A pair of headlights cut through the darkness of the country road behind me as I was covering institutional racism in rural Georgia for The Savannah Morning News in 1994.
More than 30 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a Dream Speech” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the town of Claxton and the surrounding county were still a place of overt racism.
Longtime mayor Perry Lee DeLoach – still habitually used the term “nigger” in public – even directing it at the town’s only black elected official during city council meetings. The high school had separate black and white student governments, separate prom kings and queens, and an unofficial policy against interracial dating.
The 10-member police department had a reputation for roughing up what it considered uppity blacks. The bodies of several young black men who dated white girls had been discovered in outlying areas after similar hit-and-run accidents.
In short, it was the kind of place where a “Yankee Jew Bastard” – my unofficial nickname there – could easily disappear.
The headlights closed swiftly on my pickup in the darkness of the two-lane blacktop, before beginning to pace me at about 200 yards.
That almost never happens on country roads. Cars either pass you or you pass them. They don’t race toward you before trailing from a fixed distance.
I slowed down to protect the identity of my source – a black high school student who’d been warned to stop dating a white classmate by the school principal. I was headed his way for an interview and had zero interest in alerting the white power structure to the nature of my upcoming article. Lest they intimidate my sources. Or worse.
The mystery car drew closer each time I downshifted, before matching my speed as we drove between forest and farmland. We traveled along in this manner for several minutes. The distance between us narrowed from 150 yards to 100 and then 50.
It was less than 10 feet away when I brought my pickup to a complete stop in the middle of the roadway. The vehicle in my rear-view mirror now clearly visible.
It was a Claxton police cruiser.
There was a long awkward pause as I stared the officer down. He floored the gas pedal and hurtled past me, avoiding eye contact.
I landed that story.
It was one of the first big scoops of a journalism career which now spans more than 30 years.
The importance of my work in Georgia sank in for real as I was preparing to move on to my next newspaper, when a biracial girl sheepishly approached me to ask for a photo (above). Her admiration took me by surprise and it began to dawn on me that I hadn’t just done a good job there as a reporter, but had provided a badly needed service to a captive community of decent people who longed to leave the racism of the past behind.
Back then, I thought nothing of interviewing a source on the third floor of their home beside the swollen Flint River while covering Hurricane Alberto (below left). The 1994 storm claimed 30 lives.
It was all a big adventure – a chance to prove myself – and I was constantly amazed that I was being paid for it.
I found myself recalling those formative experiences from my reckless days as a cub reporter last night as I pondered NBC’s hiring of former first daughter Chelsea Clinton as a special news correspondent. It’s the latest hiring of a child from a prominent political family in the contracting news industry.
The field I’ve devoted my life to never seems to run out of room for these opportunistic silver spoons, even as thousands of veteran reporters who have paid their dues are being kicked to the curb.
You may not read it anywhere but here, but I guarantee you beleaguered reporters around this nation are quietly seething with resentment over Chelsea’s latest “accomplishment.” There is such a thing as receiving too much help from mummy and daddy.
An isolated incident?
This kind of caper by the upper crust is becoming the norm rather than the exception as politicians and their kids take over the national-level media. Their entry is transforming journalism objectivity into partisan political cheerleading. Much as the neutral stock analysis that once characterized Wall Street was transformed into advertising during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s.
A news industry that’s supposed to serve the common man as a watchdog over the rich and powerful is itself being remade into a tool of rampant favoritism and political cronyism. In a word – propaganda. News for the rich and entitled, by the rich and entitled.
You won’t see these silver spoons working for a small-town newspaper or TV station. The 1 Percent and their children don’t pay their dues in the sticks like the rest of us and they don’t get roughed up out in the field.
Posers like Chelsea spend their careers in the big network studios. As far away from the masses as they can get.
Journalism can be a tough way to make a living. Mostly because we often find ourselves chasing news stories into dangerous areas. People get hurt and killed doing it. Just not Chelsea Clinton and her fellow country club trash.
That kind of sacrifice is strictly for the little people. The forlorn 99 Percent the Occupy Wall Street movement is always talking about.
