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On Mearth, our stars aren’t cut out for journalism


Just got back from Mearth, our sister planet on the other side of the Sun. Lovely place, virtually identical to Earth. Its version of the United States is remarkably like ours: A Texan is in the White House, Hollywood is a cesspool and the Boston Red Sox are cursed. Only one difference: Television journalism operates as a meritocracy.

Men and women are promoted based on their demonstrated ability to search out and carefully document unpleasant truths that powerful institutions -- governmental and corporate -- prefer to keep hidden, but that citizens must know about if they are to fulfill their civic duties in a genuinely democratic system.

No one gets promoted for looking great, dispensing feel-good puffery, keeping debates “inside the box” and dissenters out of the picture, toadying up to the powers that be and serving as their mouthpiece, or not knowing enough to pose tough questions or rebut dishonest ones.

Five days of channel-surfing on Mearth revealed identical show titles as on Earth, but none featured the same anchor or host. Mearth’s MSNBC, for example, airs “Hardball,” but loudmouth Chris Matthews was nowhere to be found. In the impatient bully’s place was a tough but courteous black guy named Les Payne, whose earthly counterpart is a standout print journalist at New York’s Newsday.

I didn’t recognize the fresh face who hosted Mearth’s “Meet the Press.” Like Tim Russert, Maria Gonzales was persistent. But instead of goading guest Colin Powell into a commitment to invade Mearth’s Iraq, she grilled him on the human toll U.S.-backed economic sanctions had exacted on the innocent Iraqi civilian population. Talk about out of the box!

Dave Marash, who on Earth is an underrated, underutilized correspondent for “Nightline,” anchored the Mearth version of the ABC show. I managed to reach him after a Mearth “Nightline” that exposed a long-running White House disinformation campaign to downplay the U.S.-backed Colombian army’s indispensable role in facilitating the terrorism of right-wing death squads.

“Where is Ted Koppel?” I asked. Marash said ABC let him go back in 1975, after a string of reports -- based on cozy chats with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger -- that downplayed CIA collaboration with South Africa in Angola. “Ted simply wasn’t cut out for independent journalism,” said Marash. “Last I heard, he was PR director for Kissinger & Associates.”

That set me to wondering what the other earthly media stars were doing on Mearth. Of those I was able to track down, almost all are in another line of work:

  • Chris Matthews. Carnival barker.
  • Dan Rather. Career Army man. Proud of title “America’s oldest buck private.”
  • Paula Zahn. Former model who now runs a top modeling agency, Catwalk Unlimited.
  • Brian Williams. Male supermodel with Catwalk Unlimited.
  • Tim Russert. Mascot-cheerleader for Buffalo Bills; worked at telemarketing firm until Federal Trade Commission shut it down for “senseless, relentless badgering of nice people trying to eat dinner.”
  • Geraldo Rivera. Star of GeraldoCam.com, popular Web site where Geraldophiles pay to watch Geraldo’s every waking and sleeping moment.
  • Jim Lehrer. Curator of Rip Van Winkle Museum.
  • Cokie Roberts. Runs “Cokettes,” a finishing school for Southern belles.
  • Tom Brokaw. Teaches history at Iowa high school during the week, reenacts World War II battles on weekends.
  • Charlie Rose. Coaches youth basketball in North Carolina, where he’s treasurer of Mayberry Wine Tasters’ Club.
  • Larry King. Proprietor of Deli King, Washington’s hot lunch spot for those in the know. Nine of 12 waitresses are ex-wives of proprietor.
  • John McWethy and Jim Miklaszewski. Same job as on Earth (Pentagon spokesperson), but government rather than network pays salary.
  • John McLaughlin. Confined to Garrulous Geezers Old Folks Home, where three years running the staff has voted him “Most Obnoxious Resident.”
  • Bill O’Reilly. Boxing trainer, currently under suspension for encouraging his fighters to strike low blows.

I visited O’Reilly in his rundown Bronx tenement and explained how his Earth-based counterpart had achieved fame and wealth beyond compare. He responded with a left to the gut and a right to my unmentionables, then smiled and thanked me for stopping by.

As I said, Mearth is remarkably like Earth.

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and humorist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Post (Canada). He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

National Catholic Reporter, January 18, 2002