May 10, 2004

A Laughing Matter?

Greg Palast spoke last night at an event in San Diego.

For a book author, this had to qualify as a dream author lecture and book signing: a packed auditorium (the First Unitarial Universalist Church in Hillcrest) with 500 very sympathetic people. Boomers mostly, I'd say: mostly gray hair, aged somewhere in the 40's - 70's.

This was my first visit to a Unitarian Church. The one in Hillcrest is a beautiful, simple building inside, bereft of any religious symbols. There were hymnals in the pews. I scanned the titles of some of the hymns:

  • Children of the Goddess, The
  • From our Roots in Transylvania
  • Gaia Round
  • I Have a Dream
  • Bend Towards Justice
  • Blessed Be
  • Celebrate Diversity
  • Daughters of the Goddess, The
  • Come and Take My Hand in Friendship
  • From a Place of Isolation
  • Come From the Dark, Lovely Night
  • From Our Many Lives and Wanderings
  • Gathering Song
  • Laudate, Laudate, Laudate Omnis
  • May the Road Rise to Meet You
  • Our Cherished Faith
  • Streams of Life That Ebb and Flow
  • The Bells of Equality Ring Over The Land
  • The Inherent Worth of All
  • The Works of Women
  • There's a Spirit, Movin' Within Me
  • Tiny Beginnings are Hid From Our Sight
  • Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky!
  • We Gather With Our Differences
  • What Would Happen if The World Could See
  • Where Are We to Go For Answers
  • Yah, Yah, Yes I am

And I glanced at the opening lines to Where Are We to Go for Answers:

Where do we go for answers
When our life seems bleak and bare?
Times of pain and times of conflict
Beckon us to feel despair

Yep, I'd say the hymns pretty much summed up the thoughts and concerns of the audience and the speaker. You couldn't have picked a more suitable venue for this lecture.

Palast bills himself, and this event billed him, as "the last true outlaw journalist." I would place the emphasis more on true outlaw than on outlaw journalist. "I was almost on NBC this morning," he quipped at one point. "They cancelled me when I was getting in the car..." He says this as if this is a routine event each day. The Rodney Dangerfield of news.

A sampling of quotes:

  • On Iraq: "We might not have gone in for oil, but we sure as heck aren't leavin' without it."

  • On Saudi Arabia: "We can't follow the money".

  • On Michael Moore's upcoming new film: "We'll get it out there, Michael Moore's film too, if we have to do hand puppets in the basement."

  • On 9/11: "On 9/11 we in America were the victims of a terrorist attack. On 9/12 we all became suspects."

  • On efforts by Republicans to block counting of black voters' ballots: "We have an apartheid voting system. In 1965 we gave black people the right to vote but not the right to have their ballots counted."

I feel uneasy about Palast. I want him to be a voice of a genuine professional investigative reporter, finding Woodward-and-Bernstein-style scoops that nobody else dares uncover. It's clear that people long to know where to go for answers. What Would Happen if the World Could See might as well be Palast's theme song.

But I have my reservations about his effectiveness. Palast comes across, in person as well as in his columns, more as an opinionated commentator, not a journalist. He's cynical, and so is his audience. In fact, the wisecrack-and-laugh ping-pong match between him and his audience last night reminded me of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. I do not think that is a good thing to be reminded of, when considering the seriousness of the subjects at hand.

When, I wonder, will the Left, the progressives, the Democrats, the non-Republicans, get off their asses and stop being amused by what they see and what they hear, and do something, if they feel so strongly that the current government is leading the country in the wrong direction?

I think Palast does his cause -- and he made it clear his cause is the same cause as the group that organized this lecture -- a disservice with his complacent, droll, ironic pose. Sure, it's easy to marvel and stand aghast at the spectacle of misdeeds, misdirection, and mistakes going on in Washington, but wouldn't it be better to simply present the facts instead of wisecracks and opinions interspersed with facts? Doesn't such a presentation style only weaken the power of the facts?

I continue to wonder if some folks have gone a bit overboard when they hear about, say, the latest White House news, and rather than think about it and contemplate the ramifications, look forward instead to the Daily Show and SNL satirical presentations of the news.

Frogs, slowly boiling?

Posted by brian at May 10, 2004 08:58 PM | TrackBack

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