As the crow flies, I live less than two miles from East Louisiana State Hospital—the state’s largest facility for treating the seriously nervous. Any day now, I expect mental patients to climb the hospital’s back fence, scurry through the forest, wade across a creek and come running down the seventh fairway to my home where they will begin chanting, “Barack Obama was born in Kenya.”
Soon afterwards, white-clad attendants armed with nets and carrying funny looking jackets will show up and return patients to their rightful wards. However, a few of the most seriously deranged will elude capture and carry their moronic mantra to other parts of the country—maybe even getting elected to public office in places like Arizona, the home of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Both men have displayed their lunatic credentials by raising the birther issue. Actually, there was very little doubt about Sheriff’s Joe’s mental state prior to ordering his crack (a possible reference to smoking habits) team of investigators to conduct an investigation of President Obama’s birthplace.
Guess what? Arpaio’s whiz kids concluded there were still questions related to the long form birth certificate released by Hawaii at the request of the President. Maybe the certificate was tampered with, they said. Such a conspiracy would require the complicity of hundreds of people to keep the plot secret, including a few Obama critics. But as anyone who has dealt with the insane knows, logic and reason are not the strong points of nuts.
Given Sheriff Joe’s ongoing feud with the federal government over his tactics in violating the rights of Hispanics and other citizens, the investigative distortions by Maricopa agents is not surprising. Arpaio’s threshhold of embarrassment is so high, he is beyond humiliation.
Arizona Secretary of State Bennett, who demanded that Hawaii confirm the legitimacy of Obama’s birth, must have consulted a psychiatrist in recent days. Or, perhaps, the Romney campaign told him to slip out of his straitjacket and show voters he was smarter than a rock. Bennett is Arizona co-chairman of Mitt’s presidential bid. Whatever his reasoning, Bennett today announced an end to the needless controversy.
I should try being more generous in diagnosing the mental health of birthers. Some of these folks voice crazy theories for more sinister reasons—often political, sometimes pure racism. What better way to bring attention to themselves among the nation’s disenchanted.
Consider the people populating the Republican Propaganda Network, aka Fox “News,” and talk radio. Even for a bare Tuscaloosa High School graduate like me, it’s pretty easy to diagnose mind-state of characters like Glenn Beck and pill-head Rush Limbaugh. Both are eligible for lock-down wards in hospitals with high fences. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and a few others displaying marginally unhinged behavior are probably acting their roles, though O’Reilly manages to be a world class asshole on and off the air.
That brings me to Geraldo Rivera, a smart guy with the propensity for saying stupid things. Long ago, he provided me insight to the undisciplined mind of someone willing to do anything to bring attention to himself. His latest outrage is claiming the tragic Orlando shooting of Trayvon Martin may have been prompted by the seventeen year old wearing a hoodie. Geraldo doubled down on the theory three weeks after being criticized by his son, among others.
I mention Geraldo because of our past acquaintance. In fact, he approached me about going to work on his long ago failed syndicated show, Now It Can Be Told. I declined. Good thing, too. A friend took the job and told me later it was the equivalent of lying in daily a bathtub filled with broken beer bottles—a comment he made in the wake of an Geraldo’s ongoing, on-air dispute with Bette Midler over whether they once had sex with each other. Midler said if it happened, it was such a small thing (pun intended) she can’t remember the event.
Anyway, Geraldo personifies attention-needy television reporters who are always in search of the spotlight. I like him personally based on past encounters, one of which was attending Brother Jimmy Swaggart’s church together (a story for another post, or buy the book and read out all out it).
In the course of the Jimmy Swaggart sex scandal, I was a guest two or three times on Geraldo, a new show that was sort of the son of Now It Can Be Told. In the days leading up to my last appearance, I was approached by a fired former Swaggart employee making serious allegations about a sexual attack on his daughter at the ministry. The tale reeked of vindictiveness and lacked corroboration—shortcomings that I pointed out to Geraldo after he learned of the allegation shortly before the show. He agreed that the yarn was too farfetched to be credible. However…..
On the day the program aired, Geraldo planted the accuser in the audience and allowed the him to make serious and unproven allegations about the Swaggart organization before a national audience. It was completely irresponsible. Believe it or not, Geraldo is an excellent reporter. But good journalism goes out the window when he has the opportunity to create controversy.
And that is the reason that so many “mainstream” reporters write stories about the birthers—reports that are generally tagged with the disclaimer, “the long form birth certificate proves the President was born in Hawaii.” But it only takes that little bit of publicity for nearby asylum patients to leap the walls and wander the streets.
Hopefully, they won’t wear hoodies.
My memoir, Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger: A Saga of Exposing TV Preachers, Corrupt Politicians, Right-Wing Lunatics…and Me is available at amazon.com, soft-cover or Kindle and at independent bookstores like the Cottonwood in Baton Rouge. It offers $19.99 worth of laughs and much more. The book is an account of my illustrious (I choose the adjectives) investigative reporting career.