On March 12, 1983, in a parody of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live comedian Eddie Murphy killed off his most popular character, the adult persona of the child character, Buckwheat. Murphy was tired of being identified with the character and used the attempted assassination of Reagan as a template to kill off Buckwheat.
The parody was not just of the character but of the media’s robotic coverage of the Reagan assassination attempt. The tape of Reagan being shot was run again and again and again. So too was that of Buckwheat being assassinated. The message should not have been lost on anyone who had even a cursory exposure to the news back then.
In decades since, the media has still not gotten the joke. The second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been run on the news almost endlessly and dissected more times than the pitiful frog in sophomore biology.
The focus has been on Donald Trump’s crass sexual banter with celebrity Billy Bush as they rode on a bus on the way to a taping for Access Hollywood. The bus scene has been re-looped so many times that it is in ostensible competition with Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat assassination for some sort of Guinness World Record.
As an American naval vessel comes under missile attack in international waters off the coast of Yemen from Houthi rebels affiliated with Iran, as Russia remains unrelenting in its commitment to keep Bashir al-Assad in power, even to the point of indulging in war crimes, and as President Vladimir Putin moves missile batteries closer to NATO borders, the media-generated focus of the American presidential campaign is on a few minutes of ugly locker room banter.
If CNN wanted to parade inexcusable sexual assault before its viewers, there were three women in the audience who were alleged victims of Bill Clinton’s unwanted attentions and one, who as a twelve-year-old rape victim, was turned into a Lolita-type nymphomaniac by Hillary Clinton. Needless to say, CNN chose not to put one of them in front of the cameras.
Days earlier, it had put before the cameras former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who had her own nasty verbal exchange with Trump.
CNN correspondent Dana Bash clumsily said something about having put Clinton’s alleged victims on camera back in 1998, so it was no longer relevant. Well, not as relevant as Trump’s bus ride some eleven years ago?
Ms. Bash gave us new insight into the meaning of the political partisan masquerading as a journalist when she seized on Trump’s call for a special prosecutor to investigate Secretary Clinton’s disappearing emails. She immediately informed us that this is the mark of a totalitarian dictator, putting the political opposition in prison.
Well, not quite Ms. Bash. Totalitarian dictators do not call for special prosecutors and a legal process. As the seminal writers on totalitarian dictatorships, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Hannah Arendt for example, have taught us, totalitarian dictators define criminals by categories and the police wait to round up the next designated category. They do not wait for an indictment following Western legal principles.
Indeed, the closest we have come to such thinking is the identity politics that the media perpetuate, which defines groups as innocent or guilty in terms of their history. Consequently, white people are not only privileged but by definition racist. It is that kind of thinking that led to the brutal and twisted mentality of the lynch mob where people of a race were interchangeable, irrespective of individual guilt or innocence.
I am far and away less offended by Trump’s private locker room banters than I am by what the media has made of them, and how it grabs any remark Trump makes to bend it to its pro-Clinton agenda.
Eddie Murphy was a comedic genius. His Buckwheat parody was hysterical. CNN’s re-looping of Trump’s ugly remarks is just tragic not because of Trump but because of what it says about CNN as a journalistic enterprise.