Call for nominations for OpEdge’s Ketchup Award, named after the condiment Reagan officials called a vegetable serving.

Many people act as if they really believe the first line to St. John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the word.”  They think by using a word or phrase they can create or deform the reality being described or make people look at it from a different perspective. 

For example, when corporations started using the term “downsizing” to describe massive layoffs of employees, the idea was to conceal the human misery that layoffs cause by shifting the focus from the people to the ephemeral entity that is a corporation.  With this newly created compound noun, they sought to replace the message, “2,000 people are losing their jobs” with the more positive message, “The company is getting smaller (and stronger).”

Of course, most people saw through the ruse, so in time another new phrase entered the lexicon of terms to describe massive firings: right-sizing.  People quickly saw through that one, too.

(A quick note: companies sometimes do have to terminate the employment of many people when changed market conditions or foolish moves by management threaten the continued operation of the business.  What I’m talking about here is the language they use, and not the actions they take.)

Examples of these euphemisms are everywhere: “pre-owned” to describe a used vehicle; “police action” to describe a war; “special methods of questioning” and “refined interrogation techniques” to describe torture.    

Sometimes, the replacement term is a piece of jargon that sounds weird until it is repeated endless times, such as the use of the word “product” to describe something intangible like insurance, software or a professional service.

So far, most of the examples I’ve given are simple euphemisms: synonyms that pretty up the situation or concept.  Sometimes, though, the new term is meant to manipulate or completely distort, usually for an ulterior motive.  My favorite example of all time is the Reagan Administration’s attempt to consider as a vegetable that goopy combination of tomato paste and corn syrup we know as ketchup.  Reagan’s folks wanted to define ketchup as a vegetable and not what it is, a condiment, so that they could cut the budget for the school lunch program and still say that the children were getting a balanced, healthy meal, ignoring the low nutritional value of ketchup compared to fresh or canned tomatoes, green beans, carrots, kale or other real vegetables (not to mention that to constitute one serving of vegetable, someone would have to choke down a half-cup of ketchup).

Other times, the new label is an out-and-out lie, as when earlier this year Tea Party elder mis-statesman and former Congressman Dick Armey said that the founders of Jamestown, all capitalists to their core, were socialists.  Armey turned these early American entrepreneurs into socialists rather than admit that a capitalist venture could ever fail and to hammer home his false message that any and every economic failure must stem from socialistic actions.  

As a writer and a student of language and society, I find these new words and phrases to be quite fascinating, especially when they spread lies or manipulate the public.  That’s why I decided to bestow an award each year on the weirdest, funniest and/or most manipulative new or newly reported label, word or phrase used by an organization or individual to distort or recreate reality.

It’s called the Ketchup Award, after the Reagan Administration’s favorite vegetable, and I’m asking my readers to send me nominations by December 31.  I’ve mentioned the awards twice on OpEdge, so consider this blog entry the final call for submissions.

If you would like to nominate a new or newly reported distortion for the first annual Ketchup Awards, just post it in a comment on one of my blog entries, send your nominations to the OpEdge FaceBook page or email  Please include the phrase and the person or organization who said it in your nomination.  No need to include any links, but keep in mind that my staff and I will have to verify the word or phrase, who said it and that it was actually said in 2010, and a link will make it much easier for us to do so.

In a special blog entry on or around January 15, 2011, I will list at least 10 finalists and make three awards:  3rd Place gets One Dollop; 2nd Place Two Dollops; and the grand prize winner will get The Full Squeeze. 

There will be no prize for the submitter of the winning entries, except for the recognition you will receive on OpEdge and the warm feeling you’ll get inside knowing that you have helped to unmask a charlatan.

Thanks in advance for your nominations.

Virginia decides to keep a 4th-grade history book that contains a big lie about the Civil War.

I’m guessing that by this point, a lot of OpEdge readers have seen the news that a new history book that the Virginia Department of Education has approved for use in 4th grade passes off the bold-faced lie that thousands of African-Americans fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  As the Washington Post pointed out, “Scholars are nearly unanimous in calling these accounts of black Confederate soldiers a misrepresentation of history.”  

