A startling announcement just aired on WCBS-FM, a popular NY radio station which plays music, and does not normally permit its jocks to announce the news in between songs. What was this breaking news? Loosely quoted, the following; “Don’t Open your Computer Messages from Barack Obama’s campaign- they may contain the Trojan Horse, Virus of all Viruses- Beware!- simply by opening the file, you may lose all your computer data!”
This morning’s headlines trumpet the fact that Barack Obama’s campaign raised more money in August than any other presidential candidate ever has in any other month in history. Close to sixty-six million dollars was raised, given by over 500,000 people, many of whom gave in small dollar amounts. How was the money given; how were the messages exchanged? Overwhelmingly by email.
Coincidence? Or is someone who has another agenda planting the one message with a great shot at turning off the spigot of communication and money for Obama’s campaign? You decide.
Frank Capra, that greatest of American filmmakers, already wrote the plot to this story. Remember “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”? Jimmy Stewart, as Jefferson Smith, the neophyte, honest Senator from the midwest, tries to defend his integrity when accused of participating in a corrupt land deal. Stewart filibusters on the floor of the Senate, losing his voice, but struggling to get the word out beyond the Senate floor. Boys who support him across the country publish a newspaper and distribute it themselves. The public is starting to learn the truth. But Edward Arnold, playing the entrenched, corrupt, powerful boss, gets nervous. He might actually lose this one. Lucky for him, however, he controls not only the politicians, but also the newspapers and the radio. In 1942, if you controlled the radio and the newspapers, you controlled it all. So Arnold sends his minions to steal the papers before they get distributed and beat up the newspaper boys. Mission accomplished.
What happens in the end? Well, this being a Frank Capra story, the good guy does win. But look again- the good guy only wins because Jimmy Stewart’s former patron, a once-great Senator gone corrupt, has a last-minute burst of conscience and confesses all on the Senate floor. In the meantime, the poor saps, otherwise known as the public, are believing the messages given to them by their media and are telegramming the Senate to throw Jimmy Stewart out of the Senate. If it weren’t for that one Senator, Jimmy Stewart would be out on his ear.
Manipulation of the public via the powerful establishment’s use of the media is neither a new theme or invention. Frank Capra was onto it almost seventy years ago. The question for all of us is, are we going to buy what they are selling us? Who is really telling the truth among all this babble and what messages can we filter out that need to be heard?
For me, I’ll chance the probability that my computer will be just fine, thank you. I’m tired of being cowed into either doing or not doing something, based on what some unseen authority tells me. I’ll read the news from both campaigns, via email and snail mail. I’ll peruse “elite” publications like The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, because I happen to believe that there is such a thing as professional journalism. I’ll read magazines like People, World and The Nation to get different perspectives on the news. And I’ll talk to my friends and my audience, the non-talking heads, to find out what they think too. What I won’t do is let somebody else make up my mind for me. If it turns out this message about Obama’s campaign emails containing a virus is false, and I suspect that it is, then I’ll hope for the best, as Frank Capra always did. I’ll hope that this time, the good guys win.