Oppression at the Ice Box and Gonzo Headlines

Riding To Work In The State’s ‘Most Dangerous City’…Corporate Journalism Comes To Town…Fighting The Farce of ‘Fake News’…Trump Is The New Nixon…Proposed AG Considers Jailing Journalists…Saudi Arabia Is A Savage Land…Time For A Unified Ireland, Independent Scotland…And On And On, The World Keeps Spinning…

The ride to work offers a bit of time for contemplation, though such inner musings are hard to wrangle when one has to jump between the news exploding from the radio and the news yet to be written at the office – add to that a few moments to think about the kids and the wife, the strange rattling coming from beneath the hood of the car, the anticipation of hearing the interlock beep so I can have another cigarette, and you’ve got a fine recipe for a mind nearly crippled by its own overactivity.

I usually pull up to the Selma newsroom around 10 a.m. Inside I hear the rattling of a printer; the unintelligible chirping from the cop radio; the tapping of keys at work on matters of circulation, editorial and classifieds; the clanging of tractor trailer doors as they unload barrels of ink and enormous rolls of newsprint into the press room below; the conversations of local lunatics spurting gossip and conspiracy theories, as if the journalists inside should give one hoot in hell what they’re trying to say ; a wave of profanity pouring from the Editorial Department while, overhead, the floor creaks beneath the weight of the Advertising Department, no doubt pacing back and forth attempting to find new ways to rain misery down upon the writers below. It’s a fine scene, to be sure, but one that unfolds in relative safety while the city outside could descend into complete anarchy at any time. Selma is widely considered one of Alabama’s most dangerous and violent cities, which isn’t entirely false – just over a week ago, a man walked out of his home to find his car on fire and was then shot nearly 10 times and left bleeding on the pavement. Occurrences like this are not uncommon – gang violence is rampant and the burning car technique is one of the most effective as it is sure to lure someone out of their home and, if it does not, it leaves them with no effective method of escape. The city is crumbling beneath the weight of poverty and it’s hard to tell which came first – did all of the businesses pack up and leave town because the city’s so violent or did the city become more violent because all of the jobs left town? No doubt there are scientific and journalistic methods that can be employed to make such an assessment but, for my current purposes, I have no interest in the intricacies of the matter – the fact is that it is this way and this is the situation that I work in each day.

Alongside the gang violence that horrifies most residents, there’s an administration in city hall that is either grossly inept, willfully negligent or wickedly corrupt – I suspect there’s more than a little bit of each mixed together to create the soured recipe that the people of Selma are forced to ingest each day and you can be goddamn sure that we’re working around the clock to find out which…and to prove it. We have no preference – proof of negligence is just as good as proof of corruption when it comes to politicians, though corruption would string the story out a little longer with embarrassing court hearings and the like – except to prefer that the people of Selma have a local political infrastructure that at least pretends to give a shit about the city’s needs. Add to this a police chief seemingly more interested in prosecuting three of his own officers and who, if appearances prove anything, has a more-than-cuddly relationship with the mayor and the stench of impropriety is bad enough to choke out anyone who stops by to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Dr. King led a score of freedom fighters on a march for justice not 60 years before.

It’s a strange combination – the history of righteous struggle placed uncomfortably atop the contemporary reality of political and social turmoil and economic failure. Stunning, indeed, and made worse by the invasion of corporate media entities determined to paint a picture even more bleak than the one the eye sees. To be fair, there is no lack of tragedy to be found in Selma, but corporate news in its never-ending quest to feed the weakened minds of its readers with click-bait headlines seems to never really dig into the broader reality of the scene. A recent article detailed the declining population in the town and set about interviewing residents on how the city is going to shit and spared no energy in painting a picture of a town mired in desperation. The week following the story’s publication, the local news team heard about nothing else – not because residents were shocked with the findings that the article exposed, but because people who were interviewed and painted a brighter picture were left out of the story, their information wholly ignored in an effort to stick close to the tragic editorial that would grab eyes and simple minds. Such is the way of corporate news – if the information doesn’t support the angle, ignore the information and find a source that will tell you what you want to hear. And this publication wasn’t the only one to do it – countless news sources from all across the state and nation, one from across the pond, have descended on Selma to pick up quick headlines, never staying long enough to write the whole story or do anything of worth for the people who call the Queen City home. It’s a goddamn infuriating travesty but, sadly, one that will never let up – not in this tiny town or any other that suffers throughout the nation. Where there is low-hanging fruit to be plucked, you can bet the corporate news will come in to pick it – all the while, the local news team, diligently documenting the daily doings in the town, is forced to weather the verbal assaults from city hall.