The absurd notion that slaves who were worked to death, beaten, raped and often saw their families torn apart would fight for their oppressors appears in “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” which was distributed to Virginia’s public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers through Internet research, all of which led to the same source, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

And what is the reaction of Virginia education officials?  According to the Washington Post, the Virginia Department of Education says it intends to contact school districts across the state to caution them against teaching the passage which proposes this lie.

Let’s set aside the fact that Virginia education officials never should have used a text book not written by a professional historian, and instead look at their reaction to discovering that Virginia was duped by apologists for the “Old South.” All Virginia state education officials are going to do is issue a warning to ignore the false material in the book.  I have two concerns:

  • What about the benighted or racist teacher who decides to teach the paragraph regardless of the advice from the Board of Education, or the teacher who never gets the memo?
  • What about the students who read more than what is assigned, the ones who devour the entire book because they love history? For example, when I heard about this fiasco, the first thing I thought about was my son, now finishing his undergraduate degree in structural engineering, who read every word of his 4th-grade history book within weeks of getting it because he loved history so much.

I know it costs a lot of money to toss out one history book and buy another and I know money is tight for public education everywhere in the country.  But Virginia made a mistake selecting a book written by a non-professional historian and the mistake could lead to impressionable young minds getting a distorted view about an important, if tragic, aspect of our nation’s history.

Let’s put it in terms of a hypothetical question to which I believe we all know the answer:  Is the state of Virginia and/or any of its school districts going to spend any money over the next five years to improve football facilities at any public school or public university?

To my way of thinking, any money earmarked for improving football programs would be better spent ensuring that 4th-graders have professionally written, accurate history books which do not spread lies, and especially lies about the shameful period of history when the United States of America allowed slavery and about the heroic fight by the Army of the United States against immoral slave owners who had enough political control of 13 states to convince them to try to secede from the union.

Another example of a mainstream media outlet lying in the headline and first paragraph of a news report.

Once again, a news report tells a lie in the headline and first paragraph before giving the true story in the article.  First let’s analyze the article in question, after which we’ll take a look at why such an approach is so perniciously manipulative.

Last Friday, Associated Press released an AP-GfK study on the attitude of likely voters towards the new federal healthcare law that Congress passed earlier this year.

The results of the study divided respondents into four groups:

  • Those who think the law should be strengthened – 36%
  • Those who want to leave the new law as is – 15%
  • Those who want modifications to narrow its scope – 10%
  • Those who want the law repealed – 37%

 When we do the math, we find that 61% do not want the law repealed against 37% who do (the other 2% probably did not respond).   In an election, 61% is considered to be a mandate.

But AP’s headline and first paragraph reported the story in a way that distorted these numbers:

Headline: “AP-GfK Poll: Americans split on health care repeal”

First paragraph: “First it was President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that divided the nation. Now it’s the Republican cry for repeal.”

Huh!?  Since when does a 61-37% landslide majority translate into a divided nation? 

While the survey also shows that 52% still oppose the legislation, the headline and first paragraph do not talk about opposition to the law.  They talk about repeal, and it’s clear that a vast majority of likely voters do not want to repeal the new law.  (Keep in mind, too, that of the 52% who say they oppose the law, many and perhaps a majority oppose it because they want it to be stronger.)

As I’ve discussed before in OpEdge, most people skim the news, only reading the headline and first paragraph of most articles.  That’s why reporters are trained to structured news stories as an “inverted pyramid,” which means that you put the most important information in the first paragraph and bury less important information lower in the story.

In other words, most people who read this article will come away thinking that the country is divided about repeal, when in fact only a minority of voters want to repeal the law.  By pretending the country is divided on one of the Democrats crowning achievements of the past Congressional session, the Associated Press story is lying to the country in a way that helps the Republicans in the upcoming elections.  

And a lot of people will see the story, since AP stories usually get carried in hundreds of newspapers across the country and appear on hundreds of websites.  Moreover, this particular piece of propaganda was the lead story on the Yahoo! homepage for much of the morning of October 25.

And thus another right-wing lie will gain credence among the American people, with the help of the mainstream news media.

News media avoids report on possible illegal activities of a right-wing group that denies global warming.

In a world in which a small-town preacher threatening to burn the Koran and accusations that a candidate hired an illegal alien get reported  by tens of thousands of media outlets for days on end, how extensive do you think the coverage would be of the shocking news that a major national lobbying group may be spending foreign money to influence U.S. elections? 

It’s illegal for foreign countries, companies or organizations to spend money or in any other way influence our free elections.  Americans on all points of the political spectrum are unanimous in wanting to keep foreigners out of our elections.  So the real possibility that one of the highest-visibility lobbying groups was funneling foreign money to help candidates of one party should be pretty big news, something the news media wants to cover for days, searching for the latest Tony Hayward or Joe the Plumber.

And how many newspapers, magazines, TV and radio programs, blogs and websites covered it?

Would you believe fewer than 300 stories total on the topic, according to Google News!

The organization in question is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been feeding Republican candidates cash and taking out attack ads against Democratic candidates all over the country. Much of the Chamber’s  lucre, it turns out, comes from foreign companies headquartered in India, Bahrain, China, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.  

The Chamber claims that the money it collects from foreign companies is kept separate from the funds it has been contributing to right-wing candidates.

But is it true? 

A public airing or investigation might prove that the Chamber has not used foreign money to influence our elections and so has broken no law.  In other words, if the Chamber’s explanation proves true, it merely means that it is using the millions of dollars it receives from these foreign corporations, which by the way take jobs from U.S. workers, to spread the false gospel of global warming deniers and to fight all environmental and safety regulations.

A public airing, though, won’t come without public pressure, and public pressure won’t develop unless the news media tells us the news.  And yet our news media for the most part has sat on this story because it is too busy doing everything possible to help Republicans win this year’s elections.

Maybe I was wrong to wonder why the white working class acts against its own best interest. Maybe it’s just the American way.

Last week I wrote about an Associated Pres-GfK study that shows that the only racial-social group in which the majority prefers Republicans is the white working class.  I pointed out that in supporting Republicans, working class whites act against their own best interests, and wondered why.  I promised to return to the issue when I had some answer to the question.

When I am trying to answer a question, the first thing I do is look at it from many different angles.  The first angle I selected in this case turned out to make a whole lot of sense: Is the white working class so different from other groups in acting against its own best interest?

When I started to think about the question from this perspective I realized that in fact it may be the current American way to act against one’s own best interests.

Some examples:

  • Don’t a significant number of college students, especially freshmen, ignore their studies in favor of socializing, hanging out, video games and partying?  How can that ever be in anyone’s best interest?
  • Doesn’t the news media and popular culture reinforce anti-intellectualism and a dislike for learning? How can brainwashing your customers to act in ways that will leave them less capable to earn the money needed to spend on your products be in your best interest?
  • Aren’t rich people the primary donors to groups fighting environmental regulations and other actions to ward off global warming? These people have theirs and have the most to lose to environmental and natural disasters—you’d think they’d want to protect their world from the depredations of continuing to befoul our earthly nest.
  • Don’t a lot of small businesses belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports positions that favor big business at the expense of the little guy, e.g., is against development of alternative energy sources, which would create enormous opportunities for smaller technology, engineering, parts and related companies.
  • How could it ever be in anyone’s best interest to take out a second mortgage to finance a vacation?
  • Didn’t the Congressional Democrats act against their own best interest by not forcing the issue on a vote for extending tax cuts for everyone but the wealthy before breaking for the election?  They would have put the Republicans in a no-win situation by creating a win-win for their own party.
  • With the history of our Viet Nam debacle and the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan disasters close at hand, how could Congress authorize expensive, unwinnable and goalless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How could these brutal money pits ever been in the best interest of the people they are supposed to be representing?

In short, it seems that it has become the American way to act against one’s own best interest.

Yet if we take a closer look at all these examples, we’ll see that in all cases, people are acting to their short-term benefit even if it hurts them in the long run.  Whether it’s the Democrats trying to survive the 2010 mid-term elections or college students drinking margueritas and smoking pot instead of attending classes, most of these decisions involve filling a short-term “want.”  In the case of working class whites, I think it’s a combination of the lure of lower taxes and the fear of the unknown in the form of minorities, immigrants and gays.

And why do we think short-term all the time?  It’s because the news media and popular culture have infantilized the American consumer to want to fill every want immediately by buying something.  In a way, acting against your own long-term best interest is what drives the consumer-based economy, which partially explains why we’re in our current mess.

“I must have it now” thinking fosters the “I can’t think about it now” syndrome, the “I want it all” syndrome and the “Let’s worry about it tomorrow” syndrome.  These ways of thinking all make people act against their own best interest by foreshortening and distorting the parameters of the definition of “best interest.”

USA Today says we have more people left of center than right of center. Try telling that to the rest of mainstream media.

The “cover story” in yesterday’s USA Today, which I read only when offered no other choice by a hotel in which I’m staying, was its poll that found that slightly more people are left of center than right of center. 

The middle of the front page of the paper is dominated by a pie chart with five wedges, each of which represents one of five types of voters.  Each wedge has a photo of an attractive person who represents the voters in the wedge.  The wedges, that is, types of voters, include:

  • Religious right – 17%
  • Tea Party tendencies – 22%
  • In the middle – 17%
  • Obama liberals – 24%
  • Bigger (government) is better – 20%

Susan Page, the USA Today reporter who wrote the story, neglected to do the math, so I’ll do it for her: When you add together the right of center wedges you get 39%.  When you add together the left of center wedges you get 44%. 

In other words, about 5% more Americans consider themselves to be left of center than right of center.

I don’t know this poll, but for most surveys, the average margin of difference is quite small, 3-5%.  At the very worst, equal numbers of Americans are left and right of center, and it’s possible that the real difference is 8% or even 10%!

Page spent most of the article talking about the answer to another poll question showing that 6 in 10 Americans say the government has too much power.  She ignored any comment on the meaning of the slight leftward sway of the American people, but then again the mainstream media has spent the last year building up the right, which of course has influenced voters.

Some examples, the first few of which I have referenced in past blogs:

  • The national mainstream media provided far more extensive coverage of the Republican primary races than they did to the Democratic primaries.
  • The media nationally and locally have covered the various right-wing marches more extensively than they did the left-leaning marches, and facilitated the dissemination of outlandish totals for the rightist marches.
  • The New York Times has done many more human-interest feature articles on Republican candidates across the country than it has on the Democratic candidates, often dancing around the embarrassing missteps that it has covered in the news section, such as Meg Whitman knowingly hiring an illegal alien, something she wants to punish others for doing; or Christine O’Donnell’s silly statements on masturbation and witchcraft.  In the New York State governor’s race, for example, The Times has written three positive lifestyle features about Paladino and two in which the personal opinions of Paladino and Cuomo are contrasted.  It seems as if The Times is trying to deliver the Italian vote to Paladino, who, remember has made a number of anti-Gay slurs, likes to send racist cartoons and hard core pornography to friends and threatened a reporter.  It did one feature on Paladino’s favorite Italian restaurants and another contrasting Paladino’s and Andrew Cuomo’s approaches to their ethnic heritage.  The second article intimated that both Andrew and his father distance themselves from their Italian heritage, which is not true at all—they just define being Italian as something different from and more refined than the Soprano-Godfather image.

But let’s return to what I think the major implication of the USA Today poll is: the survey is not of likely voters, but of Americans.  Many of the components of the left of center—minorities and those under 30—vote in much smaller numbers than those on the right.  And fueled by the enormous impact of untraceable or hard-to-trace corporate money, money that was not available to them until the Supreme Court overruled the campaign finance law last year, the right is energized in this year’s non-Presidential election.

Here’s the lesson to anyone who wants our government to continue Social Security, have an equitable tax system in which the rich pay their share like before Reagan, increase investment in roads, bridges and mass transit, figure out a way to transition to sustainable fuels, clean the environment, spend less on military, support strong public schools, create jobs and foster an atmosphere in which everyone is free to pursue their own lifestyle—to all these people who are comprised in the left plurality described by USA Today, the lesson is to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if he or she is talking a Conservative game, even if he or she has pissed you off.

After giving expanded coverage to Beck rally, media puts a same-sized rally of left-centrists on the back burner.

