Jeff Cohen (Media critic?) speaks on campus

I don’t know why I feel drawn to events like this one last night. Jeff Cohen, headlined as a “media critic,” came down from his home in Woodstock on the sponsorship of the SUNY New Paltz journalism program to tell a seemingly alert audience in Lecture Center 108 how awful was the time he cashed paychecks written by the ‘orrible Fox News (for five years) and other “corporate media,” which includes his stints at CNN and MSNBC.

Assuming that I haven’t changed or mellowed in the years since I first saw Cohen doing gigs on CNN’s Crossfire in the mid-1990s, then my compliment that he is not personally the rotten little punk he was back then could mean something. He seems now a much more regular guy, almost charming. In other words, he’s no Eric Alterman.

That said, and even if I stipulated up front that the “corporate media” or, as it’s known in the blogosphere, the MSM (mainstream media), is a dinosaur drowning in its own sewage, I would be remiss if I did not point out that his entire talk rested on a mountain of unexamined premises so steep as to make it virtual nonsense.

First among these unexamined premises is that a settled opinion grounded in BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) is simply understood as the point of departure in any mature discussion of American politics (and that’s what this discussion was really about) by all intelligent people. The immediate subclass of that settled opinion is that Iraq is a “disaster,” a position that BDS sufferers will not let go of even should they find themselves, a few years on, frequenting all the fine new restaurants in Baghdad as they tour the city in convertibles attending a New York Times-sponsored conference on “How the United States failed in Iraq.”

I went to the talk with only one question to ask, if I decided to ask a question, and that was going to be “How’s that Hugo Chavez guy doing?” I think it was the last time Cohen came down to New Paltz it was Chavez for whom he was flacking. Since then, Chavez, the Mussolini of our generation, as Mario Loyola pinned him, has had the Venezuelan National Assembly grant him the power to “rule by decree,” and is now angling to have presidential term limits thrown out so that he can become president for life.

Cohen did not mention Chavez last night in front of the mostly student audience, perhaps because it is Venezuelan students who are now taking to the streets to protest his ambitious program to turn their country into a neo-Stalinist paradise. Nor did anyone in the audience (up to the point when I left) ask Cohen about his earlier enthusiasm for the Venezuelan president. I decided not to raise the matter, sensing that the crowd wouldn’t know to what I referred. After all, that was so last year (literally), and time marches on.

The irony apparent last night was that Cohen darkly flashed the standard argumentum ad Hitlerum when he cited a Louisiana radio station’s sponsorship of a bulldozing of Dixie Chicks CDs as reminiscent of Nazi Germany. (Better to make the point of the “true” nature of this “corporate media” of ours: not just a vast wasteland, but a vast wasteland with barbed wire, barking dogs, and jackboots at the ready. You know what I mean.) The Chicks, Cohen said, had made a joke about George Bush. That’s not exactly what happened (they ran Bush down in front of an audience in Europe, and their American country music audience took exception). But in any case, the crushing of country music CDs would seem a publicity stunt unrelated to the Nazi bonfires for books program. But everyone can have their own opinion, I suppose.

So, moving on, the mountain of unexamined premises undergirding Cohen’s talk would take the usual fifteen-volume exegesis, and I can’t make time for that today. But Cohen’s reeling off of the names of conservative pundits Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan (both hard opponents of the Iraq war, by the way) as though they were well-defined curse words referencing boors of Platonic stature, but then speaking of the well-known affliction of boorishness called Phil Donahue as if he were but the friendly green grocer and salt of the earth we all love to hear from, was the sort of symptom, like the loud sniffling of the young woman standing behind me at the talk, that told me Cohen was rendering a diagnosis of “corporate media” that he might want to apply to himself, first.

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