The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

CNN

He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

Network bias

And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.

 

Gleanings from Social Media

flat earth

Like most other people today, I spend a certain amount of time perusing social media. Not because I particularly enjoy it, but because it’s a good source of material for this blog. But the down side is that the impression one gets from such outlets is that the present human condition, and the outlook for the human race, are very bleak indeed.

I know someone who literally believes the earth is flat. Literally. She posted the above photo on Facebook not long ago, and declared that the concept of a round earth is a myth promoted by the Great Conspiracy to turn us into mindless drones. And the astronauts? They never really went anywhere. The government has expended billions of dollars and millions of man (and woman) hours and even several lives to advance a “myth” that nearly everyone has already believed for centuries. Oh and she also believes that chemtrails are used to control us, that global warming is a myth, that vaccines cause autism, and probably that Obama is still trying to take away her guns.

I wish I could tell you that she’s alone, but there are many others out there too. Most of them spreading an endless supply of misinformation that swarms the Internet like a plague of locusts. What is perhaps even more troubling is that even the positive and accurate information circulating out there in the hivemind paints a rather grim picture.

For instance, another link I saw posted from the website Daily Kos offers an illuminating explanation for the way “conservatives” in particular are so frequently ensnared in the web of what used to be called fake news before that term was stolen. Basically, right-wing manipulators are playing a game of telephone. And whatever the participants hear, they believe. Unshakably. And permanently.

As yet another link explains, any attempt to introduce verifiable facts to a devotee of alternative facts results in what is called the backfire effect:

As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.

Wow. If this is true, and given everything else that we’ve seen on Facebook et al, what conclusion can we draw except that we’re all doomed?

Well, someone else online posted at least a glimmer of hope. And it comes from comments made 300 years ago by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, whom we’ve encountered before:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true….People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In short, if there is any hope at all of encouraging the delusional to actually realize that they are delusional, it lies not in challenging their delusions, but in humoring them as far as possible. That may sound like a slender thread of hope. But it may be the only thread we have. At least if the culture of social media presents an accurate reflection of society at large.

The “War On Christmas” in 4 Minutes

I regret that I didn’t discover it until Christmas Day, but Jesse Dollemore has a nifty little video that addresses the silly “War On Christmas” narrative that surfaces every year around November.

Dollemore shows a clip of Donald Trump proclaiming to an adoring throng that “we’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.” (Does that mean he’s going to issue an imperial proclamation that everyone must say it?) And clips of the talking heads at Fox “News” reacting in a manner that (honest to Pete) brings to mind teenage girls screaming over The Beatles.

They declare that their War On Christmas has been won now that Trump is elected, and because of him people are starting to say “Merry Christmas” again (as if they’d been prohibited from doing so up until now), and even ask “When was the last time you heard a politician say” the taboo magic phrase.

Then, after presenting a few actual facts on the matter, Dollemore serves up a clip of President Obama wishing Americans a Merry Christmas 16 times — and Michelle Obama twice.

When was the last time you heard a politician say “Merry Christmas”? Depends on how much you’ve been paying attention.

 

What I Learned From the Media About Clinton and Trump (and the Media)

hillary-clinton-and-trump-hybrid-president-128455

So it’s a choice between “two evils”, two candidates who are pretty much equally flawed . That’s been the official media narrative about the 2016 election for many moons now, supposedly supported by a constant stream of soundbites. But actually listen to the soundbites, and this is what they really say:

Clinton is an “old 68 or 69”. Trump is a “young 70”.

Clinton (who has been married to the same man more than 40 years) has a rotten marriage and is surely impossible to live with. Trump (currently on his third marriage) has a “blended family”.

Clinton (whose statements have been found of questionable accuracy 27 percent of the time, and more accurate than those of any of her opponents) is a chronic pathological liar. Trump (whose statements are at least questionable 69 percent of the time, and are often verifiable, outrageous whoppers) is “very creative with the truth” while “telling it like it is”.

Clinton (on the basis of breathless speculation) is a “crook”, an unscrupulous “lawbreaker” who should be locked up. Trump (who has a long history of verifiable corruption) is a “rule breaker”.

The Clinton Foundation (despite no evidence of wrongdoing) still continually “raises questions”. The Trump Foundation (which has been fined by the IRS and may be investigated for fraud) hardly raises an eyebrow.

