Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chad's Takes

Well, I'm home. For about 84 hours. Another weekend out of town coming up, followed by another one in two weeks. So, as has been the trend this semester, I will not be writing notes on the weekend. And, as usual, that means I'll be doing my weekly-themed posts on unusual days to compensate.

I'm beginning another one today, inspired by writer Ken Levine's blog posts called "Misc-takes", essentially short blurbs about a lot of things in the news. My installment will feature fewer of these "takes" but more written on each one. I'll try to post this every Tuesday, unless there are absences or overriding subjects I want to discuss.

And so we begin...


The big news story this week, which may be more telling of journalism than of the subjects involved, was the David Letterman sex scandal. In an odd and extremely unpleasant Thursday night show, David Letterman explained the situation. It was fascinating to listen to the audience as the story became clearer and clearer. Today, I finally listened to the whole taping, and two things are clear to me. Letterman is a master PR man, and Letterman declared war on CBS producer Halderman.

On the first, the audience was a clear gauge of Letterman's master plan to manipulate public reaction to his otherwise highly embarrassing scenario. At times, the audience was clearly uncomfortable with what was being explained. This was obvious when the laughs occurred at points that made no sense, such as when he was discussing his meetings with Halderman's lawyers. At one point, Letterman even asks the audience what was so funny. Normally, Letterman has a clearly sarcastic or deadpan tone when he interrogates audience reaction. This was missing on Thursday, I imagine (in part) because of nerves. However, I think this was Letterman's vulnerable portion of the discussion. He needed to do a better job of coming clean from the get-go that the topic was going to be primarily serious. (His obvious jokes of self-deprecation, such as the "embarrassing for the women" line, are exceptions.)

However, the audience gradually caught on, and Letterman gained some momentum in telling the story. By the end, the audience roared with applause...applause! In a matter of ten minutes, Letterman had sold his audience on the story, and created a national discussion that was not focused solely on the substance of the criminal and ethical manner. Immediately, the attitude toward Halderman was negative, clearly the PR intentions of Letterman. He cleverly and convincingly owned the discussion from the beginning, and Halderman and his lawyers have been fighting this ever since.

Letterman's strategy since his disclosure has been one of self-deprecation. The plan is risky for a comedian, because a comedian's job is to make jokes, even if the jokes have to be on himself/herself. The problem, of course, is that the issue is no laughing matter. A man has been arrested, a news corporation is potentially under serious fire, and a wife and child are dealing with an all-out media assault of which they are completely innocent (and outside) of. It's hard to tread on thin ice here. So far, it appears to be working. However, every single joke, every one, Letterman uses against politicians, entertainers, and other celebrities will be scrutinized, and rightly so. And, as Letterman's monologue last night showed, his comedic jurisdiction has been severely diminished. For now, that works in the perspective of self-deprecation. This will wear itself out, though, and Letterman's true genius will be if he can find a life after this scandal that will exist with his more limited comedic purview.

Letterman has weathered many storms, but this one will be his hardest and his most important. So far, his brilliant vision has allowed him to move along with little long-lasting effect. I'm not sure if it will stay that way.


Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has declared that a legitimate health care bill would have 65% of the votes in Congress. Based on this completely arbitrary percentage, we haven't had a legitimate President in years, and a certain senator from Nebraska has not been elected legitimately, either. Nelson faces reelection in a very red state soon. He knows it. And, as many other conservative Democrats are discovering, they are becoming the targets of both the right and the left. The left has been particularly effective recently, running a large number of ads suggesting that people who can't afford health care premiums are wondering why these representatives are protecting the health care industry.

You know, it becomes startlingly obvious how twisted political debate has become in this country when health insurance is defended. Do you know anyone who has had health problems who has been happy with their health insurance? I don't, and I've known a lot of sick people in my relatively short lifetime. It becomes startlingly obvious how ignorant many of our representatives are on just how complex and how convoluted our health care system is. Especially when you have health care victims, time after time, complain to their government representatives how desperate their situation is, then hearing responses such as "You can get free care in the emergency room" or "My office will look into it" or "Why can't your neighbors help out?" Well, if the health industry is to be defended (for reasons completely not logical to me), why can't the health industry help out? Or, perhaps as a corollary, how is public health care different than "Why can't your neighbors help out?" or "My office (presumably, government) will look into it."


But perhaps something more obvious about how devolved the political discourse in this country has become is the glee with which (some) staunch conservatives have celebrated the US losing its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Funny, President George W. Bush (R) ... wait, what's that (R) doing after his name? ... stated that the US (that's the entire country of the United States) would be a great place to host the Olympics, and he couldn't think of a better city than Chicago.

You know, conservatives wrapping their bodies around the flag of the United States one year then celebrating the nation's loss of an Olympics bid the next, staunchly fighting for a flag burning amendment then providing images of a tarnished flag as some sort of political symbolism, of basically telling us they are for America as long as their leader is their choice and not a lot of other people's choices...

There's a joke about ignorance and apathy. Someone asks another what the difference is between the two terms, and the reply is "I don't know, and I don't care." When I look at the Olympics issue and at the status of discourse in this nation in general, I no longer view this as a joke.


Tomorrow: Pictures from the Road takes on the Wichitas.
Thursday: Stories from the Road takes on Table Rock Lake.
Monday: Growing Up takes on swimming lessons.
Tuesday: Chad's Takes (takes) on global warming, or mourning, or something.