The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”




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.



Fake Fake News, Real Fake News and Fake Real News


On a day in December, a would-be hero from North Carolina left his home and drove all the way to New York, where he fearlessly strode into a pizza parlor amid a barrage of pepperoni, pulled a gun and confronted the management. He was there to rescue the children, you see. The children who were being exploited in a sex trafficking ring by Hillary Clinton and her evil accomplices. He knew it was happening because he’d read it on social media. He’d no doubt even read about how the placement of symbols on the pizza joint’s menu was really an elaborate code for pedophilia practices.

The story sounds like it might have been scripted by writers at Saturday Night Live or maybe by the Coen brothers on acid. Yet it nearly led to violence because this fellow believed it totally. And he’s not alone. Millions of people out there buy into fake news stories. Facebook has finally taken measures to reduce the fake news traffic on its highways, but it’s too little too late, for it already hath wrought the election of Donald Trump.

Not surprising, then, that Trump’s cheerleaders, upon hearing complaints about fake news, shifted into gear with their defense of the phenomenon — which included ridiculing the complaints, redefining fake news and denying that it even exists. They’ve brushed it off with the glib comment that “fake news is a fake story”, and have even suggested that even if it exists, it’s harmless because most Americans recognize it when they see it.

Which does not jibe at all with the statistics: about a fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, most think he has raised their taxes, about 40 percent believe in “death panels”, about 25 percent think evolution is a false belief,  about half think Saddam was behind 9-11, and 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote.

An ever-dependable, perennially flatulent AM talk show host characterized fake news as “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand”. Which brings up two questions: (1) Is he really so stupid that he can’t distinguish a Saturday Night Live skit from a supposedly serious report about “Pizzagate”? (2) Is he really so stupid as to think it was “liberals” who were taken in by all the phony (and often bizarre) stories about Clinton and Obama?

Like many other right-wing fanatics, he wants you to believe that the real fake news is actually the real real news — you know, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, etc. etc. He even offers some examples of fake news stories:

[Quoting someone else: “You want to hear fake news?  Fake news is every story you read reporting Obama said you keep your doctor if you like your doctor. You get to keep your plan if you like your insurance plan. Your premiums are coming down $2,500 average, every year, under Obamacare.”]  That was fake news, and that’s exactly right.

Yes, you heard that right. Accurately reporting what someone said — at least if that someone happens to be someone you loathe — is what he and his kind consider fake news. Another example he cites of his brand of fake news is the Obama administration saying that a video helped inspire the attack in Benghazi — which in fact is quite true; but since it doesn’t support the right-wing narrative, it must be fake anyway. Got it?

He does the same thing for the “hands up” narrative. It’s fake news, he says, because an investigation later appeared to contradict the witnesses who had said Michael Brown was trying to surrender when he was shot by a cop. (He doesn’t mention that the investigation also found there were strained relations between Ferguson police and the African-American community, the real point of the “hands up” meme.) Even though the media accurately reported what witnesses had said, it was fake news, just because he says so.

Media Matters reports on this habit of turning reality on its head:

Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird.The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham — a contender for Trump’s press secretary — lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”


These comments exhibit two tactics you will see reactionary propagandists exercising over and over and over again: projecting their own sins onto someone they want to demonize, and redefining terms to suit their purposes. “Fake news”, like any other word or expression, comes to mean whatever they want it to mean.

But despite such attempts by the punditocracy to muddy the waters, the complaint from “liberals” about fake news has never been about bias. Most “liberals” (and even a lot of “conservatives”) realize that news is always biased in some manner and to some degree. Nor is it a matter of accuracy; accuracy is certainly important, but errors invariably creep in from time to time, even in the most conscientious journalism. And fake news quite often is constructed at least partially with actual facts.

We previously mentioned an internet story claiming that President Obama took a separate plane along on his vacation just for his dog. Part of the story was true: the president did take two planes, and the dog flew on a separate plane from the family. But the plane was not deployed just for the dog; it was carrying crucial personnel and the dog just hitched a ride.

