Al Sharpton, supposedly, is going to sue Rush Limbaugh for defamation, or some such. This is the kettle calling the pot black. Media figures suing one another is, on one hand, laughable, on another, just one more way of grandstanding and getting air time. Sharpton's career has withstood quite a lot, as has Rush, since Sharpton's embrace of the Tawana Brawley cause, all of which turned out to be as much of a fabrication as the balloon boy. Tawana cried rape, but of the more spectacular sort, by six white guys, some policemen, complete with light carvings on her chest. This was all a hoax, one aided and abetted by Sharpton, with slurs directed at the N.Y. Attorney General and other doubters. Even in Sharpton's rather good autobiography (co-written by a Notre Dame graduate), he clings to the shreds of the story and does not apologize in any way shape or form.

But, suing by celebrities can be effective, when it is a case of deep pockets against no pockets. William F. Buckley was a well-known suer, casting fear into journalists, causing Buckley a life time of rather good press. His money would crush any journalist who said something unkind about him, if the journalist was of small monetary means, which most, unlike Buckley, were. Buckley was a man of great charm; a friend of mine was invited for an evening and in Buckley's harpsichord room, Buckley described the color scheme as "Better red than dead red."

Hoaxes are a great American tradition. The balloon boy certainly fit the bill. For cable TV it fills the roll of the car pursuit on LA freeways. The family of hoaxers had already had a taste of this courtesy of ABC, something called Wife Swap. I missed this. In fact, even though I write about TV, I have missed quite a bit. I didn't know about the Jon & Kate Plus 8 phenomena till the Octomom came along. There are cable channels dedicated to subculture fetishes of the most alarming sort. I did catch a show about super obese people needing to be sawed out of their houses (not them, their houses) to seek treatment. Medical freak shows have always been popular throughout our history and cable TV is only the latest midway at the most dubious of county fairs.

The Octomom, it can be said with some certainty, was a precursor of the balloon boy's desperate dad, Richard Heene's videotape job plea. She, doubtless, unlike me, knew about Jon & Kate and wanted to be able to top that. She floated eight in her balloon-size womb in hopes of enlarging her fame and fortune on cable TV's can-you-believe-it? shows. The Heene's balloon wouldn't have been able to hold anything weighing more than their flaccid hopes. The Octomom, in any case, has succeeded, though not beyond her wildest dreams.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to increase body counts, millions in bonuses are readied to be handed out, the Obama White House still thumbs its nose at Fox News, the public option may turn up in some form somewhere, somehow, pilots fall asleep. And TV waits for the next picturesque grotesquery to occupy us all, real or not.

The View from the Couch Extra: The following appeared October 22, 2009, in the South Bend Tribune:

What will health care reform look like?


President Obama reminded a lot of voters on Sept. 9, during his speech to a joint session of Congress on health care reform, why they voted for him last November. It may well be too late, but it wasn't too little. For the first time, more or less, the president spelled out what he wanted in his health care legislation. His speech restored some dignity and power to the subject, despite the summer's carnival sideshow that has been sweeping the nation's airwaves, the bogus fears of death panels and socialism for all.

Thus far, it's only been socialism for Wall Street, but that hasn't been the message of Rupert Murdoch's many media outlets and the right-wing radio talk show megaphone.

Indeed, that clownish aspect did rear its head during the president's speech: Joe Wilson, a Republican representative from South Carolina, shouted out "You lie" at the president. Locally, Mark Souder, the Republican congressman from the 3rd district of Indiana, echoed Wilson after the speech, calling the president's address "fundamentally dishonest." They are the voices parroting the right wing's fringe.

President Obama did describe the role of the public option as a safety net, to be part of an insurance exchange, not, in his version, to be employed for four years and then only available to the uninsured. I, and other proponents of reform, would like the public option to be much larger. But for the perennial opponents of any form of government involvement in health insurance for the nation, even this small part is too much.The same forces were against Medicare a half century ago, shouting the same slogans. Back then, one idea, one I favor, had been to cover children up to the age 18, as well as the old. But the young got thrown to the wolves by the time Medicare was signed into law in 1965. Now, even with Medicaid and other government programs, nearly 10 percent of our country's children are left uninsured.

Instead, President Obama is sticking to his revenue-neutral payment plan for his version of reform. He pledged he would not sign any bill if it adds "one dime to the deficit." LBJ, in the 1960s, downplayed as much as possible how much Medicare would cost in order to get it passed.

How to pay for an enlargement of Medicare? We could ask donations from Wall Street firms and banks that have been given our millions. Or Obama could insert a 1 percent surtax on everyone making over $250,000 a year. That would keep him within his campaign pledges.

Or, he could increase the Medicare payroll tax a half percent, to 1.95, from the current 1.45. Most Americans, except the die-hard anti-tax crowd, would pay a small amount of tax where the benefit is immediately realized. Now, with Medicare, you have to get to your mid-60s to reap the benefits. Imagine if workers saw all the country's children immediately covered by a small raise in taxes. There's a tax that wouldn't seem so pie-in-the-sky.

But such reforms, doubtless, are pie in the sky. And, given the virulent minority opposition to even the middle-of-the-road reforms Obama proposes for the health care system, they too may well end up pie in the sky. The president's health care speech was certainly memorable; we will see if it was effective.

Community journalism can only survive with community support.

If local, independent journalism matters to you, please consider supporting NUVO with a paid membership. In 2019, 100 percent of membership dollars go towards our editorial budget/paying writers.