We are all Morton Downey Jr.

November 14, 2010

Remember that girl, during the 2008 presidential election, who faked an attack from an ardent Obama supporter? She scratched a backward B on her cheek, as one might do if one were looking into a mirror. Of course she later had to admit to fabricating the story.

If this event sounds familiar, and it should to Gen Xers, it recalls the downfall of Morton Downey, Jr., who claimed neo-Nazi skinheads had attacked him in an airport bathroom and etched a Swastika onto his forehead (a la Inglourious Basterds but with the opposite intent). Again, he made the error of drawing a mirror image of the symbol on his forehead.

The ploy did work in that he got attention for it, but that was back in a time when we could distinguish between good attention and bad attention. (My memory of the time is a little fuzzy, but I believe we could also distinguish between fact and opinion – life as a pundit was much harder back then…) Morton was scandalized and lost a considerable amount of social capital on the deal (and he was already overdrawn).

I thought of this incident while recently watching Predator 2, which has a pretty good cast for what it is. Morton has a minor part where he essentially plays himself – and I have to say, it demonstrates how, as a media figure, he was quite ahead of his time.

Of course we have smaller cameras now (where did he hide that behemoth to sneak it into a federally restricted crime scene?), but aside from that, he’s the perfect mold for a media icon today – he’s loud and values sensationalism over rational examination of the facts – or any examination of the facts.

We are all Morton Downey, Jr.

Morton knew where we were going – he just got there a bit earlier than the rest of us. Unfortunately he lived in a time when having a swastika on your forehead was still considered an impediment to your career as well as to your overall ability to interact with other humans. Nowadays, he and Colonel Hans Landa would be a tag-team show on Fox News.

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