Can’t find anyone to root for here–Jerry Springer is speaking at the NU law school graduation this year, and the students are pissed. On one hand, Jerry has plenty of places from which to peddle his wisdom. On the other, I mean, come on (emphasis mine):
“Our graduation from law school will be a lifetime memory, and our ceremony will be etched forever in our hearts and minds as we remember back on our special day. With that being said, I and our fellow classmates wish to express our deep sense of anger, embarrassment and surprise to hear that it would not be a State Senator, or Supreme Court Justice or Civil Rights leader or the like addressing us with words of wisdom and support and encouragement”
That language virtually drips with “Pomp & Circumstance.” Guys–you’re gonna be lawyers, and you’ll need that anger for more interesting stuff. My graduation will be a lifetime memory, and etched forever in my heart, and etc, and John Mearsheimer, a gifted and respected professor, spoke on the subject of Iraq and preemptive war. It was interesting, and I’ve totally forgotten what he said, having read and listened to many words of wisdom in my fairly short life, including lots on the subject he spoke on. I guess it comes down to what you want in a graduation speech–“words of wisdom and support and encouragement” from an acceptable source, or . . . something different. Personally, I think someone who’s both insanely successful and widely considered to be a fuck-up would be fascinating to hear from, if we’re talking life lessons and such.
Personally, I think the Medill School of Total Information Awareness should steal him away from the law school, because it would be funny. None of my amusement at this, incidentally, has anything to do with having gone to the U. of C.
Fun Jerry Springer factoids: he was born in a London tube station to Holocaust refugees; his dad was a taxidermist.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time Jerry has offended the powers that be in Chicago. In 1998 Carol Marin quit Channel 5 when he was brought on board, and lo, there was much lamenting. Michael Miner described the fallout, and it seems worthy of quoting at great length:
As if Milton were whispering in his ear, Springer defended himself Monday night against the winds of doctrine beating him. “This elitist snobbery that only people who meet an anchor’s approval should be permitted to share the set is now being hidden in the self-righteous cries of journalistic integrity,” he asserted, delivering his first sermon as a Channel Five commentator. “Please understand. We have no journalism in a free society unless we have commentary from all parts of the community–from the poor, the disenfranchised, the left, the right, the outrageous, and yes–the different. Not just from the endless array of Walter Cronkite wannabes that populate every news program in America so that virtually every news program looks alike.”
Too many Walter Cronkite wannabes is broadcast journalism’s biggest problem? Springer was a breath of fresh air gusting strong. “Look. I’m sorry the anchor quit,” he went on. “I’m sorry she found it necessary this week to use me as her stepping stone to martyrdom. But as much as I detest the editorial snobbery on this issue, I would never ever suggest that she doesn’t have a place on our airwaves. She does. But here in America the rest of us do too. I wish she could have met my dad.”If you came in on the middle of his commentary you probably wondered what his dad had to do with anything. You’d missed his heart-wrenching opening, when he explained that he came from a family of Holocaust victims. Which is why back in the late 70s, when he was mayor of Cincinnati, he was reluctant to issue some neo-Nazis a permit to march through town even though he knew what the Constitution said. “But my dad reminded me that this is America,” he reminisced. “That this is the freedom we sought when we escaped. So we must never be a party to silencing any person or any point of view, no matter how despicable.”
You might have supposed that Springer’s astonishing conflation of himself with despicable neo-Nazis would have left his critics speechless. But no. The next morning, flouting the canons of journalism that prescribe a dispassionate recounting of events, the press let Springer have it. If Truth was going to grapple with Falsehood over the state of television, the beat reporters wanted in on the fight.
For what had to be the first time in its history, the Sun-Times honored a TV commentary with a banner headline: “Springer fights back.” Robert Feder quickly inserted himself into his story. “Viewers may have been struck by the irony that Springer frequently features neo-Nazis on his entertainment talk show,” he wrote. “They also may have noted that with five hours a week of national television exposure, Springer has ample opportunity to air his views.”The Tribune’s Steve Johnson was even more partisan. “Springer wrapped himself in the American flag, the Holocaust, and the sackcloth of the little guy standing up to the media elite….Much like his talk show does, he made the issue cheap and ugly.”If he’d been on his toes Springer could have ducked that potshot by quoting the Areopagitica. “If it come to prohibiting,” Milton wrote, “there is not aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself; whose first appearance to our eyes, bleared and dimmed with prejudice and custom, is more unsightly and unplausible than many errors.”
As we’d say these days, the truth ain’t pretty. Springer’s problem, the odd time he tries to stand on principle, is that he’s romped for years on television never taking principle seriously. “If it’s not outrageous it doesn’t get on,” he once told the Dallas Morning News. “Nobody watches any of us because they think this is enlightenment or the truth.”
But Springer wasn’t just another cow pie on the road to perdition. Channel Five was bringing in to speak his conscience somebody who didn’t have one (was he expected to rent a conscience for the occasion?). To inquire after truth, somebody who says TV isn’t in the business of it. Hiring Springer was a breathtakingly cynical piece of casting. Channel Five was thumbing its nose at the public’s discernment and its anchors’ principles.
So, at least, it seemed to the anchors. They got precious little sympathy from the Sun-Times. The editorial page gave Marin and Magers a stiff dressing down, pointing out that just because you frolic with fleas it doesn’t mean everyone’s going to think you’re a flea. Some people won’t even think you’re a dog. “It is unlikely that Springer’s views would destroy the professional credibility they have,” said the Sun-Times. “These popular on-air personalities, both of whom are rewarded with multimillion-dollar contracts, would appear unflatteringly elitist if they bar the door to another commentator because they deem him unsuitable….However well-intended, there is no room in journalism for elitism.”
When Springer went on TV Monday night the Sun-Times gave him his basic text.From another paper, the editorial’s views could be dismissed as fatuous idiocy. But the Sun-Times knows more than the rest of us about elitism. Owner Conrad Black has spent a lifetime pursuing the subject. Return to 1995, to that evening when what the Sun-Times dubbed the “global glitterati” descended on our city for a Conrad Black soiree at the Cultural Center. This was the night that drew–let me check the guest list, printed in its entirety in the Sun-Times–among others Margaret Thatcher, “Baroness of Kesteven, O.M., P.C., F.R.S.,” the Honorable Walter Annenberg, the Honorable Paul Volcker, General Vernon Walters, and George Will. Not to mention the host and hostess themselves, “the Hon. Conrad M. And Barbara Amiel Black, P.C., O.C.”There was room in journalism for elitism that night, two full pages of it.
What the Sun-Times understands, and wishes to teach the rest of us, is that there is good elitism and bad elitism. Good elitism is never “well intended”–or badly intended, for that matter. Good elitism simply is. It’s the way of the world. It’s our natural betters treating us like chattel.Bad elitism is when well-paid minions act uppity. Black, who’s a Londoner, and other capable men from the Commonwealth administer the Sun-Times, and I have struggled for a way to describe their sense of duty and entitlement. Perhaps the way to put it is they think of themselves as the Raj. The paper’s heartfelt message to Marin and Magers was the one colonizers offer to the natives everywhere: Stay in your place.