Years ago a friend of mine told me a story. Near his Connecticut town, a police car broke down on a section of highway where speeding was very common. Rather than tow the old, defunct car away, the police decided to be creative. They had a cardboard cutout of a police officer sitting around the station house. You know, the sort of thing tourists have their pictures taken with or nerdy college kids fantasize about (so long as it’s a St. Pauli Girl). So, they took “officer Joe,” or whatever “his” name was, and stood him up in front of the marooned cop car.
Overnight, speeding — and accidents — declined by a huge percentage. Because, from a distance, nobody could tell the difference between a cardboard cop and a real one. If you’re wheeling around a corner at 80 MPH (singing about the “pompatus of love,” no doubt) and you see a “cop” standing in front of a police car, you’re gonna slow down. It’s that simple.
Well, not quite. The local chapter of the policemen’s union insisted that “Officer Joe” be removed and the squad car towed away. The display, you see, sent the signal that you don’t need a fully trained, fully compensated law enforcement officer to do the job. One might have been tempted to point out to the union that such an arrangement freed up a human state trooper to do more important work — like, hmmm, catch criminals or score chicks for the president when he’s visiting town.
Alas, no such argument can be made at ABC News, where the network is in free-fall over the Leonardo DiCaprio brouhaha. Leo (pronounced o-mah-gawd Leeeeeeeeeee-oh! by girls who should be raised by nuns) was scheduled to do an interview with President Clinton about the environment. The reason they picked Leo was simple: He would be able to attract younger viewers. And, as David Westin, the head of ABC News, calculated in the New York Times, “If we don’t add a younger audience, sooner or later our audience will die.” And judging by the cacophony of adult-diaper and Viagra commercials broadcast every night, there’s not much time to waste.
The only problem was that the rank and file at ABC News realized that Leonardo was their version of a cardboard cutout.
Sadly, unlike the case of officer Joe, if news-readers with important hair can be replaced by an effeminate teen idol, there isn’t a lot much else these guys can do. If a cop’s freed up from menial work, it means he can do other stuff; if Leonardo can do just as good a job as Peter Jennings, what do I need Peter Jennings for? Xeroxing? Editing tape at a few million a year? I know he never graduated from high school, but come on.
Facing mutiny in the ranks, Westin back-pedaled furiously. “Here’s the truth,” he lied in a memo to ABC News workers. “We did not send DiCaprio to interview the president. No one is that stupid.” Well, Bill Clinton is saying liar, liar pants on fire — and he is the world’s leading expert in both lying and burning pants.
Indeed, for the first time in years, I am totally on Bill Clinton’s side on something. DiCaprio was selected to do an interview with President Clinton and there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between what DiCaprio would do and what, say, Barbara Walters would do.
Remember the interview with the President conducted by Carole Simpson of ABC News on November 7, 1999?
Here’s a little excerpt (for more, go to the Media Research Center):
Simpson: “I have to bask in this moment, for a moment, because I am here talking to the most powerful man on the planet, who was a poor boy from Arkansas…”
Clinton, cutting her off: “A place like this.”
Simpson: “Place like this. I am an African-American woman, grew up working class on the south side of Chicago, and this is a pretty special moment for me to be here talking to you. How does it feel talking to me?”
Simpson included this tripe in her interview while cutting some actual news generated by Clinton — that he actually takes no responsibility for his impeachment. Surely, this excursion in ego and self-absorption can be matched by an over-sexed pseudo-teen with a fondness for fart jokes.
The Executive Producer of the DiCaprio segment argued this is much ado about nothing. “It was truth in advertising from the get-go with Leo’s opening line to the president that he’s not a journalist,” said Rudy Bednar. That’s exactly the point, Rudy. Leo had to say from the outset, “I’m not a journalist” — otherwise nobody would be able to tell the difference.
I do not dispute that Simpson, Jennings, et al. are much smarter and more capable than DiCaprio. But so what? In the field of television journalism, the ultimate reward for your life’s work is to be assigned the task of reading the news into a camera for a living. This creates a certain amount of insecurity — even for very talented people. When was the last time a professional athlete or a soldier or an accountant or a doctor or even a print journalist worried that they could be replaced by an actor? They’d probably bust a gut laughing at DiCaprio trying to read a medical chart, guard Shaquille O’Neal, add a column of numbers, or heat up some canned soup for that matter. But when it comes to earnestly reading and repeating a bunch of questions handed to you by your earnest producer, well, even a movie star can do that.
ANNOUNCEMENTS First, kudos to everyone at NR Online!!! Howard Kurtz reports in today’s Washington Post that the Committee of Concerned Journalists (now, that doesn’t exactly sound like my kind of group does it?) concluded that National Review Online beat the New York Times, Time, Microsoft, CNN and all of those other blood-sucking multinational media conglomerates when it came to fresh political reporting on the web. These groups have billions and billions of dollars, teams of webmasters, and hordes of reporters, editors and piles of expensive equipment. Compared to them, we have $38, two chickens, three Laotian house boys, a lot of pneumatic tubes and the hood ornament from 1978 AMC Pacer. For all of you people who doubt that the web is the great equalizer in the Age of New Media, I simply ask: Would you ever have seen such a headline — “National Review beats New York Times” — a decade ago?
Second, I do not want to answer a single e-mail query about the pompatus of love. If you do not know what it refers to, it is from a line from the song “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band. But the more complex history of the phrase is familiar to bong-water drinkers and Simpsons fans everywhere. If you want to know more about it, go here and don’t bug me about it.
Third, we have the most lopsided results ever in our Elian poll [Link defunct]. So far, 98% of readers believe that Al Gore was not honestly interested in the facts of the case. Still, that seems a little low. Vote now. Also, for those of you who want to follow the New York Senate race, you should really be reading Robert A. George’s column for NRO. It covers the spectrum like Al Sharpton at an all you can eat buffalo wing buffet.