Fake news is determined neither by bias nor error; it is determined by a false narrative that serves as the spine to which bias and error  are so often attached, along with real facts. The “War On Christmas” narrative is a good example of fake news because it uses a phony narrative supported both by lies (President Obama, contrary to Fox claims, wished Americans a Merry Christmas on numerous occasions) and facts (some people really do say “happy holidays” instead).

It may not always be easy to classify a story as fake news. Should every false rumor be tossed into that bin? Sometimes false rumors begin with an honest misunderstanding of the facts. One likely specimen is the rumor that only 5 (or 6) percent of the Clinton Foundation’s proceeds actually go to charity. This probably stems from ignorance about what kind of organization the Clinton Foundation actually is. Despite its rather misleading name, it’s not really a foundation at all, but a public charity. That means, among other things, that it performs its own charitable services rather than acting as a conduit for funds (as a foundation would do). And 89 percent of its proceeds go toward that function. Additionally, the organization donates 6 (or 5) percent of its proceeds to other charities. Some people just assume that’s all it does, because that’s what they want to assume. (Incidentally, contrary to additional rumors, the Clintons don’t make a dime from it.)

It may be questionable whether that story should be classified as fake news or merely a false report. In many other cases, however, there is no doubt. These occur when the perpetrator either deliberately creates a false narrative or creates a narrative without due regard to whether it is true or not. This applies to all of the manipulative videos distributed by James O’Keefe. It also applies to a story recently posted at Breitbart about a mob of Muslims attacking a German church.

Breitbart is uquestionably one of the prime purveyors of real fake news.  And its chairman, Steve Bannon, is going to have a special role in Trump’s administration. Which is altogether appropriate, since the election of Trump is the culmination of the work that fake news and distorted news outlets have been doing for some three decades. They have created an alternate universe for their fans. And now the rest of us must live in it as well.

“Pro-Life”, Anti-Truth


So, were you shocked and outraged when you heard — as you almost certainly did — that Planned Parenthood has been “selling body parts” of “murdered babies”? Congratulations, that’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel. But the real congratulations are due to the folks who concocted the whole story in the first place.

That would be the Center For Medical Progress, a”pro-life” activist group that released an undercover interview with Planned Parenthood’s Deborah Nucatola, deceptively edited to make it sound as if Planned Parenthood sells the tissue of aborted fetuses. The hoaxsters also released the full unedited video, which clearly shows Nucatola decrying the idea of selling fetal tissue; but the fanfare was all about the shorter video, and they surely must have realized that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on. It was the dishonest edit that got Facebooked ad infinitum.

Even the supposedly intellectually viable organ of rightwingnuttery, the ever-entertaining National Review, took the bait. In an editorial titled Let’s Face It: Planned Parenthood Is Evil (don’t mince words, folks, what do you really think?), NR lamented that

In America, it’s illegal to donate money to a candidate without first reporting it to the government. Even then, if you give more than is permissible, you could end up in jail. In this country, you can’t add trans fats to your foods or smoke cigarettes in your own bar. Here, the Little Sisters of the Poor can’t tell the state they’d rather not buy condoms, and bakers can’t tell a couple they’d rather not participate in their wedding. But it’s completely legal to kill an unborn baby for convenience and then sell its parts for cash.

Except that’s totally untrue. And the ever-entertaining National Review knew that, or else didn’t bother to look it up. Either way, it’s inexcusable for anyone masquerading as a journalist to make such utterances. Just as it’s inexcusable for anyone pretending to be “pro-life” to support policies that are anti-life (however you define it) and to indulge in this kind of devious smear tactics.

Yet this is very far from unusual. Planned Parenthood has become the favorite bogeyman of the “pro-life” movement, which has no qualms about how it goes about persecuting them.  And as we’ve seen before, many “pro-life” fanatics have no problem with lying their pious asses off. We’ve asked this question before, but it’s certainly worth asking again and again: if they really are so convinced that their cause is noble and righteous and true, why do they so consistently feel the need to promote it with lies, deception, sleazy attacks and intimidation?