By running attack ads that quote her opponent’s own words, Clinton is being nasty, divisive and vicious. By rehashing long-discredited rumors and allegations about his opponent, Trump is being bold, direct and plain-speaking.

Clinton (whose unflappable poise and whose grace under extreme fire are legendary) is “grating”, “shrill”, a “witch”, a “bitch”, a “cunt” – at least when she isn’t busy being “robotic”, which probably isn’t when she’s laughing or smiling or smirking too much. Trump (who interrupted her as many as 51 times during the first debate and has threatened and condoned violence against dissenters) is a “strong leader” who “takes control”.

Clinton (who has cooperated with years of very thorough, blatantly partisan investigations) is “hiding something”. Trump (who refuses to release his tax returns) is a straight shooter and a “genius”.

Clinton (who  has decades of distinguished experience in government in various capacities) carries “baggage”. Trump ( who has zero government experience, zero training in law, and little or no knowledge of the Constitution, but does have a long history of shady business practices) is a fresh face, a maverick, a Mr. Smith.

Clinton (who worked her way up from humble beginnings and has always concerned herself with the less fortunate) is an “elitist”. Trump (who was born rich and has devoted his life to becoming richer) is a “blue collar billionaire”. No, seriously.

Clinton (who has defended the Constitution for decades) is anti-American, a traitor. Trump (who has campaigned on pledges to violate the Constitution and international treaties, and has repeatedly insulted veterans and POWs) is a super-patriot.

The most important things about Clinton are emails, Benghazi, emails, The Clinton Foundation, emails, her laugh, emails, her hairstyle, emails, her dress, emails, her marital troubles, and emails. The most important thing about Trump is his “message” – whatever it may be.

So what conclusion do all of these bread crumbs lead to? Don’t be silly. They prove that the American mainstream media have an overwhelming liberal bias and they’ve gunning for Trump while pimping for Clinton. After all, the liberal media themselves have told us so, many times. So has Trump. And most Americans believe it. So that settles it.

capture-campaign

 

The 12 Worst Responses to Orlando and Dallas (and Baton Rouge…)

Pulse Shooting Orlando

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

 

This began as a rather belated examination of the reactions to the shootings in Orlando and Dallas, as I also offered for Charleston and Roseburg and others. But right from the beginning, I was thinking that I’d better hurry up and finish it, because given the frequency of such events these days, another one could occur at any moment. And lo and behold. But not to worry, the extremist reactions to all such incidents are fairly standard, with only slight variation. So herewith are the looniest, most hateful, most ignorant, most childish, most bigoted responses to the most recent (at the moment) round of mass murder by firearm.

1. “Muslims and Black Lives Matter”

Since the shooter in Dallas was black and the targets were police officers, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that the reactionaries would seize the opportunity to vilify an organization that draws attention to the disproportionate number of blacks shot by police. After all, they also proclaimed that the lone shooter in Orlando was proof that Muslims were to blame for the violence there. (As comedian Kumail Nanjiani commented, “Must be pretty cool to be white and just represent yourself and not your entire race”).

Following the shooting of the police officers in Dallas, here’s what a perennially pompous and vituperative talk radio personality (let’s not give him any more attention than need be by actually naming him) had to say :

Black Lives Matter was just exactly who they are then as who they are today. They’re a terrorist group. They’re quickly becoming a terrorist group committing hate crimes.

Never mind that there is no indication the gunman was connected with Black Lives Matter — which has solidly condemned the shootings. By drawing attention to police violence against blacks and seeking solutions, so the narrative goes, BLM is encouraging violence against police.

And of course as soon as it became known that the killer in Baton Rouge was black, the reactionaries tried to fit him into the narrative of black thugs killing white cops — never mind that one of the victims was also black, and that there was no indication of racial motivation. Interestingly, they did not try to fit him into a narrative when it came out that he may have been, like the vast majority of homegrown terrorists, associated with a radical right-wing anti-government ideology.

2. “All lives matter”

Before this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego, the Canadian quartet known as The Tenors came onto the field and sang the Canadian national anthem. Almost. But unbeknownst to the other three, one of the tenors altered the tenor of the lyrics during the song to say “all lives matter”, thus pissing off two countries at once. His outraged colleagues issued an apology and booted him out of the group.

Disrespectful mangling of a national anthem aside, what exactly is wrong with saying “all lives matter”? After all, all lives clearly do matter.  Well, what’s wrong is that the phrase was coined, or at least co-opted, as a rallying cry for those who want to attack, smear or trivialize Black Lives Matter. It’s a phrase that was uttered, for instance, by a man in Illinois just before he drove his vehicle into a crowd of BLM demonstrators. (No arrests were made.)

3. “Thoughts and prayers”

Once upon a time, it sounded like sincere empathy to say that your thoughts and prayers were with the victims and their families, even though both thought and prayer are notoriously ineffective in healing fatal bullet wounds or preventing future ones. These days, the expression just sounds meaningless and hollow — especially since it’s so often intoned by congresspersons who, being in the pocket of the gun lobby, refuse to take any action on gun violence.

4. “The worst mass shooting in U.S. history”

That was the unanimous verdict of the media about the Orlando massacre. But it wasn’t exactly true. Early in the Twentieth Century, there were mob attacks on African-Americans that left hundreds dead. Some of the victims were lynched or killed by other means, but a great many were shot. (Some people also might count the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee; but while the victims there were civilian, the killers were military personnel — which makes it rather different from what we normally characterize as a mass shooting.) The fact that mass murders of non-whites have slid under the radar of those keeping the tally is a good illustration of the problem — or at least one serious problem.

5. The NRA

If there is any bar of bad taste or poor judgment too low for the National Rifle Association to limbo under, they haven’t stumbled upon it yet. During the week leading up to Independence Day this year, the “gun rights” group aired a political ad (a pro-Trump ad, no less) that used the graves of military personnel as props in a video shot at Arlington National Cemetery without authorization and in clear violation of Arlington’s rules. And every time there is one of those increasingly common mass shootings, you can count on the good ol’ NRA to call for more guns in the streets, and to remind everyone that Obama wants to take away your guns and destroy your freedom (which amount to the same thing, don’t you know) and insist that we shouldn’t “blame the gun” for this carnage because the killers just as easily could have done the same damage using chess pieces or soda straws.

And of course they will blame anything and everything they can for the violence to deflect any share of culpability away from their precious guns. After Orlando, they even pointed the trigger finger at the specter of “political correctness”, whatever that means.

The shooting in Dallas actually prompted a much tamer than usual response from LaPierre and company ; but the promptness of that response was in itself rather incriminating. Why? Because it stands in stark contrast to the group’s glacial pace in commenting on the senseless police killing of civilian Philando Castile.

It’s especially interesting because Castile was a law-abiding licensed gun owner who was armed at the time but fully compliant with police instructions. He was, in short, the exemplary poster boy for so-called “Second Amendment rights” that the NRA normally would rush to defend against government tyranny at breakneck speed. But after Castile’s slaying, they were totally crickets for two days, and even then spoke up in a sanitized, broadly and diplomatically worded statement issued only after they’d been prodded a few times.

Did we mention that Philando Castile was black?

6. Trumpery as usual

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (did I really just type those words, or is it all just a bizarre nightmare?) Tweeted this about Orlando:

Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!

While the rest of the world was reeling with shock and grief, The Donald was engrossed with the one thing that he’s always been most engrossed with: himself, as he patted himself on the back for supposedly being right about Muslims in general being untrustworthy, and for his supposed “toughness and vigilance”.

In other comments about shootings, he has assailed President Obama’s leadership because he “allowed” these shootings to occur, and even nitpicked the president’s “body language”, implying that he wasn’t really sincere enough in his grief or strong enough in his resolve.

Is this the same Donald Trump who commented on the Roseburg shooting spree that “these things happen”, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them? So a self-described “conservative Republican” goes on a rampage, and it’s just a matter of “shit happens”. But closer to an election, our dark-skinned president should have been able to control all the other dark-skinned people, and it’s a sign of weak leadership that he let them slip through the net.

For what it’s worth, the record shows that President Obama, whether you approve of his polices or not, has been an incredibly effective leader — if you really doubt that, Exhibit A is the way he shepherded the passage of the ACA despite seemingly impossible odds and unprecedented obstruction — while Trump himself has a record of ducking responsibility, pointing fingers and refusing to acknowledge mistakes. But the problem here isn’t just a blowhard egomaniac spouting off. Trump and his like are the price Americans pay for the First Amendment. And the problem isn’t even that he repeats blatant lies, including lies promoted by admirers of Hitler.

The real problem is that his reckless and irresponsible rhetoric actually may be aiding and abetting the enemy. He appears to be doing, in other words, exactly what he baselessly accuses Obama of doing. How’s that leadership thing working out for you, Don?

