“The Star that He Is”: CNN’s Shame and Other Matters

By Don Rose.  Introduction by William Astore.

“Never believe anything that you read — and only half of what you see.”  My father taught me that saying, an expression of healthy skepticism that is much needed when reading and watching today’s media productions.  Watchdog journalism has been replaced by lapdog journalism as our media “elites” cater to those in power.  In today’s column, Don Rose highlights how CNN recently hopped into the lap of Rahm Emanuel, wagging its tail and panting all the way.  His article is a timely reminder of the wisdom of my dad’s saying.  W.J. Astore

“The Star that He Is”: CNN’s Shame and Other Matters

Don Rose

A couple of weeks ago I commented on the first six episodes of CNN’s eight-part documentary “Chicagoland,” noting it was grossly imbalanced about this city—but so amazingly kind to Mayor Rahm Emanuel he could have used his segments as campaign commercials.

Chicago: Your Messiah Has Arrived! (CNN Photo)

Chicago: Your Messiah Has Arrived! (CNN Photo)

As we used to say, even Ray Charles could see that the Emanuel clips were clear set-ups showing him heroically solving the city’s problems, talking bold programs, being kind to children, glibly answering the few critics who were given any serious time and all but rising to the heavens from the rooftop of City Hall as Muhammad was said to have done from the mosque in Jerusalem.

Sure enough, an enterprising Chicago Tribune reporter got hold of scores of e-mails between the producer-directors and City Hall seeking access to the mayor—a common practice for legitimate documentarians. But these promised in return not only to treat the mayor well but also to show him “for the star that he is.”

Now how could Emanuel refuse such an offer? Understandably every politician tries to control access and attempt to get good set-ups, so you can’t blame him. The shame goes to the folk who made and followed through on the offer.

There was something suspect from the git-go of course because both the producer-directors as well as top producer Robert Redford have had relationships with Emanuel’s brother Ari, who runs perhaps the most powerful talent/booking agency in Hollywood.  Such agencies have replaced the old studios as the most important entities in the entertainment industry.

Although everyone swore up and down that Ari’s agency was not involved in this production, it was irrelevant whether he was involved or not. Anyone who ever wants to have lunch again in Hollywood would do nothing to offend the head of such an agency and do everything possible to please him because tomorrow you are certain to need a good relationship with him. That’s the way of the world and CNN seemed more than pleased to go along—independent journalism be damned.

Which brings me to another question about what’s going on in our town’s journalism. The Sun-Times, which often reprints this column, has gathered up all its print and online political coverage under the rubric “Early and Often,” which is “sponsored” by a well-known Democratic political public relations firm, Jasculca-Terman, whose name at times is more visible than the newspaper’s.

The deal seems to be simply advertiser-publication, but several people have questioned whether the PR firm exercises any editorial control. There is no evidence of such, but the relationship makes the question logical.

Furthermore it raises the question of how the paper might treat other clientele of this heavy advertiser.  It seems an uncomfortably cozy financial relationship between a publication and a firm whose business is getting clients into the paper and having them well treated.

Again, these are simply questions, not accusations. It fundamentally suggests a softening of the once iron wall between the advertising and editorial sides of a paper that unfortunately is having circulation problems.

A long-time political strategist (now retired), Don Rose is part of the conscience of Chicago and (we’re honored to say) an occasional contributor to The Contrary Perspective.

9 thoughts on ““The Star that He Is”: CNN’s Shame and Other Matters

  1. “Never believe anything that you read — and only half of what you see.” — Professor William J. Astore

    “Now with Photoshop, you can’t believe anything you see, either.” Professor Lewis Lancaster (U.C. Berkeley, retired)

    But as the flickering shadows upon the cave wall would seem to indicate, the mesmerized prisoners mistake them for reality, and so instead of “journalism” — or even “news” — in the United States we have:

    Boobie Infotainment
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    Some chose to place a saintly crown
    Upon her dead blonde head,
    While others felt relieved at last:
    “She’s better off,” they said.
    A woman born of others’ needs:
    An unreal life she led.