We’re the “suckers” who still cling to the fiction we live in a meritocracy, where even the lowest-born among us may speak truth to power without fear. Where we may rise above our humble beginnings by being honorable, talented, patriotic, honest, industrious and passionate about our chosen trade.
Even more disgraceful is the fact that Chelsea will have all of the rights of free speech now routinely denied to most rank-and-file reporters in the increasingly repressive mainstream media.
In the name of “objectivity,” we’re discouraged from expressing opinions on anything. At times, we’re not even allowed to champion the truth over disinformation.
Personal opinions in the news business are now reserved largely for the stars of the newsroom and the rich. Increasingly, they’re one and the same.
The rest of us are treated like equipment. We’re the laptops and the keyboards.
The painful truth is that fake journalists like Chelsea Clinton are stealing from real journalists. They’re tapping into our credibility and wrapping themselves in the fourth estate flag, without ever performing any of the unpleasant work our collective reputation is built on.
Who does she think she’s fooling?
Chelsea is never going to count decomposing bodies, need to seek medical attention after walking through contaminated floodwaters (below left). Or tread a dangerous street in the Bronx or Newark to make sure a murder victim’s family has their say in an article.
She is never going to risk kidnapping in Pakistan to secure an interview with rebellious religious extremists as Daniel Pearl did; rape in Egypt to cover a revolution like Lara Logan; or imprisonment in North Korea to cover the Hermit Kingdom’s starving and repressed people like Laura Ling.
She’s never going to have to play cat-and-mouse with racist cops in a racist town, or have to choose between her job and her professional credibility to prevent a ruthless manager from slanting her stories.
Those are all challenges journalism lifers routinely confront. With very little fanfare.
The painful truth is that most of us don’t get paid nearly a as much as you think or live the kind of glamorous lives you’ve been led to believe by Hollywood. It’s hard work and when we manage to do a good job, in spite of all the layoffs and budget cuts, our joy if often reduced by the public’s misguided belief it happens all the time.
Trust me, it doesn’t.
The game-plan for Princess Chelsea is to derive the reputational benefits conveyed by her apparent association with us. Without ever actually shouldering the same challenges.
In my book, that’s a form of plagiarism at best. Outright parasitism at worst.
Chelsea’s trying to steal from us. What she is trying to appropriate is the idea 20 years from now that she made unspecified sacrifices for the greater good during her time as a journalist. Because that’s what we do.
It’s just not what she does.
Her poser garbage is really no different than George W. Bush playing dress up as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.
The silver spoon mofo partied hard, to the point of being absent without leave, during his noncombat assignment to the Texas Air National Guard. Meanwhile, real fighter pilots were getting killed overseas and being emotionally burdened with the knowledge of the collateral damage generated by their ground attack missions – AKA dead babies and fallen comrades – as they fought to advance the greater good of this nation.
It’s not hard to imagine the conversations.
Question: What did you do during the Vietnam War Mr. Bush?
Answer: “Oh, I was fighter pilot.”
Question: Really, you do much fight’in?
Question: What did you do during your youth Ms. Clinton, when the middle class was being battered by the worst economic climate since the Great Depression?
Answer: “Oh, I was a reporter.”
Question: Really, you do much repot’in?
This kind of thing is more than just a bad joke on the rest of us. Every time some child of America’s political aristocracy gets handed a plum job they did not earn it’s a setback for decent working people everywhere.
There are literally tens of thousands of real journalists who are holding off on starting families until they can secure the kind of job that was just handed to Chelsea on a silver platter. There are also tens of thousands of proven journalists – just like me – scrambling to remain in an industry we love after being idled in one of the recent mass layoffs.
Finally, there are literally hundreds of thousands of college grads with journalism and communications degrees who will never work in this field, albeit through no fault of their own.
The U.S. news industry shed 14,106 of its 55,715 jobs from 1990 to 2010, according to the annual employment census by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. But that apparent 25 percent decline is only part of the story.
The real decline is actually 40 percent once you adjust the number of professional journalists for our nation’s rapid population growth. The U.S. population expanded to 310 million in 2010 from 250 million in 1990, dropping the number of professional journalists per million Americans to 134 from 223.
Colleges and universities awarded about 872,000 baccalaureate, master and doctoral degrees in communications and journalism during that same 20 year span, according to the annual employment census by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the University of Georgia’s annual survey of journalism and mass communication graduates. That’s 21 grads for every position in the industry.
