Monday, April 23, 2012

Mike Wallace; Requiem for a Lightweight

Mike Wallace, veteran media personality, died the other day at age 93. If air time and salary are measures of merit, Wallace was an American television star and an unqualified success. He was a triple treat too; pitchman, game show host, and actor. On the back nine, Mike liked to think of himself exclusively as a journalist. The network might have plucked him from day-time television; but, taking the shill out of the entertainer was another matter. Wallace was the quintessential barker, an ambulance chaser with Press credentials. He perfected the art of “ambush” journalism at the CBS network. With such tactics, copy only led when it bled. Indeed, Mike Wallace’s career echoes some of the more predatory traditions of broadcast journalism.

The idea that day-time television (a mind numbing mix of games, gossip, cartoons, and fake reality shows) is a good apprenticeship for serious journalism is a little like believing that playing doctor as a child is good training for urologists or gynecologists. Nonetheless, the career paths of chaps like Wallace, and larger icons like Walter Cronkite, followed that road where entertainment and news merge. The problem might be worse with women. Barbara Walters moves seamlessly from bimbo chat in the AM to hard news in the PM. Diane Sawyer is now another refugee from daytime fluff.

Such media figures usually have one or more characteristics in common; liberal politics, photogenic looks, variable standards – and a knack with a teleprompter. Of these, politics and visuals are probably the deal breakers. When was the last time you saw an obese, homely, or impartial anchor?

The values are all wrong and the politics are predictable in the entertainment bullpen. Standards seem to be confined to: appearance, salesmanship, limited expertise, and selective ethics. Wallace’s Vietnam War coverage for CBS and 60 Minutes is an illustration; a case where Wallace and the network, not content with real issues like military competence, chose to attack an officer’s character. Ethos is more entertaining than issues.

In 1982, fourteen years after the fact, Wallace accused William Westmoreland of cooking the Intelligence books on Viet Cong strength numbers in 1968. Had Wallace known anything about the Order of Battle calculations, he would have known that commanding generals do not get mired in the details of bean counting; relying instead on agencies like DIA and CIA and accepting G2 (Intelligence) numbers as received wisdom.

The 60 Minutes segment alleged that Westmoreland personally suppressed Viet Cong strength numbers, a manipulation which led to the Tet Offensive “surprise” of 1968.

CBS speculations were based on several flawed premises; including a flaky witness (Sam Adams) and the implausibility of underestimates in the middle of a shooting war. Estimates of enemy strength were not done exclusively at Westmoreland’s MACV HQ in Saigon in any case; calculations were also done by agencies in Honolulu and Washington, DC.

Nonetheless, enemy threat numbers usually err on the high side (recall the ten foot Soviets of the Cold War). Threat inflation is a no-lose hedge. Higher threat estimates are also key to bigger budgets. The Tet “surprise” may have been a low point in the war, but low numbers were irrelevant in any case. The war went on for another seven years.

The libel suite against CBS was settled out of court. Westmoreland might have proved defamation, but probably not the higher standard for “malice.” Still, Wallace’s personal conduct after the trail provides a telling coda; admitting first to profound depression and then to at least one attempted suicide in the wake of the battle with Westmoreland. Is truth depressing? Are winners suicidal?

With the “uncounted enemy” charade; CBS was telling one story, but selling another; a tale of personal destruction. And the practice of political journalism is not without precedent before or after Mike Wallace.

Walter Cronkite cried on air for John Kennedy. What network anchor shed tears for Ronald Reagan when he was shot? Were Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, a liberal jurist instead of a conservative black man, would he have been savaged by PBS and Nina Totenberg? More recently, Dan Rather, another 60 Minutes regular, was caught using forged documents to attack George Bush’s character. Even colleagues claimed that Dan Rather was “transparently liberal;” a charge that might be made about many network journalists today. Rather was fired for cooking the books, while Mike Wallace was just left to marinate with a troubled conscience.

The producers of 60 Minutes and correspondents like Mike Wallace might better be called “parachute,” not ambush journalists. Indeed, men and women with limited expertise are often dropped onto a hot issue for hours or days and then returned to air conditioned suites where they judge like experts. The near tragedy with Lara Logan, another CBS protégé, in Tahrir Square, is instructive. Who thought it was a good idea to drop a blond waif, with cowardly escorts, into a howling mob of angry Muslim men?

