The Coastal Post - July, 1996

Media And Media-ocracy

MARK VAN PROYEN

Now that the electronic dust has settled over Kathie Lee Gifford's "I love children" debacle, the Media and Media-oracy team has put together some interesting pieces that illustrate how things operate in media land. You remember Kathie Lee, daytime hostess of the sickeningly tasteful "Regis and Kathie Lee" show, of which the only good thing can be said is that it does not feature a parade of incestuous mutants eager to humiliate themselves for the price of a hotel room and a plane ticket.

Well, if you are not familiar with the show, then surely you are familiar with the line of Kathie Lee garments sold at Wal-Mart, a product line that is worth $300 million in annual sales (with nine millions going to Kathie Lee herself last year). As the post-NAFTA economy would have it, many of those garments have been manufactured in Honduran sweatshops by 13-year-old girls working 15-hour shifts under "armed guard," some of whom were charged with affixing labels to said garments reading: "A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this garment will be donated to Children's Charities."

For this revelation, we have the research of labor and human rights activist Charles Kernaghan to thank, plus the good people of Inside Edition, Dateline and Prime Time Live! for playing the role of popularizer, which had the effect of spilling blood into the shark-infested waters of media-land. Naturally, the first two fins to appear were those of David Letterman and Jay Leno, and each took a few substantial bites, which in turn prompted a comic orgy of abject cynicism, parading under the banner of "spin control." Tears were a big part of it, reminding many of us of Tammy Fae Baker's dripping mascara of a decade ago.

On May 1, a tearful Kathie Lee appeared on her syndicated show looking bloated and disheveled (great makeup!), waxing indignant and litigious about Kernaghan's completely substantiated allegations: "How dare you say that I don't care about children!" Then, the New York Daily News got into the act by revealing the existence of another Kathie Lee sweatshop in New York City (!) which has been paying undocumented workers less-than-minimum wage.

This last revelation had the Kathie Lee machine operating in high gear, with Kathie Lee's husband Frank (of Monday Night Football fame) running down to the sweatshop to pass out envelopes of cash to the underpaid workers, a brilliantly staged photo-op that surely was worth every penny in damage control alone. Then came Kathie Lee giving the performance of her life, making public testament to "our national shame," promising to work to put an end to the scourge of exploitive child labor, while Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (a major architect of the post-NAFTA economy) applauded.

The Kathie Lee saga reminds us of that old story of farmer Bill, who, after enduring successive years of plague, drought, pestilence and IRS audits, finally got down on his knees and cried, "Lord, I am a good man, why do you punish me?" To which the Lord replied, "I don't know, Bill, there is something about you that just pisses me off!"

Yea! There is something about Kathie Lee that pisses a lot of people off. It isn't just the insufferable paeans to motherhood, or the sanctimonious tone of voice that allows her to sound authoritative on subjects that she knows nothing about (read: everything), it is the whole package, and the cynics who created it. Just as vacuum cleaner motors are designed to be much louder than they have to be so as to make dejected housewives feel powerful, so too is the Kathie Lee package designed, complete with frivolous castrati Regis and the unshakeable faith in empty platitude, to make the realm of domestic turmoil (so exaggerated by other daytime shows) seem nonexistent under unctuous waves of virtuous posturing, hypocritical posturing at that.

Of course, the subconscious connection that many people will make is between Kathie Lee and Hillary, another do-gooder who people tend to dislike despite her concern for "the children." Certainly, Hillary has her Whitewater problems, and Kathie Lee her little peccadillo with slave labor, but both women want to make it clear to an uncaring world that they are the ones who care. In Kathie Lee's case, the magic almost seems to have worked, if the June 3 edition of Time magazine can be taken as an indication. Instead of recapping the Kathie Lee debacle, they devoted a plaintive cover story to the topic of "Who Speaks for Kids."

Their answer was the admirable Marion Wright Edelmen, the president of the Children's Defense Fund, a woman who has done more to derail the Gingritchite attack on civil society than a thousand windbags such as ourselves. Her message: The greed of the present is raping the future, and something should be done. What? Well, for starters, we should stop seeing "the children" as the excuses for our proliferating moral quagmires (i.e, we raped the environment and started the war "for the children"), and start seeing those children as the inevitable victims of those quagmires.