by Libby Hellmann
As writers we know the power of words. We choose them carefully – rooting around sometimes for hours or days just to find the right verb or adjective. We respect the differences and shadings, however minute, that specific words connote. We understand that the right words create a mood or perception in which the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
We also recognize when others do it effectively. When novelists do it well, it’s called good fiction. But when the guardians of the nation’s airwaves do it, under the guise of disseminating information, it’s propaganda.
Which is why I’m still appalled at a story on Fox News. (Thanks to J.D.Rhoades for blogging about it last week. And to Judy Bobalik who drew my attention to it)
Okay. We all know Fox is no friend to liberals. We know how they shade stories, particularly political ones, to suit the right-wing. We know how they use code words to inflame or champion whatever the right wing’s sound-bite du jour happens to be, whether it’s government’s, administration’s, or some corporate entity’s.
But this wasn’t a political piece. At least it wasn’t supposed to be. This was an obituary of Kurt Vonnegut. A recounting of his life and work. Notice I didn’t say “tribute” – that’s not the role of the media. They are simply there to recount the facts -- put them in an order for us – the public -- to interpret. And whether you like his writing or not, the fact is that Vonnegut was a major figure in American literature.
Except you wouldn’t know it by Fox’s piece.
The reporter went out of his way to discredit Vonnegut at every turn. In his first sentence, he mentions Vonnegut’s “leftist screeds.” He goes on to talk about his “despondent leftism”… He labels Vonnegut “irrelevant” and “quirky”… He makes sure to mention his suicide attempt (okay that’s fair game…), his scatological humor, his send-up of New York literary society. Like I said, a little of that is appropriate, but, in making sure he mentioned all of Vonnegut’s imperfections, he missed the entire point of the man’s significance.
Sure, Vonnegut was unabashedly left-wing. And anti-war. But people read Vonnegut because he was an antidote to the powers that be. He saw through the artifice and the propaganda and the BS of his time, and he did it in a way that was entertaining, clever, and, ultimately, moving. People read Vonnegut because they knew they could count on him to see the Emperor with no clothes, at a time when the prevailing voices said otherwise.
But there was no word about that in the report. The reporter either deliberately chose to ignore the man’s relevance (How could anyone call Vonnegut “irrelevant”?), or his bosses ordered him to, or he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.
What ticked me off the most, though, was the opening line of the report. It was – well –supremely arrogant. “Vonnegut wouldn’t have wanted a classical send-off… (or something to that effect).. so here’s the Cliff notes version.”
How does this Fox reporter presume to know what Vonnegut wanted? He made him seem like a cranky old man, rather than the literary giant he was. Now, if Joyce Carol Oates or Tom Wolfe or Stephen King or some other literary figure had made that comment, maybe I’d give it some credence. Maybe. But a reporter?
But then, that’s Fox. They just can’t stop.
Here’s the link to the obit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ysH-oIEDfo
What do you think?