Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How it really is

    Media critic and New York University professor Neil Postman once signed off his Sunrise Semester TV lecture with a varia-tion of CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite’s signature phrase, “And that’s the way it is.” Postman paraphrased it by saying, “Or at least that is the way we at CBS say it is.”
    Postman’s point was that how informa-tion is presented affects how those con-suming that information perceive the world. It is a lesson we ignore at our peril.
    This week the news media reported the death of Shirley Temple Black, a child-hood star of the 1930s. As an adult, she was a well-known Republican fundraiser. Hardly a mainstay of the U.S. Foreign Service, Black was appointed a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly by President Richard Nixon, a Republican. Black then served nobly as ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, and also as ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992.
    It shouldn’t matter whether someone liked or disliked President Nixon and his policies. A fair and balanced appraisal would conclude that his appointment of Black turned out to be a wise one.
    FOX TV, a pro-Republican partisan network whose motto is “fair and bal-anced,” recently pointed out that Presi-dent Barack Obama’s nominee to Norway, George Tsunis, seemed uncertain about Norway’s form of government during a confirmation hearing. FOX is also highly critical of the president’s appointments to other foreign posts. In this, it’s disingenu-ous, to say the least.
    History instructs that even those with-out political experience have succeeded as ambassadors with little background in diplomacy. It hasn’t been unusual for presidents from both parties to tap promi-nent socialites to serve.
    President George Bush Sr. appointed real estate heiress Joy Silverman as am-bassador to a group of Caribbean islands. President George Bush Jr. appointed Mary Ourisman, a Texas-born socialite, as am-bassador to the same group of islands. Both former presidents are Republicans.
    A fair and balanced approach would explain the history and point to both fail-ures and successes. For example, Presi-dent Bush Sr. named an ambassador to Ireland who was accused of investing in a bogus tax shelter in that very country.
    On the other hand, appointments by presidents from both parties have served with distinction, including former Sens. Mike Mansfield, a Democrat, and Howard Baker, a Republican, along with former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Demo-crat—all ambassadors to Japan. Busi-nessman W. Averell Harriman, a Demo-crat, distinguished himself as U.S. special envoy to Europe during World War II and later became ambassador to the Soviet Union.
    So, praise President Obama’s successes and report on the failures. Those facts, not partisan perceptions, should shape public opinion of the president. That should be “the way it is.”

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