The Hightower Lowdown

Disney shows its commitment to journalism with the Koppel-Letterman flap; the Bushites are Bozos.

Bush's Clown Routines

The plutocratic autocracy that is the Bush White House has been imperiously dismissive of America's constitutional systems of checks and balances, attempting to govern by executive fiat. Now, we're beginning to see why Bush & Company are so fearful of any congressional, media, or public probing into their autocratic governance: These guys are Bozos!

Take Dick Cheney's slapstick effort to hide the names of the oil and utility executives who wrote the administration's energy bill -- his whole schtick is a take-off on Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First" routine. Then there's Bush's hilarious underground government, reminiscent of the circus stunt in which a tiny car drives out to the center ring, stops, and amazingly, a couple of dozen clowns come tumbling out -- only George reverses the stunt by having about 150 top government officials disappear down into a hidden bunker where he has set up his very own secret government.

But the funniest shuck & jive by the Bushites has been their tapdance to keep their new Homeland Security Czar, Tom Ridge, from reporting to Congress. While Bush has touted Ridge as a sort of super-cabinet officer overseeing a $37 billion domestic police effort, he refuses to let Ridge testify publicly, asserting that Ridge is a mere "adviser" whose work is exempt from congressional oversight. Maybe he's hiding Ridge because we don't seem to be getting much for our 37 billion bucks. So far, Ridge's only contribution to our security has been his recent announcement that henceforth America will be protected by (drum roll, please): a color-coded terrorist warning system, ranging from green to red. Czar Ridge says we're now at yellow -- though there's no suggestion of whether this means we should go to the beach or run for the hills.

George W. should cut the clowning and remember that ours is a constitutional republic, not his personal fiefdom.

The Koppel-Letterman Flap

When television news fell under the grasp of such massive conglomerates as Disney, the conglomerate chieftains all promised that they would never abandon their public responsibility to provide top quality journalism. Of course, we all know what TV "news" has since become -- a sort of chatty-cathy, celebrity-consumer outlet with a few newsbites tossed in for pretension's sake.

Disney, which owns ABC, showed how much it values its responsibility to inform the public when it lunged at the chance to grab late-night comedian David Letterman from CBS, publicly promising to dump the frumpy Ted Koppel and his award-winning news show, Nightline, to make room for the comic. Well, huffed Disney executives, stung by criticism from real journalists, this is simply a matter of the market at work.

They asserted that Koppel's news show loses money and has a smaller audience than Letterman does, therefore the market chooses Dave over Ted. But wait! It turns out that Nightline actually puts a profit in ABC's pockets. Also, its audience is often larger than the comedian's, depending on the day's news. There was no "market magic" involved here -- only corporate incompetence. To punctuate this point, after all of Disney's public lusting for Dave and its shabby treatment of Ted, Letterman jilted the Mouseketeers and stayed at CBS.

The Koppel-Letterman dustup is only the latest loop in a downward spiral for broadcast "journalism." As long as entertainment conglomerates own our sources of news, news will be dumped for entertainment.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To book Jim, visit To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, send $15, your name, and address to: Lowdown, PO Box 20596, New York, NY 10011

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Disney, ABC, David Letterman, CBS, Ted Koppel, Nightline, journalism, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Abbott & Costello's, Who's on First, Tom Ridge, Colombia, war on drugs, CIA, terrorism

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