Oprah, armadillos & mushrooms in cyberspace


The news media are like palm trees: they bend with the wind, rarely break anything and bear little fruit.

The Greedy Reagan Eighties taught us to get yours now and screw everybody else. The message of the '90s is worse: sit down and shut up, especially if you're the screwed-over party. Otherwise, rich guys with lawyers will sue you into poverty.

Television personality Oprah Winfrey was recently banished to Armadilloland for having the chops to besmirch beefy beasts. She faced civil trial for hurting the feelings of sensitive cattle barons who kill critters for fun and profit.

We live in a world where it has always been dangerous to say what you think. In bygone times, you could be burned at the stake or drawn and quartered. The state of Tennessee, scene of the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, just busted Barnes & Noble bookstores on criminal charges.

Maybe teacher John Scopes was wrong after all. He broke Tennessee law by teaching the law of evolution. We now have hard evidence that Charles Darwin was wrong. There actually are places where evolution does not occur. Tennessee, for instance, hasn't evolved at all since convicting Scopes of teaching Darwin's blasphemous writings about plants.

Information is power and the great unwashed are becoming increasingly powerless — mushrooms in cyberspace.

Whoever controls information controls reality. The ancient ethnic wars of the Balkan states were rekindled by former communists in control of the media.

This nation is like a frog placed in a pot of cold water on a stove. The critter will sit there until boiled to death. Throw the same frog into hot water and he'll jump free.

Try this for a temperature check. In the land of the free and home of the brave, we are absolutely immune from being forced to house troops in our homes. Doesn't that make you just swell with patriotic pride?

Well, it will have to do. Other than avoiding room and board for soldiers, we today fully enjoy none of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights (the nickname for the first 10 amendments to the Constitution).

Freedom slips away a little at a time.

The frog never notices.

We think we have a free press to guard our interests. Alas and alack, it guards its own interests first.

True debate of the great issues rarely occurs because the boundaries of what can be discussed in polite company are so narrowly drawn. Nevada media slavishly promote the latest Megabucks jackpot. They also report California Lottery results as news and don't even possess enough pride to ask for advertising fees for propaganda services rendered.

This creates the veneer of fair games. In reality, these various get-rich-quick schemes are legalized frauds at which you have almost no chance at winning. If you had a decent opportunity to win, you would not be allowed to play. Witness the fate of blackjack card counters. Lack of a meaningful chance to win is never reported. Casinos are big advertisers, after all.

That's the same reason you rarely see an article on the predatory sales practices of auto dealers.

Much the same shuck applies to our politics. Debate is conducted between the right and the extreme right. Reporters who interview two Republicrats participate in creating the illusion of balanced reportage.

Several months ago, the Reno Gannett-Journal produced a 13-page series entitled "If Gaming Dies..." Does such jeopardy exist for the industry?

Hell, no. But there is danger of a tax increase pushed by overburdened, underpaid citizens. So the poltroons at the Reno paper performed propaganda puffery to protect their advertisers from populist wrath.

Whenever the workers ask for a fair share, the boss always says he'll have to shut down the factory.

Oprah Winfrey won the battle but you and I stand to lose the war. Winfrey's millions afforded her the heavy guns to beat back rich guys with fat wallets. You or I wouldbe hard-pressed to pay the costs of a libel action.

Those in a weaker financial condition than an Oprah will thus often not report hard news at all. Some of it is extremely hard to swallow.

Lack of proper government regulation and oversight has resulted in filthy meat processing plants employing fewer and fewer workers forced to put out more and more dead critter parts covered with feces. That's what makes you sick. You are eating...well, you know what you're eating.

Oprah Winfrey had the guts to express concern. Texas cattle barons sued and lost. But not a lot of other media will follow in the footsteps of the superstar talk goddess. Defending freedom can put peons in the poorhouse.

This is one case where they got it right in the Sixties.

You are what you eat.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 3/1/98.