The Great “Voter Fraud” Scam

This may have escaped your notice, but the U.S. is currently in the midst of a presidential campaign season. If you’ve hard anything about it at all, you’ve probably heard a great deal about voter fraud. And if you’ve heard anything about voter fraud, you’ve heard that it’s Democratic voters who do it, and that they do it in multitudes, and that it frequently produces stolen elections. And if you’ve heard all of this, you’ve heard the sound of a huge barge load of bullshit being dumped on your head.

How big a problem is voter fraud? Mother Jones notes that UFO sightings are more common. And that’s not just an expression; it’s literally true. In fact, there are far, far more UFO sightings than cases of voter fraud: Mother Jones’ numbers for the period from 2000 to 2010 are: 47,000 UFO sightings compared to 13 cases of  verified voter fraud. It would make more sense for the media to focus on preventing that kind of alien from voting.

News21 comes up with a slightly different but compatible total for the same period: 10 instances of “substantiated in-person” voter fraud confirmed out of 2068 alleged cases. Whatever the exact figure, everyone who examines the facts closely enough arrives at the same conclusion: voter fraud is extremely rare, hardly a drop in the ocean. Yet the hype about it is a tsunami.

Mother Jones also observes that:

A 2005 report by the American Center for Voting Rights claimed there were more than 100 cases of voter fraud involving 300,000 votes in 2004. A review of the charges turned up only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent.

Note that word potentially. And that:

Last December, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Wisconsin is “absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” In fact, the state’s voter fraud rate in 2004 was 0.0002 percent—just 7 votes.

The Brennan Center for Justice conducted an analysis of purported voter fraud and found that:

Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud. Although there are a few scattered instances of real voter fraud, many of the vivid anecdotes cited in accounts of voter fraud have been proven false or vastly overstated. In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences. Similarly, a 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.

The thing is, those “vivid anecdotes” make the headlines, over and over and over again, while the inevitable debunking of them does not.  Consequently, the astronomically overinflated stories of voter fraud stay implanted on the impressionable public brain much more vibrantly and permanently than the facts. It’s the old thing about a lie being halfway around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on.

Pardon me while I dig up ACORN.

Take the intensive smear campaign against ACORN. One poll revealed that 26 percent of all Americans and 52 percent of Republicans believed the community activist organization “stole” the 2008 election for Obama. More astoundingly, a poll taken last year indicated that 25 percent of Republicans believed it also would steal the 2012 election — even though the organization already was defunct for more than one year!

Smashing ACORN had long been a goal of right-wing activists for a very good reason: it had a long history of registering the “wrong” kind of voters (i.e., those who vote Democratic), which apparently is the most egregious offense of all. A young would-be muckraker named James O’Keefe helped the cause tremendously with his fraudulently edited videos about ACORN.

Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College studied the media coverage of ACORN and reported among other things that:

Although ACORN is involved in many community activities around the country, including efforts to improve housing, wages, access to credit, and public education, the dominant story frame about ACORN was “voter fraud.” The “voter fraud” frame appeared in 55% of the 647 news stories about the community organization in 15 mainstream news organizations during 2007 and 2008. The news media stories about ACORN were overwhelmingly negative, reporting allegations by Republicans and conservatives.

The media also failed to distinguish allegations of voter registration problems from allegations of actual voting irregularities. They also failed to distinguish between allegations of wrongdoing and actual wrongdoing. For example:

82.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare (only 17.2% did mention it)

80.3% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required to do by law.

85.1% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems.