Hemingway was a credible war correspondent because he served at the Italian front in WWI. George Orwell was a believable critic of retail Communism because he served with Red partisans in the Spanish Civil War. Joseph Conrad was a reliable source on colonialism because he lived in the “heart of darkness.” Ernie Pyle was beloved by the troops and on the home front because he bivouacked with, and ate the same chow as, the GIs for the duration of WWII.

Recall the mockery of Wallace’s CBS colleague, Dan Rather, as “Gunga Dan” for his silly costumes and war zone pretense. The credibility of reporting is not enhanced by posturing. Since the Korean War, no correspondent is ever more than a helicopter ride away from air conditioning, happy hour, and room service.

The recent network eulogies for Wallace had all the appropriate spin; replete with the numbers of Emmy and Peabody awards. Yet these, like Pulitzers, have become a kind of Special Olympics for the glitterati. If you have one significant award, it might mean something; 25 awards is a kind of faint praise - just another statistic.

Few testimonials mentioned Wallace’s ethnic paranoia, and over compensation in the form of biased coverage of Jewish or Israeli news items. Fewer still mentioned his derogatory comments about Blacks, Hispanics, or homosexuals either. And almost none mentioned Chris Wallace, Mike’s son over at FOX, who became the journalist that Mike Wallace never was.

Ironically, a few days after Wallace passed away, this year’s print Pulitzers were announced. The reporting trophy went to an Associated Press exposé; a series on the NY Police Department and the city program to collect intelligence on Islamists. Yes, a little more than a decade after 9/11, cops are again the enemy - and the Muslim community is a victim (of “profiling”), not a potential source of terror. Mike Wallace would have loved this choice, a world turned inside out by political pretense and journalistic spin.


The author served as a junior intelligence officer at 7th AF, HQ on Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive of 1968. This essay with hyperlinks published in American Thinker, 23 April 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mitt Romney, Straw Man

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” - Will Rogers

A few days ago, American Thinker carried a piece entitled: “How Mitt Can Win.” The argument was unremarkable, but the comments that followed were not. Published reader sentiments were almost universally negative, not about the writer’s facts or logic, but about Romney’s character – or lack of it. Such visceral animus is startling because many American Thinker readers might be described as somewhat east of Genghis Kahn - or be described as believers in “anybody but BO’B.”

Yet, queasiness about a Mitt candidacy or a Romney presidency is not news. He may never be the choice for most Americans, but he is clearly the preferred choice of the Republican establishment. Nothing says ‘business as usual’ like an endorsement from John McCain or the Bush family.

And Romney may be able to buy the nomination; yet, he is very unlikely to purchase the White House. Beating Obama was once thought to be lead pipe cinch. A Romney candidacy changes that calculus in many significant ways. If the character question can’t be answered for work-a-day Republicans, conservatives, or American Thinker readers; imagine what Democrats or liberals will do with that single flaw in a general election.

What Romney believes or pretends to believe no longer matters. That ship has sailed. What matters now is what voters believe about Mitt Romney. And here the news is not good.

Romney’s character problem is variously described as inconsistency, double talk, flip flopping, or any number of euphemisms that suggest that his beliefs are as variable as weather. Still, significant change of heart on any issue is not necessarily a political handicap. Churchill was fond of saying that a change of facts should alter beliefs.

Ronald Reagan provides a telling contrast. Early in life, Reagan was a liberal activist and high union official. Based on his experience with west coast Communists, California’s social profligacy, and union corruption; Reagan eventually altered his views and his party affiliation. Through his writings and speech making, it was always possible to audit the vector of his thinking. Reagan came over from the dark side and the electorate knew how he got there. Indeed, few presidents since Lincoln left a better paper trail of personal political evolution. With Romney, there is no intellectual paper trail, just a series of apparent reversals which paint him, fairly or not, as a serial opportunist.

Many voters seem to view Romney as the rich kid trying to pledge for the most exclusive fraternity on campus; more interested in joining the club than changing it. Hard to determine what Mitt stands for besides getting elected. And by playing to both sides of any issue, Romney panders to the worst instincts of the beltway establishment.

Surely, mainstream conservatives are looking for an iconoclast willing to break the social, economic, and geo-strategic paradigms that have contributed to the American decline. Romney is a lot of things, but few think of him as a game changer. He may have shed the jacket and tie, but not the image of a mediocre, buttoned down, traditional politician.

