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Self-righteous kid-bashing.

Of all the vacuous platitudes to spill forth from punditland, few are more hollow than the solemn announcement that a particular event is "a wake-up call for America." The Los Angeles "riots" were proclaimed such a wake-up call; so were the slayings of two Japanese exchange students in the past year; and so, most recently, have been the murders of tourists in Florida. But as soon as the pundits feel they have done their duty by mouthing this cliche and advancing a series of solutions Joseph Stalin might admire, they hit the snooze alarm and go back to their dreamland where white men in suits, safely sequestered in posh and well-guarded office buildings, are the ones who most deserve our attention.

Here's the typical pattern. An event occurs revealing, once again, the pathological strain of violence in America, made considerably more virulent by the insane proliferation of guns. Next, the media spotlight probes into the dysfunctional nature of the black family, the irremediable barbarism of black youth, and the utter hopelessness of reversing the trend, except for building more jails and hiring more police. Then it's on to asinine predictions about whether Yasser Arafat will or will not be killed by "his own people," or whether the passage of NAFTA will hurt Ross Perot's standing in the polls.

The dismissive--indeed, moronic and often vindictive--coverage of the terrifying rise of violence in America, especially in the lives of our nation's children, is itself nothing short of criminal. The pundits, most of whom are clueless about the status of children in America, spew a lot of superficial blather about "values" and two-parent families while failing to discuss even one concrete proposal that would help prevent kids beset by violence and poverty from turning into murderers.

In the wake of the latest murders in Florida, we see how such coverage urges white America to throw up its hands in despair and support completely reactionary, and often unconstitutional, politics. While emphasizing that black children need safer communities and a sense of hope about their futures, William Raspberry, on Meet the Press, also insisted that "White people cannot reach this group" and that there is nothing the Government can do about the current situation, except for imposing swifter and harsher punishments on youthful offenders.

This Week with David Brinkley devoted an entire show to "the barbarity" of murdering foreign tourists and the rise of "youth violence." Emphasis was on the violence young people commit and not on the institutionalized violence--the barbarity, if you will--that they have been raised with since birth. And a soundbite like "Maybe 80 per cent of these crimes are blacks victimizing whites" only reinforces the racist myth that most black kids are criminals, and completely inverts the real power inequities between the races.

Every guest on the Brinkley show insisted that there was no role for the Federal Government to play in this crisis, but that solutions had to come from individuals and their communities. Yet these same experts urged vaguely that there be more "support" for inner-city families, especially for single mothers. How you "support" young mothers without the Federal Government financing quality low-cost child care, or providing incentives for private investment to create jobs in our inner cities, or making birth control and abortion cheap, if not free, and easily available, is beyond me.

No one pointed out that nearly 22 per cent of children under the age of eighteen live in poverty, and that poverty is more common for children than for any other age group. In the 1980s. while the number of U.S. billionaires quintupled, the number of children who fell into poverty increased by more than two million. Nor did anyone note that if we took the $160 billion or so we're spending on the S&L bailout, and directed it toward our public schools, child-abuse treatment programs, and health and nutrition programs for our kids, we might start getting somewhere.

Instead, we got some totally gratuitous--and worthless--sixties bashing, as when Isaac Fulwood, former chief of police of Washington, D.C., asserted that one big source of the problem is that people "were taught in the 1960s that ... there is no right and wrong." Not only is this utter drivel, it gets us nowhere.

Not to be outdone, George Will insisted that the real problem is rhetorical, that "there [is] something in the very vocabulary of the therapeutic state of Florida that doesn't sound quite serious about crime" and that what we really need is "the language of punishment." Will would back up this sure-fire linguistic initiative with 150,000 to 200,000 more cops, advocating "the saturation of bad neighborhoods with good policemen." I guess it's easy to argue for a police state when you're white and rich, and have scrubbed from your disk the images of Rodney King being pummeled by some good ole boys in blue.

Nina Totenberg seems to believe the Federal Government does have a role to play, and she uttered the two words that have been unutterable on the talk shows: gun control. Gordon Petersen, advancing one of the biggest pundit whoppers ever, said, "We've talked about gun control endlessly here, I don't know what you could say at this point." Excuse me, Gordon, you all never talk about gun control, as evidenced by Evan Thomas's staggering blooper that there are "200,000 guns". in circulation in America. Evan, would you please slide that decimal point over just a tad: the correct and horrendous figure is 200 million firearms in circulation, 60 to 70 million of them handguns, which kill fourteen children every day in this country. When are the other pundits going to follow Totenberg's lead, get some guts, and take on one of the great sources of evil in our country, the National Rifle Association?

This Week with David Brinkley would have done well to feature some other experts--the teenage editors of Children's Express and the young people they interviewed in Voices from the Future, a powerful collection of oral histories about growing up with violence in America. Someone from the Children's Defense Fund might have been able to squeeze in some specific policy proposals amid all the self-righteous kid-bashing. Yes, the murders of foreign tourists are savage and repugnant. But so are the childhoods that lead those kids to pull the trigger.
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Title Annotation:media commentary on violence; Pundit Watch
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Freedom time.
Next Article:One good mother to another.

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