Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The normally sharp Frank Rich observes:

Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

But what "culture" is he speaking of here? In his very next paragraph, he observes that...

... at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

In short, American mainstream culture is still four-square against this stuff; the culture of the people who support it is still, in reality, a radical fringe. A fringe whose views are given equal weight with anyone else's, if not more, by the news media in the name of phony "balance". In fact, the "he said, they said" tone of the reports of Terri Schiavo's medical condition -- which has been assessed over and over by numerous qualified specialists, including a neutral doctor appointed by the court -- takes the side of her parents, the ones who want to keep her corpse ghoulishly animated, by reporting that there is a dispute (their claim) where in fact there is none. Would that the claims of human rights groups about torture policies got similar treatment.

The media, in short, is creating the appearance of a culture of loonies, which does not yet exist. But propaganda is a powerful thing. Give it time. Give it time...


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