Between the fog of war and the blizzard of media, everybody thinks they know everything, and nobody really knows anything.
What follows here are a dozen crucial developments to monitor in the upcoming weeks:
1) Under the new “Sneering Aliens Act,” Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that ABC anchorman Peter Jennings has been arrested, tried and convicted in secret for “withering innuendo and barely concealed contempt for America.” Deported to his native Canada, the unctuous newsreader is sentenced to providing weather updates and pop-star interviews during Manitoba’s televised intramural high-school hockey-league games. When pressed for details on the secret tribunal, Mr. Ashcroft reveals that it was, in fact, Ted Koppel who turned in Jennings.
2) Connie Chung, Al Jazeera, 9 p.m. weeknights. “It wasn’t that I’d run out of American networks to fail on,” the perky Ms. Chung tells InStyle magazine. “But I saw this as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a guerrilla operation.” Announcing that the show “won’t be political,” the former CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC star also boasted that it will be the first network show to offer a simultaneous translation of her words back into English. Her first announced guest is the actor Robert Blake.
3) Finally admitting that their stock analysts are entirely corrupt, and the market itself is little more than a legalized three-card monte game, Merrill Lynch proudly introduces the Dick Cheney Tracking Stock Index. Taking large positions in Halliburton and other defense-related corporations formerly run by current members of the Bush administration, Merrill C.E.O. Stanley O’Neal touts the fund by saying: “There is no conflict of interest, but there is no interest without conflict-or something like that. Whatever. We rate it a strong buy.” The advertising breaks into major markets with the theme line: “Personal Homeland Security: If Cheney Bombs, Your Portfolio Doesn’t.”
4) According to an article in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times , the latest “must-have” accoutrement for upwardly mobile single Manhattan men is “an old white guy”-a retired U.S. armed forces general who stands at the bar and charts your progress with maps, graphs and lots of high-tech visual aids. “It’s a hell of a lot more impressive than a Porsche or a Palm Pilot” says one investment banker, noting that “no matter what happens, they always say you’re making progress.” Adds another: “Between my Brian Williams wardrobe and the old white guy, I just can’t miss with the ladies.”
5) Shortly after pre-production begins on the Connie Chung show, a skittish Al Jazeera announces that Chung will be joined by veteran co-anchors Peter Arnett and Geraldo Rivera.
6) Facing a barrage of questions from Helen Thomas, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer insists-emphatically-that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith has not been named a lieutenant general in the ultra-secret Bush administration Republican Guard. Questioned about this in a telephone call, Mr. Smith is at first crestfallen, but then confides: “Don’t tell anybody, but it’s the super-secret, double-secret Bush administration Republican Guard.” Hanging up, he adds: “Stay safe. Stay American. Stay with Fox.”
7) In a highly embarrassing editor’s note, The New York Times admits that the annual “Woe in the Potato Fields” article concerning soft summer-rental prices in the Hamptons has been reprinted-with the same anecdotes and quotes, but with minor updates to its cultural references-for the past several years. “We’re not quite sure how this happened,” says a Times editor, “but it was discovered by a careful reader who noted that the only difference between this year’s and last year’s articles were that the phrases “nervous about the dot-com bust” had been replaced with “worried about the war in Iraq.” The editor notes, however, that none of the real-estate agents quoted in the article complained, as “they were just happy to see their names in the paper. Again.”
8) During an ugly confrontation at his Upper West Side penthouse, Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore shoots and kills an interviewer who points out that parts of Bowling for Columbine are completely fictitious, in much the same way the book Stupid White Men is filled with fictitious facts and statistics. After hiding the gun he did not get at the bank (as depicted otherwise in Bowling for Columbine ), Moore escapes via Concorde to Paris, where he is hailed by Jacques Chirac as the new Jerry Lewis.
9) Reacting to the assertion by TV-news consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates that “covering war protests may be harmful to a station’s bottom line,” hundreds of local TV stations decide to stop covering the war altogether. Instead, the broadcasters appeal to Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonell to turn the annual swimsuit issue into a weekly event. At first Mr. McDonell agrees, but negotiations fall apart after the broadcasters insist that there be “no sand in the pictures,” as “this might remind viewers of the war in Iraq.”
10) Following a Fox News Channel interview where Sean Hannity goads and berates Congressman Charles Rangel into a full meltdown, Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes finally admits that the cable-news channel is, in fact, an arm of the Republican Party. “I just love putting guys like Rangel on the air,” Mr. Ailes boasts. “They alienate the middle and enrage the right.”
11) Following Homeland Security director Tom Ridge’s introduction of the “new, improved Orange-Plus Alert,” CNN anchor Aaron Brown becomes visibly unhinged on the air, endlessly repeating the words “wow” and “weird.” Finally admitting that he is helplessly over his head, CNN management sends Mr. Brown home, where medical authorities prescribe “hot chocolate, a fuzzy teddy bear, and a daily bath in the warm, reassuring words of Dan Rather” to calm Brown down.
12) And so the war continues. In America today, it’s possible to read-and watch-only the news that reflects your viewpoint. We hear what we want. We come to the table steadfast in our opinions, unable or unwilling to listen to the other side, armed with facts and figures tailored to bolster only our point of view. We talk past each other, or not at all. Either way, the old white guys stand on TV, armed with charts and graphs, telling us “we’re making progress.”