If we all had one month careers everybody might get a shot. Otherwise, not so much.
Academia cranked out an amazing 50,850 bachelors degrees and 4,480 masters degrees in 2009 alone. Even though there were only 1,641 newsroom vacancies that year and most were filled by industry veterans changing employers.
All of which means that landing a real journalism job is like winning the lottery for new college graduates right now.
Unless your name is Chelsea Clinton.
There is never any reduction in the number of newsroom jobs grabbed up by the silver spoons. It doesn’t matter if it’s the worst of times for the rest of us, because it’s always the best of times for them.
Powerful parents don’t do their kids any favors when they shield them from the real world in this manner. Not unless they expect to live forever.
Chelsea and those like her will all have to stand on their own feet at some point in their lives. When that time comes, after mummy and daddy are dead, the people who were quietly pissed off about the special treatment they received may no longer be so quiet.
Why would any parent who loves their kids set them up for that kind of resentment and animosity?
They do it because they’re surrounded by people with a financial interest in making them feel good about themselves. Famous people in the U.S. constantly run the risk of losing their ability to distinguish between right and wrong in this sea of fawning approval, regardless of whether they’re named Hillary Clinton or Michael Jackson.
Celebrity culture advances the myth that a famous person who is good at one thing is good at everything. However, a lot of successful politicians are very detached parents, who don’t make enough time for their children. They often try to make up for it afterwards in misguided ways.
Securing a plum reporting job for your child in a journalism industry that’s in freefall is one of them.
Chelsea’s new network gig at NBC isn’t about journalism. It’s about building the legend of Chelsea. A cub reporter who is set to earn an astronomical $600,000 a year solely on the basis of her last name.
Meanwhile, baby journalists of the same vintage and experience count themselves lucky to be exploited via unpaid internships at lesser news organizations. By comparison, Chelsea might as well be royalty.
I’m sure Hillary is thinking that if she can’t be this nation’s first female president, maybe Chelsea can. As a journalist, Chelsea will be able to advance that goal by raising her face and name recognition. Without paying for advertising.
It’s one of those misguided ideas which sound great on paper, like the televised carrier landing of George W. Bush aboard a small jet aircraft on 2003 in front of a huge “Mission Accomplished” sign. Nine years later, we’re still fighting the two wars Bush initiated, and he looks like a rich kid playing fighter pilot dress-up for Halloween (left).
Chelsea’s new job has the potential to be the same kind of bone-headed move of epic proportions.
Roll the clock back to September of 1987. I’m sitting in a car outside the old Bronx House of Detention with my dad, who died a few years back.
Unlike the parents of the silver spoons, he actually served in combat in the defense of this nation during World War II. My Pops crash-landed in occupied France aboard a D-Day glider, fought and starved in the Battle of the Bulge, liberated death camps in Germany, and was badly wounded as his unit of combat engineers built a bridge under fire during the Battle of the Elbe River.
We were looking up at the imposing prison in the South Bronx, which towers above 151st street like a huge yellow cinderblock, when he cleared his throat.
“Are you sure you want to do this,” Pops asked me, lifting a graying eyebrow.
I was still living at home at age 22, but I was about to become the first student-journalist to conduct a jailhouse interview in the New York City Corrections system. My subject was Larry Davis, a fellow Bronx resident who had been arrested for shooting six New York City police officers in a 1986 gun battle.
Davis was known for robbing drug dealers and working as a confidential informant for police. He was a suspect in seven murders at the time and was captured after a two-week-long international manhunt.
The New York Post and New York Daily News had been calling Davis a “Mad Dog” in the kind of libelous headlines that appear when a suspect isn’t expected to be taken alive. The photos they ran made him appear 6-feet tall.
I didn’t recognize the 5-foot-4-inch tall Davis when he finally entered the jail’s crowded cubicle farm for our meeting after a four hour delay. He had donned a pair of glasses in a bid to look studious.
“Where’s Larry,” I said impatiently, looking down at the unfamiliar face walking toward me from a barred door.
“I’m Larry,” Davis said, looking up.
