Channeling America

More words from our sponsor: Bites was amused to see KFBK’s Mark Williams bending over backward Saturday to make it clear that Saturday’s Rally For America was really a grassroots event. “This is not an official radio-station promotion,” he told the crowd moments before going live on the air. “This is you, the good people of Northern California.”

Bites thinks the host of War Room doth protest too much. Since we broke the news that the radio station’s parent company, Clear Channel Communications, had applied for and been granted a permit to hold a pro-America rally at the Capitol (SN&R Bites, March 20), Clear Channel has begun to face criticism in the national press for organizing rallies and then covering them, which is otherwise known as manufacturing news. Especially interesting is Paul Krugman’s column in the March 25 New York Times, which details the close links between the Clear Channel and Bush administrations. Though Clear Channel technically backed out of the 5,000-person Sacramento rally it was planning for Sunday (its vacated slot was surrendered to a Cub Scout photo shoot), the deployment of the company’s celebrity host, live radio broadcast, stage-side petition tent and loyal listenership at Saturday’s event amounted to much the same thing.

Not that Bites has any problem with everyone’s favorite media monolith organizing rallies around the country to counter the anti-war protesters that their talk-radio hosts despise so much. But presenting such AstroTurf assemblies as grassroots movements seems as disingenuous and self-serving as, you know, making Iraq the focus of a war on terrorism.

SUV rites: When Republican Senator Thomas “Rico” Oller from San Andreas sent out a release proclaiming himself “Legislative Sponsor” of Saturday’s rally, it was the promise of SUVs surrounding the Capitol that caught Bites’ eye. “The highly visual event will also include a ‘Support Our Troops’ SUV Rally on streets circling the state Capitol,” pledged the senator’s announcement. “Organizers are expecting one thousand people to drive to the Capitol from the Bay Area.”Alas, the fleet of SUVs never quite reached critical mass. “I don’t even know if it happened,” Oller told Bites, adding that the SUV part wasn’t his idea. “People with all kinds of views—whether they think the war was a good choice or bad choice—are in support of our troops,” Oller said, beaming, as he looked across a small sea of American flags and the odd “Torture Saddam” sign. Yes, but why SUVs? SUV owners feel like they’ve been targets, like they’re “under attack or something,” figured Oller. “They’re saying to themselves, ‘Oh shoot, we’re gonna stand up for ourselves.’”

Gender politics: On Monday, the Capitol building returned to the business of making history, as Assemblyman Mark Leno named Human Rights Commissioner Theresa Sparks his district’s Woman of the Year. The annual ceremony honors outstanding California women, but Sparks is even more outstanding given that she’s the first transgender woman to receive the honor.

Leno is not without honors of his own. Previously a district supervisor in San Francisco, he championed legislation making San Francisco the first city in the country to offer city workers medical coverage for sex-change operations. (And, for any Bob Doles on the city payroll, the legislation also provided coverage for Viagra, hearing aids and infertility treatment.) Subsequently, National Center for Lesbian Rights director Kate Kendall referred to Leno as “our Jim Jeffords” while declaring him an honorary lesbian.