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Doing the wrong thing

The main suspects in the death of truth.

If  you have a documented history of lying to the American public – and even admitted to it when being questioned during a Congressional investigation – the odds of being hired by a reputable news organization would appear to be mighty slim. Am I right?

Welcome to the Fox News family, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

You will be forgiven for forgetting that Sanders defended Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, claiming she had heard from “countless members of the FBI” that they had no confidence in him. Apparently, Sanders can’t count very high. According to the Mueller Report, while testifying under oath that she was telling the truth, Sanders admitted that her claim of “countless members of the FBI” rebelling against Comey “was not founded on anything.”

Months later, and freed from that burdensome formality of testifying under oath, Sanders was asked about the Muller Report’s assessment of her baseless Comey charge. And she lied, said her claim of FBI agents rebelling against their boss had merely been a slip of the tongue. And besides, it was the Democrats who were to blame.

So Sanders joins Fox as a “contributor,” joining a roster of fabrication contributors whose long list of lies rivals that of… well, of Trump.

I heartily endorse second chances. Third chances? I’m not so sure. Especially when the individual in question is being granted access to a powerful public platform.

Giving a bad idea a second chance is endemic to media. “McHale’s Navy” was a really dumb television show. Somehow a respectable actor, Ernest Borgnine, was talked into starring as the commander of a P.T. boat and its crew of fun-loving, scamming lunatics. This was set during World War II, mind you, where a lot of people fought and died. The show ran from 1962 to 1966, plus two feature films, and you’d figure that would be enough. But no, someone did a “McHale’s Navy” movie in 1997, updated with Russian terrorists or something, I don’t know, to my credit I never saw it. Perhaps because it starred Tom Arnold.

Brand familiarity is money in the bank. The original “Godzilla,” the 1954 Japanese film in which a giant lizard destroys Tokyo, was a metaphorical tale warning of the dangers of nuclear technology. Released nine years after the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, who would know better than the Japanese about the horrors of the atomic bomb? And for better or worse, the Godzilla franchise exploded.

Now that’s entertainment. It’s mythology. And in the mythology that increasingly penetrates our news, Fox News – my parents’ only news source for years – is not the only offender.

“The McLaughlin Group” was a shouty news roundtable that played for 34 years on various public television outlets. Now Maryland Public Broadcasting is re-booting the show. The producers are not willing to spend the money necessary to bring back host Tom McLaughlin – he died in 2016 – but they have resurrected the corpse of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is a white supremacist, and it’s not just a matter of a slip of the tongue here and there. Buchanan is a reservoir of racism.

Buchanan has called Hitler “an individual of great courage” who did not want war, a statement that might be disputed by the Polish people who awoke one morning in 1939 to find Nazi tanks rumbling down their streets. He is anti-LGBTQ citizens, saying that in a just society, “gay people will be contained, segregated, controlled, and stigmatized.” He said of the Civil War, “in a way, both sides were right.” Words that would be echoed years later by Trump after a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, resulting in the death of a young woman and injuring 28 others. And immigrants are “a third world invasion,” Buchanan has said, adding that, “Americans have the sovereign right to discriminate in favor of some continents, countries and cultures, and against others.”

Why didn’t this country’s native people think of that in 1492?

Here’s the Buchanan quote of all time:

Exceptional women can and do succeed; and women deserve an equal chance at the starting line. But, for women, there is an honorable and honored exit from the rat race – home, hearth and family. It is an option closed, by social sanction, to the average male. By a ratio of eleven-to-one over men, women exercise this option of voluntary separation from the marketplace, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. The momma bird builds the nest. So it was, so it ever shall be. Ronald Reagan is not responsible for this; God is.

Or, maybe this is the Buchanan quote of all time:

America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known. … We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

Yes, the gratitude for their ancestors to have been brought here in chains, to be beaten, raped and lynched.

Pat Buchanan. Fair and balanced reporting gone awry.

Republicans are being rightly skewered for quietly stepping aside as Trump destroys the Constitution, divides the country over race, rolls back environmental protections, enriches himself through the presidency, and on and on and on…

And on. Mark Halperin has a book deal. Thanks to more than 75 top Democratic strategists.

Halperin always struck me as a smarmy jerk when I’d see him on MSNBC, as a pundit who seemed to be wrong a lot. And the smarm proved to be real, when in 2017 a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment. That’s a dozen chances to do the right thing. Halperin didn’t, and MSNBC promptly dumped him.

So now Halperin has a book coming out in November. “How to Beat Trump: America’s Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take.” That’s a fine goal, but we don’t need the likes of Halperin. He’s getting real money, while real writers can’t get into print. No one with a conscience should be a part of his career-reclamation project. I can’t imagine what those 75 Democratic strategists – familiar names such as Donna Brazile, David Axelrod, Kathleen Sebelius – were thinking when they heard on the other end of the phone, “Hi, this is Mark Halperin…”

They should have hung up right there.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

Mad, and getting Realist about humor

The first issue of The Realist.

When I was a kid, like 10 or 11 years old, My Uncle Robbie was the youngest, and coolest, of my uncles. He had a motorcycle. He went to Woodstock. And he read Mad magazine.

I never had a motorcycle. The Woodstocks I attended were the paler, anniversary ones in 1994 and ’99. But I did read Mad.

After 67 years, the magazine has announced it will soon cease publication, although that “cease” is kind of vague, as it appears Mad will continue to re-issue old content. And some of its legendary contributors said a few days ago that new material may even be published on yet-to-be determined platforms. Platforms that likely contributed to the cause of death: The internet, where anyone with a keyboard has the potential to create brilliant satire in this target-rich era.

Internet humor: A primary suspect in the death of Mad magazine.

Following the announcement of Mad’s approaching death, the tributes poured in. From celebrities including Weird Al Yankovic, fondly recalling how Mad shaped their own humor.

So yes, of course, I read Mad as well. Did, as in past tense. Maybe if I had bought a few copies over the last four decades, it wouldn’t be going away now.

But other culture was creeping into my brain. Mad gave way to National Lampoon. I saw R. Crumb and Zippy the Pinhead as philosophers, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers were teachers. The comedy albums I listened to, the mainstream of Bill Cosby, gave way to the edgy non-sequitur humor of The Firesign Theater and Monty Python. I could find Monty Python on television as well – thank you, PBS – and in the movie theater.

The two things I remember laughing at the hardest in my late-teen years, laughing to the point that I couldn’t breathe, were National Lampoon’s “High School Yearbook Parody” and the scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where King Arthur de-limbs The Black Knight. “Just a flesh wound.”

We move on with time, and it can be a dangerous passage. My Uncle Robbie is in his late 60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s hit him a few years ago. Now he doesn’t even recognize his wife.

The brain evolves, devolves. I was reminded of how far my own pursuit of the darkest humor went when I read this week of the passing of Paul Krassner, the iconic, counter-culture writer. Krassner wrote freelance pieces for Mad in the late 1950s. But he recognized that Mad was humor for teenagers. And he was an adult. An adult consumed by the oncoming political unrest. So he channeled his taste in anarchy by creating an underground humor magazine, The Realist. This was a proper vehicle for Krassner and his ’60s Yippie cohorts, known for pranks such as nominating a pig for president. Even Norman Mailer, Richard Pryor and Joseph Heller wrote for The Realist.

Krassner and The Realist may have been humor, but they were dead serious about it.

The Realist was over-the-top outrageous. Pornographic. Obscene. Satire is a killer. Why would a humor magazine publish a cartoon depicting dozens of Disney characters such as Snow White and Donald Duck engaged in a massive orgy? I suppose the message might have been one that is the highest duty of humor: to expose hypocrisy and corruption. And to do so with a tenacity that goes beyond a flesh wound. Was the obscenity of the Seven Dwarves engaged in anal sex – a perversion of many people’s definition of All-American entertainment – any worse than the Vietnam War we were watching on our televisions?

BE THE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

What I said

VickiKristinaBarcelona at the jazz fest.

The Rochester International Jazz Fest is over. I return to my regularly scheduled life.

Except for one last detail. While wandering the streets, I had a few people ask me about one of my morning appearances on “Open Tunings,” Scott Regan’s show on WRUR-FM (88.5), to discuss the festival. What were the comments I had made opening Wednesday morning’s show?

It was nothing extraordinary. It is what should be obvious. A reminder, for those of us with a public platform, or if we’re just chatting with friends, of the importance of the words we choose.

So here it is:

No one said anything to me yesterday about this. I received no emails or tweets or Facebook posts about this. But I said something yesterday that I regret. I joked about stalking one of the all-female bands that I’ve admired at the festival.

Stalking is a part of our society’s culture of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new. But in the last two years we’ve see the Me Too movement bring more attention to the issue. I’ve been shocked by some of the stories shared by my women friends.

We have a president in the White House – our house – who faces serious allegations of sexual harassment and assault. A new accusation came up last week. The president’s response? “She’s not my type.”

She’s not my type. That’s an astounding level of entitlement.

Women musicians deserve to be appreciated for their music. If dressing in a charming or sexy way is a part of that performance, fine. But I’m not allowed to take it to the next level.

So I apologize to VickiKristinaBarcelona. And I apologize to your listeners.

And with that, Scott played VickiKristinaBarcelona’s version of Tom Waits’ “Hold on.”

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