info 09.19.06

Media: Detonation Nation

My, my, my, everyone's so sensitive these days. You can hardly call someone a macaca in the South any more without people of color taking offense or broadcast a mini-series that rewrites history for partisan purposes without a whole whoop-de-do deposited in its path.

Something is always setting someone off somewhere, have you noticed? Do you remember the woman whose epilepsy could be triggered by hearing the voice of Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart? "It would set off abnormal electrical discharges in the brain…Upon hearing Hart's voice, the woman would rub her stomach, hold her head, and 'look confused and far away…and out of it.'" True story — if you can believe the New England Journal of Medicine. (Grist, too, for a Seinfeld episode — Kramer convulses when he hears Hart's voice).

We knew it had to happen sometime. Last week, a woman whose 2-year-old son was missing was subjected to an on-air grilling (via phone) by CNN's Nancy Grace. The next day, she committed suicide. Whether or not the mother had anything to do with the child's disappearance, as Grace insists, we have a sense of how she felt: when we hear Grace's voice on a guilty-as-not-yet-charged, tried or convicted harangue, we look longingly at the nearest plastic bag, or at least bag of spinach.

If the White House has its way, the rules on torture (deemed quaint by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, an apparatchik so loathsome that he almost makes us miss John Ashcroft) may get an upgrade: Geneva Conventions 2.0. It's just the administration's way of saying, hey, it's still the Free Pass Decade, baby. Accountability is for girly-men. When Congress releases the Geneva upgrade, we expect Grace to get grandfathered in, so that waterboarding, snapping dogs, and pressure under Grace will be considered legal coercive methods.

While we're on the subject of snapping dogs and coercive methods, what was up with the takedown last month of Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan in The Times editorial pages, under the exceptionally harsh headline Pack of Lies?

We're not particularly advocating Millan's methods (they seem effective under some circumstances with some dogs and, in any case, the only thing two dog trainers will ever agree on is that a third trainer's methods are wrong) but what exactly was the point of branding Mr. Millan's business a pack of lies?

Columnists in the past few years (with exceptions like Krugman and Herbert) have been all too reluctant to use the 'l' word. When someone in this (or any) administration lies, as in making an intentionally false statement, that's how it should be characterized. Save the big guns for the big dogs.

If you want to get all harsh with your headlines, how about H-P: Pack of Spies? The company's Chairwoman Patricia Dunn allegedly ordered up some 'pretexting' investigations — essentially using electronic security experts to smoke out who on the company's board was leaking to the press by obtaining phone records, of board members and reporters, under false pretenses. What the freakin' heck was Dunn doing? Here comes the irony: back in March, the company won, for the second year in a row, the Most Trusted Company for Privacy Award.

Trust in government, trust in business, trust in the media is not exactly at an all-time high. It's hard not to see paroxysms of fear, loathing, and distrust everywhere you look: politics, war, religion, business, the environment, reflected and often intensified by the media. If we're living, at is seems, in a hair-trigger world, some restraint would seem to be in order, though we're not holding our breath.

Could Mary Hart's voice be setting all this off? It's a glib theory, as Tom Cruise might say, but it's the only one we've got.

west twenty-ninth street

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