Right. Selma’s mayor, in an address meant to inform the citizens of Selma of how things are going and assure them that their mayor, despite appearances, was working on their behalf, started his comments by calling the local newspaper “fake news” – an elected official who has placed gag orders on department heads, prohibiting them from reporting to the local council, and refused to provide financial statements to the body tasked with handling the city’s money issues, while placing code locks and cameras outside of his office and refusing to answer the phone or respond to any kind of correspondence from the press or the citizenry, decided it would be wise to launch an assault on the press in the first moments of his first address to the city in a year. It would be laughable if it weren’t so despicable. To be fair, it still is laughable – a public official who takes offense at the way the press has covered his administration should know better. Better coverage could be possible if there was even an attempt at honest transparency and communication, but there has not been and, if I had the money to put down on it, I would wager that there will not be. So, a few days after his poorly-considered comments, I launched my own assault in the pages of the local newspaper – as a wise editor once told me, “You never fuck with the press – we buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”

And the slander hasn’t stopped – a week or so later, after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been ignored for a month, I sent a second request demanding immediate action, both in the request and in an article I penned for the paper detailing the ongoing spat. The mayor’s response: a quickly written press release referring to the local press as “fake news” peddling “alternative facts.” And, as is the local leader’s modus operandi, he called for unity and collaboration within the same statement.

Such criticisms of the press are becoming more and more common these days – in the age of Trump, a president who himself has called the press an “enemy of the people,” despite it being a prerequisite for a free and open society as spelled out in the nation’s founding document, those who maintain a semblance of integrity in the media are being slandered and attacked in ever-expanding ways. Sadly, this is not an uncommon tactic among despots and misanthropes the world around. The Nazi Führer was known to loathe the idea of the free press and our own Nixon, whose detestable story of corruption is strangely similar to the unfolding story of our current president, showed much the same contempt, for obvious reasons.

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.” – Adolf Hitler

“The press is the enemy.” – Richard Nixon

“They are evil people, the press, the media, they are bad people, and nobody, nobody lies like they do.” – Donald Trump

While it is not my intention to explicitly insinuate that Selma’s mayor is as deranged a monster as the likes of Hitler – for he certainly is not – nor to insinuate that Nixon was or Trump is, but it is interesting to see how tyrants of any sort degrade the press, whose constitutionally-protected craft is specifically designed to be a watchdog for the people, persistently looking for the things that the public is meant not to see and exposing those things to the citizenry so that it can act in an enlightened matter as it sees fit. While Selma’s mayor is only a tiny splash is this ocean of indecency, Trump – like Nixon, whose political life he is nearly imitating to precise measures – is a much more dangerous and disastrous example of this type of degeneracy. Like Nixon, Trump is wrapped up in a political scandal that will, given the proper allowance of time, most definitely sink his political ship and, with any luck, his entirety. Like Nixon, Trump has repeatedly denied involvement while his closest colleagues are being indicted and prosecuted and turning state’s witness to stunning effect. And, like Nixon, Trump is targeting those most responsible for his demise – the press. Though Trump’s destruction is evidence of little more than the fact that the press has done its job with incredible effectiveness, the president would have us believe that the typhoon of incriminating reports have been dreamed up by the fiction writers employed by the nation’s most respectable news sources, most specifically The New York Times and The Washington Post.

