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Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2000/ 7 Kislev, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Politics as entertainment today -- ONLY ONE THING could compete with the Florida recount and that's another drama for television: the rearrest of actor Robert Downey Jr.

The talented Mr. Downey was/is the romantic interest of Ally McBeal in the popular Fox television tale. He was sprung from prison with lots of fanfare. He was "clean'' at last. Then he was busted again. It's hard not to feel for a guy whose awful father gave him his first "joint'' when he was 6.

He saved the "Ally McBeal'' show from silliness with the sheer weight of his masculine magnetism. Now he'll be at the mercy of prisoners, again -- real-life toughs, not characters in a movie -- and they're likely to make a mess of him again. Last time he was in prison he was cut up in a knife fight.

Reading and watching the Downey news, I found myself getting almost as agitated over his arrest as over the arrested election. Television does that. By coming into our living rooms, it's a great emotional equalizer. It makes entertainment seem as important -- sometimes more important -- as our democracy. It personalizes politics and all other kinds of performances, making moral equivalents of subjects both light and heavyweight.

His fans want Robert Downey, Jr. to continue to be a character on "Ally McBeal'' no matter that he broke the law. We hate the anonymous caller who ratted him out and the cops were meanies to arrest him just because he had five grams of cocaine hidden in the bottom of a Kleenex box. He's a brilliant actor (cute, too) and he deserves a break today. Ask any woman.

The other long-running television drama came back to mind when NBC refused to break in with George W's speech when he won certification of his votes in Florida. Political bias, we're told, was not behind the NBC decision. Would NBC have cut in with Al Gore's victory decision? The explanation, which has the ring of terrible truth, was that the decision was based on marketing and entertainment values. The network didn't want to break into the movie "Titanic'' and disturb its plot.

A senior NBC news source told the Drudge Report that the order came from the network president: "'Titanic' cost a pretty penny. The feeling was that carrying Bush would distract from the impact of the movie.'' He did not say that "Titanic'' might distract from the impact of disclosing the identity of the likely next president. Television has priorities, after all.

Television can be a wonderful tool in a democracy, making news accessible to large numbers of people. But it runs the danger of trivializing democracy, too.

George W. was not acting a part in a fictional drama. This was not an episode from "West Wing.''

"NBC blew it,'' acknowledged a senior executive of the network. But we're all in danger of "blowing it'' if we continue to allow our national life to be reduced to entertainment. Television is hazardous for our political health because it has the extraordinary power to blur the ability to make important moral distinctions. Television gives equal weight to unequal facts.

Reporters and correspondents fell all over David Boies when he arrived as Al Gore's lead lawyer with the fanfare of a Hollywood star and he acted his part well. He was the real equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. But like the actor, he made one of the biggest "mistakes'' in his career. He persuaded the Florida Supreme Court that dimpled ballots had been counted in an Illinois election, and this should make them kosher in Florida. But the affidavit he submitted to substantiate that precedent was a fraud and a hoax. Illinois had actually done the opposite. Illinois had nixed dimples.

But once the Chicago Tribune exposed the fraud, did the reporters ask Mr. Boies to explain himself? No, despite the major error, he got a pass. He was a famous star.

Plato kept the poets and creative writers out of his ideal republic because their work was to create lies -- imaginative lies to be sure -- but lies nevertheless. With television we have entered territory never dreamed of by Plato. Not only can we no longer tell the difference between truth and lies, but our lies are lies told to entertain us.


11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate