Last Wednesday, I witnessed the very essence of morning television: an "interview" between an airhead and a blowhard.
The latter, Michael Moore, was vociferously bellowing diatribes that, trite as they were, still had more substance than his cinematic oeuvre, while the former, Chris Cuomo, sputtered platitudes that resembled questions only in the rising inflection of his voice.
About the best thing you can say about Cuomo is that he didn’t inherit the looks or charm of his father, former New York Governor Mario ("I had to build more prison cells than any US Governor in history because I opposed the capital punishment and couldn’t repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws!") Cuomo. On the other hand, he also doesn’t have his daddy’s oratorical or even dialectical skills, such as they were. As for Moore, what can you say about him, except that next to his interrogator-impostor, he seems like, well, Cuomo’s father? That’s saying something because it’s not saying much.
Moore was a guest on Good Morning America, the program on which Cuomo purports to be a journalist. Sometimes I tune into it because I can tune it out: Its movement allows me to keep track of time as I’m making myself presentable enough to walk out the door, yet it requires absolutely no involvement from me. Other people watch GMA as they’re downing their morning coffee. The caffeine wakes up their bodies; the program’s chitchat puts their minds to sleep.
But I digress. The ostensible purpose of the "interview" was to discuss Moore’s new film Sicko. Since neither of them knows much about its alleged topic, they were about as likely to engage in a meaningful exchange of idea as I was to morph into Angelina Jolie while I applied my lip gloss. Worse, Moore and Cuomo both mistake the most tired shibboleths, whether they’re visual or verbal, for substantive reasons or even thoughtful responses. This is what makes Moore’s films completely unmemorable after you get over the initial shock (or simply hype) about them: Simply showing an image might make a statement, but it doesn’t tell a story, much less present a meaningful discussion. The same might be said of the clichés that Cuomo intones to conceal the fact that no thought has ever beclouded his pretty little head.
Back when I could purport to be more of a leftist than I am now, there was no one whom I felt more embarrassed about agreeing with than Pat Buchanan. Although some of his opinions still make me cringe, I have come to respect his willingness to call both government and business plutocrats, as well as the media, to task for their lies and hypocrisies. Moore seems to lack any such capacity, or more precisely, he seems to mistake decibels for dialectic, which is why he now occupies that place Buchanan once held in my mind. However, if Cuomo ever learns to do anything besides stare into a camera and repeat his surname, he just might give Moore a run for his money.
With Cuomo and Moore occupying the same set, it was no surprise that the morning’s chatfest veered into a vertiginous trip through Moore’s opinions, with Cuomo regurgitating current versions of the shopworn fantasy that it really is Dulce et decorum for someone to pro patria mori: American forces must remain in Iraq so that the deaths and mutilations of some of their compatriots won’t be in vain. Moore then accused him, and by extension the rest of the mainstream media, of misrepresenting or even glorifying American involvement in the war. While he was right, at least in the macro sense, unleashing his fury on the hapless Cuomo made as much sense as, well, invading Iraq to retaliate for the events of 9/11.
True, Cuomo did what he’s paid to do: push people’s buttons. And that he did when he invoked his colleague, journalistic "plant" Bob Woodruff, who was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq: "[He] almost got killed because he wanted to show the truth of the situation." If we follow Cuomo’s tautology, we have to continue fighting the so-called Wars on Terror, Drugs, or whatever else you care to name to ensure that the suffering of people were injured or killed in them were not in vain. This, of course, is exactly the sort of mentality that perpetuates war and every other kind of governmental excess. Cuomo seems incapable comprehending this fact.
To be fair, Moore also seems to lack such understanding. Thus, he and Cuomo share the same fundamental flaw in their view of the world (such as it is): Every problem or crisis, real or manufactured, requires governmental intervention and needs publicity hounds like them to convince people that such coercion is necessary. They also seem to think, as Cuomo Sr. surely did, that if a government can’t interfere in one arena, it simply must meddle in another. And whatever happens, the job of people like them is to report the "truth."
Surely there have been more grotesque spectacles that have been passed off as "interviews." But few interchanges revealed the true character of media and government more than what transpired between Chris Cuomo and Michael Moore on GMA. They actually managed, for a moment, to make the developmentally-arrested Barbie dolls on Faux News seem like Karen Kwiatkowski and Amy Goodman (with whom I often disagree, but whom I greatly respect for her diligence and intelligence). If Cuomo is considered a journalist and Moore an artist, no wonder this country is in such a mess!
Justine Nicholas [send her mail] teaches English at the City University of New York.