“You’re Larry,” I asked. “Come on. You can’t be Larry – Larry’s taller.”
“Everybody says that,” Davis said with a shrug.
An hour later Davis and his legal aide Al Hajj Idris Mohammed were squaring off with eavesdropping Corrections officials. The confrontation seemed ready to go nuclear, with me in the middle, until I managed to calm things down.
I landed that story, which helped get me into The Columbia University School of Journalism.
Didn’t see Chelsea there.
Chelsea Clinton is not the first unqualified silver spoon from the professional political class to be handed a plum news job. There are tons of them. Maria Shriver helped start the trend in the late 80s when she landed a network news gig seemingly out of nowhere. Also at NBC.
The current crop of media silver spoons includes MSNBC’s Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain; ABC’s Chris Cuomo, the son of former New York State Gov. Mario Cuomo; and MSNBC’s Jenna Bush Hager (right), the daughter of President George W. Bush.
Hager’s professional qualifications?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Either she was hired on the strength of her status as a teacher’s aide and reading coordinator, or she was hired because her daddy is the former head of the Republican political machine.
Curiously, her first big accomplishment was landing an interview with Bill Clinton, the former president and icon of the Democratic political machine. How much do you want to bet that one of Chelsea’s first big “gets” will be a similar interview with former president and Republican political machine icon George W. Bush?
Apparently, it’s not enough for the Bush and Clinton families which have wrecked this nation the past 20 years to give their children every possible advantage of money, place and power. These new American royals still feel compelled to stick a thumb on the battered scales of workplace justice.
This kind of over-the-top coddling makes you wonder how smart their kids really are if they still can’t compete with the rest of us on a level playing field. Even with their fancy prep school educations and all the other advantages of being born into a wealthy family.
The public school system is either a helluva lot better than we thought or the pampered kids of the 1 Percent aren’t worth a damn.
All of which brings us to another silver spoon mofo named Chris Cuomo, who decided to make a career in journalism after growing bored in the legal profession.
Unlike most broadcast news journalists, Cuomo didn’t have to start his career at a tiny TV station in the boonies where he had to carry his own video camera and tripod. Or start his print news career at a tiny daily newspaper with no employee health insurance.
I still bear the scar (right) from a laceration suffered while changing the oil in my car in 1992 when I was working for the Pekin Daily Times. A small daily outside Peoria, Ill.
There was no employee health insurance and I couldn’t afford $440 for the ambulance. Much less $160 to put the stitches in and another $160 to take them out. Not while making $15,000 a year before taxes and paying $300 a month in student loans afterward.
So, I fixed it up myself. Badly.
It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is a constant visual reminder that I don’t come from money and I don’t count for shit in this country because of that.
It’s a safe bet that most of those reading this column have been faced with similar choices. Cuomo and his fellow silver spoons have not.
I’ve got a hunch they neither know how to change their own oil, nor change a tire.
Yet they want to lead and are convinced they’re better than the rest of us.
I fail to see the innate superiority they’re supposed to possess.
Cuomo started right out as a political analyst for Fox, CNBC, MSNBC and CNN in New York City. To his credit, he’s done some fine journalism, but we’ll never know how many of his accomplishments are due to him and how many are due to his famous daddy.
Because every door was opened for Chris. By someone else.
You can’t really measure a person until you see how they function in adversity. So, we don’t know who Chris Cuomo is yet. Neither does he.
What adversity has Cuomo endured?
I don’t count leaving the legal profession. And let’s face facts – if Cuomo had been a member of the 99 Percent he could never have done it.
Because the kind of student loans the 99 Percent are saddled with in law school don’t permit such capricious changes of heart.
This kind of thing always reminds me of an interview I conducted with Bernard Harleston in 1987. He was president of the City College of New York in Harlem when I was a student-journalist there. He was also the first African American to hold that position.
I asked Harleston if he had been able to shield his children from the racism he had confronted during his life. His answer surprised me.
“There’s no such thing as shielding,” Harleston said. “If I were talking to parents or young people I would say ‘don’t even conceptualize shielding.’ Shielding means you are raising your children in an artificial environment.”
The same lesson needs to be applied to Chelsea and her fellow members of the new American political aristocracy. Like Meghan McCain (right).