    The tabloids built an image up
    To vend to those who dreamed
    Of two deadbeat aristocrats
    Unreasonably teamed:
    A fable for frustrated lives
    Vicariously beamed

    Into those households where the proles
    Preferred their rubbish crass
    Along with propaganda “news,”
    Leaked from and to an ass,
    Delivered by celebrities
    With tits or balls of brass.

    Thus Marilyn, Diana, or
    Maid Monica will do —
    Along with Michael Jackson and
    Dead Elvis Presley, too —
    Distracting ‘Murcans from the bad
    And ugly larger view.

    Just so did Bush and Blair concoct
    Some “coalition” fun.
    They’d have a go at poor Saddam
    And set him on the run:
    The mad dog and his Englishman
    Out in the noonday sun.

    This illustrates a lesson that
    Some liars never learn:
    Do not believe the lie yourself
    Or else you’ll surely burn
    And find your ashes dumped into
    A small ceramic urn.

    As Hayakawa wrote, we have
    This thing, the Empty Eye:
    A Technicolor campfire on
    Which Boobies now rely
    To dull the pain with images
    That pass too swiftly by.

    The Eye emitted “content” both
    Innocuous and bland
    And pushed it past the limits of
    What Boobie brains could stand,
    Inducing thought rejection all
    Across the Boobies’ land.

    The pictures came and went too fast
    To process on the fly,
    So Boobies felt upset but they
    Could find no reason why.
    The only thing they knew is that
    They felt compelled to buy.

    With nervous systems stunned and jazzed
    They couldn’t bring to mind
    Some cartoons from the past that told
    Of just this Boobie kind:
    A salesman of the bait-and-switch
    Who robbed a sailor blind.

    He’d beg a meal from Popeye then
    This Wimpy guy would say:
    “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for
    A hamburger today.”
    Which meant, of course, that he had no
    Intention to repay.

    King George the bumbling Boobie, too,
    Worked things the selfsame way.
    He waged a war on nothing down
    But promised that some day
    Some other one would come along
    And all the costs defray.

    “When Tuesday comes, I won’t be here,”
    He snickered as he spent.
    “I’ll eat my burger now and get
    Those lenders to relent
    Till I can high-tail out of town
    And stiff them for the rent.”

    The Infotainment tabloids, though,
    Saw no need to retort.
    They liked the dead-blonde pictures that
    They showed around for sport.
    Convinced that only “good news” lies
    Deserved a full “report.”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006, 2009

      • Thank you for the kind comments, professor. My mother loved “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” a poem from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, so whenever she wanted to discuss something with me she would say: “Michael, let’s talk some more about the cabbages and kings.” I sure miss my mother. In any event, when I decided to start composing verse essays a decade ago, I went looking for good models to emulate, and so I naturally wanted to do something in the style of Mom’s favorite poem. I just needed something to get me started.

        As it happened, I came across an epigram introducing Chapter One of The Meaning of Meaning (1925), by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, two pioneering British scholars in the field Semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. It read:

        “Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we may see what we are saying” — the Bubis of Fernando Po.

        Curious about the reference, I discovered that ethnographers of the late nineteenth century had come across a small group of aborigines on an island off the coast of Africa called Fernando Po: a people so culturally devolved that they could no longer communicate verbally unless they could also see one another physically gesturing or striking poses. Joseph Campbell picked up on this history when he mentioned “The Boobies” in his book The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (1959). The idea of people cognitively limited to purely visual mime and mimicry — in effect, intellectually deaf — also put me in mind of Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, wherein prisoners sit facing an underground wall, mistaking for reality the shadows cast upon it by dancers performing on a stage above and behind them, backlit by a flame.

        These various influences came together when I read Ron Suskind’s now-canonical article, “Without a Doubt,” in the New York Times Magazine (October 17, 2004). Practically the entire world now knows of the Bush administration official who boasted:
        “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

        But for me the really interesting quote came from Mark McKinnon, the Bush media guru whom Suskind quotes saying of Bush loyalists:

        “And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!” In this instance, the final “you,” of course, meant the entire reality-based community.”

