The Moment of Truth — February 21, 1998
Paradox and Sam Donaldson’s Cows
Well, here it is, the moment of truth. The one place and time in the universe of broadcast communications where and when the truth is told.
We’ve been talking a lot about why it’s impossible for capitalist communication enterprises to tell the truth. Because the truth can’t be bought processed packaged and sold. Blah blah blah. It’s a great concept. It’s a great jumping off point. One can go anywhere from that premise. And the fact that that premise is true means that wherever one goes from that premise, as long as one has the courage not to veer from the course dictated by that premise — wherever one goes from that jumping off point, as long as one never wavers from that which following the premise gives rise to — wherever one goes from that premise, as long as one doesn’t shrink from it, wherever one goes from that premise, one will arrive at the truth.
Which is why you will never hear Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw say: “We can’t tell the truth on this Network because it’s a capitalist enterprise, and the truth can’t be bought processed packaged and sold.”
And it’s sad, because when you begin from that premise, you go a lot fascinating places. Last week we ended up in a place where Ross Perot was calling for an end to the capitalist economic system. Ross Perot was demanding socialism — or that’s what it sounded like to me. What about you guys?
Well, it sounded like it to me, because I was reading between the lines. It’s about subtext. It has to be. The simple fact is, and it’s a sad fact, too — the simple fact is that since they can’t tell you the truth on TV or in the newspaper, you have to learn to squeeze the truth out of them by reading between the lines. For example, if Cokie Roberts says: “Time will only tell if the American people can continue to focus on Clinton’s domestic policy in the face of these allegations” — what she’s really saying is: “I am a propaganda commissar for the people who bring you pollution, world hunger, global strife, and Sam Donaldson.”
When Sam Donaldson says: “Yet it seems, in this new era in which big government is going the way of the Edsel, that the new EPA standards will be all bark and no bite” — what he’s really saying is, “I get to rent grazing land from the government, public land, at a fraction of its value, and then avoid reporting on my stake in the status quo as a symptom of a general trend toward bilking the public out of its property.”
Lao Tse said, “The truth that can be told is not the truth.” That’s a paradox. True truth is always a paradox. Now not all paradoxes are true. They generally transcend truth and falsehood. And some of them are funny and can be sold as part of one of those calendars where you tear off a new page every day. Like you tear off the page with Murphy’s Law on it (if anything can go wrong, it will), and the next day it’s Yastrimski’s Paradox: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.” Now that’s a cute little paradox, but it’s not especially germane to our discussion.
It’s good for a calendar, though. Personally I’d rather have the Far Side one. It’s amazing. Gary Larson stopped drawing the Far Side however many years ago, and they’re still putting out those Far Side calendars, and I look at them and there’s STILL some Far Side cartoons that I’ve never read before. Like, I’m sure this one is old, but it’s the one where they’re at the beach, and there’s this mathematician with a little slate with a short formula written on it, and he’s looking all mad cuz the other mathematician with the really big blackboard with the really complicated formula on it is getting all the babes.
That’s just classic Far Side.
Anyway, what is the truth? The truth is what you get out of the news if you’re suspicious of authority and also know things like that Sam Donaldson is a fat ass fascist rancher living out of the public coffers. You look at his sneaky, smug, punchable little fascist face, you listen to the moronic garbage that comes out of his stupid mouth, you picture him being a big evil rich guy, you wonder if maybe he’ll report on how corporations are shouldering almost twenty percent less of the total national tax burden than they were in the 50s, or if he’ll talk about how people die of malnutrition every day because they can’t afford the meat he produces, or how many schools can barely afford to heat their buildings so that their little students can study without catching pneumonia, they can’t afford new books, they can’t afford to fix their roofs, the government can’t afford to pay for those kids to go to the hospital cuz Sam fascist Donaldson doesn’t want to pay fair market value for his use of public lands — you wonder if he’ll say any of this although all the while you know in your heart of hearts he won’t, because, at the same time as you can picture him as a human being with the same capacity for compassion as any other human being, you can also picture him looking out the window at his cattle, with one hand full of turtle wax polishing his big fat capitalist boner while he calculates the profits he’s raking in by ripping off poor kids and lying to America every night on national TV. And so you put all that together, and it’s like a collage. And you stare at that collage for a while, you stare and stare until your eyes burn and your vision blurs and your heart becomes sick at the ways of men and you decide to abandon your job as the emperor’s librarian and go off into the wilderness. But the gatekeeper stops you at the gate and persuades you to write down your wisdom for posterity. So you write a book called the Tao Te Ching, the way and its power.”
