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June 2007 Archives

June 2, 2007

All I Know is What I Read

I am a journalist by trade, and like most journalists I tend naively to believe what I read in print, particularly from news sources that are commonly referred to as "accredited" and "respected." So if the two gentlemen I am just about to mention protest that I am treating them unfairly, I can only quote my sources.

Both of them, to different degrees, can be described as media moguls. Rupert Murdoch is a media mogul by any standard--owner of newspapers and cable news networks around the world, so jealous of the phrase "fair and balanced" to describe his properties' news reportage that he sued for its exclusive use. By all reports, he is about to add a particularly glittering jewel to his media crown: the Wall Street Journal.

On the eve of this important acquisition, therefore, it is interesting to note that Matt Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal reporter assigned to China, wrote recently in the Washington Post that Phoenix TV, the Chinese cable news network in which Murdoch owned a substantial stake, routinely kowtowed to Chinese government policies during Murdoch's ownership, even when those policies were violently condemnatory of the U.S. and the West. (Murdoch might want to confront Pottinger about this "unfair and unbalanced" story, but he'd have to go to Iraq to do so. Pottinger is with the Marines there--not embedded, mind you, but as a combat soldier on the front lines.)

Danny Glover can't claim to be a mogul on Murdoch's level, though as the star of the "Lethal Weapon" movies, "Lonesome Dove," "Places in the Heart" and many other famous films, he can claim a substantial measure of world fame. But he does qualify as a media magnate, based on his board membership in Telesur, the Latin American TV network founded by his old friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Glover has a longtime reputation as an advocate for the poor and oppressed. His dream project is a film about the life of Toussaint Louverture, the 18th-century Haitian who led the successful revolt against French imperialism that made Haiti an independent nation. Recently, Glover solicited and received $18 million in financing for the project from his old buddy Chavez. That announcement was simultaneous with the news that Chavez had yanked the license for Radio Caracas Television, arguably the most important opposition media in Venezuela. Meanwhile, Venezuelan directors said they could produce 36 films for the $18 million Chavez is giving Glover. (One of my sources for this is Time Magazine, which Glover and Chavez could denounce as a propaganda organ for the Bush administration. The other is Agence France-Presse; I guess Chavez and Glover will say that France wants Haiti back.)

I imagine I'll catch hell from both sides of the ideological spectrum for pointing out these things; but, like I said, all I know is what I read. Meanwhile, if Messrs. Murdoch and Glover would care to explain their fondness for dictators, all they have to do is press the "Comments" icon.

June 9, 2007

Ben and the Family Stone

In the White Pages for the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. (where I live), there is a Benjamin R. Stone and a Bennie W. Stone, as well as three other Stones with the first initial B, who are potentially if not actually Benjamins. I note this only because the lead male character in Judd Apatow's new movie, "Knocked Up," is named Ben Stone. He is only the latest in a series of cinematic and TV Ben Stones in Hollywood's apparent effort to have us believe that "Ben Stone" is as common a name as "John Smith." (There are 58 John Smiths in my phone book, including one I actually know.) Besides the Ben Stone played by Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up," there is the Ben Stone played by Michael Moriarty in "Law and Order;" the Ben Stone played by Michael J. Fox in "Doc Hollywood;" and the Benjy Stone (a/k/a Benjamin Steinberg) played by Mark Linn-Baker in "My Favorite Year." I also remember that Donna Reed's TV family was named Stone (no Bens that I remember, though).

There's no point to this rumination, except that "Ben Stone" seems to have become an all-purpose, shelf-friendly name for irritable screenwriters to reach for. I guess we should all be thankful that the names "Reginald Van Gleason," "Clem Kadiddlehopper" and "Gervase Brooke-Hamster" did not reach this level of ubiquitousness. Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any other Ben Stone characters from movies or TV, please provide them in the Comments section.

June 23, 2007

Is the Children Learning? Is They Ever.

Given today's geopolitical situation, it's no surprise that Michael Winterbottom's film "A Mighty Heart," about the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, premieres just as the Muslim world rises in protest at the British government's grant of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. The most memorable news photograph of the past week was that of the sandaled foot of a little boy stamping on a picture of Rushdie; the caption said the photo was taken in Lahore, Pakistan, but it could just as well have been Iraq or Morocco or Indonesia. The Pakistani government responded to the news of Rushdie's knighthood by granting its highest civilian honors to Osama bin Laden. The idea that Rushdie could be honored for distinguished contributions to English literature is, to the protestors, an insult; the only conceivable purpose for honoring Rushdie, they claim, is to show enmity toward everyone and everything Muslim, and to declare war against Islam. This, of course, is what the protestors teach their children, who trust their parents and teachers like all children everywhere. Which is why the little boy in Lahore stamped on the picture of Rushdie.

I have no idea if children in Pakistan and the Middle East are taught anything about Daniel Pearl. But his story and Rushdie's alike leave me afraid, angry, and grieving. What hope does the world have if children in Muslim countries are brought up to believe that everyone in the West actively seeks to destroy everything they hold sacred?

The same question, alas, can be asked of at least some of the children in our own country. Last year's documentary, "Jesus Camp," depicted a group of children from fundamentalist and evangelical Christian families, being tenderly brought up to believe that people who are pro-choice or believe that global warming is real are minions of Satan.

"When I'm with non-Christians, I feel kinda creepy...kinda yucky," says of the children at one point in the movie. Yes, the boy meant Muslims by that, and also Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and atheists. And he also meant Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians--all the mainstream Christian sects whom the evangelicals do not regard as true Christians, because they do not accept the Rapture and other doctrines put forth in the Schofield Reference Bible. As someone who has always been just fine with Lutheran interpretations of the King James Bible, I can't help but feel the noose tighten a little around my neck when a little boy says he finds people like me kinda creepy...kinda yucky.

George W. Bush once famously asked, "Is the children learning." Yes, Mr. President, they're learning. But some of the things they're learning scare me to death.

About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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