In the pages of Just Above Sunset the topic of whether Bush was wired with a little radio into his ear during the first debate was covered pretty thoroughly, with lots of quoted commentary and links, including a link to the Is Bush Wired website. For all that you can call up the item Irony from the 10 October issue to review the details
After that mid-month flurry of speculation - Was it true? - and commentary - If it was true what did it really mean about our leader? - the whole topic seemed to go away.
And Charlie Brooker wonders why.
See Dumb show
Charlie Brooker, The Guardian (UK), Saturday October 23, 2004
His opening reveals his leanings -
Okay then, we see he's not a big Bush fan. Well, such fans are hard to come by outside the red states, and even harder to find in Western Europe, and even harder to find in the rest of the world.
Heady times. The US election draws ever nearer, and while the rest of the world bangs its head against the floorboards screaming "Please God, not Bush!" the candidates clash head to head in a series of live televised debates. It's a bit like American Idol, but with terrifying global ramifications. You've got to laugh.
Or have you? Have you seen the debates? I urge you to do so.
So after some matters that only the UK folks care about Brooker comes to his main point - he was skeptical and then thought about it a bit more, and really does wonder. The emphases are mine.
A tool? Not a term much used on this side of the pond. But you get the idea.
... The internet's a-buzz with speculation that Bush has been wearing a wire, receiving help from some off-stage lackey. Screen grabs appearing to show a mysterious bulge in the centre of his back are being traded like Top Trumps. [That must be a British thing.] Prior to seeing the debate footage, I regarded this with healthy scepticism: the whole "wire" scandal was just wishful thinking on behalf of some amateur Michael Moores, I figured. And then I watched the footage.
Quite frankly, the man's either wired or mad. If it's the former, he should be flung out of office: tarred, feathered and kicked in the nuts. And if it's the latter, his behaviour goes beyond strange, and heads toward terrifying. He looks like he's listening to something we can't hear. He blinks, he mumbles, he lets a sentence trail off, starts a new one, then reverts back to whatever he was saying in the first place. Each time he recalls a statistic (either from memory or the voice in his head), he flashes us a dumb little smile, like a toddler proudly showing off its first bowel movement. Forgive me for employing the language of the playground, but the man's a tool.
But then Brooker turns on our fickle and feckless media. He's terrified, and puzzled.
Well, The Swift Boats Veteran for Truth had a lot of money and were well organized, and the press was impressed at having a narrative all set up for them and ready to go. The Is Bush Wired crowd presented some evidence, but no real narrative - no story - so given the press would have had to do some work at developing a story line that made this all hang together, nothing much came of it. That would be hard work. Hard work? You heard Bush whine about that in the first presidential debate. He doesn't like hard work. The press doesn't either. Present them with a fully formed story and they'll run with it. This? No, no digging. No investigative reporting. That's so Woodward and Bernstein - so last century. And investigative reporting isn't "fair and balanced" or something.
So I sit there and I watch this and I start scratching my head, because I'm trying to work out why Bush is afforded any kind of credence or respect whatsoever in his native country. His performance is so transparently bizarre, so feeble and stumbling, it's a miracle he wasn't laughed off the stage. And then I start hunting around the internet, looking to see what the US media made of the whole "wire" debate. And they just let it die. They mentioned it in passing, called it a wacko conspiracy theory and moved on.
Yet whether it turns out to be true or not, right now it's certainly plausible - even if you discount the bulge photos and simply watch the president's ridiculous smirking face. Perhaps he isn't wired. Perhaps he's just gone gaga. If you don't ask the questions, you'll never know the truth.
The silence is all the more troubling since in the past the US news media has had no problem at all covering other wacko conspiracy theories, ones with far less evidence to support them. ...
But Charlie Brooker isn't finished and moves on to larger issues... sort of. God and all that -
Did Charlie just suggest assassination would be appropriate? It seems so. Over here, where John Ashcroft keeps us safe, such talk would land you in jail, probably without charges and for as long as the government wished. And maybe in far southeast Cuba at our facility there. You'd be disappeared. And most Americans, it seems now, would be just fine with that.
Throughout the debate, John Kerry, for his part, looks and sounds a bit like a haunted tree. But at least he's not a lying, sniggering, drink-driving, selfish, reckless, ignorant, dangerous, backward, drooling, twitching, blinking, mouse-faced little cheat. [Tell us what you really think, Charlie.] And besides, in a fight between a tree and a bush, I know who I'd favour.
On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?
It also seems the British, or at least this one Brit, don't understand that free speech means you watch what you say in a public venue, in this case in a major newspaper - because Ashcroft and his minions are also watching what you say. One needs to be careful.
Ah, had I more readers I'd be worried at even pointing to this Guardian item. As it is now - with my sixty or so readers each day - no one cares what I point to and what I say. And too, we are all possessed of the freedom to click on opinion from the UK and elsewhere - so far - and that is a sort of freedom. Things aren't that bad.
But two things bother me about this Guardian piece.
First, I think this fellow is right about our media. Things fall away - as we have "readers" working radio and television, not reporters who do digging. Digging up "the story" is for the print media, when they get up the courage to do it, and when their editors allow it, bucking the corporate masters who expect profits.
And secondly, of course, one wonders what would happen if such an item appeared in a wide-circulation US newspaper - which, of course, would never happen. But say it did. There would be a firestorm, and possible arrests. You cannot say things like this. And that is most curious. We are the beacon of freedom in the world. We are. Here you can say anything you like - responsibly, of course.
Now I've got to think about the fine line between responsibility and timidity, or putting it another way, the line between lively, forceful writing and prose that don't offend or upset folks. Should one be allowed to shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theater? Is that what Brooker is doing? It doesn't seem so, but America has become a sort of crowded theater these days, full of edgy, frightened and angry people. Best not say what you think.
Why are things easier elsewhere? Here, this is a puzzlement.