Lynch, Smart and Ramsey were ideal paradigms for the image conscious media: young, fair-haired, slender, and perhaps most notably, all were white.
During the evening of November 9th, 2003, NBC and CBS, two of the
largest television networks in the United States, broadcast two "made-for-TV" movies purportedly based on true-life events: One told the story of Jessica Lynch, a former prisoner-of-war (POW) whose rescue from a hospital bed in Iraq was heavily publicized in the United States (NBC), and the other recounted the ordeal of Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City, Utah teenager who had been kidnapped from her home in June of 2002 and rescued approximately eight months later (CBS). Shown during the same time period in a blatant competition for ratings, these movies were the culmination of countless interviews, articles, books and news coverage devoted to these two individuals.
The corporate-controlled media's fervor over Lynch and Smart were
reminiscent of the coverage given a few years earlier to the case of
JonBenet Ramsey, a six-year- old "beauty queen" from Boulder, Colorado
who was murdered on Christmas Day, 1996. While regular readers of PRAVDA might argue that this coverage of "everyday" people eviscerates the theory that corporate-controlled media are "celebrity-obsessed" (a thesis I promoted in two previous PRAVDA articles: THE ESSENCE OF HISTORY, October 7, 2003, and AMERICA'S FAST FOOD POLITICAL CULTURE, October 20, 2003), deeper inspection actually confirms this obsession. Lynch, Smart and Ramsey were ideal paradigms for the image conscious media: young, fair-haired, slender, and, perhaps most notably, all were white. Smart and Ramsey both came from wealthy or well-to-do families, and even though they were children, media portrayals of them in recitals or beauty pageants frequently conveyed a maturity that belived their years.
While this article certainly does not intend to diminish or demean the
ordeals of these three individuals, it does question the corporate-controlled media's sense of "selective outrage," where suffering and injustice are newsworthy only if endured by those possessing certain
physical or financial attributes.
In the months following Lynch's rescue, numerous American soldiers and
civilians have been (and are still being) killed or wounded in Iraq.
Yet, unlike Lynch, the corporate-controlled media rarely bother to mention their names, often choosing instead to reduce their sacrifice to statistical drivel. The words "more soldiers were killed today in Iraq, bringing the death toll since major combat ended to [insert current number here]," remain an all too familiar refrain on American newscasts.
Furthermore, it would be unthinkable, and perhaps even considered
"unpatriotic," to air a "made-for-TV" movie about the numerous Iraqi
women and children who have been kidnaped and sexually assaulted by criminal gangs exploiting the chaos that currently reigns in certain regions of Iraq. And how many Americans, despite all the "patriotism" and "flag-waving," would be able to name, without running to the Internet or some other reference source, another POW from the Iraqi war besides Jessica Lynch?
Some may argue that another similarity between Lynch, Smart and Ramsey
is that they are all female, and thus the media's desire to cover their
plights was fueled largely because of their gender. But this ignores the ordeal of Shoshana Johnson, an African-American woman who was also a POW in Iraq. The corporate- controlled media have certainly demonstrated no desire to make a movie about her.
It also ignores the seven-year-old African-American girl from
Pennsylvania, who was abducted approximately a month after Elizabeth Smart. This little girl was able to escape from her captors by chewing through the duct tape that bound her. Yet the greatest publicity about her case was generated when two radio "shock jocks" were fired from their jobs for ridiculing the little girl's ordeal.
Finally, one need only visit a website devoted to Missing and Exploited
Children to observe first-hand the number of young people, both male
and female, whose disappearances and deaths, unlike JonBenet Ramsey's, are largely ignored by the corporate-controlled media.
Even when these media do make movies about issues relevant to African-Americans, rarely, if ever, are African-American actors used for
anything other than "background." About a decade ago, Hollywood
underwent its "civil rights phase," and during this era films like HEART OF DIXIE, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI, and CRY FREEDOM were released. The first three dealt with America's civil rights movement, while the last dealt with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Yet the main characters focused upon in these films were white: HEART OF DIXIE told the story of a "courageous" white student in the Deep South, who, despite ridicule and opposition, sought to write about the civil rights movement in her school newspaper; GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI recounted the story of the white District Attorney who successfully prosecuted the murderer of Medgar Evers, a Mississippi civil rights leader who had been assassinated in 1963;
CRY FREEDOM focused primarily upon a white journalist and his family
who were forced to escape from South Africa after befriending Steve Biko, a founder of the "Black Consciousness Movement," who was beaten to death in police custody in 1977. But perhaps the most egregious offender was MISSISSIPPI BURNING for its portrayal of two white FBI agents attempting to solve the murders of three civil rights workers during the "Freedom Summer" of 1964. In reality, the FBI director during this era, J. Edgar Hoover, had nothing but contempt for civil rights workers and the civil rights movement, and frequently worked harder to undermine this movement than to protect those involved in it.