Many of you probably won’t know that on this past Saturday, labor unions, the NAACP and hundreds of other liberal-centrist and progressive groups rallied in Washington in support of liberal economic policies, President Obama and Democratic candidates in the November election.

The reason you may not have heard of this rally is that the news media didn’t cover it much.   Remember that when Glen Beck held his so-called “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington in August, more than 5,300 stories appeared on Google News.

But the news media showed much less in this past Saturday’s rally of liberals.  A search of Google News could only find about 930 stories about the rally.  And the stories that did appear seemed to be smaller and less prominent.  For example, the New York Times did not even put its story on the liberal rally on the first page of the national news section, but buried it at the bottom of the page deep in the paper.  The Times gave front page and front of the national section coverage to the Beck rally.

Now let’s consider the issue of attendance.  Most significantly, CBS News, which hired an independent consultant to estimate the Beck Rally at 87,000, made the decision ahead of time not to rehire the firm to do an estimate of the liberal rally.  Perhaps the CBS news executives were frustrated that much of the media preferred to ignore its honest and scientific estimate for the outrageous overestimates of Beck (500,000) and Republican Congressional Representative Michelle Bachman (2 million, but she may have been counting fingers and toes, and maybes ears, too!).  But I think not, seeing that CBS did not even file its own story about the liberal rally online, preferring to use the Associated Press’ version of events.

Most articles ignored attendance at the liberal rally, said it was around 100,000 or commented that it “appeared to be less” than the number at the Beck rally.  A few media published the organizers’ estimate of 175,000.  After looking at a few photos, my uneducated guess is that attendance at these two rallies was about the same.

With or without attendance numbers, the question remains: Why did the media give so much more coverage to Beck than it did to these 400 liberal, labor and progressive groups?  I’m thinking that it’s for the same reason that throughout the 2010 primary season, most media focused on Republican races, almost to the exclusion of the Democratic races.   I’m thinking it’s the same reason that this past week the national edition of the New York Times found room for four personality profiles of Republican candidates (Whitman, O’Donnell and Paladino twice) and none of Democratic candidates.

I’m thinking it’s because the mainstream news media wants the Republicans to win in November.

Much feature news in the business pages of the newspaper are really little PR packages for products or services.

Yesterday I analyzed an article by Ron Lieber in the Saturday “Business Day” section of the New York Times. I want to take a broader look at the entire section today, because it exemplifies what has been the norm in business feature reporting for decades.

The business section of virtually all American newspapers and news magazines has always sprinkled consumer finance features into true business news like recalls, market movements, mergers and economic reports.  These consumer finance features seem to always focus on solving a problem or addressing a trend.  But in fact at the heart of all of them is the selling of a product or service.

Let’s take a look at the consumer finance features in Saturday’s New York Times:

  • We’ve already spoken of the Lieber article, which isn’t selling you on any product, except the subtle hint that your journey to love begins by buying an on-line ad.  The Lieber article instead, sells you on the concept that buying things is the essence of any relationship.
  • “The Bean, the Pod and the Battle” sells us on buying the environmental disaster that is the home pod system for brewing espresso.
  • “A Buying Guide for the Cheap” sells us on using an on-line shopping service.
  • “Sizing up FreshDirect” sells us on buying food through an on-line supermarket.
  • “As Private Tutoring Booms, Parents Look at the Returns” sells us on the need to get a private tutor if we want our kids to do well on the SATs and get into a good school.
  • “Birth Control Doesn’t Have to Mean the Pill” sells us on intrauterine devices (I.U.D.) for birth control.

In all these articles, the writers advocate the ideology of consumerism in subtext and asides, typically with unproven assertions such as “a product that has become a must-have among the chic urbanites,” “Some physician practices are not very familiar with longer-lasting, more expensive methods…” and “since money is still no object when it comes to their children.”  The implication always is that money will buy what you want and what you want can only be bought.

The New York Times is far from alone in filling its pages with features that do little more than sell products and services.  Selling goods and services is the primary function of most news media and serves as the core topic for most feature stories in business, lifestyle, entertainment, health and other non-hard news sections of newspapers, broadcast news, consumer and business magazines, e-zines and news websites. 