Obama’s greatest asset is that people know what he represents. “Obamacare” may go down in flames before the election, but no one has any doubts about Barack’s politics. Even his opponents will give him credit for an effort based on neo-socialist principles, however misguided those ideals might be. That much cannot be said of Romney.

Adding insult to injury, of four Republican candidates, Mitt is the one who makes Obama look the best. Indeed, Romney might have to spend the majority of his political capital trying to explain how a Massachusetts elephant is not just another Washington jackass.

Romney’s “etch-a-sketch” reputation was not created by Democrats. Even his staff appears to believe that Mitt is, and will be, a chameleon as the political terrain dictates. This may be, at once, a winning primary tactic and a disastrous election strategy. All that is certain about Romney to date is that he desperately wants to be president. And wanting to be somebody may not be enough. If Romney is selected as the Republican candidate, liberal or Democrat Party hit men may be the least of his worries.

Consider the following nightmare scenario.

Reagan conservatives, the Americans Elect movement, and traditional Jews/Christians represent three minorities whose influence in a close election could be decisive. True conservatives may not be moved by the “anybody but Obama” appeal and just stay home. Most voters are motivated to vote for, not against, a candidate. The Americans Elect movement, while possibly a Trojan horse or a fake “third way,” will, like hard core conservatives, nonetheless, tap into the ‘plague on both (Republican and Democrat)) their houses’ sentiment. Remember that Ross Perot made Clinton possible – twice. And traditional Christians, and some Jews, have long standing beefs with Bishop Romney’s co-religionists, the details of which are well represented in the Press and on the internet. If and when the Democrats have to go nuclear; religion is sure to be a weapon of choice.

Should a Romney candidacy be as inevitable as it now seems, 2012 may be known as the year of the lesser of two evils; or the year for choosing between the devil you know and the devil that makes you gag. If historical voting statistics mean anything, Barak Obama has the edge in such a contest. The loudest voice in any American election is often inertia.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Aphrodite's Fluke

These impossible women! How they do get around us!
Can't live with them, or without them. - Aristophanes

The non-sequitur is a bottomless pit. Take the ongoing debate in America over birth control and who should pay.

First, the loony congressional Left collared a naïve 30 year old Georgetown University co-ed and encouraged her to testify about her active social life; an ill-conceived masque put on to back government or industry subsidized birth control. In the interests of privacy, let’s call her Aphrodite – no Hera she.

Aphrodite would have us believe that a frisky law student can afford thousands for tuition at a Jesuit graduate school, but can not afford pennies for protected recreational sex. Recreational, presumably because distaff law students haunt the saloons of “M” Street and Wisconsin Avenues looking for hangovers or hook-ups, not baby daddies.

Ms. Aphrodite claimed that she needed $1000 worth of birth control per year. If the protection of choice is a condom; our heroine’s arithmetic comes to 12,000 safe couplings at taxpayer expense in three years of graduate school - or more than three encounters a day including weekends and holidays. The next time Nancy Pelosi holds a hearing on this matter, voters must hear from Aphrodite’s boy friend. The country needs to know what this guy eats, not what he wears.

Not content to let gaucherie marinate, Rush Limbaugh imprudently calls our lady lawyer a “slut” on national radio. The sweet stew of indiscretion then boils over and explodes into a hoochie mama media frenzy. Even the president gets into the act, calling Aphrodite and commending the now infamous law student for what may become known as the bonobo defense; indeed, the burdens of too much sex, too much exposure, and the need for a frequency subsidy. Aphrodite seems to be on the partner track before she leaves law school.

Then Limbaugh, ever the civic barometer, senses that he and Obama are inadvertently on the same page. OMG! The two seem to be turning a bimbo into a civil rights victim. Limbaugh, stimulated by show sponsors, apologizes quickly. Well, sort of. Rush says he shouldn’t have sunk to “their” level. Presumably we know who “they” are.

Having shot from the lip, Limbaugh and Obama both missed the target. The Aphrodite problem is not, as it turns out, morality or women’s rights; it’s an intelligence quotient deficit.

Had our heroine wandered out of the hook-up hothouse in Georgetown, she might have discovered that condoms are already free in the District of Columbia; as is all manner of social life style counseling, fungible ailment medications, or surgeries for any unprogrammed population growth.

