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Halloween - The Power Of Illusion

Do we want a world in which commentators become Halloween goblins?

Copyright © 2003 Dorian Scott Cole

This commentary asks, "Should news commentators have short media lives?."

I didn't vote for Schwarzenegger. You will see why later in this article.

Don't you just hate it when news stories do this to you? News shows are so fearful that you will switch to another channel, that they mention their strong lead story, and then finally give you the info at the end of the hour news show. My reaction? I just stop watching that station. The news show that advertises, "All of the major news in the first ten minutes," is the one that I watch. Really. But then, I suppose I am not typical.

The illusion that you are going to hear the lead story, oft' repeated, keeps people listening through all of the 5 minute news segments (or commercial segments), leading them by the nose through the day, and then to the end of the news hour. It is frightening that program managers will manipulate us for ratings. Halloween is a good time to mention frightening things.

My daughter and I have been discussing the power of illusion to engage the audience, as she prepares a very dramatic and spectacular Halloween house for the second year (church related). I frequently write on this Web site about using the viewer's imagination to engage them in the story. It really works. She discovered on her own last year that less is more in visual presentation. She did this by keeping the set dark. Imagination takes the ball and runs with it, providing more illusions than you could possibly show to people. Halloween is much more scary in the dark.

Recent events in the news media are also scary, and show the power of illusion, or delusion. I happened to tune into NPR recently on my way somewhere, and heard B.O. (Name is abbreviated.*1) Surprise! B.O. being interviewed on NPR? I heard several minutes of the interview, and thought that it was going well. What an illusion! Later that evening I happened to watch Fox News, The OR... Factor, (Name is abbreviated.*1) and heard B.O.'s take on his interview. Astonishing difference.

B.O. reported being the subject of a vendetta by the show's host, as well as generally many others in the "liberal press." He apparently denounced the Fresh A... host, T.G., and with a deficit of courteous words, abruptly left the show. I was confused - that wasn't what I got from the show. So I listened to the full show on the NPR Web site to judge for myself. I happen to be a respectful listener of both B.O. and NPR, although I'm not an apologist for either - neither are perfect.

I listened... the fur flew. What was interesting to me was not the tension and ensuing flurry of words, and not even resolving the conflict (which, as a peacemaker at heart, I would like to see), but the question, why do people get into these crazy battles to begin with? None of it made any sense to me.

Following is my opinion of what transpired:

B.O. is host of Fox News' OR... Factor, and author of several recent popular books, including his most recent, Who's Looking Out for You?. (I haven't read any of them.) It was a good interview. T.G. posed some good questions to which people would want to hear B.O.'s response. B.O. did a decent job of responding - I partly believed his responses, and that is about as good as you get with me.

I'm really not sure what the interview was supposed to target - perhaps the purpose was a well hidden illusion - I don't know. B.O. indicated that he thought the interview was supposed to be about his new book. The interview seemed to me to be less about the book, and mostly about B.O. and accusations made about him - difficult questions that he fielded well.

There was an important backdrop overshadowing this interview. B.O. has previously expressed his displeasure with NPR, calling it the liberal press and saying it had a vendetta against conservatives. I suspected at that time that he was creating a fake enemy just for publicity - I'm changing my mind. There may be a far more serious problem.

In recent days (Sept. '03), one of B.O.'s critics was interviewed. Al Franken, author of "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them...A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," in my opinion, has received a lot of air play recently on NPR, and the attitude toward him and his book has been mostly favorable in the interviews that I have heard. (I haven't read this book, either.) The book supposedly criticizes conservative show hosts, and in my opinion, has received a lot of air play recently on NPR, mostly favorable in the interviews that I have heard. The book has been cast as satire, but based on portions that I have heard, it seems to be an attack on selected targets. B.O. is one of its targets. B.O. was not a happy camper, and claims the book contains untruths (none of these aren't direct quotes).

B.O. is a bit of an enigma. Like me, he claims to be neither liberal nor conservative, and I think that much is probably true - he is either out of there or has been moving out of there for a long time. He is an independent thinker. Not everyone would consider him non-ideological. He works for a network that features conservative commentators. To some people, if you mention something like religion in the public arena, which B.O. does, you are automatically considered conservative. Interesting point of view, although I'm not sure that it helps accurately characterize either liberals or conservatives. Most of them have moved on, too.

The questions posed by T.G. were fair questions, and they gave B.O. the opportunity to respond in front of the NPR audience about various allegations made against him by writers in publications like the New York Times. These were certainly no tougher questions than those posed by B.O. to guests on his program. T.G. seemed a little nervous at times, but I won't read too much into that. In fairness, I think that B.O. typically does stay on the topic for which his guests were invited to respond, only dragging in other material as supportive context. But other hosts and the press, to my knowledge, have never guaranteed that kind of arrangement - they poke and prod in all areas - it isn't my privilege to decide how hosts run their shows. B.O. perhaps expects reciprocity on his own ethical code, and it isn't the traditional code, and I think that he knows that it isn't.

