MediaWatch: April 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 4

Ignoring Philadelphia

When poet Allen Ginsberg died April 5, network liberals displayed their continuing romance with the 1960s, praising the "Beat Generation's Poet Laureate" while whitewashing the more sordid parts of Ginsberg's cultural legacy.

Ginsberg's death actually led the NBC Nightly News that night. Anchor Brian Williams began with a fulsome tribute: "The man who died in a New York hospital room this morning didn't just watch times change in the '60s as much as he helped change our times." Reporter Rick Davis called Ginsberg a "guru with a showman's grace." Davis aired left-wing spokesmen hailing his place in history. Norman Mailer called him a "genius" and said "I knew he was going to make a revolution in the consciences of his time." Tom Hayden described Ginsberg as "a prophetic figure and poet like an Old Testament figure combined with a hippie."

The next day on CBS Sunday Morning, host Charles Osgood also raised Ginsberg to Biblical status: "It is with the righteous wrath of an Old Testament prophet that Allen Ginsberg denounced the greed and grasping and the superficiality and the complacency that he believed he saw all around him in this country in 1956....if we are suspicious now of the material world, and sometimes our souls burn a little for the ancient connection to the `starry dynamo in the machinery of the night,' we have Allen Ginsberg, angry on the page but mild and thoughtful otherwise, to thank for that."

On ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Aaron Brown enthused on April 5: "Two often overused words seem to describe Ginsberg best to us: Genius and controversial....His sexuality -- he was gay -- was often the center of both his art and his politics. And if his causes weren't yours, and his poetry sometimes left you confused, then you could still appreciate his candor, and his courage, and his energy."

Yet the networks omitted the darker aspects of that sexual milieu, ignoring Ginsberg's membership in the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), which supports the repeal of age of consent laws and advocates "consensual" sexual relations between men and young boys. According to the Queer Resources Directory web site, Ginsberg defended his affiliation: "I'm in NAMBLA because I love boys too -- everybody does, who has a little humanity." Though it was central to his work, NBC didn't even mention that Ginsberg was gay.

And although reporters found Ginsberg's art and sexuality honest and courageous, they weren't courageous enough to quote revealing examples, like this excerpt from Ginsberg's "Come All Ye Brave Boys": "Come heroic half naked young studs, that drive automobiles through vaginal blood/Turn over spread your strong legs like a lass, I'll show you the thrill to be jived up the ass/Come sweet delicate strong minded men, I'll take you through graveyards and kiss you again."

Or this, from an interview in Seconds magazine: "If you just take a walk through the Vatican, you could say everybody loves the slightly erotic emanation of nude prepubescent bodies."

The networks ignored the "mild and thoughtful" Ginsberg's political statements as well, such as his 1994 suggestion to The Progressive magazine: "I have no doubt that if Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan or Ollie North ever got real power, there would be concentration camps and mass death."