7.  Religious idiocy

If it is indeed fair to judge an entire demographic sector by the actions of a handful, then Christians are in deep, deep doo-doo. Not only are Christian terrorists more common than Islamic terrorists,  but also while American Muslims uniformly denounce violence, a handful of American Christians — a very large handful, actually — celebrate and encourage it. (At least one Christian pundit in denial tried claiming that unlike Muslim terrorists, Christian terrorists don’t try to justify their actions by citing scripture. Really?)

Pat Robertson, who is nominally a Christian minister, seems nonetheless on a hellbent mission to make Christianity (not to mention political conservatism) look as bad as possible. He once suggested, for example, that Hurricane Katrina was caused by God’s wrath over abortion. And he was true to form when it came to Orlando.

The left is having a dilemma of major proportions and I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.

Maybe not quite as hateful as usual, but just as loony. Meanwhile, a church pastor in Sacramento addressed his congregation thusly:

I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight…The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!

That was not, mind you, a spur-of-the-moment Tweet. He actually put it into a sermon. And he’s not alone. A pastor in Arizona seems to have received the same memo from his Loving God:

The good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not going to be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

This particular pastor, by the way, had previously said he would pray that President Obama “dies and goes to hell”, inspiring a member of his faithful flock to show up armed at one of Obama’s appearances. But he probably wouldn’t have been able to cite any Bible verses to justify this move, do you think?

And then there’s always the Westboro Baptist Church. ‘Nuff said.

8. “Civil war”

That was the caption about the Dallas massacre used by a New York rag, and many people took up the cry: It’s cops versus African Americans or their advocates, and ya gotta choose one side or the other. These people presumably flip a coin when they encounter a black cop. And their heads really must explode when they hear about an incident like the one in California when Black Lives Matter activists and police officers shook hands after a demonstration. Or in Wichita when they had a cookout together. Or in Dallas when BLM demonstrators and All Lives Matter demonstrators shook hands, embraced and prayed together.

The Drudge Report ran the headline “Black Lives Kill”. And talk show host and former congressman Joe Walsh Tweeted:

5 cops dead, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after.

When Real America came after Walsh instead, he deleted it and replaced it with this:

10 Cops shot. You did this Obama. You did this liberals. You did this . Time to defend our Cops. Wake up.

Presumably, that version was intended to sound slightly less stupid.

9. Alex Jones

It’s tempting to say that Jones belongs in a category all by himself; but obviously there are many people out there who “think” like he does, or else he wouldn’t still be raking in the bucks year after year. In any case, these shootings have given him the opportunity to go full throttle, denouncing not only a “civil war”, but a “globalist, leftist takeover” involving Obama, Clinton, the United Nations, and Media Matters. And maybe those cricket people from the center of the earth.

10. “Hillary and Obama did it”

You may have noticed a common thread in a great many of the reactionary reactions: the first impulse is to blame the big bad black guy in the formerly White House. Because Obama openly and honestly (and accurately) acknowledges that there is a race problem in this country, and hey, because he’s viewed as a race problem himself, the reactionaries proclaim that he is, somehow, fomenting tension between the races. And Hillary Clinton must be doing so too, because… well, just because.

Even John McCain, who was once considered a sane and respectable statesman before he inflicted Sarah Palin on the world, declared that the president was “directly responsible” for Orlando. (Unlike other sufferers from Obama Derangement Syndrome, McCain at least had the decency to offer a half-assed retraction.) Some people have even suggested that the president literally ordered these attacks; evidently he’s supposed to be an impossibly “weak leader” except when it comes to orchestrating terrorism against his own people.

The two lines of assault are that Obama has (a) enabled terrorists, and (b) scorned police officers. In fact, the president has worked very hard to fight terrorism and to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. If he’s been less than totally effective, it’s in part because he’s had to fight the NRA and the GOP along with ISIS. (See him bitch-slap a “gun rights” advocate who confronts him with the”you’re punishing lawful gun owners” and  “crime is bad in your hometown” narratives.) He’s also been entirely supportive of law enforcement personnel. (See him totally de-pants the lieutenant governor of Texas, who confronts him with the “you don’t care about cops” narrative.)

Here’s an interesting idea for an experiment: let’s take a poll among people who believe Obama was responsible for these shootings, and find out how many of them also believe he is responsible for the death of bin Laden. Chances are the percentage will be a maximum of zero — even though the president verifiably did order that attack.

