The Vapid, the Vacuous and the Inspired

Published: July 12, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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I don’t know if it was the heat or humidity covering much of the East Coast, but last week the media continued its pursuit of stories that have little or no meaningful substance.

Last Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge sentenced Lindsay Lohan to 90 days in jail after the actress violated terms of her probation – certainly worthy of a mention in the news segment of most shows. What was completely unworthy was the follow-up coverage by everyone from The Today Show to Good Morning, America to Fox News on the multiple reactions and commentary over the next several days – from Lohan’s father, to addiction specialists and legal experts – all of which clearly placed this story at the top of the vapid list.

Tied with Lohan:Crisis in Hollywood was ESPN’s LeBron-a-thon in which the sports network first hyped then padded the first thirty minutes of a TV special where basketball star LeBron James announced which city’s team he finally chose to play for next season. And the winner was… Miami. (Just thinkwhat ESPN could have done with baseball great Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech!)

The vacuous came in the form of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s political-campaign-infotainment-you-betcha video broadcast on her Facebook site.

Over dreamy images from Tea Party rallies and paid speeches, the Palin gospel is heard against lilting, beatific music.

“This year,” Palin intones, “will be remembered as the year when common sense, conservative women get things done for our country. All across this country, women are standing up and speaking out for common sense solutions. These policies coming out of D.C. right now, this fundamental transformation of America — well a lot of women who are very concerned about their kids’ futures saying, ‘we don’t like this fundamental transformation and we’re going to do something about it.’

“It seems like it’s kind of a mom awakening in the last year and a half where women are rising up and saying, ‘you know, we’ve had enough already,’ because moms kind of just know when something’s wrong.

“Here in Alaska, I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody’s coming to attack their cubs, to do something adverse toward their cubs. You thought pitbulls were tough, well, you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies.

“And that’s what we’re seeing with all these women who are banding together, rising up, saying, no. This isn’t right for our kids and for our grandkids and we’re going to do something about this.  We’re going to turn this thing around.  We’re going to get our country back on the right track no matter what it takes – to respect the will of the people.

“Look out Washington, because there’s a whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line and the E.T.A. stampeding through is November 2, 2010.  A lot of women coming together.”

Now, I’ve posted the entire text because I’m at a loss to understand exactly what Palin’s purpose is here. Is she running for president?  Is she supporting a specific platform?  She talks about “common sense solutions,” but what are those solutions? She doesn’t say.

Clearly, she’s speaking against “These policies coming out of D.C…. this fundamental transformation of America…” Okay, but which policies, what fundamental transformation is she speaking out against is unclear.

I really want someone to explain to me what, specifically, this woman stands for, which policies she opposes and spell out exactly how she would change those policies.

However, there was a media moment that was both intelligent and thought-provoking.

Sunday morning, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria conducted a rivetinginterview with cleric Anjem Choudary, a British citizen and radical Islamist who has called for the execution of the Pope and boasted of more bombing attacks in London.

During the course of the 12-minute or so interview, I was engaged in Zakaria’s knowledge and skill in trying to debate this self-confessed radical:

Zakaraia: All right. What I want to first talk to you about, though, is if you look at polling done across the Islamic world, what you find is support for the kind of ideas you’re describing has been dramatically falling all over the world –

Choudary: I don’t think so. You’ve been living in America for too long. If you go into the streets of Indonesia or into Malaysia or Pakistan, if you go into the streets of Lahore and say to them what they think about Sheik Osama bin Laden or the current —

Zakaraia: When was the last time you were in Indonesia and —

Choudary: I was in Indonesia about three, four months ago.

Zakaraia: Because I’ve been to both places and I would disagree. I would say the polling is also consistent with my personal observations. So —

Choudary: Let me tell you something. If there was an election between any leader of Muslim – of the Muslim countries in the world today and Sheik Osama bin Laden, he would win hands down.

Zakaraia: Except that there are elections in half the Muslim world and the Muslim fundamentalists, let alone the jihadis, do terribly.

Choudary: No, you’ve got – Wait a second. Wait a second, I’m not propagating the idea of elections and democracy and freedom because these things are anathema to Osama —

Zakaraia: Except when you want to make your point.

Of an entire week of news and events, the interview between the proficient Zakaria and the radical cleric was clearly the most informative and purposeful. We need to hear people like Choudary. We need to try to understand the thinking of extremists so we can begin to frame a dialogue with Muslims around the world concerning the critical differences between real democratic principles and the kind of fear and hate people like Choudary represent.

It’s this kind of responsible, intelligent and meaningful interchange that the media needs to focus on.


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