It Was Mother

It Was It

It Was It
Wayras Olivier
JUNE 2020


IT IS QUITE THE SCENE—and it by no means diminishes the memorable quarrels in Network—when Holly Hunter, at the end of Broadcast News, reproves William Hurt for being a phony. Breaking the news is hierarchic. In the public’s interest, the most urgent presented first, the more arguably tabloid last. In 1987, Barry Goldwater retired from the senate; Prince’s Sign O Times was released, he had retired The Revolution; and Reagan retired a doctrine on reporting fairly—depending on who’s asked. Anchors, in theory, keep a story from drifting. Shelled from the undertow of shallow sentiment, up the chain all the way, a code of ethics keeps them in bedrock sediment.

Thus, we rely on the Fourth Estate (from whom courage and integrity is expected), for objectivity. Encouraging thought, an impartial outer-world that concords with our biased inner-world, sanely. Certainly, some anchors are foul. Snagged, in the literal sense, on ethics. Their motionlessness is used, in effect, as an excuse to justify spin.

Imagine if the US Office of War Information, and their double broadcasts, still subsisted. Informed during the Second World War were domestic audiences, whereas audiences abroad were disinformed. Concerned (with the advent of TV) and rightfully so—that the US could begin to use propaganda domestically (guised as education), Congress passed the Smith-Mundt Act in 1948 blocking such telecasts from entering US homes (though “modernization,” an amendment term entered and changed the act in 2012.)

Now, one Amendment, the First, but last one people should want to give up, allows US citizens to investigate power and—as with those who’ve ever had a memory of abuse disinterred by a shrink will tell you—speak about it freely.

Growing up, I would taxi beside my parents quietly whilst pretending to keep up to speed with the news. 1987 was the year of Wall Street and Fatal Attraction, both, I was allowed to hear about but not see. Especially an unfastened Glenn Close playing a borderline who retires a bunny.

As it were, currencies could not, after the market went black one Monday in October, finance the toll of a crash. The Queen on the Canadian one-dollar bill, the only one I recognized as fare. As were her features and profiles: her joyless son had gone to the press, boasting about his tendency to coo at shrubs and plants. So, face to face with the specie she helped to produce, Her Majesty saw that she herself had also turned into an irreversible Loonie. A real human-interest story. Another:

Cocooned by the press, the Queen’s maudlin daughter-in-law took a rather iron and inflexible stance on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (believed to have the same R0 as the flu), yet the hand of an infected man she shook. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that in my skull taking shape was a less graphic but more novel version of how wonder incites woman.

Important, too, tensions around real estate. Somewhere east or west of the line between the Israeli and Palestinian bank is where the latter demanded the former to make a withdrawal, the First Intifada. To say nothing of another violent collision: Gaddafi defeated by the Toyota War, losing the driver’s seat in Chad, his Libyan-line clearly overdrawn.

Serial coverage, meanwhile, on Jim Baker, whose former employee, Jessica Han, was accusing the televangelist of rape; Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart, who was caught womanizing Donna Rice; and the FCC going snap when George Michael’s wry crackle on wanting sex went pop.

And scatology and eschatology, one mustn’t forget, consorted rather poorly when news broke of Piss Christ. Catholics, upset with photographer Andres Serrano who bottled a plastic crucifix in a jar of urine, did not see it as art. Nonetheless, mental states of those spoken of in current affairs, were they to be diagnosed by the psychiatric community, were left out of the news because of one Goldwater rule.

Republican Barry Goldwater, by the press deliberately misquoted as having said “extremism is no vice” when he ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964, was diagnosed (from afar) by the psychiatric community. Fusing punitive psychiatry with journalism is circulating a publication on how mentally unfit a person is to govern, a Stalinist tactic.

Here, then, the Goldwater rule later benefited cynosures such as Jimmy Carter, whose abstract mental state during the failed Iran hostage crisis was never publicly appraised by psychiatrists, painting and then framing the president as an overvalued drip.

Against that, although not because of that, Reagan repealed the FCC fairness doctrine in 1987. This doctrine from 1949 obligated broadcasters to weigh the other side of any ostensibly divisive news story so that the public could better know what was under the topics on which they stood. News, of course, unlike films, is not tested on audiences. Abysmal numbers forced the producers of Fatal Attraction, for example, to rethink its ending: Glenn Close turning the knife on herself. Her character’s suicide, too somber and cerebral for viewers to take, was meant to emulate the beauty and pathos of Madama Butterfly. Reshot, instead, was a less arty, more commercial ending.

For Reagan, wanting another take—without government interference—on news stories was possible without the FCC fairness doctrine of which free-market principles it constrains and constricts. He believed ABC, CBS, and NBC were sufficient networks, noticeably diverse at the time, to deliver opposing views.

The opposing view in Broadcast News is that William Hurt’s character should not have feigned empathy for a news-story cutaway. Disgusted by his crocodile tears his producer, Holly Hunter, immediately scythes their relationship. Now, that marvelous ending was never test-screened. We don’t have eyes on the back of our heads. That’s not news. But take being betrayed by those who we have always come to see as being upfront with news. That’s commercial, enough.

W.