Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue
Scripps-Howard News Service 10.31.01
Last Wednesday, I decided to look in on what the folks at NBC-TV's
"West Wing" were doing. While the rest of America has
united, the series still insists on dispensing its one-sided messages,
pretending to be an authority on matters in the national debate.
And NBC, venerable NBC, continues to provide a platform between
9 and 10 every Wednesday night.
Of course, although the late great Sam Goldwyn proclaimed "If
I want to send a message, I call Western Union," Hollywood
never shied away from pointed historic and social commentary. In
its golden years, though, it possessed producers, writers, directors,
actors and actresses who could do it with artistically superb and
deeply moving results.
Proof: On Thursday, Turner Classic Movies broadcast "Exodus."
The 3 ½-hour saga is vintage 1960 - in other words, before
the generation that appointed itself knower of all things came of
age. In "Exodus," we encounter the British, the Jews,
and the Arabs in the critical moments leading to Israel's statehood.
All three come in various shapes and sizes, beginning with the General
who represents the best of Britain, and his No.2 who demonstrates
that prejudice is as blind as it is mindless. The historic references
are accurate, the discussions invite you to consider difficulties
and merits, by no means attributed to one side.
Only four decades later, "West Wing," with its fatuous,
predictable dialogue, hopelessly one-dimensional characters, and
wholly primitive political commentary, portrays the team upon whom
our very survival may depend as bad-tempered adolescents, making
it up as they go.
In our uniquely open society, with access to more knowledge and
wisdom than imaginable just a little while ago, the makers of "West
Wing" - from producers and writers to actors and actresses
- appear to inhabit a dark corner, a black hole, into which neither
rays of knowledge, nor those of comprehension penetrate. This a
terrible thing to say about fellow human-beings, but what other
explanation is there?
Is Hollywood running out of talent? America never runs out of talent!
Perhaps the trouble began when movie makers forgot what their profession
was supposed to be and appointed themselves arbiters of America's
history, America's politics. The errors of that decision reached
a peak beyond belief with the "seminar" that took the
place of West Wing's season premiere. The arrogance and presumption
of doing it at all was aggravated by appalling judgment, pure demagoguery,
and the selection of Rob Lowe teaching America.
One might have thought that such a monumental gaffe would take
the show off the air. But no. They continue to disseminate their
take on the natural, and solely legitimate, order of things that
can only have a Democrat in the White House, Democratic control
of Congress, and socialist ideas gradually squeezing out American
principles. Indeed, Republicans are invariably mentioned and portrayed
in ways that, should one substitute any protected minority in place
of "Republican," the producers and writers could well
be prosecuted for hate speech.
Alas, they are not alone in that black hole, and not the only ones
in the wrong line of work. The New Yorker reported in its October
22 issue that, but for the "feelings" of a legal officer
at the U.S. Central Command in Florida, sporting the impressive
title Judge Advocate General (JAG), much of the leadership of the
Taliban could have been taken out during the first night of engagement
in Afghanistan. An unmanned aircraft provided conclusive proof of
their whereabouts and was in position to annihilate the building
and its occupants, thereby possibly allowing that phase of the war
to end in a couple of days.
The name, even the sex, of the JAG was discreetly withheld in the
article and our legal system imposes no penalties on people for
being in the wrong job. Since the early 1970s, increasing millions
have been employed for the wrong job, making American efficiency
a legend of the past.
I submit that, post September 11, we can no longer afford such
dislocation of human assets. As part of our national defense, we
must insist that people do what they are best equipped to do, as
opposed to being instruments of political agendas. Screen writers
ought not to confuse themselves with our elected representatives,
actors and actresses should refuse to be empty mouthpieces, and
the JAG... well, the public has the right to a full exposure of
how a person, clearly better suited to just about any other occupation,
ended up in this one.
Let's stop this nonsense and restore America's legendary commonsense.