What’s worse is that Trump’s new pick for Attorney General, William Barr, recently said during his confirmation hearings that he would not rule out jailing journalists if he felt it was necessary to rein them in. Holy shit! The United States of America is slated to confirm a nominee for AG who said publicly, on national television, that he would consider jailing journalists! What the prerequisites for taking such measures would be are unclear – who would decide that a journalist has committed a crime heinous enough to be jailed? In Trump’s administration, I would argue that no person should be trusted to make such a call, as the crime of telling the truth may well be enough to be charged with high crimes, treason and the like. At face value, Barr seems less villainous a character than Trump’s previous AG – whom Alabamians are all-too familiar with after suffering beneath his buffoonery in the U.S. Senate for generations – but that illusion makes him all the more terrifying: a man obviously inept and vicious is much less a threat than the one who skillfully cloaks his bloodlust in professionalism and civility. Only time will tell what kind of beast Barr will become – it is beyond doubt that he will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate and wield ungodly amounts of power as the nation’s top law dog.

Enough of this – the Selma mayor’s cronies will likely get a notification that the man has been mentioned on the web and set snipers to off me as I exit my vehicle and walk to the newsroom one of these cold, Southern mornings. Such would be an eloquent end, a fall to the sniper’s bullet, Coca-Cola in hand, as I reach for the door to the newsroom, beneath the American flag and in full view of morning traffic crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge and careening down Water Avenue and Broad Street. This will not be the case, obviously, but the repercussions of talking so openly in this most digital of ages has consequences beyond those that can reasonably be considered – time will tell, I suppose. But while I envision a bloody end in the Black Belt, the world continues to spin out of control – fascistic tendencies are cropping up all over the globe and in Saudi Arabia, a place that needs no infusion of vicious autocracy to realize its most horrifying possibilities, things are worse than ever. Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is outwardly advancing the nation toward a more progressive end while maintaining a stranglehold on the archaic antiquity that has made it one of the most brutal hellscapes on the planet.

I listen to NPR religiously – the sound of Top 40 Hits or Contemporary R&B or Rock Classics is quite inappropriate in the morning hours and I prefer to ingest the world news of the day as I roll down the highway toward the newsroom. At any rate, last week there was a show on sharing the statements of women who have had to flee the Middle Eastern nation for fear of atrocious abuse at the hands of the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands – including being locked away for months for cutting their hair or talking to a person of the opposite sex, being sent off to a women’s prison or, in some cases, falling victim to “honor killings.” Observers point to the fact that, under MBS, women have experienced new freedoms that never before could have been considered – like driving cars or attending sporting events – but even these require the express consent of a male custodian. And the brave few women who are able to escape this wrath by securing a passport and taking flight to another land, both of which also require a man’s approval, have to spend the rest of their days looking over their shoulders for some bearded assassin afraid that they may better inform the world of the sandy and brutal regime of Arab nazis maintaining a deathgrip on that distant nation and its people.

To be fair, this should come as no surprise to any keen observer, or any half-assed observer for that matter – Saudi Arabia has been a land mired in violence and brutality and corruption and repression for countless generations. Hell, the blood of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – who, if the reports are to be believed, was lured to the Saudi embassy where he was tortured and eventually mutilated by bone saw at the hands of a Saudi death squad, undoubtedly at the request of MBS, for taking exception with the regime’s way of doing business – can still be seen on the Crown Prince’s pursed lips. All the while, supposedly civilized nations, a class the United States may no longer belong to, have turned a blind eye as long as the oil faucet continues to flow.

And while all of this continues to unfold on the granular shores of Saudi Arabia, the people of the United Kingdom are embroiled in their own existential crisis surrounding the outbreak of nationalist sentiment that called on the nation to depart from its alliance with the European Union (EU). The ins and outs of “Brexit” are hard for anyone to understand, even those who follow its daily mutations, but one thing is for certain – the same kind of white supremacist inclinations that have now been welcomed to the surface in the United States are wholly to blame for England’s current struggles with departure. Right. If not for racists convinced that the struggling immigrant seeking refuge in their land is the cause for all of their difficulties, and ridding the white man’s land of these largely brown-skinned sufferers would end the myriad travesties wreaking havoc on the island nation(s), there would be no “Brexit.” This can not be argued. However, the Brits have backed themselves into a corner – even the conservatives who supported the initiative can’t be relied upon to cast a vote in favor of the Prime Minister’s plan to divorce The Union.