        I tried to visualize the stumbling and bumbling AWOL Texas Air National Guardsman “walking” and “pointing” and “exuding” but I had no luck at it. But something else did occur to me. Something about Boobies. Something about Lewis Carroll’s “the Walrus and the Carpenter”. And so this happened:
        They like the way he “points,” they say
        They like the way he “walks,”
        Despite the fact that no one can
        Decipher how he talks.
        Yet when he mimics “standing tall,”
        The stupid Boobie gawks.

        Everything just followed and flowed from there. For years. I couldn’t stop interpreting everything I saw and heard from America’s corporate media as little more than flickering shadows on a cave wall aimed straight at a tribe of illiterate Boobies camped around their television sets striking poses, pulling grotesque faces, and uttering inchoate noises — “Duh!” — at each other. I found in Fernando Po the perfect paradigm explaining and exemplifying the subservient subculture of the United States which cannot critically interpret symbolic language but can only emote helplessly in reaction to a flood of visual images carefully crafted by commercial media — what I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification.

        I have since branched out into many other verse formats, but Fernando Po, U.S.A. has provided me with not just a fluid verse structure but also a fertile linguistic paradigm that goes straight to the heart of the matter. As the so-called and self-styled “elite leadership” of the United States continues to replicate itself at periodic intervals, I sometimes feel tempted to compose new episodes of Fernando Po, U.S.A. I usually find, however, that I’ve already covered the particular topic and so would only wind up repeating myself.

      • It’s fascinating, Mike, that you’re interested in signs and symbols and visual images and their many exaggerated and contrived manifestations. And what do you design and sculpt? Gargoyles! Grotesque and exaggerated images, but images that are often sublime or telling in their exaggeration. Coincidence? I think your gargoyle work is part and parcel of your questioning intellectual and artistic makeup.

  2. I don’t know much about Chicago and have no reason to doubt the author’s informed background and concerned interest in his city. That said, I thought Mr Rose went a little wobbly at the end with “these are simply questions, not accusations.” Personally, given the heading and content of the article, I would have accused CNN of shameless bootlicking. But that would not constitute “news” to those familiar with CNN. We get Corporate Non-News here in Taiwan, too, but I can barely stand to watch it for more than a minute or two at a time. The same goes for the New York Times and the Washington Post. I hardly ever bother reading anything appearing in those government rags. They keep losing circulation because they seldom report anything of real interest or value to the concerned citizen. If they would start kicking the government’s ass instead of kissing it, they would have more readers. What a waste of the First Amendment.

  3. I haven’t seen all the commercial videos that the author mentions — the ones extolling Mayor Emanuel’s putative exploits — but the CNN picture of Mayor Emanuel looking out a car window reminded me of those notorious pictures of President George W. Bush ostensibly looking out the window of Air Force One as he (1) fled from one secure hiding place to another on 9/11/2001, and (2) gazed absent-mindedly down upon the ruins of New Orleans as he flew over it after Hurricane Katrina. If such pictures of politicians looking out of windows induce feelings of ‘heroism” or “stardom” in certain societal demographics — as apparently they do among many Republican and Democratic Party loyalists — then I submit that Dante’s famous words: “Abandon Hope, All You Who Enter Here” ought to replace the outdated verbiage that currently adorns the Statue of Liberty.

    On another note regarding the caption below of the photo of Mayor Emanuel, it seemed a little strange to me since from what little I know of Judaism, Mayor Emanuel’s religion, he probably doesn’t think much of messiah’s, or at least not the ones who actually show up occasionally. Look at what happened the last time one appeared on the scene. Do I have to recount the history of the sordid centuries that followed? Messiah’s sound good as something to look forward to in the far-distant future but they really make a mess of things when we have to deal with them in the here and now. Just saying …

  4. Mike.. Your last paragraph left me puzzled. Can you explain what Emmanuel’s “Judaism” has to do with a “messiah” and who is that messiah who is making such a mess of things?
    Looking at the world today it is becoming increasingly clear that ALL religions, I mean exactly that, around the world are intent on messing up a fairly civilized world. From the Boka Harum in Nigeria, to the Hindu nationalists in India, the Hasidim extremists in Israel, and the Jihadists from Saudi Arabia, and last but not least the Christian fundamentalists in you know where, et al.* All religions spawn ignorance and blind faith in an unseen presence who commands them to do horrible things in the name of their particular religion. God save us from any and all “messiahs”.
    * and as Mort Sahl used to say at the end of his political satire routines,
    ,” Is there anyone here I haven’t offended”.

