actual consequence. But this time he sinned against prevailing cosmology which, now that cable can handle full frontal nudity, is about the only thing left that you can't get away with on TV.
You can view simulated rape and murder, perhaps watch Charlton Heston feign oral sex with a manatee, check out Hef hangin' with the Barbies, even advocate for conservative Republicans. But don't fool with the official story.
In staging a presumably unintentional adult civics class, FedEx and Sears have been kind enough to illustrate precisely how censorship works in the land of free speech. We don't need the KGB to grab Maher off the street and hustle him into the back seat of a black Chaika. He won't be spirited off to the Lubyanka to spend his last hours in unspeakable pain, or shipped to Siberia to break rocks for 20 years.
Instead, in a slimy, underhanded way that would make Madison and Jefferson turn Tory, we get the market to do the dirty work by withholding capital from those who express opinions outside the mainstream. We let American corporations - who are really the only perennial cowards on open display in this whole sorry episode - decide what's appropriate for viewing based solely on content least likely to piss off their customers.
And in a hilarious display of Orwellian doublethink, AP reports that Sears spokesdweeb Lee Antonio said the company recognizes that freedom of speech is critical to America and that "Bill and his guests can say whatever they want to." Just not on our dime, she should have added if she had a shred of integrity left in her shriveled PR soul.
ABC tiptoed prissily to Maher's defense. "While we remain sensitive to the current climate following last week's tragedy, and continue to do our part to help viewers cope with unfolding events, there needs to remain a forum for the expression of our nation's diverse opinions," the network said, according to AP. The flack mouthing those stilted words reportedly collapsed in a helpless, giggling heap at the concept of ABC acting as such a forum, but at least he got the entire sentence out first.
Late in the 19th Century, Mark Twain wrote a short story called The War Prayer which, American zeitgeist not having changed so very much in the last hundred years or so, he requested be published only after his death.
The piece opens as an unnamed country is preparing for war. Bombastic officials everywhere are playing the hyper-patriot card and blood lust permeates the land. A minister is exhorting his flock to pray for total victory over the godless enemy. In the middle of the sermon, an odd looking stranger who says he comes "from the throne" interrupts the service. He tells the parishioners that the Lord has heard their prayer, but he wants to make sure they understand exactly what they're praying for. The stranger then offers his own invocation, which reads in part:
###"Help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief"
Perhaps if Maher had advocated that the US "tear their soldiers to bloody shreds," or "wring the hearts of their unoffending widows" - a distinct possibility for the civilians of Afghanistan if the US goes in with guns blazing and frontal lobes disabled - he'd have avoided offending the delicate sensibilities of Sears and FedEx. Some people might look at him a little weirdly, but ABC's revenue stream would remain intact.
On the other hand, maybe he's lucky the incident happened before Baby Bush signs pending "anti-terrorist" legislation. In another month or so, Maher would probably have been shipped off to the John Ashcroft Political Reeducation Camp for Wayward Boys at Manzanar.
And this is a mainstream guy. It's not like Michael Parenti and Alexander Cockburn were chairing a panel discussion on the toxic effects of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. Rather, Maher is known for taking the snide but easy route, sniping around the edges, straying just far enough from pure orthodoxy to give his audience the exciting illusion of dissent without actually having to provide the messy reality. That's why he's on network television, after all, and why Noam Chomsky still can't get on "Nightline."
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Copyright SRC, Inc. 2001.
All rights reserved.
For the complete text of "The War Prayer," go here: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/1422/war_pray.html
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