The interview went along fine for the first ~40 minutes. Then in the NPR version ten minutes are cut out, and then when the interview continues we again hear a civil interview, and then some really difficult questions come again. (B.O. only presents the last 6+ explosive minutes on his Web site, but he links to NPR if you want to hear the entire interview.) The questions handed B.O. still weren't as tough as the piercing questions that B.O. typically throws at his guests.

B.O., who has presented himself well up to this point, in what seems to me like a sudden attack of paranoia, responds to T.G.'s difficult questions as if he is staring down the throats of the liberal version of the hounds of hell. I guess that could be a mastiff since a mastiff is a big powerful dog, but named for being tame. Suddenly B.O. proclaims that the liberal mastiffs are all "out to get me," and he quickly terminates the interview with the mastiffs nipping at his heels as he exits; either exits by design or paranoia. On his show "The Spin Factor," he then not only rails against T.G. and NPR, he wants Congress to cease funding public radio because they are all a bunch of liberals... or something. I didn't memorize all of the invective in any part of this debacle.

Okay, I'm glad that B.O. got the chance to address the accusations against him. I thought that he handled himself well, until the cookie crumbled, and I partly believed his answers. I'm not convinced that NPR (representatives) played fairly, but they were dealing with a hostile person. In my opinion, B.O. asks people to be accountable. That's admirable, and I support that, even though we are a shade different on technique. Sometimes he appears to be right, sometimes he appears to be wrong - but at least he demands accountability, and this is refreshing.

I'm glad that NPR gave B.O. the chance to respond to allegations made against him in various communications media. He ruffles a lot of feathers - he is a target, and sometimes probably for valid reasons. NPR owed him the opportunity to confront his accusers and tell his side of the story. NPR, on the other hand, in my opinion, carries programs that express what might be considered "conservative" points of view, and carries what might be considered "liberal" points of view. I'm sure some of the show hosts have their biases (this comes through in some interviews), but overall public radio seems to give relatively balanced stories on a number of their programs. I don't know what B.O. hears on his local public radio station, or if he even ever listens.

I rely on NPR for in-depth information on both sides of issues, and for wide ranging stories, neither of which other national and cable networks have the time or programming strategy to cover.

What is going on? My suspicions go into the same place as that of an article that I wrote on fundamentalists and the tendency for them to be led into extremes. Has B.O. mistaken the giant shadows on the wall for real enemies. Are they are constructed by his imagination? B.O. is aggressive with people. He has good reason to believe that a few of those people want to plant him and then dance on his grave. Furthermore he lives in an "us VS them" world of his own concoction. It is this "us VS them" mentality that I believe pushes people into extremist positions. Add to this what must have been years of indoctrination that all the press is liberal. So I think that B.O. can only see NPR as giant, mastiff shadows on the wall, clear pictures of the enemy that is coming for him wherever he goes.

At the end of the interview, his imagination lost control, overloaded his decorum, accusations flew, and he ran from the interview with the mastiffs of hell nipping at his heels. This is the power of illusion.

I can relate. I used to have phone conversations with someone who usually had a hidden agenda. When people ask questions, they usually have some agenda besides just idle curiosity. When they are known for hiding their agendas, you immediately become guarded. When I heard that person's voice on the phone, I immediately started trying to figure out what incriminating tidbit of information he was trying to dredge out of me. After a few minutes of talk, I would find myself very tense and short of breath. We both were. This is the power of illusion.

So what is happening here? Was T.G. and NPR out to make B.O. look bad? Can B.O. dish it out but can't take it, or is paranoia nipping at his heels? Or are there other answers for both. This makes me wonder if confrontational show hosts like B.O. have a limited number of days in which to be effective before they go off the deep end. Frightening!

Both B.O., and T.G. at NPR, have put their comments and portions of the interview online, so decide for yourself:

NPR interview:

Last 6+ minutes of the interview on the B.O. site.

Schwarzenegger. I promised you some thoughts about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Illusion seems to fit well here. I wonder who the people in California voted for. Was it Arnold the terminator? Did the powerful movie caricatures carry over into the voter's imagination, and they want a big power to deal with their enormous problems? Or did they vote for Schwarzenegger the competent and politically involved man? Illusion is a powerful thing.

I suspect and hope that Schwarzenegger will make a good governor. He is an independent thinker, his own man, with a history of quasi-political involvement. He is less likely to be swayed by special interest groups. This is a lot to say, whether or not one agrees with him on all issues.

So why did I not vote for Schwarzenegger? I don't live in California, so I'm not eligible to vote there. However, the illusion that I gave at the beginning of this article, with the negative connotation, was a strong illusion. I engaged the audience (some of you) with a valid statement that was a false illusion. Illusion is a powerful thing. Frightening, huh?

- Scott

1. Why abbreviate names? The pages on this site remain active for years, but people sometimes change. Readers can easily guess who the initials of these controversial people belong to. Abbreviations prevent Web search results from finding these names, so that years from now these people are not haunted by something that I said about them. I think this is responsible for a commentary site.

Other distribution restrictions: None

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