Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Writing On the Run

"Get your facts first, and then you can
distort them as much as you please."
--Mark Twain

In a manner rivaled only by Orwell, Twain always has an uncanny ability to couch enduring truths in a pithy way that speaks across the decades, even centuries. And that great line of his popped into my head this morning as I took in some of the continuing back and forth on George's BFD, about the increasingly pungent issue of public funding for the arts. Tomorrow's public meeting at Trinity Cathedral ought to be interesting. The good news: it will be marked by a very un-Cleveland authentic public participation. I'll be watching closely to see if anyone in that vast gray machinery of the PD even finds out about it, much less covers it (to say nothing of doing so intelligently).

Virtual Come-On. Breast and penile implant come-ons, of course, litter the web and email inboxes. Our boy Jack even mentioned it this week, albeit in his signature restrained, Zen-bemused manner. But I think we hit a new low this morning, with a banner ad calling on browsers to "Improve Your Erection Quality" gracing some of the premier real estate on the web: the top of Slate's home page. It's all in service of a product called Levitra. And a while it's since rotated out, it'll no doubt rotate right back in. Because of the giant gravitational pull of the Microsoft MSN network, this is some of the highest-eyeballed territory on the web: Slate gets 4.1 million unique visitors, according to a Nielsen NetRatings June report. But I ask you: are erections best judged qualitatively or quantitatively? Get your answers in to WWW Central. We await your vote, breathlessly...

Founding Big Brother. In his ballsiest, most over-the-top move yet (which is saying a lot), Attorney General Ashcroft ventured to lower Manhattan yesterday on the latest stop of his whistle-stop tour in defense of the indefensible, the anti-democratic Patriot Act. And his choice of spots seemed either comically tin-eared or brilliantly provocative: he went to one of the great, though too-little-known, enduring symbols of American democracy and civil liberties, Federal Hall. Yes, he went to the very site from which George Washington was first sworn in as founding president, from which the first Congress wrote the Bill of Rights, where--in the case that laid the very foundations of America's freedom of the press admired around the world--dissident journalist John Peter Zenger was tried and jailed (and later acquitted) of libel for the affrontery of aggressively covering the founding fathers in his indy newspaper. As a founding battle cry for writerly independence, that long-ago case serves as even a brighter torch than Tom Paine's famous newsletters. Only, in a wonderfully Orwellian twist all his own, the AG is refusing to talk to the print media as a blanket rule--only TV cameras permitted. That's a particularly appalling new variant on the now-standard old political trick of bypassing more knowledgeable national media in favor of speaking exclusively to starry-eyed, access-famished local yokels. But there is justice: thus far, at least, all it seems to have gotten John A. and his boss are abusive coverage. And if anyone in the media, professional or amateur, feels on the verge of succumbing to the usual reductive right-wing hectoring equating defense of civil liberties (even in the face of terrorism) with lack of patriotism, quick, read this. It's a ringing endorsement, by an old lion of journalism, of the enduring idea that "in a democratic society the journalist is, in fact, exercising the highest form of citizenship by monitoring events in the community...(and) disclosing information the public needs but others wish secret for self-interested purposes." Someone, please send a copy to Ashcroft...


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