95.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of “voter fraud” to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter fraud accusations – firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

So, to summarize the case against ACORN: the real fraud was not voter fraud, but registration fraud. It was not committed by ACORN,  but against ACORN by (a few of) its workers. They were not trying to stuff the ballot box, but to stuff their own pockets. ACORN did, as claimed by its critics, turn in many phony names — because it was required to do so by law. ACORN itself flagged these for scrutiny; and ironically, if not for its efforts to prevent voter fraud, it might not have been accused of voter fraud. Thorough investigation cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.  Yet few media reports noted these facts. Must be that old “liberal bias” in the media at work again, eh? Indeed, by the time the truth about the “scandal” surfaced, the damage already had been done by O’Keefe, Breitbart, and the other usual suspects.

Give him an inch…

O’Keefe, by the way, is still releasing fraudulently edited videos that purport to show Democratic voter fraud. In his most recent, he solemnly proclaims in the intro that he is about to reveal proof of voter fraud that many deny even exists. Ah, Jimmy boy, a brazen double lie is hardly an auspicious beginning for what is intended to be an earth-shaking expose. Your latest little heavily doctored cinematic jewel only proves that you still know how to be dishonest, manipulative and self-serving. And it appears that plague of “liberal” malfeasance you’ve devoted your life to exposing is in fact so rare that you have to manufacture it with entrapment and deceptive editing. Secretly film a Democrat dumb enough to humor (while also gently discouraging) what appears to be a persistent wacko intent on cheating,  then slice and dice the footage to perfection and, presto, you have a new masterpiece, certain to bring you more limelight, that “proves” one Democrat is dishonest and therefore they all must be.  And it isn’t that people are claiming fraud never happens. They’re just claiming that it’s a tiny gnat of a problem that does not in any way justify the parade of steamrollers being dispatched to squash it, in the form of intrusive legislation concocted by the champions of “limited government”.

Sure, voter fraud sometimes happens. As a former poll worker myself, I can assure you that it’s extremely difficult to pull off, but it still does occur occasionally. Sometimes the culprits are even high-profile individuals like this gang:

The evidence is overwhelming that each of these characters committed in-person voter fraud. Yet the media and the right-wing hacks don’t seem to be too interested in investigating. Wonder why? (Hint: check their party affiliation.) Clearly yet another case of “liberal bias” in the media. These are just a few of the apparent and confirmed cases of voter fraud committed by Republicans that somehow consistently slide under the radar of the librulmedia. By the way, none of these apparently fraudulent acts would have been prevented by the voter ID laws that Republicans are touting as the panacea.

Paltry affliction, potent medicine

Yet more than 30 states have passed tougher new voter ID laws. Why? Well, to answer that question, perhaps  you only have to look at who is behind them: namely, Republicans and other assorted right-wingers. Always. In every case. Al Franken, now a senator from Minnesota, once commented to the effect that Democrats try to win elections by getting people to vote, while Republicans try to win by preventing people from voting. Ah, come off it Al; surely all these voter ID laws aren’t just an effort to win at any cost, are they?

Hmmm…. Go back to 2000.  Months before the election, a purge of voters who were allegedly ex-felons falsely eliminated thousands of likely Gore voters who were perfectly qualified to cast ballots. (Some of these alleged felons were listed as having committed their alleged crimes on some date in the future!)  Bush’s official margin of “victory” in the state was 537. The purge was orchestrated by the state’s governor, who just happened to be Bush’s brother, and its secretary of state, who just happened to be the local chair of his campaign. All just coincidence, I’m sure. But that fraudulent purge coincidentally paid enormous dividends to the GOP, who professed to have executed it in order to  prevent fraud.

Ten states have passed voter ID laws that place a disproportionate burden — in terms of money, time, and access — upon minorities and low income citizens who — whaddaya know — vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In all ten of these states, both the legislatures and the governorships are in the hands of — whaddaya know — Republicans.  All just coincidence, no doubt.

Pennsylvania passed a new voter ID law that, before it was halted by a judge, would have disenfranchised more than 750,000 voters. The vast majority of them would have been Democratic voters. Just coincidence, to be sure.  In speaking of the law, the state’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, commented that it “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”.  He was just joking, wasn’t he?