So it seems that Nancy Pelosi’s Muppet masters were using Aphrodite to double down. Anyone can find free rubbers or pills in the big city. What the social democrats really want is wall-to-wall coverage, and mandates, for all means of birth and (after) control in the name of women’s health. Aphrodite’s Potomac sex life was just the salacious bait for a bigger fish.

Seems the birth control beef is a viral extension of the abortion logic, where the seedier dimensions of life style choices, eugenics, and population control are elevated with the rhetoric of women’s rights or health care. Never mind that miscasting abortion exclusively as a health issue is a little like confusing genocide with gentrification.

Before you could finish a chorus of Wankers Aweigh, flyover feminists jumped into the fray to sponsor a nationwide sex strike. Yes, a coitus moratorium to punish men; insensitive brutes who joke about condoms and bananas in sex education classes - and then refuse to stretch a condom into an inalienable right.

The sponsors of the sex strike are based in Austin, Texas. They call themselves the Liberal Ladies Who Do Lunch (LLDL). Their cyber manifesto reads:

“We are women between the ages of 25-125 who are liberals and proud of it. We enjoy conversations with likeminded women in a safe environment about topics other than boyfriends and fashion, and we like to grab lunch together. Hope you'll join us for some interesting discussions and fun times. NOTE: This group is for true liberals--both socially and fiscally.”

A quick visit to the LLDL web site reveals that average age is closer is closer to 100 than 25 and these dowagers, as a group, look like they could miss a meal or two and be healthier for the hiatus. And if years, girth, and the exclusions in their manifesto matter; sex with men is probably not a recreation likely to worry these ladies anyway. For these gals, giving up sex may be a little like a mayfly giving up a trout.

Yet, they are not without influence. LLDLers have inserted themselves into the condom conundrum; and their proposal is nothing short of astounding. Choice is now joined with chastity; to wit, choosing not to have to have sex at all.

The liberal matrons of Texas have endorsed abstinence! Like clenched knees, long thought to be one of those common sense, yet equally improbable, solutions we hear on the religious Right. With this, the Austin abstainers may have stumbled upon the silver bullet that neuters the extremes and potentially ends the “war on women”.

George Orwell was fond of saying that the quickest way to end a war was to lose it. Exactly! The clenched knee solution does just that. At first glance a tad misanthropic, but on closer examination, giving up giving it up, resolves every issue on the gender front; health, choice, civil rights, birth control, and abortion. If ladies “just say no,” Lysistrata will have been born again.

The sex strike is scheduled to begin on 28 April, too late for April Fools, but on point for Mother’s Day. Nonetheless, more than a few chads are still dangling.

Will a professional house call, an Eliot Spitzer if you will, be allowed? If the working girls can’t work, are they just labor statistics, do they get unemployment? And does an Anthony Weiner count? Is cyber sexting off the keyboard? And what about a Lewinsky? Ever since the Clinton administration, the meaning of “is” and genuine sex has been up in the air. And what about a Bill Maher, aural sex, or talking dirty? Will potty mouth be covered by the blackout? And who has checked with the White House and congressional intern programs? What are these youngsters to do during the moratorium?

Enough now! Quibbling about details will never give peace a chance; and better soft simulacrums than stiff kinetics any day. Sometimes the most obvious solutions hide in plain sight; a page out of Hilary’s foreign policy playbook maybe? Why shouldn’t sex sanctions work as well on domestic dinosaurs as economic sanctions work on atomic chauvinists in far flung places like Teheran or Pyongyang?

The gender wars have come full circle in a week; from bonobo to Lysistrata; from too much sex with government subsidies to no sex and no subsidies. But before those peace dividends are spent in May, Aristophanes provides some cautionary words about tumescent threats of the future. Or as that Greek chorus put it: “For I (women) am taxed too and as revenue provide men for the nation.” Amen, sisters!


G. Murphy Donovan is a former carpetbagger and resident of Amarillo and San Antonio. Based on field research, the author is very skeptical that real Texas women will ever give up what is arguably, after football, the second favorite pastime in the state. This essay appeared in the April issue of the New English Review.


About Me

The author is a native of the Bronx, a transplant to DC. He is a Vietnam veteran and former USAF Intelligence officer with tours at all of the major 3 button Intelligence agencies. He is a graduate of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School and Cardinal Hayes HS in NYC. He also has several degrees from less illustrious institutions. Check Six writes primarily at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism. His work has appeared in various political, national security, and Intelligence journals.