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Michael Moore, holding his Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, drew boos for his rantings about President Bush and the war.

Winter: War hasn't dampened American spirit

March 29, 2003

pictureFor the first time in memory, I watched the entire four-hour Oscar show. The 75th annual glamorama was a welcome antidote to TV's round-the- clock war coverage.

But its palliative benefits went much further.

For me, this year's Tinseltown tribute was a deep-tissue shot of red, white and blue.

Who knew?

Me, the critic, always with more important things to do than wasting a night watching Hollywood's annual orgy of self-congratulation, preening and product promotion, found myself utterly engrossed.

Perhaps because America seems so fragile now, I saw the show with changed eyes.

I was smitten with comedian Steve Martin, who pushed the edge and made us laugh at our excesses. I heard thoughtful acceptance speeches. I saw the cinematic giants of my generation - Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon - command the stage with uncanny poise and pass the torch to the likes of Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But in the end, it was the public exercise of First Amendment rights before an audience of millions that moved me most.

Several presenters and recipients wished Godspeed to America's fighting men and women. But Michael Moore delivered the coup de grace. When the Bowling for Columbine director and producer launched into his rant about President Bush's "fictional" presidency and immoral war, producing at first cheers and then boos from the tony crowd, how could anyone not love to the marrow this brash, irrepressible, unruly - but most of all tolerant - society we call America?

If I saw the Oscars with new eyes, I also saw TV coverage of the war from a different perspective this week.

I was sitting at the city desk - the hub of the newsroom - Thursday morning when CNN began airing the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign. As a dozen of us watched history unfold on the TV overhead, the most cynical couldn't help themselves.

"Shock and awe - I'm surprised Rumsfeld hasn't commissioned a logo by now," quipped one.

"No - I think that slogan's already trademarked. The Stones are using it for their summer concert tour," said another.

After Tomahawk cruise missiles burst above the Baghdad skyline for several minutes, the action slowed. A reporter who's a big fan of fireworks asked the obvious: "What, no grand finale?"

And so we begin the era of war as entertainment. Unlike Desert Storm, when battle coverage was pretty much limited to CNN, today more than 500 "embedded" reporters from all major media are shadowing the troops, reporting round-the-clock via video phones and satellite links.

I had the same thought a few mornings later when I heard a perky Paula Zahn of CNN's American Morning promise an "exclusive look" inside a surgery unit on the battlefield in southern Iraq.

There's something absurd about Pampers commercials following footage of Iraqi soldiers surrendering, just as there's a disconnect when sultry models in Bali bras crop up in the middle of newspaper spreads on maneuvers by the 3rd Infantry Division.

But such is the new reality. The world has become the global village Marshall McLuhan envisioned 40 years ago. And as that other '60s sage Bob Dylan advised, "You'd better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone."

I've come to embrace that anthem.

Ultimately, I look at my kids, and I see how much smarter and more resourceful they are than my generation, in spite of the fractured peace today. I see young patriots on the battlefield, and I'm grateful for their bravery. I see the spirit of the Oscars in a time of war, and my faith is restored.

Mary Winter, a News assistant city editor, writes from her home at .


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