Bernard Goldberg’s 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP AMERICA provides a wealth of anecdotal evidence to bolster the belief that the country is going to hell in a hand-basket. From rappers to reporters, from shock jocks to political blowhards, the former CBS journalist offers a series of sketches about persons whose words and actions deserve special recognition in a cultural Hall of Shame.
Goldberg divides the landscape of contemporary destructiveness into a few large subdivisions--politicians, journalists, entertainers, businessmen, lawyers, and academics. Under the journalistic category, names of Goldberg’s former colleagues pop up frequently. Bill Moyers (34) and Dan Rather (12) are skewered for ideological bias, whereas Barbara Walters (46) and Diane Sawyer (56) are called on the carpet for their role in erasing the line between serious journalism and entertainment.
On the executive side, ABC’s David Westin (55) and NBC’s Neal Shapiro (54) are faulted for presiding over this merging of news and entertainment. Meanwhile, CBS news President Andrew Hayward (13) is excoriated for failing to take personal responsibility for Mary Mapes’s (14) “60 Minutes” hit-piece based on fraudulent National Guard documents that were obtained from an unstable Bush-hater. The most prominently vilified executive is publisher Arthur Sulzberger (2), whose legacy is that he turned the New York Times into a paper that now prints all the news that fits his bent.
Lesser journalistic lights like Ted Rall (15) and Jeff Danzinger (35) also make Goldberg’s list of cultural malefactors--the former for his despicable post-mortem editorial cartoon lampooning NFL player turned soldier, Pat Tillman, and the latter for a racist caricature of Condoleezza Rice.
On the political front Goldberg focuses most of his fire on leftist ideologues--but a smattering of right-wingers like David Duke (66) are also included in the mix. By my count, eight of the bottom twenty on Goldberg’s list are either Democrat pols like Howard Dean (20) and Al Gore (18) or operatives like People for the American Way lobbyist, Ralph Neas (10). That count, by the way, excludes the party’s chief financial backer in 2004, George Soros (19)--a man whose prominence arises not from deep policy insights but rather from very deep pockets. Another political sub-group includes “Racial Enforcers” like Al Sharpton (17) and Jesse Jackson (4).
When it comes to debased entertainment, Goldberg rounds up the usual suspects: Howard Stern (62), Jerry Springer (32), Maury Povich (31), and Eminem (58). Besides providing revoltingly specific examples of this bottomless vulgarity, the author also reveals the identity of a little-known figure who has provided much of the financial backing for the rap industry, Interscope’s Ted Field (57). Far from being a product of the ghetto, Mr. Field is a very white child of the sixties and heir to his father’s retail fortune. The younger Field has now made his own mark as the premier corrupter of American youngsters.
In addition to sleazemeisters, Goldberg notes the negative contributions that Hollywood types are making to political discourse. Because so many Tinseltown egos deserve recognition, the author lumps a number of “stars” like Janeane Garofalo and Alec Baldwin into three catch-all categories: The Dumb Celebrity (85), The Vicious Celebrity (84), and The Dumb and Vicious Celebrity (83). Of course some of the beautiful people spout inanities so frequently that they merit numbers of their own--like Barbra Streisand (91) and comedian turned talk-jock Al Franken (37).
Lawyers and corporate executives form other subgroups described as “American Jackels” and “White-Collar Thugs.” The legal grifter-in-chief is former tort lawyer, Senator, and Vice-presidential candidate John Edwards (16). Edwards’ pathetic courtroom channeling of a dead child is persuasive evidence of the way lawyers are fleecing the public rather than pursuing justice. The handsome North Carolinian’s pitch to a gullible jury secured a huge settlement apparently based on bogus notions that linked the mother’s C-section with her child’s cerebral palsy. On the other side of the bench, Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall (7), is given recognition for her redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat.
Enron President Ken Lay (45) and Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski (44) are prominent business executives on Goldberg’s top-100 list. The entry describing Koslowski’s birthday bash in Sardinia is one that economist Thorsten Veblen would have loved to employ as an example of conspicuous consumption. Other individuals singled out for their contributions to American decadence include Paul Eibler (43), President of the software corporation that gave us “Grand Theft Auto,” and Todd Goldman (97), an entrepreneur who has made good money selling shirts that insult boys.
Academia is another rich source of cultural pollutants. Indeed, ivory-tower dwellers constitute ten percent of Goldberg’s list. Ward Churchill (72), the faux Native American who used the term “little Eichmanns” to describe persons murdered in the Twin Towers, is the poster child for today’s America-bashers--folks whose most venerable icon is linguist-turned-naysayer, Noam Chomsky (11). Former University of Pennsylvania President, Sheldon Hackney (87), is among the spineless, politically correct administrators that Goldberg singles out for opprobrium. And in a more theoretical vein Princeton ethics professor Peter Singer (39) is cited for his avant-garde advocacy of infanticide.
Many of Goldberg’s names don’t fall clearly into any of the aforementioned categories but do serve to illustrate the rot that is consuming American culture. My personal “favorite” is Amy Richards (63), a thirty-four year old woman with academic and literary connections. She had been taking birth control pills but went off them because they made her "moody." In 2003 she became pregnant by her boyfriend of three years. Having a child out of wedlock wasn't a problem for Richards. The problem was that there wasn't just one baby-to-be in her womb. There were three--and three was just too many. The fearful scenario she envisioned for herself involved moving from Manhattan to Staten Island, shopping at Costco, and buying large jars of mayonnaise. Moreover, the multiple pregnancy would force here to forego her spring lecture income. Because she found this domestic script distasteful, she asked her obstetrician if she could "get rid of" one or two of the three fetuses in her womb.
It turns out that such a procedure is possible, and like all such acts it comes with a wonderfully clinical name--“selective reduction.” So selective reduction was the “choice” Amy Richards made. Since two of her three babies-to-be were twins and three days younger than the free-standing fetus, those two were the ones “selected” to receive shots of potassium chloride to the heart. The “successful” operation meant that Ms. Richards could raise her child by herself, stay in Manhattan, and lecture during the profitable spring months.
As a bonus, after the birth of her son, Ms. Richards put her writing talents to good use by composing an essay about her recent experience. The piece was called, "When One Is Enough," and was published in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on July 18, 2004. The article will doubtless be "interesting" reading for Richards' "non-selected" son. One can imagine the questions his mother's moral reasoning will one day prompt: "Why them and not me? What's all this talk about mayonnaise and Costco? Why tell the world about it?" To which questions the single answer is "Amy Richards."
Such is the country in which, by Goldberg’s calculus, Michael Moore ranks number one on the list of those who are leading us into a cultural abyss.