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A Nation Gone Mad

By Belinda Acosta, Fri., Sept. 12, 2008

Amy Goodman of <i>Democracy Now!</i> was one of several journalists arrested at the Republican National Convention.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was one of several journalists arrested at the Republican National Convention.

The final scene of last week's Mad Men was still with me Monday morning. (Spoiler alert: If you still haven't watched your recorded version of it, stop reading now.) When Betty Draper (January Jones) spewed all over her husband's new car, I had an existential moment. Not only did it brilliantly punctuate the end of the episode, but I thought it was a stunning metaphor for what was troubling me.

I watched both the Democratic and Republican conventions to see how they would be covered on TV and was still feeling the psychic nausea that came from watching the Republican National Convention. That's not to say the Democratic National Convention was much better. Don't get me wrong. I choked up watching Barack Obama accept the nomination for president from the Democratic Party, but when it came right down to it, I didn't feel like I learned much more than I already knew. Yes, Obama gave a brilliant speech and most news pundits poured on the praise. At least the stiffs at PBS offered a different view. Their response was tepid at best, spending more precious time lamenting that confetti was substituted for the traditional balloon drop at the end of the convention. Sigh.

Watching the Republicans' take, I was amused, irritated, and then appalled when RNC speakers heaped their vitriol on the press. Not that there isn't room for criticism, but when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani referred to the mainstream media as "leftist," I laughed out loud, then immediately had that sick sense that comes over you when you realize something is hideously wrong. (MSNBC apparently took the attacks to heart; it was recently announced that the network was pulling two of its most prominent – and opinionated – commentators, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, from election-night coverage.)

It wasn't till I pulled away from the small screen to tap into the computer screen that I was reminded of how little information the mainstream press was really offering, especially regarding what was happening outside the convention walls. While scant reference was made on TV, it was online that I learned anti-war protesters had assembled the last day of the RNC, and things began to spin out of control. Prior to that, it seems, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the local police decided to do some "pre-emptive" strikes to quell any potential unrest and began several systematic assaults that were captured and posted online. It wasn't until Sunday morning that I got the first whiff of this information on WNYC's On the Media, carried Sunday morning on NPR, and in a HuffingtonPost.com article that arrived in my inbox on Monday. What the hell was going on?

The reason the "alternate" news began to leak out was because several "legitimate" news journalists were arrested along with the protesters, including Associated Press journalists Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski, John P. Wise and Alice Kalthoff of MyFox.com, and Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, along with her producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous. While some reporters were issued citations for unlawful assembly, Goodman and her crew were issued felonies for probable cause to riot. (An interview with Goodman about the arrests aired on PBS' Now with David Brancaccio on Sunday.) What the hell, indeed.

Which brings me back to that final scene in Mad Men. Betty barfs in her husband's new car after she is told at a posh party they attended that he is sleeping with another man's wife. Husband Don (Jon Hamm) has spent the entire episode fussing over the new car – a gleaming representation of the facade he has polished over time. As they drive home after the party, the tension in the car is thick (Don was confronted by his lover's husband). So when the elegantly dressed Betty finally blows all over herself, I wondered: Is this the beginning of the unraveling of their picture-perfect life, or will she scrub the incident clean in order to avoid confronting the truth? In Mad Men, I suspect the latter. But for the rest of us, when it comes to realizing the role of the news media, isn't it time to stop parroting the "press stinks" mantra fanned by the far right as a diversionary tactic? I'd like to think the retch that begot the arrests of press members trying to do their jobs will not be air-freshened away but will linger until an even larger chorus joins together: What the hell? The press needs to be responsive, not to the Democrats, not to the Republicans, but to we the peeps. It's time to start singing a new song.

For more information on the RNC arrests, go to: www.democracynow.org, www.huffingtonpost.com, www.youtube.com, and www.onthemedia.org.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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