Let me count the ways
By Fiona Morgan
Who's the only American TV personality who consistently offers intelligent, acerbic political commentary and yet pleads with his viewers not to take him seriously? Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show. The show mocks politicians and newscasters alike by cranking up the absurdity that's already evident in the tone of the American evening news. "I warned you Canada," Steward threatened from the anchor desk during a segment about Canada's refusal to support the war in Iraq. "The Canadian-American war prophesied in Canadian Bacon is nigh at hand if you refuse to rethink your position."
The Daily Show came to Carrboro recently to interview Mark Dorosin, town alderman and owner of the Chapel Hill hipster bar, Hell. Carrboro made national headlines last month after the town council passed a resolution promoting "French Trade Month," encouraging residents to enjoy French wine, cheese and other products. It was a tongue-in-cheek show of support for a country that's being bashed on the floor of the House of Representatives for opposing war in Iraq. The humor and gall of the small Southern town's action caught the attention of Daily Show producers, who called up Dorosin to set up an interview.
"I said, 'So you want to make me look stupid?'" he recalled. "The producer was quiet for a second, and I said, 'Hey, I don't have a problem with that.'"
When he arrived at Town Hall, he was pleasantly surprised to find out who was doing the interview. "It was Steven Colbert, who is my favorite." (In Colbert's report on the Albany man who was told by a security guard to remove his anti-war T-shirt at the mall, he concluded that, "As with all mall-based criminals, [he] will be tried in food court. If found guilty, he will be drawn and Sbarro'd.")
Dorosin's happy to let Daily Show viewers have a laugh at his expense--we could all use a laugh during such a depressing time. He also finds it peculiar that this resolution has gotten so much attention. "It got picked up by the BBC and that led to a flood of emails, pro and con, although mainly con, I have to say. A lot of people from around the country wrote that they will not be coming to Carrboro.
"The interesting thing is, we passed a resolution three months before opposing unilateral action in Iraq and nobody said anything about that. Apparently there's a lot of anti-French sentiment out there. And of course now that the war is actually on, there's a lot more emotion involved."
At press time, the segment had not yet aired, but it's scheduled for some time this week. If you're in the neighborhood, you can drop by Hell and watch with the celebrity himself.
By Fiona Morgan
It's spring, and thoughts are turning to love, lust and points in between. Yet some people feel strange being romantic while soldiers and civilians are dying.
A friend recently faced this after a two-month phone and e-mail courtship with a guy. They had been on a few dates, and seemed to have lots in common, including political views. They had a date planned on the day the war started, which she canceled.
"I was really depressed and I didn't feel like going out and having a good time," she said recently.
She was surprised to find that he didn't feel the same way. He said the evening news was "slightly" depressing. Later he told her he wanted to treat the war like a game of sports--he didn't want to hear anything about it until it was over. "He said, 'I just want to know who won.'"
She declined to reschedule. "I wouldn't go out with him," she said. "I feel like even just to say that shows a little bit of insensitivity. But at a bigger level, not to care about a war, the fact that it's not leveling with him on an intellectual or emotional level is a problem." She felt a little petty about it at first. But actually, she thinks it's a pretty good indicator. "It's not like I'm out there protesting every day. But I don't think I would find much in common with someone who doesn't at least feel that emotional investment."
By Barbara Solow
Ever since the U.S.-led war in Iraq started, Cori Dauber has been glued to her TV set, "obsessively consuming" war news. Dauber, an associate professor of communications at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been monitoring coverage as part of her research for a book tentatively titled, Live from the Combat Zone: How the Media Failed the American People in a Time of War.
The book will trace the way mainstream media outlets have fallen short of their post-Sept. 11 pledge to change the way they report on national security issues and the war on terrorism. So far, Dauber says, the promised new approaches not only haven't materialized, but mainstream media have reverted back to some old, bad habits. Chief among them are a penchant for infotainment (for example, the week before the war in Iraq started, CNN devoted nearly all of its morning broadcast to coverage of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart); reducing issues to "horse race" political contests; and failing to adequately train reporters to cover military and national security beats.
As for the newest approach in covering combat--embedding reporters with U.S. forces in Iraq--Dauber has mixed feelings. "The embeds are a good thing because they produce so much coverage," she says, "but simultaneously, they're a bad thing because--they produce so much coverage." Embedded reporters haven't provided an overall picture of the war, she says, but instead, have relayed snapshots. As a result, their reports create "dramatic, crazy mood swings" on the front page: So one day the push into Baghdad is barreling forward, the next, it's bogging down.
Dauber--whose research interests center on the role public debate plays in military affairs and support for military operations--says most American media outlets suffer from a "Vietnam hangover" where soldiers, not military officials, are the focus of coverage. "There is every reason for the press to retain its baseline skepticism" of military brass, she says, but reporters also have a responsibility to develop and mine more sources at the top.
In the coming days, Dauber will be looking at how the issue of war casualties plays out in U.S. media coverage. Already, there's a "big gap" between how American and foreign media outlets have visually represented those losses, she says, with U.S. media way more squeamish about presenting images of dead bodies. (That's not unique to war stories, Dauber adds. The same local TV news stations that are frequently lambasted for their "if it bleeds, it leads"-style coverage rarely show the actual victims of car crashes, fires and other events they report on.)
The other issue of interest for the coming days will be coverage of Jessica Lynch, the rescued American prisoner of war. The media clearly has the potential to go insane on that one, Dauber says.
Is there any good news?
By Fiona Morgan
At a public meeting held last month by the local chapter of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, some panelists said yes. The Chapel Hill Town Hall was packed as six local activists discussed current threats to civil liberties. Longtime civil rights attorney Alan McSurley has defended many anti-war protesters over the years, and finds that theyre being threatened with harsher punishments since the Bush administration came to power. Im getting to be an expert on second-degree trespass, McSurley joked.
He reminded the audience that no matter how frightening the comparisons between the Ashcroft era and the McCarthy era, theres one major differencemost of the civil liberties protections we have came about as a result of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. But he warned that it will take legal confrontation to invoke them. These laws just sit on the books, these rights just sit there, he said. They only have meaning when people force these issues.
To find out more about civil liberties issues and upcoming events, go to www.bordc.org.