Even Jessica Lynch recently denounced this proclivity to manipulate or
ignore realities. In a recent interview reported by the Associated
Press, Lynch expressed some reservations about being used as the poster child of the military-industrial complex, and even questioned the filming of her rescue. She also stated that, prior to being captured, she had not fired her weapon in a bold effort to fight off her attackers, as had been widely reported, nor was her rescue as dramatic as media made it appear.
Predictably, these reservations did not influence the promotion and
release of Lynch's "authorized biography," nor did it prevent a recent article in PARADE magazine (a publication devoted largely to the
cult-of-celebrity) from using Lynch to promote the "Pledge of Allegiance." The recitation of this pledge in public schools is currently the subject of a Supreme Court case, which alleges that the words, "under God" (a phrase opportunistically added to the pledge during the heyday of the McCarthy era as a response to "godless communism") are a governmental endorsement of religion, and thus a
violation of the Establishment Clause.
Oftentimes the corporate-controlled media, when creating a movie about
real-life events, argue that some dramatic license is necessary to make
the final product entertaining to the audience. Yet, as alluded to in a previous PRAVDA article (CORRUPTION IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM, October 30,
2003), such arguments are often contingent on whose political interests are being served.
For example, while there has been little outcry over media embellishments of Jessica Lynch's story, right-wing media, who largely control "talk radio" and cable "news" stations, vociferously condemned the alleged inaccuracies in a proposed CBS mini-series, THE REAGANS, the real-life story of a "B" movie actor who played the role of United States President while wealthy oligarchs covertly controlled and plundered the country. In an abject and subservient display of cowardice, CBS succumbed to this right-wing pressure and refused to air THE REAGANS.
Recently a psychologist on one of these cable "news" networks, stated
that the Lynch case is appealing because "America loves its heroes."
Actually the antithesis is true: America usually hates its real heroes, but loves its artificially manufactured ones. Real heroes, after all, usually do not obsequiously regurgitate the edicts of the status-quo, but instead challenge conventional norms. Because of this, they are often ridiculed, scorned, hated, and even murdered for their beliefs.
Also in American culture, the word "hero" or the term "heroic" is often
used to describe the feats or physical prowess of talented athletes.
Ironically when these athletes demonstrate real heroism, they are often unjustly and unfairly ignored. A prime example of this is the tragic story of Joe Delaney. Delaney, a running-back in the early 1980s for the professional football team THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, had accomplished many of the feats necessary to make him a "hero" in the sporting world. He had gained over one thousand yards in a season, he had been elected to the "Pro Bowl," where only the "best of the best" are allowed to play, and he had been voted his team's "Most Valuable Player."
But in 1983 Delaney heard and responded to the cries of three children
who were drowning in a nearby pond. Forgetting that he was not the best of swimmers, he plunged into the water and pulled one of the children to safety before ultimately drowning himself. Yet, twenty years later, this man who gave his life to save another is not even recognized by his former team in its ‘RING OF HONOR." By contrast another professional football team, the MINNESOTA VIKINGS, wasted little time in extending "Ring of Honor" accolades to Korey Springer, a player who had died of heat exhaustion in 2001.
During the cold war, America proudly promoted the doctrines of "freedom
of speech and press," proclaiming how these freedoms led to a better
informed populace, especially when compared to the information disseminated by countries with government controlled media.
But that was then; this is now. Today Americans are perhaps subjected
to more propaganda than any other nation on earth, as corporate-controlled media are succumbing to (or owned by) the agendas of right-wing radio and cable "news" sources. Unfortunately, Americans are also more susceptible to this propaganda, because of the belief that information free from governmental control automatically makes it fair and unbiased. But, as the exploitation of the Lynch story, the cancellation of THE REAGANS, and the "selective outrage" of the media demonstrate, "freedom of speech and of the press" now only exist if they serve the interests of the right-wing oligarchs and military-industrial complex. When these interests are not served, censorship is the result, spawned by a culture of hatred and intimidation, which gives disturbing prescience to the words uttered several years ago by actor Kevin Costner in director Oliver Stone's film, JFK: "If it looks like it, smells like it, and feels like it, you must call it what
it is: fascism."
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda