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Stateside with Rosalea: Let Me Explain

Stateside with Rosalea

Let Me Explain

Further to Sleeper Cells Awake And Their Name Is John Kerry!

At three o'clock last Sunday morning I sprang awake from a grumpy-making dream with a fully fledged idea in mind for Stateside. It had bubbled up from my astonishment the evening before as I watched an item in a primetime national network news bulletin, in which the reporter was in the small town in Czechoslovakia where John Kerry's grandfather had lived.

I'd always thought that Kerry looked like someone who'd be perfect cast in a horror movie set in a dark castle in an even darker forest somewhere in Transylvania. The words "Frankenstein's monster" came to mind, and it occurred to me that such a creature is, in a sense, the very incarnation of our worst fears realized here in the United States: sleeper cells that are awakened. People that we trust, who walk among us and are our neighbours, workmates, friends, but who have a secret agenda that will bring us harm.

The main thing that distressed me about that news item wasn't that Kerry is not Irish, as I'd fondly imagined him to be, but that this piece of news was suddenly important enough to be in a primetime national network news bulletin. The Boston Globe had reported it a year ago, long before Kerry was decided upon by the Iowa caucuses, but it hadn't been newsworthy in a wider context back then. Why now?

The conclusion that I came to was that both the earlier irrelevance and the sudden relevance of Kerry's family background were part of the politics of the US presidential race. Fine. Politics is all about finding something in your opponent's background that might be used to manoeuvre them into undermining their credibility or force them to take sides in a situation where whichever choice they make will alienate some significant sector of their support. But journalism isn't politics. At least, it's not supposed to be.

The whole episode just seemed to smack of the media failing to report the facts as and when they found them, and reminded me of how nobody reported that the anti-integration senator Strom Thurmond had an African American daughter until after Thurmond had died, even though it had been common knowledge to "insiders" for decades.

Journalism's first duty is to citizens, not to patrons or press secretaries or reporters' own egos as they seek to protect their lucrative living by entrenching themselves on news and current affairs programs where they are unwilling to take the bull by the horns because those spouting the bull are in some way paying their salaries or perpetuating their popularity.

Does it matter that Kerry's grandfather changed his name and religion before he emigrated to the US? Not really. But I'll wager it does matter that Kerry professed not to know that. Sure, I don't know anything about one of my grandfathers but, unlike Kerry, I've not been out sailing with presidents - as Kerry did with JFK when dating his cousin - been in politics for more than twenty years, or sought my party's nomination to be a presidential candidate. If the Boston Globe could turn up this information with a simple genealogy search, you can't tell me someone doing background research for the Democratic National Committee couldn't have found out the same thing while vetting Kerry as a candidate for the Senate, let alone for the presidency.

After writing my column, later that same morning I witnessed another astonishing thing. During Bob Scheiffer's introduction to Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, he was handed a piece of paper telling him that the terror alert in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC had just been raised because reliable information had been received about potential bombings in those cities. The sleeper cells, it seems, are among us and about to be activated, so we must be terrified and we must turn to somebody we can trust.

Even more astonishing, on Monday morning, one TV news show I watched invited viewers to call in and say whether they thought the heightened terror alert was just a political ploy. I'm talking big name journalists asking that question in all seriousness, questioning the trustworthiness not just of the US intelligence services, but of the Bush administration.

None of this is good. It is utterly demoralising. It is good cop/bad cop writ large upon a whole nation that is further divided into whether you think the face under the white hat is Bush's or Kerry's (and vice versa for the black hat). The media would do us all a big favour to largely ignore the presidential race, and instead concentrate its political reporting on the candidates for the US Senate and House, for state Assemblies and for local bodies.

It is those people who affect our lives the most. It was those people who allowed the 2000 election to become such a debacle. It was those people who voted to give the president the power to go to war. It is those people who voted for the Patriot Act. Let's hear about them.


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