By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/5/2020
Posted: 5/10/2006
Topics/Keywords: #Politics Page Views: 3223
How to make a person stop telling jokes…or expecting to hear the truth.
I'm going to have my head examined.

Among my friends, I have for years been known as a wit. People love the way I tell jokes, and laugh heartily when I tell one. Although most of my blog entries are not humorous, they are usually written in a light-hearted way, and the email response I get, mostly from strangers, is gratifying. My ability to make people laugh is not a new development, either. My third-grade teacher once laughed out loud, and in spite of herself, when she read a cartoon I'd drawn. (A figure with a protractor-shaped noggin says, "I'm going to have my head examined.") I know she liked it because she saved it, and mailed it to me just a couple of years ago, with some other stories and drawings of mine she'd kept for four decades.

So, imagine my surprise when, in 1969, I began classes at an electronics school in Tampa, Florida—and no one in the class thought I was funny.

It was a small class, with no more than 20 students. One of them was named Gerry. He was slightly older than the rest of us, probably 22 to our average of 18. He was very good at appearing cool and at being the center of attention. However, for some reason, he took an instant dislike to me—and I'm talking about, before we'd ever spoken. Moreover, he decided to do something about it.

The first time I made one of my patented wry comments in class, a couple of the other students began to chuckle—but Gerry cut them off with a loud, "That was a stupid thing to say." His tone was one of injured puzzlement, tinged with annoyance. The next few times I tried to say anything—whether funny or not—his response was the same. Before that first week was out, he'd trained the rest of the class to cringe every time I opened my mouth.

Outside of class, I easily made some friends of students who attended the same school but were not in that class. But no one in that class would so much as talk to me. Somehow, Gerry had pre-empted me. My whole persona—my personality, my intentions, my knowledge—all meant nothing, because Gerry had made an impression, not about himself but about me, before I had an opportunity to make one myself.

The trick didn't require truth, or facts, or any kind of reality. All it needed was a big mouth. Because, unfortunately, any lie repeated often enough becomes true for the majority of people.

Thirty-five years later, I watched the same thing happen to Democratic Presidential hopeful, Howard Dean. Dean, who was governor of Vermont, but campaigning to be the Democratic candidate for President of the United States, had come in third place behind John Kerry and John Edwards in the Iowa primary. While making a televised concession speech in front of his boisterous supporters, someone turned off the background microphones, leaving only the directional mike picking up Dean's voice, just as he said, "And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!!!" He had to scream to be heard over the shouts of the crowd, but on TV all you could hear was a red-faced man appearing to scream for no reason. Even so, those actually watching the broadcast (or the video) were able to put it in context.

However, that didn't stop the media from having a field day with it. Clipping it to the two seconds where Dean yells, "Yeah!!!", flushed, and surrounded by apparent silence, he looked and sounded like a lunatic.

Quickly and predictably, the right-wing talk show hosts began mentioning the "Dean Scream" and playing recordings of it, literally every few minutes. But no one would have predicted that, when respectable magazines such as the Times reported the incident, they would spell the yell "yearrgh!" or some similar variation which only served to make it look more feverish, especially to people who'd never heard the audio.

By February 18, 2004, it was all over. Dean withdrew from the race. A month later, he actually won the Vermont primary; but with his own people telling him he was now "unelectable" the Democratic nomination eventually went to Kerry.

A perusal of Dean's platform and political career show him to be a man of principle who historically had appealed to a wide range of Vermont voters, Republican and Democrat alike. So how did this sudden downfall happen?

It's clear to me that Dean had been "Gerry'd." That is, someone had recognized him to be enough of a threat to the opposition that it had been worthwhile to publicly trash him with such vehemence that no one would ever be able to listen to him speak again without expecting to hear him break into another scream. His wit, his wisdom, his personality had all been pre-empted by someone else.

That someone else may have been just the person who turned off the background microphones. Anyone who watches campaign television knows they are usually turned on, to capture the "essence" of a candidate on the road. And they had been on. But someone turned them off, and at exactly the right moment to destroy this man's career.

Those who cringe at conspiracy theories will stop there. The villain might have been a Republican sympathizer, but could as well been a fan of Kerry or Edwards or even someone else in the race.

And certainly no conspiracy need be invoked to explain the gleeful pandering with the story by the right wingnut talk radio hosts; they have shown that they don't require facts to misinform their gullible public.

But the Times? CNN? NBC? We've been told for so many years that we have a "liberal media" in the United States that when something like this happens, when a liberal candidate is misrepresented we can't believe it is a misrepresentation. Maybe I heard him wrong on live TV. Maybe he did yell, "yearrgh!"

But let us continue to examine this "liberal" media. Even today, mainstream churches rarely are interviewed; instead, Christian extremists are allowed to speak for us all, as if their twisted and bigoted opinions were representative of all Christians everywhere. When someone like Stephen Colbert skewers the President at a press correspondents' dinner and the press refuses to report it—when reporters repeat everything President Bush says without question or investigation—when people like Elizabeth Dole can refer publicly to Sherrod Brown, a candidate for Ohio state congress whose positions are well within majority poll numbers as "out of the mainstream"—and not be questioned—we, the people have to wonder if something hasn't gone seriously wrong with the supposedly "free" press.

Unnoticed by most of us, the elements that once made up a free press—independently-owned newspapers, individually-owned radio stations, locally-managed TV stations—have coalesced into a single, Medusa-like entity. This is easily provable; the people we traditionally depend upon to let us know what our leaders are doing, are now the very people who benefit by our not knowing: Majority corporate shares of TV, radio and print are now held by weapons manufacturers, oil conglomerates and pharmaceutical giants. Could minority shareholders of Enron have saved themselves from financial ruin if Enron hadn't had control over the TV news? Could Halliburton get away with overcharging the government by such huge amounts if Halliburton wasn't a major owner of radio and print?

The problem is that the traditional media is, essentially, a really big mouth. It can repeat any lie as often as needed, until that lie is accepted as truth by most people. Even now, when Bush has admitted there were no weapons of mass destruction there when we attacked Iraq, too many Americans believe there were.

In fact, I believe the only reason any investigations at all have been undertaken—Enron and Delay and Abramoff and Libby and the rest—is because Internet bloggers, who for the most part are owned by no one and responsible only to their own sense of integrity, have taken over for the now-irrelevant media journalists, using their numbers and geographical distribution to dig out the facts and share what they've learned. And when enough people have heard about the crimes of Bob Ney or the tanker named after Condoleezza Rice by a grateful oil industry, the traditional media has no choice but to say something—or risk Everyman's discovery that it the media is, truly, irrelevant.

Over the past six months, I have learned to peruse the blogs—I've identified ones that are most accurate and carry information of most interest to me—and, as a reaction, to abandon traditional media entirely.

Meanwhile, the folks who the polls identify as holding values and beliefs common to a majority of Americans—folks who want a strong defense but do not want our armies to attack first; folks who believe the government has no right to tell them whether to bear children or whom they should marry; folks who think that fiscal responsibility is a natural component of good government—these people, watching only TV, reading only traditional newspapers and magazines and listening to pandering radio—these people are utterly unaware that they are part of the majority. They know they voted against Bush in the last election, but are unaware that they are part of a majority that did so. They allow this coup to continue unchallenged, simply because they've been uninformed there wasa coup.

They should have their heads examined.