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Using Terri Schiavo To Promote The GOP Brand

Using Terri Schiavo To Promote The GOP Brand


By Bill Grigsby

There is a metaphor in the Terri Schiavo case for commercial media in the U.S. The failure to report on the theft of the 2000 presidential election, and the uncritical press build-up to the Iraq invasion, were clear signs that commercial media wouldn’t jeopardize their own corporate interests. The ensuing scandals and corruption that have defined the BushCo Administration come and go like cars passing on the highway. The White House, in between carefully choreographed photo opportunities, feigns disdain for the ‘liberal media.’ While the commercial media no longer function as a check on power, no longer serve any collective recognizable public good, there are those who clearly benefit from perpetrating the myth that we have a ‘free press’ that ensures transparency and accountability of elected public officials. Should we as a society continue to feed them, and hope for a miracle?

Paying attention to news coverage of the Terri Schiavo case is like listening to a play-by-play commentator describing the movement of the second hand of a clock. Lurking beneath the frenzied surface are more pressing issues for the country—rising health care costs and the increasing proportion spent to extend/prolong lives, irrespective of the quality of life. Or those frivolous malpractice lawsuits that are hurting the medical profession (the Schiavo settlement is reportedly nearly spent). Here are three other stories that don’t find a market niche on the nightly news:

1. The branding of the republican party at taxpayer expense. Fresh on the heels of republican propagandist Frank Luntz’s ‘opportunity society,’ carefully crafted by focus group research, comes the ‘culture of life’ campaign as part of the GOP ‘brand.’ The president is pitching a ‘culture of life,’ and the Schiavo tragedy presents an opportunity to use the full apparatus of government to do it. Now a cynic might say that, regardless of the outcome of the case, this is a golden opportunity to solidify partisan advantage, mobilize the conservative Christian base, and make the democrats out to be murderers and baby killers. All in a day’s work for the neocon juggernaut. Besides the obvious exploitation of family tragedy and sincere supporters, accepting the ‘culture of life’ slogan requires one to overlook torture (enshrined by our new attorney general), tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, daisy cutters, nuclear bunker busters, shock and awe, U.S. weaponry made using radioactive waste, relaxed U.S. pollution standards that will increase mortality rates, risk of higher mortality rates for the 45 million uninsured, and George W. Bush’s penchant for sending convicted murderers to the gas chamber. But if you can overlook the tortured logic, it’s part of republican mythology—the GOP can be trusted in matters of war and security, is the party of fiscal responsibility, ‘moral values,’ ‘opportunity,’ and now, a ‘culture of life.’ Where’s the evidence, you ask? Saaay, you’re not a scientist, are you?? This White House is faith-based.

2. Neoconservatives push their advantages to seek a one-party state. When Tom DeLay is leading a moral crusade, hold your nose. The republicans don’t like to lose. Checks on power are for wusses. If the CIA intelligence doesn’t support your war, cook it and purge the independents. If science makes your policies look curiously biased in favor of corporate interests, discredit it and change the questions to get the answers you need. In the Terri Schiavo case the judicial system—drawing on medical expertise—worked, over and over. That was the problem. Don’t like the results? Try executive orders, legislative end-arounds, parliamentary rule changes, or recess judicial appointments. Appoint industry insiders and lobbyists to dismantle regulatory agencies created by wacky liberals to protect citizens from polluters, corporate criminals, and media monopolies. Re-write civil service personnel rules to reward loyalists and purge those pesky independent professionals. Use investigative powers to pursue an opaque agenda and avoid impediments that might result from public scrutiny of vote fraud, torture, corruption, taxpayer-financed propaganda, war profiteering, etc.

Conservatives claim Terri Schiavo has a due process right not to be deprived of life, liberty and property. What about the 15% of the U.S. population that lives daily with hunger and food insecurity? Do American citizens have (gasp) a right to enough food? More generally, the GOP is subverting the constitutional checks and balances put in place by a much wiser group of individuals 215 years ago to prevent self-serving power grabs. This may be the crowning arrogance of the White House (which is saying something)—the delusion that the party in power doesn’t benefit from a healthy opposition, and the Neo Con artists know better than the framers of the constitution how to run a country (into the ground). As Henry Kissinger once said, ‘the illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ What they lack in statecraft, they more than make up for in stagecraft. Which brings us to the third story:

3. Commercial news media, like Terri Shiavo’s brain, are damaged beyond repair. Of course this story gets censored. But how else to explain exclusive interviews with the most controversial and divisive president in modern history, from the two ‘liberal’ papers of record, which produced nothing of news value? Reporters seem no longer able or willing to distinguish news from propaganda—revelations that the White House engages in systematic deception on a grand scale elicited little more than a collective yawn, quickly remedied by Terri Schiavo, or Condi’s power boots, or Dick Cheney’s shocking pronouncement that radical fringe appointees Hughes, Bolton, and Wolfowitz are all good choices. The pressures to filter and sanitize the news drive private media to perform a public disservice—censoring difficult or threatening stories, misinforming on the big ones that manage to pass corporate muster, and skewing events to keep the executives out of hot water with their shareholders and their news suppliers.

The stories above would require research, time, and independence—all in short supply in your modern, state of the art newsroom. So instead we get up to the minute news feeds of the front page Terri Schiavo saga. The mainstream media ‘echo chamber’ isn’t just a phenomenon of simplistic propaganda fed to reporters and amplified endlessly in thousands of outlets. It’s also the chaotic frame in which much of the media consuming public views the news, driven by market forces and a consumption-based economy. Just try gaining perspective: follow the second hand, lose track of the minute, follow the minute, lost track of the hour, the day, even the concept of time. No wonder weblogs have emerged as a source of news, analysis, and critique of mainstream media. And no wonder the neoconservatives want to keep the latter alive (but just barely), dependent on the confederates who supply news for the media’s feeding tubes.

Odds are long that the Neocons will win the battle to reinsert Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and keep her alive well into her golden years, or at least until the money runs out, creating an all-too-typical bankruptcy scenario that—surprise!—the republican Congress just eliminated. To Congressional conservatives and the president, though, it’s just another partisan battle in a political war of attrition. Building the GOP brand, one staged, taxpayer-financed event at a time.

Brought to you as news by your favorite commercial media outlet.

*************

©2005 Bill Grigsby
Eastern Oregon University

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