It’s too early to talk about the American election (neither party has even had a convention yet) and too late to talk about Pussy Riot (they’ve already gone to jail) but oddly enough both are currently in the news. Not only that, but each of them is causing a media storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since the glory days of Dick Cheney. Everybody from the newly affiliated BBC and The New York Times* to the Tallahassee Truck Trader is bending themselves in knots voicing an opinion. At the risk of crying “Collusion!” they’re all remarkably similar. Coincidence? I think not!
Ever since Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media has been ever-so-gently warning the public that the Republicans are now committed to throwing grandma, grandpa and 99% of the homeless in America under the corporate bus. It’s amazing how many times you can call somebody a “mad dog” conservative — without using the “mad dog” part — and still get your point across. There’s gotta be a Pulitzer in there somewhere. Plus, quite a few opinionators have taken to giving Obama gratuitous election advice (whisper/whisper – it’s about Florida, stupid!) and they’ve even provided the president with a pro bono campaign slogan: Mediscare. Actually, the prevailing media wisdom (outside the flyover states) is a Romney administration will be both stuck with Ryan’s insane financial plan (which can’t work) and at odds with it (which is unworkable.) We call that working both sides of the street.
This is the same media that has given Joe Biden a all-inclusive “Get Out of Jail Free” press pass for the last five years. No matter how many times Joe opens his mouth to stuff in the other foot, nobody in the media seems to mind. As resident Canadian curmudgeon Rex Murphy observed recently, Delaware Joe may be the Jar Jar Binks of the Democratic Party. And remember Joe was the guy who had his own presidential campaign cut short in 1988 when it was discovered he was a serial plagiarist – and not even a good one. As I’ve said before, this may be the only time in history when an incumbent president is running against the other party’s vice-presidential choice!
Meanwhile, over in Russia, even before Vladimir Putin decided to march Pussy Riot off to prison, the western media was practically peeing its pants with excitement. It was as if they’d won the Christmas Morning/Birthday/Valentine’s Day lottery. Oh My God! Feminist rock band! Political protest! Orthodox Church (Orthodox? They’re Christians, right?) and neo-Czar Putin! The thing was practically writing itself. Then when Madonna and a few other celebs threw themselves into the fray, editors all over the world started passing out with the adrenalin hit. Even the name “Pussy Riot” shouted Saturday Night Live and a Cooper Anderson (Anderson Cooper?) special.
I’m just going to stop the truck for a moment. To clarify — I totally agree with Pussy Riot’s inalienable right to call Putin a putz if they want to. Czar Vladimir the first is what happens when macho meets paranoid with a side order of tetchy. Nobody’s calling Russia a liberal democracy, but two years in jail for name calling is treading on Kim Jong what’s-his-name-this-week territory. Anybody who isn’t outraged by this kinda Classico-Soviet crap isn’t paying attention.
Okay, back to our story. The thing that bothers me about this media funfest is nobody this side of Vistula River seems to be the least bit concerned that Pussy Riot was practicing their brand of girl power in an Orthodox Cathedral. Again, just to clarify. An Orthodox cathedral is a place of worship, a place of comfort and solace, a place where people seek to transcend the human experience and reach, however briefly, for spiritual guidance and well-being. It is a place for contemplation and meditation. For millions of people, it is a sacred place that is a tangible symbol of their personal journey to find meaning in this life. If we have any respect for our fellow human beings on this planet, we most certainly must respect the need for spiritual well-being just as we respect the need for physical well-being. Even the nastiest of the secularists among us will admit that. Yet, here we are on the business end of a media feeding frenzy and there’s not one hint that Pussy Riot’s uncontrollable urge to bring their message to the Russian people may have offended millions of them. Or that it was wrong to choose a place of worship as the venue for their YouTube extravaganza.
These are just two vehicles on the information superhighway. The American election is going to go on and on until everybody’s just about sick of it, and Pussy Riot will probably be forgotten in a week or two. They’re two totally unrelated stories, yet they clearly demonstrate the same lockstep reporting that dominates contemporary media coverage. One of the essential components of a democratic society is a free and functioning media. However, when that media is bleating in unison, it might as well be state-controlled — for all the good it does.
*Mark Thompson, the ex-honcho at the Beeb has been hired to run the show at The New York Times. I guess, they’re all one big happy family.