Brendan Behan was an overweight Irishman who became famous for starting fights, falling down stairs and writing brilliant plays. A rather advanced wit caught up in a discussion of another overweight Irishman who started fights and fell down stairs a lot described that fellow as “a Brendan Behan who doesn’t write!”
Similarly, our beautiful America is increasingly behaving like an unhinged revolutionary society that hasn’t had a revolution lately. I’m sick and tired of hearing problems of great magnitude dismissed by Americans who claim to be sick and tired of one thing or another. In my case, I’m sick and tired of hearing Syria’s catastrophic slaughter of innocents and North Korea’s A-bombs and school shootings and non-school shootings all bumped to the back of the news bus and replaced with lurid tales of people you never heard of leaving the White House payroll, as though we’re living through a perpetual Pearl Harbor.
Who the hell are nine-tenths of these soon-to-be-unemployed people, and why should we care? I’m beginning to fear we’re in the grip of the first really well-organized coup at the hands of somebody with a goatee and a Slavic accent who chooses to conquer by turning our brains around and making us believe Dizzy Dapchevic’s security clearance is more important than the Strategic Air Command – and if it goes down, we go down, too!
There was a Hollywood movie early in World War II (was it “Back to Bataan”?) depicting the propaganda efforts the Japanese were making to win the hearts of the Philippine people with the argument that “We Asians don’t need the white man over here running our affairs, thank you! We Asians can manage just fine!” But the Japanese were having a problem. It seems the Americans were much more beloved by the Philippine people than the murderous, brutalitarian Japanese.
At this very moment I’m living that movie. I’m identifying with the lady governor of a Philippine province who was going along to get along with the Japanese, but her heart was red, white and blue throughout.
At a Japanese-staged rally in an open field, all the dignitaries, Japanese and Filipino, were celebrating the gigantic love affair the Japanese were having with the locals. Suddenly the air was split by the sound of gunfire. Pro-American Filipino guerillas shot up the rally, and my heroine found herself lying in a ditch! And what was that lying beside her? Not a poisonous snake, but a live hot microphone! She grabbed that mike and started screaming into it, “Yes, My Beloved Filipino Brothers and Sisters! Our heroes are streaming out of the woods to put an end to this Japanese murder of our homeland. Join the rebellion and fight until our dear General Douglas MacArthur delivers on his promise to come set us free from these Japanese devils!” Or something like that.
It was clearly a “Saints-Go-Marching-In” moment. I’d love to curl up beside a live microphone and address my brother and sister Americans and announce the liberation of our media from the trivia that seems to be shutting off all concentration on what’s truly important. Our media want to catch us in a hammerlock in which trivia becomes all-important and what’s truly monumental can’t be discussed because it’s not politically correct.
“Let them shoot me,” I find myself saying to myself. “If I can’t be a journalist, what’s the difference?” Then I’m quick to soften my plea down to “Just kidding!” But all this mess sure as hell isn’t the kind of journalism I signed up for. A story about the crisis in Venezuela about to pop is no longer competition for a clever reporter who authenticated Melania Trump’s shoe size! And it’s already way beyond the rumor stage. This up-and-coming kid got it bull-proof and pig-tight.
Real journalism was when each president was entitled to one scandal, and that was it. Truman and Eisenhower had their Sherman Adams, vicuña coats and Alger Hiss. Nixon had Watergate. Clinton was his own scandal, and that sufficed. Obama started out weak in the transparency derby and then gradually tapered off. And now Trump. Tell us what you’ve got and tell us quick, Mr. Mueller. The world can’t spin right until you do.
On the first day of journalism school at the University of North Carolina, old Dean Coffin told us about the cub reporter who was sent to cover the local PTA meeting. A few hours later the editor walked through the newsroom and found the reporter sitting there all glassy-faced and thunderstruck. “Where’s your story?” the editor asked. “There is no story,” the cub reporter confessed.
“Why not?” asked the editor. “Because there wasn’t any PTA meeting,” replied the reporter.
“And why wasn’t there?” asked the editor.
“Because,” replied the reporter. “The schoolhouse burned down.”
Today they’d give that reporter a prize for “Best Effort to Commit Journalism.”