Want to know what Meghan’s qualifications are for one of the handful of network television news jobs?
NBC News hired the 27-year-old as a national correspondent Nov. 21.
Like a lot of aspiring journalists, McCain had previously tried her hand at writing a blog.
It was published by The Daily Beast – an international news organization that’s a destination for most journalism lifers. I can’t even get them to look at my resume, and I broke the iconic story of Hurricane Katrina (below left).
There’s a tradition in print journalism, which is that reporters start out writing in the third-person and continue to do so for almost their entire careers. Very few get to tell stories in the first person as a columnist, as I’m doing now, and as Meghan McCain does as a blogger. Even after a lifetime in the business.
There’s a similar tradition in broadcast news, which is that people work their way up to the networks from local stations.
Meghan McCain landed her jobs at NBC and The Daily Beast at a time when only a fraction of new journalism and communications grads were able to break into the field. She accomplished this amazing feat with a degree in history.
That McCain blog must really be amazing, right?
Sadly, it’s not.
See for yourself by clicking this hyperlink.
The highlight of each column is the introductory paragraph written by the editors of The Daily Beast. Without them, readers wouldn’t even know what message McCain was trying to convey. The basic story structure needed to communicate that information just isn’t there.
McCain also has a Twitter account. That’s where she chose to respond to the suggestion by one journalist that she had “never accomplished anything.” According to Gawker, McCain posted a series of “expletive-ridden and atrociously spelled” responses. The modest accomplishments they ticked off included tutoring kids at church, delivering flowers to hospital patients, and internships at Newsweek and Saturday Night Live.
Damn. Here I was thinking I was special because I got to cover the cop beat as a college intern at The Bronx Press Review. Back in the days when its weekly murder tolls routinely outnumbered the military casualty counts from Desert Storm.
I didn’t realize delivering flowers to strangers and getting laid by prep school turds were building blocks for a journalism career.
McCain also erroneously claimed to have written the first blog in history to document a presidential campaign in 2008. If she’d done her research she would have known that the first blog to document a presidential campaign was the “Official Kerry-Edwards Campaign Blog,” in 2004, per Gawker.
Daddy McCain didn’t do his offspring any favors by making it possible for Meghan to start her journalism career at the highest level. Instead of paying her dues in the sticks.
Because there’s no place to hide in journalism.
Meghan would have been better off learning from her mistakes at a smaller operation. One far from the national media spotlight in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
That’s what the rest of us do.
It’s not like reporters are hatched as fully formed journalists on some kind of news farm. We pay our dues in the sticks and make our mistakes in the sticks. When we start out in a bigger market, we start out by paying our dues on thankless beats like Cops and Courts.
Paying dues is what legendary CBS Journalist Dan Rather was doing in 1961, when he made a name for himself at the age of 29 by riding out Hurricane Carla in Texas City, Texas. I was thinking of him 44 years later when I was covering the damage from Hurricane Rita in Port Arthur, Texas.
Once the winds died down to about 40 mph I headed out to see what I could see. I passed a competing news team on the side of the highway between Beaumont and Port Arthur. The windshield of their SUV was spider-webbed from running into a low-hanging power line, but they were OK.
I didn’t stop.
Because journalism is competitive and my job is to beat wholesale ass.
Seconds later, I reflexively swerved into the roadway’s grassy median to dodge a low-flying seagull. The bird was suspended about 4 feet above the roadway, flapping its wings frantically in a powerful cross wind. One beady eye fixed on my vehicle in sheer terror.
I caught the bird’s other eye in my rear-view mirror afterward, looking back at me in gratitude, and burst into laughter at the sheer absurdity of it all.
Didn’t see Princess Chelsea anywhere.
Rewind the tape back to 1994.
I’m standing across a road from the headquarters of Bland Farms in Glennville, Ga., next to a grassy field filled with migrant laborers and their vehicles. I had an 8 a.m. interview with Chief Executive Officer Delbert Bland, but was a few minutes early.
I was using the time to gather quotes from the migrants, when Delbert’s daddy “Ray” fishtailed his pickup to a halt beside me in a cloud of dust. The old man leveled a double-barreled shotgun at me through the window, resting it on the driver’s side door.
