The grubby efforts of television 

What's doing?" I say to the cop on the corner.

"Not much. How are you?"

A woman touched his thick rain jacket. "That coat is too heavy, you'll melt."

"Don't tell me about this weather," the cop said. "It can get cold in 10 minutes."

What a sheer pleasure to live in the city of New York on a day such as last Saturday, when the police officers watching the crush of war protesters going down Broadway decided that they knew how strong they could be if something happens, so they didn't have to be ominous. They didn't have to display any muscle or club. Saturday in New York, a smile would do.

They put an old equation onto the streets last week: the less police, the more orderly the crowd. The moment later on when they put a lot of cops out there, in Washington Square, they had some of this sickening shoving and yelling.

The march started at 40th Street and for block after block, with signs flashing in the warm sunlight, people walked against a war at one of those moments when so many believe the government should be totally supported. Early and so pleasant was a group of women who sing together in Brooklyn, and their voices sounded over the crowd.

One of them, Rachel Barr, said she had just lost her $34,000-a-year job with a city day-care center. "I'm out of a job because the city needs the money for war," she said.

In this new world of war on television, the American invasion just had its biggest hours on television. The crowd going down Broadway, tens and tens of thousands, carried signs that reflected television usage of the war.

One read, "US Media -- The Coalition of the Fawning."

As I'm talking to the man carrying it, I see another sign coming by: "TV Networks -- Stop Using the War to Up Your Ratings."

In the past I never reported signs at demonstrations because most were too silly. The crowd last week, which might have had every school teacher in the city's colleges, had the most literate: "The Shock and Awe of Peace" and, printed atop an American flag, "These Colors Don't Run the World. The World Says No to War."

Then here came a man with a cardboard TV set over his head and with his face sticking through the screen. Printed on the set was, "Networks Don't Cover Peace."

When you started looking closely at the marchers, there were several of these cardboard television sets, which are great ideas, and one man topped them all. Out of the screen came a cardboard bed and a sign saying, "In Bed with Commentators." There were head shots of many of the big-name television announcers.

It made me think of watching at 3 a.m. yesterday when on television, first, was a doctor, Bob Arnot, and he was so excited about being a close observer to a war that I looked away. Right after that came Tom Brokaw, whom I like very much, but somehow he was up interviewing the poor mother of a Marine who was killed. She was in front of her house. He was in his studio. I cringe. Please, lady, don't mourn on television. Go into the house and weep with your people. She mourned on television. After Brokaw's questions, she said, "Can I say something?" Of course, Brokaw said. She spoke. I don't know exactly what she said. Brokaw, understandably moved, said, "Message received."

I'm afraid it was much too close to being embarrassing. Which is what the rest of television has been turning into.

Reporters with units announce, "We are on the road to Baghdad." Here a few yards away, you have some young private making a few hundred a month and every step of his way his life is on the line. How can you include yourself in what he is going through?

The slogans at last week's march reflected this. And many used the "Shock and Awe" phrase. To begin with, I wonder if anybody watching this shock and awe bombing has noted that Iraq doesn't have a plane.

And that their anti-aircraft fire has not damaged one plane this time, nor has it shot down one plane in 15 years of firing at American planes bombing their military sites.

Using the phrase "shock and awe" is a grubby effort to find a slogan. Why try? "Blitzkrieg" is part of the world language and can't be replaced.

Jimmy Breslin is a columnist for Newsday.


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