Day after day, news and entertainment media make unstated assumptions which define the American ideology.

Of the several definitions of ideology in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, one is relevant to a discussion of communications and propaganda: “a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture.”

What I call the ideological subtext of communications, be it in a TV ad, a news article, a billboard, a website or a movie, are the unspoken “content of thinking” assumed to be true in these media.  We can also call them the basic beliefs and values that the mainstream media share and advocate.  These assumptions color the selection of details of virtually all the media that we experience.  They are hammered into us from childhood to the point of brainwashing.

Over my first year of blogging, I have uncovered eight ideological principles that writers, advertisers and other “media workers” want us to take for granted.  Often asserting one or more of these tenets is the true purpose of a story; for example, all those articles a few months ago advocating that people with money walk away from underwater mortgages were really thinly veiled attempts to uphold several of these core assumptions.

I’m not pretending that these eight core tenets represent the entire American ideology.  These are just the ones that I have discovered time and again in the news and entertainment media and have discussed at length in my blog entries over the past year.  If anyone knows some others, please send them along to me, either as a response to the blog or to the OpEdge page on Facebook.

And just in case it does not go without saying, I want to be clear that I in fact disagree with all of these core tenets, which may be the reason I have identified them so easily.

Eight Core Tenets of the American Ideology:

  1. The market solution is always good, whereas solutions to social problems involving the government are always bad.
  2. The best solution always is acting selfishly in one’s own best interest, whether it’s telling your kids to pay for their own college or walking away from a mortgage when you can make the payments; often called “the politics of selfishness.”
  3. The commercial transaction, that is, buying something, is the basis of all relationships, celebrations, manifestations of love, respect or all other emotional states, and every other emotional component of life.
  4. All values reduce to money—if it makes money it’s good and the only measure of value is how much money you have or earn.
  5. Learning and school are bad and all intellectual activity is to be despised or mocked.
  6. The most admirable people and most worthy of emulation are celebrities, especially movie, Internet and television entertainers.
  7. Suburbs are good and cities are bad.
  8. As a nation, we need the guidance of experts before making virtually all decisions, but only those experts whose advice is always the same: to buy something.

The fact that most of these core tenets have to do with money probably results from the source material: the news and entertainment media which to a large degree have dedicated themselves to selling the products and services of their advertisers and sponsors.

It looks as if this review of my first year of blogging has turned into a four-parter.  Tomorrow I’ll talk about some trends in the news I identified over the past year and Friday wrap up with a statement of my own political and social agenda.

Parade reveals what July 4th means to its publishers: an opportunity to promote mindless celebrity culture.

There’s no question that Parade, the largest circulation publication in the United States, is going to put July 4th front and center in an issue stuffed into newspapers for Independence Day delivery and use it as a platform for mouthing the most depoliticized platitudes about honoring our country.

But what Parade did this year is quite surprising, because its coverage of the country’s birth by declaration is so devoid of traditional patriotic and militaristic homilies that it transforms the holiday into a mere summer diversion.

The cover and three of the four articles in the issue dated July 4th are about Independence Day.  The cover features two pre-teen girls dressed in the kind of flag costumes and body paint that would have had right-wingers yelling ”damn commie hippy” back in the 60’s when I was their age.  The three articles are 1) a story about a town that has had an Independence Day parade since 1785; 2) an encomium to safe fireworks; and 3) a page of blurbs by famous people on “What July 4th Means to Me….”  The point of the other long article in the issue is to glorify immigrants who came from Ireland in an earlier age. 

Notice that in the July 4th features there is nothing substantive on our founders, nothing on sacrifice for country, shared values, the long road to freedom that started in 1776 and is ongoing, or even the current arguments about the relevancy of the ideas of the late 17th century to today’s post-Industrial society.  

I want to pay particular attention to the article titled “What July 4th Means to Me…” The secondary headline limits what the celebrities say to “Celebrities share their favorite holiday memories.”