    • As Benjamin Franklin said to a room full of squabbling monotheists: “Either one of you is right or all of you are wrong. I tend to go with the latter as the most logically defensible position.

      I only made my comment about Rahm Emanuel’s religion because of the caption below the picture accompanying the article. In my graduate courses in Religious Studies I had it explained to me that according to Judaism the “messiah,” or savior, never comes because if He or She ever did, then no one would have anything to look forward to. The Christians unwittingly validated this logic because even though they claim that a Jewish messiah did indeed come in the person of Jesus Christ, he passed away as mortals will and then they had to predict that he would come again so they would have something to look forward to. Therefore, in my understanding, the “messiah” not only never comes, but can’t possibly do so or the whole notion of messiah collapses. Hence, Rahm Emanuel could never lay claim to the status of messiah, at least according to my understanding of Judaism. Q.E.D.

      As for the mess that messiah’s can make of things if one actually shows up and openly proclaims himself or herself, consider the following famous poem by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


      Turning and turning in the widening gyre
      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
      Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      Surely some revelation is at hand;
      Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
      The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
      When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
      Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
      A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
      A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
      Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
      Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

      The darkness drops again but now I know
      That twenty centuries of stony sleep
      Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
      And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

      Personally, I do not subscribe to any version of Single Spook Animism, so I think as little of Judaism as I do of Christianity, Islam, or Zoroastrianism. I don’t subscribe to any version of Multiple Spook Animism, either. I guess I just don’t believe in the existence of invisible mommy-daddy spooks of any sort whatsoever. I only have a master’s degree in Religious Studies — with a concentration in Buddhism — so I don’t pretend to any deep theological expertise in any of the so-called Monotheisms. They all seem viciously intolerant to me. “My Way or the Highway,” as the bloody history of the last few thousand years — right up to the present — attests. As I put it in one of my poems, “Boobie Theology,”

      The concept of the Single Gawd
      Leaves little more to mock,
      Yet charlatans consider it
      There tawdry trade and stock.
      No worse Idea ever crawled
      From underneath a rock.

      Some people might find that offensive, but I subscribe to the Buddha’s admonition that “You can’t give offense to anyone unwilling to take it. So other people will take or not take offense according to their own reasons and I can’t do anything about those. So I just try to think though what I want to say and then say it as clearly as I can. As Groucho Marx used to put it: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

      Regarding religion as a psychological or anthropological phenomenon, I agree with Joseph Campbell who wrote that animism arises spontaneously in the developing infant because:

      “The child begins by assuming that adults were the makers of all things; for they are thought to be omniscient and omnipotent until events make it all to evident that they are neither. Whereupon the cherished image of an all-knowing, all-potent, manually or otherwise creating parent is simply transferred to the vague figure of an anthropomorphic though invisible God, which has already been furnished by parental or other instruction. … The two orders — the infantile and the religious — are at least analogous, and it may well be that the latter is simply a translation of the former to a sphere out of range of critical observation.”

      So there we have it. Religion explained: namely, the unconscious projection of infantile parental dependence onto a vague concept safely outside the range of observation and, therefore, falsification. This definition covers all human religions at all times. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however, has perfectly visible feet of clay for those who care to look. So his best political strategy for assuring that the voters don’t notice what he actually does to them involves translating himself into an entertainment celebrity, or “star,” courtesy of CNN and its Hollywood production connections. Not exactly a “gawd,” and certainly not a “messiah,” but a close enough theatrical approximation to a mythical figment of the imagination.

      • If Rahn Emmanuel did not advise Kerry not to make a big issue out of the Iraq War, Kerry might have been elected. Obama’s choice of Emmanuel as one of his inner circle was the first of his many mistakes.

        I also think it would be nice if CP’s commentators commented on the article at issue and not use it as a point of departure. Rose’s piece was right on target.

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