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Angry White Ladies: The Women of Headline News

By Dan Saipher | TV | March 28, 2011 |

By Dan Saipher | TV | March 28, 2011 |

I have a confession to make; my mom is really cool. Cool in the drug-fueled Deep Purple concerts, three tattoos and counting, expletive-filled rants kinda way.

She’s aged damn well, considering the combative curveballs and misplaced rebellion her kids armed themselves with in their teenage years. But we get along well enough, and in the dying light that used to be my father’s sanity, mom is now the parent that seems much more mentally stable and likely to keep ticking for many years. But she’s got the absolute worst television watching habit in the world (save anyone’s political pundit attunement) and it makes me want to call the cable company up and cut the damn channel out.

Every night, for upwards of three hours … she watches the “Angry White Ladies.”

If you’re not familiar with these shrill=voiced harpies, you can catch them on HLN every night from 7 PM until your sensory organs construct a bear trap with which to destroy your miserable head. The first hour is captained by Jane Velez-Mitchell and her show, “Issues,” before the giant wig-equipped southern fried femalien Nancy Grace takes to the set. It’s a good few hours of societal rage, touching on tabloid celebrity dysfunction, but mainly a stage for the women to highlight horrific violence perpetrated against women and children. We’re talking about the greatest hits from the Florida panhandle and the Carolinas; pedophiles on the run, parents figuring out new ways to get rid of innocent kids, rapists, drug addicts, exploding meth labs.

There’s a well-intentioned point somewhere buried in these shows, but they’re so overflowing with egomania and self-advertising that it becomes impossible to separate the quest for justice from the giant talking heads on the screen. The camera work certainly doesn’t help; you watch for long enough and slowly become Peter MacNicol, entranced by the furrowed brow of Viggo the Carpathian. Expanding the faces of these hosts from screen border-to-border is meant to present authority and dominance, but the use of fear is confusing and does nothing to promote authority when your brain attempts to process raw crazy.

In an incredibly large country, it’s only logical that there’s a few crazies out there. It’s unfortunate that we can’t identify the Jared Lee Loughner-types before they commit unspeakable acts. But in a previous episode of “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” that I sat down for, she starting delving into the kind of Big Brother paranoia that is misguided and counter-productive.

A crime she recently focused on is that of Matthew Hoffman. I’ll save the gory details for you to jump to here, but the short version is that he murdered most an Ohio family and stuffed their bodies into a hollowed-out tree. As part of Velez-Mitchell’s usual crusader act, she sought to interview anyone and everyone with a link to the victims or the suspect in question. But the next leap of thought she took was to question how we could prevent this kind of tragedy from re-occurring. Her thought process was that the accused killer was “a weirdo” who “killed squirrels and sat like a creep in his hammock,” and the authorities should have seen this act coming and preemptively sought him out. What kind of individual liberties and freedoms are we protecting by singling out the “weirdos” and rounding them up for police questioning without appropriate criminal activity? And how much trust in opinion can we place in a person that pushes her latest book before every commercial break? Are you the crusader, or the salesmen?

Velez-Mitchell will be quick to tell use about the “War Against Women,” a persistent culture that looks the other way in regards to violence against women. However, the actual number of violent crimes (including rape) is down, peaking in 1992. Of course, OF COURSE this number is still unacceptable, but how much validity can this campaign have without Velez-Mitchell spending time to highlight worthwhile organizations that are working to prevent these crimes? In one hour of television, does 30 minutes of Lindsay Lohan coverage mean you care more about her exploits than solving this so-called “war”? Why not highlight some of the community organizers, support groups, and grassroots crusaders who are out their fighting the good fight without the benefit of a television show? Spare us one commercial promoting your book (there was one per advertising break, and numerous in-show mentions) to at least list a few websites … (please post any groups doing great things in your community below)

And then there’s Nancy Grace. You may have seen her on episodes of “Law & Order: SVU,” “The Wire” or in a brief cameo in Hancock. Grace’s program is a further continuation of Velez’s prognostications; more outrage and accusations levied at murders and rapists and the like.

The issue I have with Grace is her ability to dodge criticisms despite her false claims and personal faith in baseless accusations. During the infamous Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, Grace was expedient in her fingering of a man named Richard Ricci. Ricci was arrested in connection with the crime, and subsequently Grace proclaimed the ex-con as a guilty party, calling for all kinds of punishments not just for Ricci, but those people around. Of course, as we now know, Ricci was an innocent man.

And there’s the suicide of Melinda Duckett. No one would ever condone violence against children, but every poor child who suffers at the hand of some monster is a fast-track for Grace to tear up and tell you how devastating it would be should any harm befall her twin children. It’s a wonderfully predictable and rehearsed act; perfectly reminding us that this loud-mouthed McCarthy disciple is still a mother capable of showing sadness. Melinda Duckett’s child had tragically disappeared, and Melinda appeared on her show to discuss this. After a battering round of questioning and openly blaming Melinda for her son missing, the grieving mother shot herself. Whether or not Melinda was at fault for this we may never know, but the greater issue here is whether or not Grace had the right to play interrogator. Is it possible that Duckett was too nervous or wracked with distraught to answer every question with what Grace wanted to hear?

These two shows should be serving an important function; to help find missing persons and bring about social change through moving people to prevent future tragedies. But what they should not be is a showcase for an individual personality to play judge, jury, and executioner. Why is it that police are scolded for not appearing on these shows to answer questions about ongoing investigations? Why is that people who have not been named suspects, let alone arrested and formally charged, should be placed on a media pedestal to be derided as monsters by those without all of the relevant facts? This is dangerous television; we live in a society that is still based on due process and the presumption of innocence. And even though justice is not always served, should we not be moving to help prevent future crimes through activism and education, rather than finding the easiest suspect and playing backseat detective?

Dan Saipher hopes you didn’t get confused with The Angry Black Lady, because her anger makes me want to be a better political beasty.