Moral Outrage & Herblock

| April 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

There’s never an absence of things to write about and I have never experienced “writer’s block,” despite prayers by others to that end, but sometimes real life interrupts and one must focus on matters other than single subject columns.

So, rather than writing at length about a particular issue this month, I will reflect on one significant to me, and then a note about a man whose political cartoons amused many, outraged others – but seldom missed their mark.

This was a Facebook posting of mine on Sunday, April 21, but revised and expanded:

“BEST TV DRAMA: WHO CAN SAVE THE ‘TODAY’ SHOW?” was The New York Times cover story.

Really? That’s the best The Times can do, another story about “Today”?

Should the 306 million Americans who do not watch “Today” care whether it’s saved, whether it regains its place as the USA’s number one morning show or slips further behind “Good Morning America”? Should hard working Americans give a damn about Matt Lauer and his $25 million a year job?

Of course not, but unlike editors of The New York Times Magazine and their circle of we know best what’s best for America, people who actually live meaningful lives, lives rooted in family, faith and community; who worry about their children and grandchildren and America’s future, don’t have time to fret, fuss or worry about Matt Lauer. Maybe the magazine’s editors think people obsess about Mr. Lauer’s fate, whether he did or didn’t diss Ann Curry behind her back to NBC officials, whether he should be replaced by someone younger (and just as vanilla), that people are thereby so caught up in his drama they willingly suspend concerns about their own fate.

Sorry NYT magazine editors, that’s not the way it is. It’s not even close. And if you as editors would spend more time trying to understand what 306 million of your countrymen think, you probably wouldn’t gave a rat’s rear about Matt Lauer, either.

If my annoyance about coverage given Matt Lauer puzzles you, I will endeavor to explain.

Media’s obsession with celebrity, at whatever level or profession, from television to movies, from athletes to Wall Street titans, reflects media’s moral rot; the whole preposterous idea that Matt Lauer being paid $25 million to sit in front of TV cameras and make nice is of any consequence in people’s lives – because it’s not!

In the meanwhile, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, stories that cry out for coverage, for attention, go begging.

Such as the 40 million of our fellow citizens living in poverty; the state of our health care system that excludes millions; an infrastructure increasingly in shambles; the helplessness felt by millions in search of sustainable employment and millions more who stopped looking because they know there are no jobs; the ever downward spiral of public education; and, up close and personal, our United States Marines fighting in Afghanistan whose families back here at Camp Pendleton require food stamps to survive – these are among many just, moral and legitimate concerns.

So we’re clear, it’s not that media ignores these issues altogether, but rather media’s overwhelming tilt to Matt Lauer’s stories vs Real Life Stories.

Eight years ago I gave a major speech – as 4,382 words – to the East Valley Partnership’s Evening of the Arts annual celebration held in the Organ Hall of the School of Music at Arizona State University (a speech subsequently reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day).

In my speech, I drew a distinction between sports and arts coverage by media:

“Several years ago The Denver Post ran a story on how many people attend sporting events in Colorado’s capitol city, judged by some America’s greatest sports town. The answer for the year cited was 5.5 million attended games played by Denver’s major league baseball, NFL, NBA, and NHL teams. An impressive figure to be sure, one that few cities in the world could match.

“But here’s an even more impressive figure: While 5. 5 million went to sports events, 8.5 million attended arts events! But having featured the story, The Post promptly forgot its message – people care about and support the arts and do so in numbers greater than that given athletic competition!”

Yes, I hold The New York Times to a higher standard than other media, which is why when that great newspaper chooses to write about Matt Lauer and Today, I was angered – but it it’s an anger born of moral outrage.

I invite you to share my outrage – but not only share it but tell media to get its priorities right.

HERBERT L. BLOCK, or HERBLOCK, as he was famously known, was for a very long time the political cartoonist for the Washington Post, and became the most celebrated practitioner of that art form in America; and ranked with David Low, the equally brilliant British political cartoonist, the world’s two most influential artists at depicting and pillorying the high and mighty.

I have every published book of Herblock’s political cartoons, and recently I brought one home from my collection at the office, for no purpose other than to relive the 50s though his great work. True, there are many wonderful works of history on the 50s, the last of the Truman years and Eisenhower’s eight, but for a quick tutorial of that decade it’s hard to beat Herblock.

For the first four years of the 50s I was a junior high and high school kid (Roosevelt, Hoover and Helix, but even then thought politics important. I was a volunteer for Adlai Stevenson, but later learned to love Ike (didn’t we all?). Was I aware of Herblock?

Yes, because sports and political cartooning were a passion of mine. I followed his work on and off, but in ’68 when we moved to Washington and I became press secretary to two U.S. senators, I had the privilege of seeing his brilliance up close – six days a week.

You may not know Herblock or remember him, but, seriously, you should. And since I deem it my purpose, in part, as a Presidio Sentinel columnist to stretch other people’s knowledge, please take time to know his story and artistry. You can do that with great enjoyment by going to the Web and clicking on the Library of Congress’ exhibit that features Herblock:
http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/herblock/

I also have a one-volume collection of David Low’s great work, which includes his unforgettable caricatures of Churchill, De Gaulle, FDR, Stalin, and Hitler. I bought the book while working for the San Francisco Chronicle in the early 60s. It was a remainder copy and carried the notation, “First cheap edition.” I still have it and it still looks new.
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George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader and may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com.

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