Silencing the press (and the whoopee cushion)

Several of you have asked me why I haven’t commented on L’affaire Stern. I’ll be honest… as much as I buy the line of argument that “Though I disagree with what you say I’ll fight to my death for your right to say it,” I have so long disliked Howard Stern that I can’t bring myself to weep for him too much. His pandering to the lowest common denominator has set the tone for every other un-funny idiot on every second-rate morning show in the world, while liberating America’s inner fifth-grader. Who knew we had such an insatiable national taste for fart jokes and jiggling lesbians? For years, millions of Americans have listened to Stern when they might have been paying attention to the kind of content that allows adults to think and vote like grownups. (Think of the poor bastards weaned on a decade of Stern and Limbaugh, and the damage they’ve done to the rest of us!)

That said, it is now clear that it was the juvenility of Stern’s obsessions that had protected him. As soon as he veered into touchy political subjects (touchy, that is, to Repubs–Stern had plenty explicit to say about Clinton!), the GOP apparently called in their chits with Clear Channel and handed Assman his ass.

So, now I’ve written about Stern, whose downfall–though lacking true tragic stature–is instructive. To quote the bumper-sticker: “The media are only as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them.” If Stern’s fans had been paying attention for the past decade, this would not be so shocking.

I’m saving my tears for the more serious journalists who are being routinely silenced for hard-hitting investigative journalism. Take the case of Kevin Vandenbroek, a Michigan radio personality who was sacked
after substantiating claims of bribery at the top of the Republican House Leadership. Apparently, threatening civil servants with dismissal for correctly pricing the Medicare drug bill wasn’t enough; someone offered Michigan Republican Nick Smith $100,000 for his son’s political campaign if he’d switch his no vote to yes. After initially sounding off about this, Smith himself was silenced. After switching his story, Smith was nailed by Vandenbroek’s recording of his initial account. That, plus a couple more offenses against the Powers That Be (a terse email to a conservative bigot and a question about W’s veracity in his Tim Russert interview) got Vandenbroek fired. In a country where the media were truly liberal, a scoop like that would get you a raise (and maybe a Peabody nomination).

The truth is, Vandenbroek will probably be OK– and Lord knows Stern has ridden the gravy train (diarrhea train?) long enough the he won’t be eating cat food in his early retirement. In any case, I’m beginning to think that Janet Jackson’s nipple did us all a favor–by encouraging the Right’s censoriousness to overstep its bounds, they have showed even the fart joke set just how bad things have gotten here in the United States of T&A.