11. “A middle finger to cops”

Speaking at a memorial service for the fallen officers in Dallas, the president sounded a note of fervent optimism, insisting that “we are not as divided as we seem” despite occasional acts of hatred and racism, and that Americans can and will overcome their differences. But the Obama haters totally ignored the optimism and just zeroed in on the tiny part of his speech where he dared display the honesty and candor to mention the racism at all:

What kind of pathetically self-absorbed asshat hijacks a memorial for cops murdered by a racist to lecture cops on race?

Obama has never stopped being Bill Ayers’ acolyte. He never cared for this nation and never will.

Obama turns into lecture on race – SO DISGUSTING – Probably his MOST OFFENSIVE SPEECH Ever – What a jerk!

Black Lives Matter is a fraud and based on lies. They also promote cop killers. Unreal Obama would credit them at this memorial.

Of course: Divider-in-chief exploits for 5 gunned-down cops to bash police depts. Go home.

 @vadum

At funeral for 5 Dallas cops killed by Obama emphasizes & exaggerates bigotry among police. A middle finger to cops.

12. The Bush dance

 

The Obama Haters were so obsessed with finding something, anything, to smear the president for, that they seem to have overlooked the character a couple of heads to his right. During a rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic, George W. Bush begins swaying and boogieing and having a grand old time as if he’s flashing back to a drunken frat party. First Lady Michelle Obama at first glares at him in disbelief, then forces an indulgent smile, while his wife Laura shoots him a look that suggests he’s going to be taken to the woodshed when he gets home. I’ve heard people try to offer justifications for his behavior, but there’s no excuse for not realizing that in a memorial service for five people you don’t know, there are bound to be some who might consider it inappropriate. His conduct bespeaks the same kind of boy-in-a-bubble cluelessness that characterized his eight long years in Washington.

 

And there you have it, the worst reactions and responses I’m aware of this time around. If there are any I’ve overlooked, by all means bring them to my attention. But I doubt if anyone will bother. Any day now, there will be another mass shooting to steal the focus.

 

 

Reader’s Digest Grows Up

Readers Digest

Like many Americans, and indeed many people around the world, I’ve been exposed to Reader’s Digest my entire life. We were very poor when I was a child, and couldn’t afford much in the way of reading material; but many compact issues of that cheery, wholesome periodical published somewhere in New York, and even some of its hard-cover distillations of recent bestselling books, still managed to find their way into our household (they all tend to get recirculated a lot).

At an early age, I learned to appreciate the magazine’s inspiring real-life stories, amusing real-life anecdotes, upbeat tone, and informative condensed gleanings from many other publications that I’d never seen or even heard of. And I might add that some of the most hilarious moments I ever saw on The Tonight Show were Johnny Carson’s recurring parodies of RD’s helpful-hints articles.

But I also realized at an early age that an intelligent perusal of RD entailed filtering out a lot of crap. Founded in 1922 by a rock-ribbed right-winger, RD catered wholeheartedly to the longstanding dominant narrative that America was founded by and for right-wing fanatics; and that anything except right-wing fanaticism poses a grim threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Not only did it extol the untainted bliss of life in the dear old U S of A, it also painted an unstintingly grim picture of life in the evil empire of the Soviet Union. Somewhere around my grandparents’ house, I even recall seeing a Reader’s Digest edition of a piece of sophomoric literary agitprop called… let’s see, was it Atlas Yawned? (Presumably, the naughty parts were expunged in the name of American decency.)

The politically themed features of the magazine often followed a formula that I have come to call the bias sandwich. Suppose it ran an expose of a certain type of corruption or incompetence in Washington. The article would begin by providing three or four examples of Democrats indulging in the behavior, then throw in a Republican offender to provide some semblance of balance, then close with another Democrat or two to create a lasting impression. If the article instead examined admirable activity, the proportions would be the same but the polarities would be reversed.

And religion. God yes, it was steeped to the core  in religion. Not just any religion,  but hardcore fundamentalist namby-pamby WASPish Christianity. There were many accounts of real-life “miracles”, and the true meaning of Christmas, and the power of prayer, and anecdotes recounting how “when I was eleven I fell and scraped my knee and my grandmother bandaged it and made me a cup of hot chocolate and I knew then that God would always be there for me.”