The openings on the business end of each barrel looked enormous.
The knot of migrants around me evaporated.
I had never met Ray before and he didn’t introduce himself.
Instead, he shouted “who the hell are you,” then insisted I get in, and drove me back across the road to his office in the big onion processing plant. Bouffant hairdos popped up in the cubicle farm inside as the women working the phones there stared at me being marched past them at gunpoint.
No one called 911 or tried to intercede.
Bland Farms, which now accounts for a third of all Vidalia Onion production, had just been fined nearly $600,000 by the U.S. Department of Labor for assorted labor violations.
Inside the office, the 6’4″ Delbert asked me what the hell was going on as his daddy looked on, still cradling the shotgun. “That’s exactly what I want to know,” I told him.
“Are you going to tell me you didn’t know anything about that?” Delbert asked, slamming the latest copy of The Savannah Morning News down on his desk in front of me. It was open to the editorial page.
Delbert and Ray both glared at me as I examined the powerful editorial and cartoon condemning them (above right) and their industry’s systematic exploitation of migrant workers for the first time.
The various newsroom departments don’t always communicate as they should. Which is why the wonderful, albeit poorly timed, editorial spread was as big a surprise to me as it was to the Blands.
I’d heard the Opinion Page was working on something, but had no idea it was done. Much less when it was set to appear in print.
I remember thinking “this is friggin great.” While actually saying “this is terrible – this is exactly why you need to sit down with me and get your side of the story out there.”
I landed that story.
Ran across a migrant laborer with a bullet in his back later that day. Drove him to a nearby hospital for treatment. Drove him back to the abandoned farmhouse where his migrant group was squatting a couple days later, too.
Didn’t see Chelsea or any other silver spoon wannabees out there, looking to play dress-up journalist.
All of which raises a simple question: What entitles this pampered and privileged silver spoon to avoid paying the same kind of dues those of us in the 99 Percent habitually shoulder to claw our way into this godforsaken industry?
I’m willing to bet the bank I’d beat her 99 times out of 100 if we ever went head-to-head on a competitive beat. The one exception being the exclusive quid-pro-quo interview she’d no doubt receive from George W. Bush.
Chelsea already has every possible advantage. Why does she merit even more?
Is it because of her lifelong commitment to journalism?
Princess Chelsea has never been a journalist before and never exhibited any professional interest in the field until she decided to pursue a career in the family business. Elected politics.
She’s notorious for refusing to answer questions from reporters. Even those about her new reporting job.
If I could ask Chelsea a single question it would be “what in the world makes you think you are so much better than me and the middle class people like me in journalism?
“We’ve fought hard for the little we have, devoted ourselves to public service without the benefit of inherited wealth, paid our dues, and made personal sacrifices to be in this field. We’ve risked our lives to get stories and in some cases we’ve lost them.
“What have you ever done, besides be born?”
Playing dress-up at pricey charity balls doesn’t count in my book. Neither does running the family charity.
Like her mom, Chelsea doesn’t need to pay her dues at the local level in elected politics. She’s big-time.
Mom started right out as a U.S. Senator for New York, even though she had never been a New Yorker.
Chelsea is probably going to start right out as a U.S. Representative. Most likely by being appointed to someone’s unfinished term. She won’t have to serve on any school boards or development boards to win her place on the pay-to-play gravy train.
My opposition to her and her fellow silver spoons in journalism has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with economics and life experience.
You know the mythical Liberal bias that’s supposed pervade my industry?
Well, you’re looking at it. I believe in the Liberal principles of democracy, equality and freedom embraced by everyone of The Founding Fathers, long before there was wither a Republican or Democratic party.
I cheer at the kind of regicide which has historically defined Liberalism. And view the rise of the current political aristocracy in Washington, D.C., with dread.
Meaning wannabee royals like Chelsea, Meghan McCain, Jenna Hager Bush and Chris Cuomo who refuse to pay their dues and lead by example.
Chelsea has been a professional student most of her adult life. She’s neither been a journalist nor a journalism student. She attended an exclusive private prep school, just like all the silver spoons in this story.
