Thursday, July 29, 2004

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF EDWARDS. I'm afraid that I'm developing a John Edwards problem. Last night was only the latest example. Let me explain.

My first exposure to Edwards came four years ago, at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where the North Carolina senator spoke at a breakfast gathering of the Massachusetts delegates. He struck me as a phony - a slick huckster who'd succeeded in aping every move and mannerism from Bill Clinton except the ability to seem genuine.

I liked him better during his presidential run. Mrs. Media Log loved him, although perhaps that's a problem of a different sort. Still, the stories crept out about his robotic repetition of his "Two Americas" speech at appearance after appearance, his creepy insistence on staying on message no matter what. Yes, you could say that's what he takes for a politician to succeed. But Edwards, uh, lost, you know?

Last night's speech was okay, sort of, although it seemed like he managed to say very little, wrapped up in a lot of bland generalities. And how icky was it that the party had passed out "Hope Is on the Way" signs to delegates so that they could wave them whenever Edwards mouthed the words?

I'm sorry, maybe it's because he's such a pretty boy, but I nearly burst out laughing when he looking into the camera and said, "And we will have one clear unmistakable message for Al Qaeda and the rest of these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you." What are you going to do, counselor? Sue them?

And don't you think he should have referred to "John Kerry" rather than the overly familiar "John"? Even Teresa called him "John Kerry."

I watched Edwards's speech at Harvard's Kennedy School amid maybe 60 or 70 students and other onlookers. By far the biggest reaction of the evening was for the Reverend Al Sharpton's speech, which was so moving that you could almost forget what a dubious figure Sharpton really is. Check out how Sharpton closed:

I often hear the Republican party preach about family values, but I can tell them something about family values. Family values don't just exist for those with two-car garages and retirement plans. Family values exist in homes with only one parent in the household making a way against the odds.

I stand here tonight, the product of a single parent home, from the depths of Brooklyn, New York. My mother was a domestic worker who scrubbed floors in other people's homes for me. And because she scrubbed those floors, I was proud to stand as a presidential candidate.

Those are family values.

I recall that a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks I was in a radio station that played "America the Beautiful," as sung by Ray Charles.

As you know, we lost Ray several weeks ago, but I can still hear him singing: "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesty, above the fruited plain."

We must leave here committed to making Ray Charles's song a reality and to making America beautiful for everyone.

Good night, God bless you all, and God bless America!

As Sharpton walked off, the sounds of Brother Ray singing "America the Beautiful" played over the PA system. It was a genuine, shivers-up-your-spine moment, akin to Patti LaBelle singing "A Change Is Gonna Come" after Bill Clinton's speech on Monday. Which only served to emphasize how flat Edwards's effort was.

Maybe Edwards didn't want to overshadow John Kerry's big speech tonight. He certainly succeeded. And you can't help but admire his and his wife's resilience following the worst thing that could possibly happen to a parent.

But if you're looking for a running mate who'd bring substance and gravitas to the table, who could unquestionably step in as president on a moment's notice ... well, boring old Dick Gephardt is starting to look pretty good right now.

RACE, RAPE, AND IMUS. This one's for you, Philip Nobile. For several years, the former New York magazine media critic has railed against the racist content of Don Imus's New York-based syndicated radio program. I always thought Nobile had a tin ear and just didn't get the humor. And I haven't changed my mind - at least not generally.

But this morning, sidekick Bernard McGuirk said something that ought to get him suspended for, oh, I don't know, six months - or six years. I was driving and not taking notes, so bear with me. (Imus in the Morning is heard locally on WTKK Radio, 96.9 FM.) At about 9:15 a.m., the gang started talking about the Kobe Bryant rape trial. McGuirk called Bryant's accuser a "skanky ho." Some discussion ensued as to whether Bryant might actually be guilty, the morals of his accuser aside.

Then, incredibly, McGuirk asserted that regardless of Bryant's guilt or lack thereof, this was obviously not a "classic" rape - which he proceeded to define as a black man in a hood assaulting and raping a white woman. Imus did his usual, acting half-bemused, half-appalled, and complaining that McGuirk and another sidekick, Sid Rosenberg, were behaving badly.

A commercial break followed. I sat in the parking lot, waiting to hear what would happen when they returned. Imus again chuckled about McGuirk and Rosenberg's behavior, then started talking about New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's new book. No apology.

In the past year in Boston, WEEI Radio (AM 850) hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were suspended for comparing an escaped gorilla to black schoolchildren, and WTKK host Mike Barnicle apologized for using the phrase "jungle fever" to describe the marriage of former Boston television personality Janet Langhart, who's black, and former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white.

Yesterday Callie Crossley, a television producer who's African-American, cited those incidents as evidence of Boston's improved-but-still-troubled racial climate. Read it. (Disclosure: Crossley and I often appear together on WGBH-TV/Channel 2's "Beat the Press" edition of Greater Boston, on Fridays at 7 p.m.)

But will anything happen to McGuirk, or to his enabler, Imus? This isn't a Boston problem - it's a New York problem, exacerbated by conglomerate radio ownership that brings this into cities across the country. What McGuirk said was far worse than Barnicle's utterance, and at least as bad as Dennis and Callahan's exchange.

I would say "where is the outrage?", except that this only took place two hours ago. Will New York take action? If not, will WTKK general manager Matt Mills do anything locally? I'll be watching. You should too.

1 comment:

Vincentine Vermeille said...

Last week--starting Monday, 26 July--Dennis & Callahan were out of town, having fled the Convention. The Globe's Michael Holley and another African-American sports writer were subbing for them on WEEI's morning show. I think they were also there on Tuesday. From what I heard of Monday's show, it was practically dedicated to the question of whether (or, more realistically, to what extent) Boston is a racist city. On Tuesday a regular caller--I think it was Mike from Swampscott--made the observation that you only needed to look at one thing to determine the answer to that question: almost all the callers on Monday had been black, whereas D&C's callers are overwhelmingly white. An interesting and unexpected instance of the Boston media's commenting on itself.