All of which seemed perfectly congruent in an era when everyone was white, judges could order people to attend church, and school children wore military-style dog tags so their bodies could be identified in the rubble left by an impending Russian nuking. But it’s a different world now, a less innocent and more adult world. It’s much harder to ignore the fact that there are many kinds of people in the world, people of different races and creeds and proclivities and lifestyles — and most of them are rather decent people. And Reader’s Digest, fortunately, has evolved to reflect this change.

It didn’t happen overnight, but the watershed seems to have occurred right around the turn of the millennium, as if the magazine’s editorship really took to heart the old belief about how the Twenty-First Century was supposed to be an era of wondrous developments. And there were at least three distinct mileposts that stand out.

First, the Digest became more even-handed in its political coverage. It started discussing Republicans with less gushing adoration and Democrats with more basic respect. During a presidential election cycle, you now can expect to see fairly unbiased and substantial interviews with both major candidates. (It doesn’t devote a lot of ink to candidates outside the two-party system, but who does?)

Second, it started publishing letters (emails) from readers. After all, the magazine was named for them. But for a very long time, it was a one-way mirror rather than a dialogue. And that just didn’t seem right for a periodical that was supposed to be the great American vox populi.

Finally, the ever-entertaining National Review ran a hand-wringing lament about the Digest’s sad demise.  The original article by John J. Miller, alas, is no longer accessible for your entertainment, but you can get a good idea of its contents from an amusing commentary on it in The Washington Post. The premier voice of wingnuttery in America believes the Digest is in a sate of sorry decline and depravity? Higher praise than that, my friends, there is simply not.

RD is, to be sure, still a rather conservative magazine. But it’s conservative in the true sense of the word rather than the Fox/ Limbaugh/ National Review sense.  Recently some of its readers felt that one particular little joke in one issue was a bit too risque, so the editor issued an apology and a promise that it wouldn’t happen again. That kind of conservatism may be silly, but at least it isn’t deranged and vicious.

For many generations, Americans have been able to say that they grew up with Reader’s Digest.  But those of the present generation can also say that Reader’s Digest has grown up with them.

Why Bush Vs. Gore Still Matters

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It’s now been 15 years since a fiercely partisan Supreme Court handed the keys to the kingdom to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (not necessarily in that order). A hotly contested battle at the time, the clash between the Bush camp and the Gore camp has faded into a paragraph in the annals of history; most people seem to assume that the matter was settled long ago and everyone has moved on. Anyone who suggests otherwise is likely to be dismissed as a mere librul being a sore loser. Just recently, I saw yet another indignant editorial denouncing the insidious “liberal lie” that Bush stole the election.

But as we detailed in a four-part series on its tenth anniversary, there are many reasons why this travesty never should be forgotten. It amounted to a bloodless coup, brought about by a multi-pronged apparatus of nepotism and election tampering. And it probably would not have happened without the complicity of a grotesquely lopsided media.

The media ignored and even actively refused to examine a massive, irregular, highly suspicious pre-election drive by Florida’s governor (who just happened to be Bush’s younger brother) and secretary of state (who just happened to be co-chair of the Bush campaign in that state) to unlawfully purge the voter rolls of tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters under a false pretext. Disenfranchising thousands of perfectly qualified Democratic voters? That doesn’t count as election theft, does it?

During the campaign, the media took up the drumbeat of the Karl Rove character assassination against Al Gore, thoroughly branding him as a pathological  liar — without producing even one actual lie he’d told — and trying to manufacture whoppers out of the most trivial things he did say. Meanwhile, the media ignored bona fide lies that Bush told about important policy matters and his actions in office while he was governor of Texas. It also ignored his long track record of consistent failure and his gross ignorance about the federal government he was positioning himself to lead. His almost daily verbal gaffes were shrugged off, scrubbed, or spun as part of a folksy charm he supposedly inherited by being a Texan (though he was actually from Maine).

The media ignored or glossed over the fact that 80 percent of the ballots nationwide were counted by electronic voting machines supplied by 3 companies — all of which were owned by persons with strong ties to the Republican Party; and that Republicans did extremely well in places where these machines were used. In fact of the many highly suspicious glitches and irregularities that these beasts coughed up, virtually all benefited GOP candidates. Screwy voting machines owned by Republicans that disproportionately generate errors helping Republicans win? Why should anyone care about that?

