Walter Winchell, the dominant radio voice from the ’30s to the ’60s, always began his broadcast the same way, lending an air of immediacy to the mixture of gossip and commentary he delivered in his flat New York accent.
His career began its rise with a column in the now-deceased New York Daily Mirror but evolved from friendship with mob bosses and an escape to California in fear that his mob friends would “rub him out,” from which he returned a patriot.
He supported FDR and was an early voice condemning Hitler and urging entry into the European conflict. He locked horns with the main broadcast bigot of his time, Gerald L.K. Smith. Winchell referred to the anti-Roosevelt, anti-Semitic Smith as “Gerald Lucifer KKKodfish Smith.” He befriended J. Edgar Hoover and took up anti-Red causes of increasing hysteria, backing Joe McCarthy until the country turned against the Red-baiting senator, and leaving Winchell a voice no one wanted to hear.
The collapse of Winchell’s high-flying career is a cautionary tale for the most outrageous commentators of our time — the Limbaughs, Becks and Coulters — who make unsupported ad-homonym attacks.
Even Fox News, infinitely forgiving of right-wing commentary, couldn’t take Glenn Beck’s airily asserting, for instance, that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal conspiracy. He was fired.
I take that caution to heart as I begin an experiment in broadcast today, exclusively in print. Like Fox News, my commentary will be fair and accurate; really, really, really fair and accurate …. no kidding, really. Believe me.
I open the broadcast with:
MY SUPER PAC. I wish. The Supreme Court decision engineered by Chief Justice John Roberts and Citizens United defines corporations as “people” and allows them unlimited amounts of money to make their point. If Mr. CEO wants to write a $10 million check every month ’til election day to persuade voters, that’s just fine.
In other words, Justice Roberts thinks the super rich should be allowed to speak, longer and louder, so loud that they drown out the feeble voice of the ordinary citizen. Remember the ’50s and ’60s when the court was accused of “judicial activism” for trying to restore basic legal rights to black citizens and billboards bloomed throughout the South shouting “IMPEACH EARL WARREN”?
Well, judicial activism today has changed our political system. It is no longer based on agreement with a candidate’s vision or passionate belief in a cause. It has become a megaphone, which only the super rich can afford, to mask self-interest. Billboards today should say: IMPEACH JOHN ROBERTS.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. Amidst the flood of commentary on same-sex marriage last week, there was little mention of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still on the books. Thank goodness. With all these same genders joining, they’d soon threaten the 50-plus years of happy marriage with Josephine — if it weren’t for the Defense of Marriage Act.
A word to the literal minded: I’m kidding.
GREECE. A nation going through the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict is a pitiful scene to watch. Commentators say the Greek people became hooked on too-long vacations, too many no-stress government jobs, too-early retirements with too-large pensions.
I identified another villain 20-plus years ago when I made a talk at the Athens Press Club to which very few journalists came. Didn’t want to interrupt their extended coffee breaks? No, probably because I wasn’t a celebrity.
Anyway, we few, we serious few, talked about the media and democracy. I described how fractured American communities used to be when any shirttail printer could come to town and start up a newspaper. You’d have a paper for any interest group but no centripetal force to pull the town together … until the early 20th century when the Progressive movement spawned civic clubs — Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. — where factions met and got along together.
There was no support for shirttail papers anymore and major cities had at most two dailies, which favored one or the other of our two great political parties.
When I was last in Athens, there was such a profusion of newspapers that I couldn’t imagine how a Greek politician could satisfy such a herd of interests. Even after the worldwide recession, Athens has 22 surviving dailies and five financial papers.
At the time, and even now, I believe one aspect of the Greek problem is an overdose of democracy, which has left people and politicians in a state of confusion from which they seem unable to befuddle their way out.
Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, that’s all we have time for today, but when you tire of the heat-hot commentary of hefty Mr. Limbaugh or dainty Ms. Coulter, turn your dial to my cooler station where the commentary is accurate, and reasonably fair.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.