In Nevada, a registration worker was told that he wouldn’t be paid for signing up Democrats. This appears to be part of a growing national strategy by Republicans, often involving fake “surveys” to screen out Democrats.  In Virginia, a man who was caught tossing bags of completed voter registration forms into a dumpster turned out to be (surprise) working for the GOP. All just coincidence, absolutely.

In Arizona, voter registration cards in Spanish were mailed out with the wrong election date listed. In Ohio, mailers in one county listed both the wrong date and the wrong place. Republicans were behind both mailings. Just coincidence, naturally. In Arizona, it happened in Maricopa county, which has produced legislation aimed at discriminating against Hispanics under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration. Hispanics are much more likely to vote for Obama. Just one coincidence after another.

Additionally, there are widespread problems with electronic voting machines, which — except for the occasional very minor glitches that temporarily benefit Democrats before they are caught and corrected — have a consistent habit of counting more Republican votes than Democratic, sometimes very suspiciously so. The companies that supply these machines are all owned by individuals who are very active in supporting GOP candidates. Gotta be mere coincidence. Before the 2004 election, in which Diebold’s voting machines were quite instrumental, its Ohio-based chief executive, Wally O’Dell, declared, ”I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Coincidentally, he did deliver, and Ohio was the pivotal state. Coincidentally, it very well could be again this year. (A rumor that Mitt Romney’s son owns voting machines in Ohio is false, though there are coincidentally some interesting connections.)

In short, if the media wanted to cover highly suspicious election irregularities that could make the difference — and indeed already have made a difference in at least on presidential election — they would have plenty of stories to cover. Trouble is, these stories all suggest vote suppression, tampering and other underhanded shenanigans on the part of Republicans, which doesn’t quite fit the narrative of Democrats stealing elections by getting too many people to vote. So instead we have a media obsession with scattered instances of possible fraud that have never had an impact on an election’s outcome. As usual, the right-wing propagandists have done their job extremely well.

Communists, Socialists, Marxists, Oh My!

Whoever said that nothing is certain except death and taxes made a glaring oversight. It’s also certain that whenever anyone proposes genuine change, they’re going to be branded communist, socialist, and/or Marxist (not to mention liberal, of course). If Karl Marx never accomplished anything else with his life, he at least bequeathed American reactionaries a handy epithet or two to hurl.

These epithets were hurled at labor organizers in the Thirties, some of whom were threatened, attacked and even killed for daring to demand better working conditions. They were hurled in the Sixties at hippies who rejected mindless materialism and peaceniks who protested the Viet Nam involvement. They were hurled in the Fifties at anyone who did anything to show that they were alive. And now, naturally, they’re being hurled at the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.

You won’t have to worry, though, about such labels being applied to the Tea Party – in fact, they’re quite often the ones doing the applying.  The Tea Party’s main objective isn’t genuine change; it’s undoing the changes wrought, or that they believe to have been wrought, by the Obama administration. Their much-ballyhooed “anger” is largely an irrational reaction to a mythical tax increase and a mythical version of a healthcare bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. (My favorite recent example of how the punditocracy brainwashes the masses is that 25% of Republicans expressed fear the 2012 election will be stolen for Obama by ACORN – which disbanded more than a year ago!)

Occupy Wall Street, however, at least has a beef rooted in reality: the old trickle-down economic model is not working, has never worked, and is not working even more now. The last quarter of 2010 was the most profitable for large businesses since the government began keeping records on them more than 60 years ago. Recession? What recession? The richest one percent of Americans have QUINTUPLED their wealth in the past few years. You really believe it’s because they’re smarter or work harder than the rest of us? Good! I have a rainbow I’ve been wanting to sell.