That’s how it sometimes happens. Or sometimes you’re watching Sam Donaldson and holding all those contradictory images of him: Sam Donaldson the liar, Sam Donaldson the greedy, Sam Donaldson the human being with some redeeming facet yet to be discovered — and you listen to him babbling his incoherent garbage into the face of the world, and your heart becomes sick at the ways of men, but you pull yourself together, drink a nice orange cream soda — which you simply ought to do every day, everyone — and whenever you can you yell some smart ass remark at the screen. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Oh, yeah, but you won’t tell us that they have free medical school in Cuba which leads to them having 75% General Practitioners to 25% specialists — the opposite of the ratio in the US, you won’t tell us that, Sam Donaldson, cuz then someone might say, hey, let’s dump this crap and Sam Donaldson and talk about the wealth society creates as something to be shared.
It’s be great if Sam would just come out and say, “Screw you, the people. I get to rent your land for a tiny fraction of its private-sector value. And I like it that way! Big government means poor people getting some of my money, so I’ll slyly give devolution a boost without seeming to overtly support the extermination of the poor while I sit fat and happy ripping them off to feed my fat ass cows!”
That’d be a pretty interesting thing to hear Sam the fat fascist Donaldson say on ABC, or as it’s now called, The Disney Channel. And he does say it, though not outright. You have to be able to hear the subtext. You have to be able to read between the lines, to hear between the lies.
Sniff between the giant loaves of crap.
It can be done. I am living proof. A lot of people want to be let in on my secret, my secret geiger-counterish ways. They want to know how they too can master the art of squeezing the truth out of the crappy garbage capitalism calls “The News.”
Well, it can’t be done. It’s just impossible. That’s all there is to it. And yet it is done, because I myself do it, as I just told you. One thing that can be done is to yell at the screen, “Let’s be like Che Guevara and liberate Sam Donaldson’s land and take away his big fat fascist wealth to pay for a national health system.” You just say that at every opportunity during Sam Donaldson’s stupid reports on stuff, and gradually you start changing it a little each time, and each time your smartass remark becomes a little more specific to each story Sam Donaldson reports on. And pretty soon your commentary on Sam Donaldson’s so-called reportage which is nothing more than a giant pile of poop in a blue blazer and probably a toupee, pretty soon your running commentary is right on the money, and what you’re doing is channeling the truth. It’s just coming right out from between the lines and getting spouted out of your mouth.
And it all begins with just a little snottiness.
So that’s one strategy for squeezing the truth out of the capitalist propaganda factory’s flavorless products. It’s like getting blood from a twinkie, but it’s doable. Unfortunately, it’s your own blood. What you’re doing is gripping the twinkie so hard in frustration that your fingernails are digging into your palm and drawing blood. Because the truth hurts. That twinkie is Sam Donaldson. That blood is the truth. The cream inside the twinkie is falsehood. Lies.
I don’t know. This all probably seems pretty spiritual to most of you out there. But stick with me here. In the coming weeks you’re bound to find some way of entering what I’m talking about. Because the truth is like a rubik’s cube, but all the cubes are different locks, and as I turn the cube this way and that, and each of you tries his or her key in the new lock that has just rotated into place before him or her, one of them is bound to open. And eventually every key will find its doorway into the multifaceted phenomenon we call the truth. So keep at it. Don’t lose hope. And don’t miss the moment of truth on National Beer Presents an hour of radio, right here on Saturdays 11 am to noon on WNUR 89.3 Chicago’s sound experiment. And now back to chuck with his sack of lies.