That Classic Dry British Wit

A competition in Great Britain picked the ten best one-liners of the year, as determined by public vote.

The winner?  Canadian comedian Stewart Francis’ jibe:  “You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”

If, like me, you don’t know who the heck “Posh” and “Becks” are, you just don’t get this quip.  With a little digging, however, you learn that “Becks” is British soccer star David Beckham and “Posh” is his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, and that they have named their unfortunate children Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven — and suddenly you think that the one-liner is pretty funny.

Two other personal favorites from the top 10:  Will Marsh’s comment that “I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister” (number 3) and Chris Turner’s jest, “I’m good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet… I don’t know Y” (number 5).

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Enough, Already!

Walking the streets of downtown Cleveland today, I saw . . . painted electric guitars at various locations on the sidewalks, each with a theme that supposedly celebrates something about Cleveland.  Get it?  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, electric guitars?

Gahhh!  Hasn’t this whole concept been beaten to death, long ago?  I’ve seen painted cows in Chicago, painted pigs in Cincinnati . . . and I’m sure that countless other boring, copycat cities have made their own unimaginative forays into public art, where some local iconic symbol gets painted in different ways by local artists, and we’re supposed to appreciate what it says about the city in question.

C’mon, Cleveland — you’re better than this! Why copy cities like Chicago and Cincinnati, for God’s sake?  Have some self-respect, and buck the derivative trend!  Recognize that Cleveland is a leader, not a follower.  If you want to do some public art, come up with something original and unique, as befits Cleveland’s rich heritage as a trendsetter, not a camp follower.

In the meantime, can somebody do something with these silly painted electric guitars?  They’re cluttering up the sidewalks.

. . . And Reporters Should Act Like Reporters

One other point about the salutary role of the press in exposing Representative Todd Akin’s ignorant views about rape and women: the press can only fill that role if reporters actually act like reporters.

Unfortunately, the situation that produced Akin’s Waterloo — where one public figure sits down with one reporter to answer questions — happens all too rarely these days.  How often do political figures even appear on shows like Meet The Press?  Rather than a Senator, foreign leader, or some other actual public servant, the guest often is a campaign manager or other unelected individual who is there to voice the talking points of a particular candidate, campaign, or party.  Moreover, much of such shows is devoted to “roundtable discussions” where celebrity journalists who never have done much real reporting express their opinions about the “issues of the day.”  No doubt the producers of those Sunday morning shows think the arguments that ensue make for “better television” than the Meet The Press format of the ’60s, where a panel of three serious, gray-suited reporters respectfully fired questions at that week’s guest.

To illustrate the point, consider the first Meet The Press that aired after Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The two “newsmaker” guests were Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Obama campaign guru David Axelrod, followed by a panel of journalists arguing about the impact of “Obamacare” and Ryan’s proposed budget on Medicare.  Does anyone really expect much in the way of “news” (or enlightenment, for that matter) from such a lineup?  Given the focus on Medicare, rather than featuring an ever-present hired gun like Axelrod or a tiresome panel of TV personalities, how about bringing in the chief actuary of the Medicare program, or one of the Medicare trustees, and have knowledgeable reporters who cover Medicare ask them some meaningful questions about the programs, its condition, and the expected impact of the competing proposals?

The important role of the press in our democracy means that the news media must actually be willing to play that role:  as the skeptical, neutral questioner interested in ferreting out the truth, rather than the point-of-view advocate for one position or another.  We can celebrate the role of the press in showing something important and disturbing about Congressman Akin, but we can also regret that the press — due to disinterest, or laziness, or a concern for ratings — doesn’t play that role as often as it should, or could.