"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 15 February 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 02.15.01


Hit & Run XXI
"You must not have understood - that was a parody of your critics. We love you, chief!"
Five years ago today in Suck.

Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

If God and Barry McCaffrey can't figure it out, why should anybody else? The only practical effect of prohibition is an increase in demand. The latest victim of this unfortunate principle is California lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, who last week blurted out a certain awful word (two syllables, rhymes with "rejigger") during a Black History Month address. The hapless official professes himself baffled by his own slip of the tongue, and despite demands by his opportunistic opponents that he "explain himself," we believe him. By way of both instruction and in-house log rolling, we suggest a fresh reading of James Bong's fine dissertation on this matter, and perhaps a timely reminder that right-thinking people everywhere are at this very moment walking around with a burning desire to shriek the n-word, and that this desire only increases depending on the inappropriateness of the circumstances. This isn't because of any urge to provoke or mundane racism, but simply because you're not allowed to say it. In the case of Bustamante, a lifelong liberal whose "long history of civil rights activism" has pretty clearly gone up in flames, the situation — up on the dais, giving a longwinded speech to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists — is pretty much off the inappropriateness scale, which makes his slip not so much surprising as inevitable. The tale has some of the exquisite psychic pain of that dream where you're back in high school and buck naked, and we suggest Bustamante use it to prove that in fact he is the least bigoted of men, that he works even harder at being a non-racist than most people. Because the more forcefully you resist The Word, the more powerfully it will recrudesce. And judging by the depths of his current humiliation, we're guessing Bustamante must have a lifetime of good works behind him.

A strange call came from beyond the fourth wall Friday. Four female newscasters who strip while reading the news, weather, and sports were asking viewers to join their broadcast team. The first help-wanted ad to include multimedia nudity came from the Naked News, which bills itself as "The program with nothing to hide."

"It took training, patience — and courage — to get to where we are now," one of the four unclothed newscasters announced. "And you know what? It was worth it." Last month the Toronto Star reported the year-old site was receiving four million visitors a month, spreading its unique brand of media criticism with cheerful Canadian aplomb. (Director Elliott Shulman claimed with a straight face to the Star that the show was about self-expression.) The successful job applicant will replace pregnant sports-anchor Holly Westin when she goes on maternity leave, though Westin will gamely continue broadcasting up until her departure date. Sensitive to charges of sexism, Friday's call for "fit articulate gals" was even accompanied by hints that they're planning an equivalent offering with naked male newscasters. While it's difficult to puncture the Canadians' earnest good will, unintended irony crept into the naked anchorwoman's closing remarks about Timothy McVeigh's request for a televised execution:

"In this day and age there are no martyrs, media is the new church, and most will sell their soul for a few moments in the spotlight.

"I'm Victoria Sinclair...."

While we're tempted to leave the last word to Ms. Sinclair, it's a little disappointing that McVeigh's request for a televised execution wasn't given more serious consideration. After families of the Oklahoma City bomber's victims requested a closed-circuit pain-per-view of the event, McVeigh countered with an open letter to The Sunday Oklahoman, writing, "It has ... been said that all of Oklahoma was a victim of the bombing. Can all of Oklahoma watch?" Rather than seeing that as a morbid response to the victims' equally morbid request, family members instantly decried McVeigh's counteroffer as delusional. Strange, since nobody thought him delusional when he requested that his execution be moved up because he was tired of life and wanted to die. There's a sad pop psychology going back and forth here instead of actual law. It's OK for McVeigh to die as he pleases, OK for the victims to sit in the crypt with him via TV, but it's the height of bad taste and egomania for him to suggest that the results of state policy be run on broadcast TV.

"Are citizens going to see this sitting in a bar?" asked Tom Kight, whose daughter, Frankie Merrell, died in the explosion. Yes, they would, and they'd cheer and toast his death the same way execution watchers routinely do outside prison walls when famous killers are put down, and no doubt will when McVeigh dies. Somewhere along the line in death penalty politics the issue stopped being about the value of human life and simply became a question of how we use execution to convey messages. "What about the people who follow him, the right-wing anti-government people?" said Kight, "I think Tim would like to go out a martyr." So, is this bit of Must See TV for the victims' families, to deter crime, or to make McVeigh a martyr to his supporters? That's too much reality TV for even today's saturated viewers. It may just be that while watching a man die would initially go over with audiences, the lack of Tribal Council-style suspense and the ordeal of having to think about the morality of it all would send audiences back to NYPD Blue and Law and Order, which manage to wrap up their legal and moral quandaries a bit more neatly.

A shrewd producer, however, might still find a way to add some zest to the deadening ritual of the final round and dissuade McVeigh's would-be acolytes: an eleventh-hour visit from McVeigh's childhood pal "Father Jerry," who convinces the Sooner State Sicko to break down and bawl like a yellow coward as he walks the last mile.

We've known for years that the Internet is a fertile breeding ground for obsessions — the more minute and personal, the better. And what finer obsession than last weekend's hot date? Online dating isn't the killer app of Internet romance — online stalking is. The bicoastal elite is just now waking up to the possibilities of looking up your latest paramour's name in the Celestial Encyclopedia.

Suck first wrote about this phenomenon nearly five years ago, in Justine's seminal "Nitecrawler." The search engine back then was AltaVista, but everything else was the same. In their race to get current to the half-decade-old trend of running your hot squeeze's name through a search engine, though, some writers are getting a little sloppy. Sharp-eyed David Blum reports in Jim Romenesko's MediaNews that a SoCal report of an online search for a "brainy and adventurous guy" with a thick head of hair was remarkably similar to an earlier Gotham tale of a Net lookup of a "handsome, smart" fellow with a thick head of hair. Perhaps our heads are even thicker than those fellows' — but if you ask us, both stories are remarkably similar to Nitecrawler's tale.

We were curious what our old pal Justine made of all this. While she had no catty remarks for her arriviste imitators, she did say that, as in 1996, she didn't hold much truck with running your romances through a search engine. Besides, Justine tells us, she doesn't have to let her fingers do the searching; the names of her high-school flames just show up, uninvited, in the dotcom-obituary message boards.

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