Chelsea pursued her undergraduate education at the very expensive and very prestigious Stanford University. She went on to earn master’s degrees from the very expensive and prestigious University College, Oxford, and from the very prestigious and very expensive Columbia University. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the very prestigious and very expensive New York University.
Yet somehow, I don’t see her struggling to repay any student loans.
By contrast, I spent 14 years eating lunch at Sam’s Club a couple times a week. I still remember the price for quarter-pound hotdog and soda in 1992: $1.30.
They’re 20 cents more today. I regularly ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ramen noodles for dinner as I paid off my college loans.
I’m sure many of you can relate.
“I ain’t no senator’s son” to quote the song. I ain’t no president’s daughter either.
Chelsea’s supposed to be somehow deserving of her cushy MSNBC gig because she’s better than me?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I don’t think she could walk a day in my work shoes or those of any other journalism lifer who has paid the same dues.
Spin the time machine clock forward to Sept. 6, 2005.
St. Bernard Parish Inspector Ray Couture and I were standing inside the muddy lobby of St. Rita’s Nursing Home, in hard-hit Chalmette, La. We’d just found the corpses of 15 elderly Americans in various states of decay. The final total was 35.
The missing bodies were somewhere under the surface of the muddy, brown floodwaters surrounding the home. The corpse of somebody’s grandmother was found hanging in a tree behind it several weeks later.
The count was a horrendous experience. The bodies looked like they’d been carved from butter after floating in the floodwaters for eight summer days. Some still had catheters hanging out of them.
It took us an hour to perform the room-to-room search in the dark and flooded facility. The wooden doors had expanded in their jambs and it was difficult to shoulder them open without slipping and falling into the stew of decomposing tissue, feces and swamp mud that covered the floor.
Yellow streams emanated from the bodies. A characteristic typical of decomposing fat.
Ray and I were catching our breath in the wrecked lobby when an indignant voice broke the silence.
“This ain’t right,” the voice said, dripping venom. “These guys never had a fucking chance and that ain’t right.”
Ray was staring back at me in slack-jawed amazement when it suddenly dawned on me that the outraged voice was my own.
The “me” I keep penned up inside. The “me” who isn’t a detached, professional observer of the human condition. The real “me” who has opinions and knows each corpse inside St. Rita’s was someone’s middle class grandmother or grandfather.
This angry voice welled up from a place I didn’t even realize existed inside of me. It was completely involuntary.
I landed that story. Didn’t see no Chelsea, or any other royal wannabee.
The same “me” knows leadership is done by example. That this nation’s elites are expected to get down in the muck with the rest of us when there’s hard work to be done, as JFK and George H. Bush did by participating in combat operations during World War II, and as U.S. Senators John McCain and John Kerry and FBI Director Robert Mueller did in Vietnam.
Chelsea and her fellow silver spoons don’t do that.
We work hard in the faltering middle class, without benefit of the huge financial safety nets the Bushes, Clintons, Cuomos and McCains have created for themselves. If those silver spoons can’t suffer along with the rest of us during these difficult times, they’re not fit to lead.
We’re suffering through the worst economic climate for wage-earners since The Great Depression and we deserve to be led by someone like ourselves. A self-made man or woman.
Someone who knows what it means to get screwed over for doing the right thing. Someone who knows what it’s like to go to bed hungry, patch up their own wounds, and slog through this American life without a financial or political safety net.
That’s the essence of representative democracy.
By that measure, the Chelseas of the world are not ready to lead me and hardworking Americans like me. In fact, they’re not a patch on us.
These silver spoon mofos would be a perfect fit for a “House of Lords,” like the one they have in merry old England.
Until then, they need to leave me and those like me alone. If we wanted to be ruled by a hereditary tyrant through an entrenched political machine, we’d move to North Korea.
If Chelsea really wants to make a contribution to journalism, she can make like her fellow political silver spoons Al Gore and Tucker Carlson and create a news organization.
At least that way she would be creating some news jobs. Instead of taking away one of the few that remain from a more deserving member of the faltering middle class.
A job she has neither earned nor can perform.
Once she does that she can take whatever title she likes for herself. Call herself “publisher” or “princer.” Yell at reporters. Whatever.
All she has to do is remember to act like the masses still count for something in this country. In return, we’ll pretend to be impressed.