Monday, April 14, 1997

Book Review: A compendium of Braschian views

Published in the Mountainview

Walt Brasch's nationally syndicated weekly column on the media provides the source material for Enquiring Minds and Space Aliens: Wandering through the Mass Media and Popular Culture, published by Mayfly Productions. The oddity begins with three different tables of contents. as a way to get potential critics "to shut up and let the rest of us enjoy life." A series of commentaries on the politics and influence of the media, the collection of columns entertains and informs.

Brasch has a finely honed sense of fair play; he breaks ranks with most pundits by holding media organizations and reporters to the same standards to which they hold the public and public figures. He also puts them in familiar contexts, portraying a fictional trade between news organizations, of one seasoned reporter for "two rookie reporters, an editorial clerk, and a future draft choice."

Brasch decries media collusion with big business and government to mislead the people, and satirizes the media's ability to influence the public. He offers several examples throughout the book, including tabloids in supermarket checkout aisles, explaining that as a commentary on American public interest, they are a frightening spectre indeed.

Also frightening, he notes in one somewhat subversive column (“Wonderings of an Idle Mind"), is the American tendency to ignore bad news and to favor what Brasch clearly considers not "news."

Beyond the serious to the humorous are examples of stories journalists can't file (because they're not true), but should (because it would be so nice if they were true). One of these is NBC's reinstatement of a failed series based on the 1960s civil rights struggle, because, despite terribly low ratings, the subject matter is important,

Brasch's work has a serious element; he uses his column to provide a combination of several interviews: Woodstock attendees and Ohio National Guardsmen present at Kent State. A story hard to define in conventional newspapering finds a home and a voice in Brasch's column. A touching arrangement of well-selected quotes demonstrates insight and talent at discerning subject matter which probes the far reaches of the American popular psyche.

Brasch holds forth with critiques, both positive and negative, of all forms of media in the United States. Advertisers take heat for promoting cigarettes, newspapers for hiring practices, government publicists for their forms of "spin control," and news magazines for theirs. Brasch advocates responsibility and accountability, while offering insight into the true motivations of the public affairs industry.

His story, however, is one-sided. Those who disagree with him have no voice of their own in this book. This is only appropriate because it is a collection of columns; the columnist is traditionally allowed to put words into mouths of adversaries and allies alike, while a news reporter tends not to be permitted the same liberty. This is not to criticize Brasch's journalism skills; those columns in which they, rather than his pundit alter ego, are present, indicate a particular adeptness with words and facts.

Perhaps Brasch will expand some of these columns into chapters in a future book; his observations as a veritable turncoat in the news business are informed from the inside, and attempt to permit the average person to see his world from the inside. It is a world with inherent and deep contradictions, and one which until recently had the respect of a large portion of the American public. It is for reasons like those Brasch illustrates that the public's interest in news and respect for news organizations is waning.

Unfortunately, Brasch offers precious little in the way of solutions to this problem. He even shies away from stating point blank that there is a problem; his satire does the work for him, which is simultaneously admirable and disappointing.

For those seeking an insider's look at the media with the irreverence of the public, this is, above all, a book to enjoy. Its title is far from the only quirky and entertaining thing about it; satire is a dying art Brasch has rekindled some and directed it at a common scapegoat:  the media.