I was flipping through the 24-hour GOP news services, a.k.a. cable television news, when a frightening, long-interred face from the past popped up. I banged the channel changer against my knee: Had it somehow jumped to HBO and a Tales from the Crypt re-run? No, it was true: There, staring at the camera, was none other than Caspar Weinberger.
I confess I was so startled that I didn't pay much attention to what Cap was saying. Probably something about Iraq. I guarantee you, however, that he was not holding forth on the subject about which he is most qualified to speak: how to beat the rap when you're convicted of a felony.
No, should an interviewer today be so tasteless as to bring up such subjects as Iran-Contra and Bush the Elder presidential pardons, it would bring to 21st century viewers untidy memories from the scandal-ridden years when Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush the Elder tortured and twisted the nation's basic principles.
Weinberger is not the only has-been on the tube these days. Fox and its clones are chockablock with disgraced and/or washed-up characters, some from Iran-Contra, others just discredited public figures. Murdoch and Company are investing these losers with new credibility by parading them as "experts" or credible newsmen, with no mention of their soiled pasts.
Take Mike Barnicle, for instance. Before you do, though, think about Janet Cooke. Cooke, a young African-American journalist, was fired from the Washington Post for inventing an interview subject in a story about children who use drugs. Drummed out of the profession, she found work as a department store clerk.
Barnicle was a columnist for the Boston Globe who passed himself off as the voice of the Boston working man, though he lived in the tony suburb of Lincoln. Wags called him "the street kid from Lincoln."
Barnicle wrote a riveting column. He could tell peoples' stories in a way that made them sound like literary characters. As it turned out, that is exactly what he was doing: making stuff up.
The Globe caught Barnicle and dumped him. Where he is now? Hint: He's not selling neckties at Cooke's department store. He's a semi-regular on Hardball with buddy Chris Matthews. Apparently it's OK to commit journalistic fraud if you are white, male, connected and have the right political beliefs: Barnicle thinks Bush is dandy.
Speaking of ethically challenged, George Will seems to be getting more exposure. The erudite Will knows what a gerund is, but he is less conversant with principled behavior. Back in the day, he passed himself off as a disinterested political observer when he and his wife had strong Republican Party connections. That is not grounds for sending a pundit into obscurity, evidently.
Exhumation of political figures like Weinberger from the Nixon, Reagan and Bush the Elder administrations is the most appalling trend. Fox has opened Jeane Kirkpatrick's casket and asked her to croak a few words of wisdom. Ditto Alexander Haig. And Ollie North continues his media career. He never really went away, but nowadays hosts like Judith Regan drool over him distastefully. In a recent interview Regan, eyelids fluttering, made a big deal about his military titles but forgot to mention that the highly placed North had a treasonous plan to suspend the Constitution during Iran-Contra. Nor did Regan go into North's considerable clerical skills, specifically his gift for shredding government documents in the interests of obstructing justice.
He has not been on the telly yet, but sinister Iran-Contra figure Admiral John Poindexter just got the nod from Bush the Younger to create a massive government database that could gather information on anyone's private life.
The Poindexter appointment, along with the new credibility as "experts" of people like Weinberger, are part of a clear effort by Bush the Younger's administration to recycle the 1980s. They've packed the government with retreads, from Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld on down. Their pals who control the mainstream media are doing their part by limiting who is going to host and guest on television, or have their columns displayed prominently.
The problem is, the crimes and misdeeds these people committed against American principles took place years ago. Television and newspapers don't give younger news consumers the history that would allow them to judge these charlatans in context.
There could be genuine multiplicity of views. Imagine regular appearances by people from this publication: Nicholas von Hoffman, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Norman Solomon, Jim Cullen, Alex Cockburn, Roberto Rodriguez. It would prove to the larger public that groupthink has not consumed us down to the last free thinker.
With the right controlling the media as well as the government, don't expect that anytime soon. We're far more likely to turn to Hardball and see "tonight's guest expert, Ed Meese."
Cuddy, a consultant and free-lance writer, is a former editorial pages director for the Alameda Newspaper Group and editorial board member for the Contra Costa Newspapers, both located in northern California. Email BCCuddy@aol.com.