The details aside, now would be a perfect time for the lands of my ancestors – Scotland and Ireland – to break away from the British leash that has held them captive for so many generations. In Ireland, which is at the center of the impasse regarding “Brexit” – the EU is not budging on a hard border between Northern Ireland, still under England’s thumb, and independent Southern Ireland – the obvious move for the six counties that make up England’s claim to Ireland would be to unite with the South and finally become an independent nation. I can’t expect everyone to be as well-versed in the tumultuous history of Ireland and its freedom fighters’ pursuit of one, unified and independent nation, but suffice it to say that it has been bloody and long-lasting. Even so, Ireland (meaning the South, as the North, still colonized by the British, can’t legitimately be considered part of the country) has established itself as a prosperous and advanced nation. Sure, the shadow of Catholicism still looms large in the nation, but advances are being made constantly to push the nation forward without the yoke of ownership carried by those in Northern Ireland, who still graciously serve their English masters. With the ongoing debate being waged in English parliament surrounding decisions that will undoubtedly adversely impact the people of Northern Ireland who do untold amounts of business with their brothers and sisters to the South, there has never been a better time for the North to breakaway and join the Republic and, in doing so, retain their connections to the EU.

Much the same can be said of the lads and lasses in Scotland, who not too long ago narrowly voted down an independence motion. Like Ireland, Scotland has a long history of visionaries longing for self-determination and independence; a long history of yearning to be free of England’s often historically oppressive hand. Again, like Northern Ireland, the people of modern Scotland often celebrate their forced servitude to the English crown and shudder with fear at the prospect that some gaggle of rabble rousers might pull them away from the Queen’s teat, but aside from the historic quest for liberation that should stir the Scottish people to fight for their independence, the squabble around departing the EU should be reason enough for even the naysayers to contemplate a departure of their own – not from the EU, but from English oversight.

These headlines and analyses are only the tip of the iceberg for the tumult the world is experiencing today and every day, as on and on the world keeps spinning – Venezuela is enraptured in another attempt by the imperialists in the U.S. to foment chaos in Latin America by backing its self-proclaimed president, which seems hysterical that the U.S. would involve itself under the guise of supporting democracy when its own system of governance seems, more obviously now, tainted by corruption and collusion; the trade war between China and the U.S. continues on the heels of America’s own recently-completed government shutdown, which may well rear its ugly head again in a couple of weeks, causing untold amounts of mayhem to American farmers, car makers and more; the French are rioting in the streets, natural and fascistic disasters are plaguing the people of Brazil, violence is erupting in the Philippines while the government tries to pass a law trying nine year old children as adults and…

But the presses keep running each day and there’s hope in the pages they churn out – not necessarily uplifting news, but the hope that some news article might shake the populace awake and lead it to act in a way it might otherwise have not if allowed to stay blinded by the dark and oversized hands of our leaders, both elected and otherwise.

And now I need a drink, before noon on a Sunday, and they won’t sell beer at the gas station down the street since my county is dry. Oppression at the ice box, indeed. So I’ll try to sleep, knowing that when I awake the laundry will be done and I’ll need to fold it so the kids will have clean clothes for school on Monday; knowing that when I awake the headlines I write today will be out-of-date, expired and executed to make way for the next day’s invasion. To hell with it, let’s load up the car and drive one county over. Luckily, the county doesn’t go too far north from here and we can cross over the borderline in about 10 minutes. Grab a case of cold beer, two packs of menthol cigarettes and a copy of today’s paper and see what’s happening today that won’t matter too much tomorrow.

“The inescapable hurry of the press inevitably means a certain degree of superficiality. It is neither within our power nor our province to be ultimately profound. We write 365 days a year the first rough draft of history, and that is a very great task.” – Phillip Graham



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