Yet a tenth of American workers remain unemployed and the number of people applying for food stamps sets a new record every month. Corporations are basking in cash and often paying no taxes on it, their CEOs are getting obscenely huge bonuses – and at the same time they’re making massive cuts to their workforce and outsourcing jobs to places where labor is much cheaper. Oil companies post record profits, but fuel prices are stuck at well over three bucks a gallon.  Washington, we have a problem. But meanwhile, rather than vote on a jobs bill backed by the current president, Congress votes on recognizing “In God We Trust” as the national motto. (There is a suspicion, not without cause, that all of this is part of a scheme to thwart Obama’s re-election, using American workers and consumers as political pawns.)

It’s probably clear to most people that there is no simple solution to these problems. It’s clear enough to the demonstrators, and so they aren’t proposing simple solutions.  (It is not true, however, that they’ve proposed no remedial measures at all.) This makes them all the more subject to vilification by a media elite accustomed to thinking in black and white. (For an amusing and yet nauseating tabulation of the media’s spin on OWS, including the common mantra that the participants “don’t know what they want”, see here.) There’s an interesting principle at work here, and so your Professor of Propaganda is going to give it a name.

P.O.P.’S LAW OF INVERSE BENEFIT: The greater the number of people who stand to benefit from a particular movement, the more intense the smear campaign against it will be.

The Tea Party is a movement perpetrated mostly by a relatively small number of  right-wing extremists. From the beginning the media trumpeted it as a grassroots revolution, greatly exaggerating its numbers and not only giving extensive coverage to its rallies, but advance notice of its planned events, encouraging the public to attend. The attendees said that Obama is illegitimate, that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, that he has hiked their taxes, that he wants to institute death panels and destroy the nation and outlaw fishing. And oh yeah, that global warming is a hoax. And with a perfectly straight face, the media gave them an unlimited spotlight and microphone.

Occupy Wall Street has said that greed and corruption are strangling the American dream. And after ignoring them as long as possible, the media met them with ridicule and contempt. Which included, of course, the commie/socialist/Marxist syndrome – and just to hedge bets, the contradictory label of Nazi was thrown in as well. (Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd has complained about the media’s “double standard”. You think I’m joshing?)

Are there any communists/socialists/Marxists involved in OWS? Beyond a doubt. And I’d wager that none are the anti-American monsters the right-wingers have them pegged for. Unlike the Tea Party, Occupy Wall street has an extremely broad base of support; it would be miraculous if there weren’t any communists/socialists/Marxists involved. But to claim that they represent the heart of the movement is a meme that only Fox and its diehard fans would buy into.  If you look long and hard at a Tea Party rally, you’ll spot an occasional dark face in the crowd; but would anyone alive characterize the Tea Party as an African-American activist group?

Because of its broad appeal, Occupy Wall Street attracts all kinds of people-except, apparently, right-wing extremists, who seem pretty unified in demonizing it. The ones who attend the demonstrations seem to do so incognito, with the intent of inciting violence, provoking arrests and in general trying to bring down the PR quotient of the actual movement. Even James O’Keefe, the notorious creator of deceptively doctored videos, was spotted at a rally. So his next little masterpiece should be premiering any day now.

Such a diverse group as the Occupy movement, alas, is inevitably going to have its share of unsavory characters along for the ride. When a protester in New York was sexually assaulted (bear in mind that these people are camping out in public parks), OWS organizers responded swiftly, putting in place measures to prevent such attacks in the future. The punditocracy also responded swiftly, seemingly touting the incident as proof that OWS is just one big rape camp. Meanwhile, a handful of Jew-bashers in the crowd prompted a major media narrative that OWS is anti-Semitic. The hilarious thing is that many who make such a claim also vehemently protest the (also unfair, perhaps) characterization of the Tea Party as racist, even though the instances of Tea Party racism are FAR more extensive, and apparently the sentiment even extends to its leadership.

Whether or not you ultimately decide to support Occupy Wall Street (or the Tea Party), I’d like to humbly suggest that perhaps ANY movement deserves more careful consideration than Commie Tourette’s. It betrays the sorry lack of imagination that is such a major plague in the public forum. No, I take that back. It isn’t that imagination is utterly lacking. Take a look at some of the justifications people cite for using these labels and you’ll see that imagination is running amok. (Hey, if Michael Moore promotes it, it’s gotta be bright red, right? And by the way, since he makes a lot of money, that means he’s a hypocrite, because we all know that the message of OWS is that the rich are all evil bastards, right?) The problem is that it’s being used to attack rather than offer constructive input.