On election night, it was the standard bearer of American media, Fox “News” that proclaimed Bush the winner, with the other networks sheepishly following suit, thereby immediately and permanently casting Gore in the role of challenger. That premature election night call was made by a Fox talking head who just happened to be Bush’s cousin.

During the legal battle, the media ignored the fact that the Supreme Court (which happened to include two justices appointed by Bush’s father, one of whose wife was involved in promoting a Bush presidency) did an abrupt about-face from its usual states’ rights stances in halting the Florida recount, generating a legal argument so egregious that the justices inserted a decree that no future court should follow it in any other case. And that the Court imposed arbitrary deadlines and restrictions, and offered unjustified reasons for stopping the recount. And that one of those reasons was that Bush would probably win his suit — a preliminary ruling the justices delivered without even reading the brief! And that the court openly admitted its main interest was in preserving Bush’s claim to victory — as opposed to determining the actual winner. Blatantly interested Supreme Court justices ruling in favor of their boy? Nothing suspicious about that, is there?

But perhaps the biggest slap in the face of all to the American public came a year after the election. The Supreme Court fiat did not satisfy the curiosity about who would have won had the recount proceeded. To quote myself from an earlier article:

So, with the supposed objective of setting the matter straight, a consortium of eight news organizations sponsored a painstaking review of the ballots that were rejected. (At least all they had available. Thousands of them, mostly from heavily Democratic precincts, were mysteriously MIA.) Conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center and closely monitored by representatives of both political camps, the review tallied the likely outcomes under several different counting standards.

And what was the result? Somewhat mixed, with Bush winning under some counting scenarios and Gore under others. But Gore won under more scenarios than Bush — including any and all that involved a statewide recount. This,  bear in mind, was even after all the shenanigans the pachyderms pulled off.

Strangely enough, this fact was dutifully noted by The Drudge Report — a very unusual degree of honesty for Drudge or any other  right-wing source. In an article titled “Gore Beat Bush in Florida, Says New Recount” Drudge led off with what it must have found a very disturbing conclusion:

A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election commissioned by the nation’s main media outlets shows Al Gore edged ahead of George W. Bush “under all the scenarios for counting all undervotes and overvotes statewide,” the Drudge Report has learned. [Newspapers] will splash in Monday editions an election review which will ignite total controversy during a time of war…

But of course no such splash was splashed, and no such firestorm erupted. National unity was preserved in time of a contrived war, praise the lord and pass the ammunition. Because the rest of the media did not follow Drudge’s surprise lead. Instead, most major media outlets buried the results of their own investigation under the unequivocal narrative that the right man ended up in the White House. Their headlines screamed “Bush Would Have Won a Recount”, while the truth, if it was reported at all, was mentioned in passing somewhere on the back page.

The New York Times (an ultra-librul rag, don’t you know) ran a piece under the unwieldy heading

EXAMINING THE VOTE: THE OVERVIEW; Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote

Except that farther down the page, the Times fleetingly mentions bits and pieces of the evidence that actually, the justices sort of did. And the editors also managed to let this slip through the filters:

Another complicating factor in the effort to untangle the result is the overseas absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. A New York Times investigation earlier this year showed that 680 of the late-arriving ballots did not meet Florida’s standards yet were still counted. The vast majority of those flawed ballots were accepted in counties that favored Mr. Bush, after an aggressive effort by Bush strategists to pressure officials to accept them.

A statistical analysis conducted for The Times determined that if all counties had followed state law in reviewing the absentee ballots, Mr. Gore would have picked up as many as 290 additional votes, enough to tip the election in Mr. Gore’s favor in some of the situations studied in the statewide ballot review.

Counting illegal Republican ballots because the Bushites demanded it? What’s complicating about that? (See the late great Gore Vidal’s eloquent dissection of the Times article in The Nation.)

Anything approximating journalistic integrity and impartiality would require reaching and publicizing the conclusion that the results of the Florida review made Bush’s “victory” questionable to say the least. But that’s not what the mainstream media said then. And that’s not what it’s saying now. And that’s why it’s so important to preserve and present the facts.

There is a scene In Tony Kushner’s play Angels In America, in which one character asks what history will say about something, and another replies that history will lie as usual. Yes, history does lie — sometimes through many generations of schoolchildren who are force-fed inaccurate information, creating a warped sensibility that is often very difficult to rectify, and shapes the kind of world those children live in when they become adults. Let’s try to make certain that history doesn’t take as long to speak the truth about George W. Bush as it did about Christopher Columbus.