The other day I listened to NPR’s “All Things Considered” for an hour and a half and was bowled over by the amount of trivia I was forcefed on a day when serious issues should have commanded attention– from Egypt to the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner for 9 hours at Heathrow.
Well yesterday I caught Fresh Air, the popular interview show on NPR and reflected that the same evasion is at work there. Terry Gross’s show says that it’s a “weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues,” but I went back through the Fresh Air archive over the 10 weeks since the Snowden story broke and only found glancing references to the case. None to Bradley Manning, and scarcely a word about the Arab Spring and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. (If I missed anything, I urge readers to inform me; I’ll amend.)
So what are the contemporary issues? The politics on the show are of a banal or backward-looking character, to liberal generational triumphs of yesteryear. Anti-authoritarian politics, activist politics, human-rights politics all plainly make Terry Gross uncomfortable. She avoids them.
Generally speaking, the show is about television. She spends 47 minutes interviewing voice over artists. She can’t get enough of “Breaking Bad” or “showrunner” Jenji Kohan of the TV prison drama “Orange is the New Black.”
The show’s politics are assertive when they concern a time when things were black and white:
Journalist Seth Rosenfeld spent three decades pursuing government documents about the FBI’s undercover operation in Berkeley, Calif., during the student protest movements in the ’60s. His book details how the FBI “used dirty tricks to stifle dissent on campus” and influenced Ronald Reagan’s politics.
Or when the issue is not culturally divisive:
New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal is spending a year investigating why American medical bills are so much higher than in other developed countries.
Or when nobody really cares:
A new investigative report from Reuters special enterprise correspondent Scot Paltrow details how the antiquated and error-ridden payroll system for the U.S. military is erroneously cutting soldiers’ paychecks and causing terrible hardship
Or it’s cultural politics, and diversionary:
“Bracing For Google Glass: An In-Your-Face Technology.”…
William Masters and Virginia Johnson became famous for their studies of human sexuality.
On June 19th, Gross did address Snowden— the case has “stirred great controversy”– but the treatment was off-topic, and appeared from the summary to offer a justification for the abuses Snowden exposed:
Shane Harris, an author and journalist who covers intelligence, surveillance and cybersecurity for a number of publications, says that the revelations about the NSA from Edward Snowden are nothing new, and that such programs have a significant recent history in the United States.
In fairness to Gross, who I regard as a very smart person whose political views have been undermined by generational complacency and the need to please a crowd, there were these more serious bits. July 22:
As the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, David Kirkpatrick has covered events in the region since January 2011. He says that the toppling of the democratically elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi throws the changes of the Arab Spring into question.
Another one I wished I’d heard:
Writer and scholar Reza Aslan converted to Christianity when he was a teenager, but found that as he grew older, he was far more interested in Jesus as a man than as a Messiah. His new book, Zealot, considers Jesus in the context of the time and place in which he lived.
But then we’re right back to Gross’s meat and potatoes:
Jeff Daniels… stars in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, playing an anchorman inspired to give up fluff pieces and return to hard-hitting journalism.
Or this, sadly:
A new film from Sofia Coppola is based on the true story of a group of California teens that broke into celebrities’ homes.
Sex and television, neoliberal bubble gum:
Amy Schumer talks a lot about sex — so much so that her Comedy Central special was called simply Mostly Sex Stuff. But her comedy is about much more than that. On her show Inside Amy Schumer, as well as in her stand-up, she tackles racism and awkward moments, and yes, sex, too. Also sex.
This guy probably mentioned Snowden but it’s very meta:
Whether it’s logs of phone calls or GPS data, commentator Geoff Nunberg says it still says a lot about who you are: “Tell me where you’ve been and who you’ve been talking to, and I’ll tell you about your politics, your health, your sexual orientation, your finances,” he says.
I believe Gross doesn’t want to take on these authorities because she doesn’t really have a problem with them. That’s the neoliberal crisis. So she puffs media figures like herself. These guys got the whole hour, right after Snowden story broke.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg met as adolescents on the Vancouver bar mitzvah circuit — and soon after began writing the script for what would become the movie Superbad.
I find this deeply dismaying. The 70s counterculture has wound up on an island of self-congratulation, revisiting our triumphs. And that island is rapidly diminishing.
The other day Justin Amash, the Republican congressman from Michigan who is linked with the Tea Party, held a town hall meeting in Marshall, MI, that was on C-Span and credited Edward Snowden with setting off the national conversation about government surveillance, which Amash is doing his best to oppose. That is of course a reflection of the curious politics of the issue. Leftwingers and libertarians have had to work together. Snowden himself once supported Ron Paul. And the mainstream is afraid to bring the issue up. Gross would probably write off Amash as a Tea Party Republican and Snowden as a Ron Paul libertarian, when the actual narrowness is hers.