The Medium is Meshugana

Step One: Take one high-strung, over-achieving racial demogugue:

An amazing thing has happened in New York, and in Democratic politics: Al Sharpton has become King. He is Mr. Big, The Man to See, the straw that stirs the drink. Nothing has made that clearer than the prelude to the New York primary, and the budding New York Senate race. They come in a steady parade to him, even if they show flutters of reluctance: Bill Bradley, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton. Everyone refers to this as “kissing his ring”; at times, Democrats seem willing to kiss even more. Not long ago, he was a demagogue, a race-baiter, a menace — and acknowledged as such, by all but a fringe. Day and night, he worked to make an always difficult city — New York — even more difficult, more tense. Now, however, he practically rules. He is a kind of Establishment. His record — as galling as any in our politics — is overlooked, excused, or shrugged off. It is to him that every (Democratic) knee must bow. And another amazing thing: no penalty. Democratic bigs seem to pay no penalty whatever for their embrace of Sharpton. George W. Bush is worse off for Bob Jones University.

The Kiss of Respect
Sharpton — or “The Rev,” as he is known among his fans — is nothing if not mindful of his status; he must know, therefore, that his two visits to the White House last year were milestones for him. One visit was for a conference on police brutality; the other was for a ceremony honoring the New York Yankees (“I don’t think Al has ever been to a Yankee game in his life,” confided a friend of his to an interviewer). The more Mrs. Clinton becomes a New Yorker, and a New York politician, the friendlier the White House is to Sharpton. Last November, when the First Lady was dithering about whether to run at all, Sharpton announced that his patience was “running thin”; he wondered whether Mrs. Clinton was “too scared and too intimidated and too much of a lackey to challenge” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, long a Sharpton foe. In due course, Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy, and made the pilgrimage to Sharpton headquarters.


— Jay Nordlinger, on “Al Sharpton: Power Dem,” from the March 20, 2000 issue of National Review.

Step Two: Add live TV and a teleprompter:

It was no accident that Senator McCarthy lasted such a very short time when he switched to TV. Soon the press decided, “He isn’t news any more.” Neither McCarthy nor the press ever knew what had happened. TV is a cool medium. It rejects hot figures and hot issues and people from the hot press media. Fred Allen was a casualty of TV Was Marilyn Monroe? Had TV occurred on a large scale during Hitler’s reign he would have vanished quickly. Had TV come first there would have been no Hitler at all. When Khrushchev appeared on American TV he was more acceptable than Nixon, as a clown and a lovable sort of old boy. His appearance is rendered by TV as a comic cartoon.

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964.

Step Three: Hilarity ensues, yet resist we much:

Step Four: T-shirts are available in the lobby.

Related: “How The NY Times Shapes The Narrative It Wants.”



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