And that’s just about all they do:  Seven actors, all of whom have their photo showing and an imageless Buzz Aldrin (second human to walk on the moon) tell us what they used to do on July 4th as kids.  All but three give nothing but memories of a celebration that could be for any summer holiday, or even just a summer family picnic.  The five whose published statements make it seem as if they believe July 4th is just that three-day holiday that kicks off the sunshine season include four actors in faddish hot entertainments directed at teens and young adults, two from “The Twilight Saga,” one from “Glee” and one from “Gossip Girl;” the other is the aging actress Doris Roberts who has played supporting roles in situation comedies for decades.

The three celebrities who in their memories provide at least some comment on what the holiday means beyond “fun in the sun” represent left, center and right political views, but in ways that either conceal the opinion or drain it of all controversy.  Interestingly enough, the three tepid views are presented in a diagonal, from lower right for the “right-wing” view to upper left for the “left-wing” view, with the centrist in the middle:

  • Buzz Aldrin (lower right), astronaut, ends his memory of fireworks with “Our country is a guardian of liberty and freedom,” a vaguely militaristic and slightly right-wing statement because it is one of the excuses we always use when going to war, even a war over resources or geopolitical maneuvering.
  • Jimmy Smits (center), actor, mentions that “Dad and mom were very mindful of passing down the fact that coming to this country was an opportunity…”  It’s certainly a pro-immigration statement, but like the story on discovering Irish roots, non-threatening since Jimmy’s family comes from Puerto Rico, a long-time U.S. possession whose residents are considered citizens.  Virtually everyone living in the United States is the descendant of immigrants, and I think the centrist view is that’s okay, as long as your family has been here awhile.
  • Josh Brolin (upper left), actor, references A People’s History of the United States, lefty Howard Zinn’s wonderful history of the U.S. from the perspective or the poor, minorities and women. “It made me feel a sense of patriotism…” Brolin gushes.  Well done, Josh, to bring this important historian’s most accessible work to the millions who peruse Parade.  It is the only moment of real content in Parade’s coverage of the 4th.  As a statement from the left, however, it is as innocuous and as easy-to-miss as what Smits and Aldrin said, so plays into one of the ideological messages in the subtext.

What then does Parade communicate in the ideological subtext of this article and its broader coverage of the 2010 version of its July 4th coverage?  Two ideas, I think:

One of Parade’s hidden messages is that the only truly newsworthy celebrities are (white) actors.  It’s amazing that not even an athlete or pop musician makes the list, although I imagine that Kevin McHale of “Glee” does something musical.  What if instead of all these actors, the celebrity list included one or two elected officials (or the first lady or even Michelle’s mom), a scientist or two, a chief executive officer of a technology company, a classical or jazz musician and a popular literary writer such as Don DeLillo or Michael Chabon?  Maybe even add an unknown like someone who just won a “teacher of the year” award.  The selection of experts to use is one of the most important ideologically-tinged decisions that any writer or editor makes.  Parade could have made the statement that great novelists, scientists, economists and elected officials are celebrities to revere and follow.  Instead it chose to state that only the opinions of mass culture actors are important.

Parade’s second hidden message is that the current purpose of the July 4th holiday is neither to commemorate, celebrate nor debate shared values, but to have a good time at a barbecue and see a parade and some cool fireworks.  We have no way of knowing everything the celebrities said to Parade’s writer(s); the only statements that make the story describe the fun that was had by all.  

None of the articles focus on things you can buy on and for the holiday, so Parade doesn’t wallow explicitly in mindless consumption.  But its message nevertheless supports the mindless consumer culture by focusing on hedonistic fun that somehow gains undefined higher meaning because it occurs collectively in the family or community.  All meaning is once again embodied entirely in the hedonistic fun—in other words, in consumption and consumption alone.    

In the past, Parade has taken the patriotic or issues route in its celebration of Independence Day.  For example, I remember one cover from more than 10 years ago in which then-First Lady Hillary Clinton earnestly and proudly saluted a flag with two fine upstanding white young people.  That this year’s coverage is so devoid of real content only reflects the current news media trend towards triviality and away from serving as a forum for discussing issues or increasing knowledge.  Someone might argue that at least there isn’t any war-mongering or militaristic propaganda, but in a real sense, all Parade has done has been to replace one set of myths and manipulations with another.