The Dictator WILL Be Televised
Remember Gil Scott-Heron's 1970 hit "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"? ("You will not be able to stay home, brother./You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.... Because the revolution will not be televised.")
How quaint that seems now. Not only will the revolution be televised. EVERYTHING will be televised, ad tedium, ad nauseum, whether we like it or not.
Wednesday on Fox News, the Dictator Was Televised... meaning, of course, Syria's Bashar Assad.
And I don't think that's a good thing -- not just because Assad obviously gassed and/or murdered tens or hundreds of thousands of his own people -- but because television is a great equalizer. You don't have to be a slavish follower of Marshall McLuhan to realize that the minute someone is given a formal interview on television, he or she is elevated. In fact, in some ways it's hard to tell him or her apart from any other interviewee. They have been chosen.
And that is what happened to Assad, who sat there in what appeared to be his presidential palace, nicely lit and neatly dressed, being questioned by Dennis Kucinich (yes, Dennis Kucinich!) and the network's senior correspondent Greg Palkot.
Both men asked the dictator rather banal questions and referred to Assad repeatedly in the traditional, deferential manner as "Mr. President" (as in "Chancellor Hitler, was that really Zyklon B you used at Auschwitz?"). And Assad did a superb job (he's no dummy) of replying to their questions while lying about just about everything. It was a big win for him. Indeed the Syrian dictator's office has helped promote the interview. They urged their citizens to stay up and watch it!
This was Assad's second question-and-answer session with high-level American television this month. (The last was Charlie Rose.) Maybe it's time to think about giving him a series. Fox may be too successful and they've already announced their new lineup, but CNN is hurting. Their revival of Crossfire seems to have misfired. How about giving Assad and Putin a shot? Hey, the network was willing to resuscitate Eliot Spitzer. Why not go that extra yard or three?
I know -- not funny. And that's the point. We do live in McLuhan's world where "the medium is the message." The Fox panel on Bret Baier's Special Report, which initiated the ""exclusive" interview seemed to realize that. They were at great pains to emphasize the degree to which Assad had lied, I assume for fear that the audience might miss it. Charles Krauthammer was quick to acknowledge how skillful Assad was -- far more skillful than Palkot and Kucinich.
That, alas, was to be predicted. Our television commentators are not used to dealing with dictators. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a fool of the supposedly hard-hitting late Mike Wallace. The dictators, in essence, have us by the you-know-whats. They know who we are. They take advantage of our open society and use it against us. They also know which media outlets to speak with and which interviewers at those outlets to allow the privilege of talking with them. (Stalin was brilliant at this in his time.)
Next up on that agenda will be the Iranian "moderate" president Hasan Rouhani, who will soon be in New York where he will be talking with the usual media suspects. He's already given a TV interview to NBC (natch!) "vowing" that his government will never develop nuclear arms.
Ah, well, not to worry. We have such great leaders, right? They'll set things straight.