So if you are among those who habitually respond with the communist/socialist/Marxist chant, I’d like to issue a challenge. Try to be more creative in your insults. The old ones are causing people’s eyes to glaze over. In concocting more original epithets, you might inspire more people to pay attention to your message, if any, and that might spark a productive dialogue, which might lead to some creative solutions to the problems we all face regardless of ideological differences. Or if nothing else, you might become really skilled at venomous insults and launch a career like Rush Limbaugh’s, trashing “lubberals” and military veterans for a hefty paycheck that will land you in the top one percent.

So please, get imaginative with those smears. You just might start a revolution.

ACORNization: Putting It All Together

Okay, okay. Enough of O’Keefe and Breitbart and all the other ACORNizers who prey on media sensationalism and public gullibility. Attention is what they’re really after, and we’re not going to give them any more of it. Well, at least until the next “scandal” they brew up.

But your Professor Of Propaganda wouldn’t be doing his duty if he didn’t extract something of value from all of this. So here is a summary of lessons learned from ACORNization thus far. Pay close attention, and duplicate these steps if you want to create a stir, get your name in the news and – of course – advance an extremist ideology.

1. Choose a target. The best ones are organizations which, for some reason real or imagined, arouse the hatred of right-wingers. NPR. Planned Parenthood. ACORN.  NAACP. Those bases have been covered already. But there’s still a wide-open field: National Endowment for the Arts, any union, and PETA, for instance. And hey, does anyone know how to sneak into the United Nations?

2. Practice deviousness. In other words, learn how to video someone without their knowledge. But wait, isn’t that highly illegal and unethical? Of course. Next.

3. Decide on an agenda. In other words, what kind of unsavory label do you want to attach to this organization? Immoral? Racist? Unconscionable? The sky’s the limit; it doesn’t have to be accurate or even logical. Because there is absolutely nothing so kooky that people won’t believe it. (Especially if you can attach the word Obama to it somehow.)

4. Make the calls. On some false pretext or other, visit representatives of your chosen organization, pretending to be a real jerk (which need not be a great stretch), knowing that some of your targets will humor you. Make as many visits as you need to in order to get the damning responses you  wish; and remember, it won’t take that many. The great thing about playing to an audience of ideologues (which includes a large segment of the American public) is that they will accept isolated cases as proof of broad generalizations. And if you don’t get the responses you seek, don’t despair. Just move on to the next step.

5. Dice and splice. The real art of ACORNization lies (double meaning intended) in the editing. If you’ve done much interviewing at all, you should have enough words from your victims that you can chop, stitch, mangle and rearrange until you can make them say anything. And remember that sometimes just leaving out part of a conversation can make all the difference in the world.

6. Distribute. There will always be an eager market for your product. The  media will always embrace any propaganda that casts a shadow on any organization or individual perceived as “liberal”, without bothering to check out its credibility first.  (That must be why they call it the librul media. But that’s another story.) Eventually, your fraud will be exposed, but by then you will have accomplished your mission. And even after that, Fox “News” will continue trumpeting your virtues indefinitely.

7. Lather, rinse, repeat.

ACORNization: Playing Both Sides of the Race Card

Once upon a time, Shirley Sherrod was an official in the Obama administration. She was also African-American. These two facts, especially in combination, made her a prime target for ACORNization.

Andrew Breitbart, the “conservative” blogger who had helped catapult James O’Keefe into the limelight like a ten-ton sack of manure, posted a video of Sherrod addressing the NAACP and apparently making racist comments in reference to the first white farmer she had been sent to assist. In the wake of this, the “conservative” blogosphere and punditocracy went apeshit. Even the NAACP and President Obama were taken in by it, and she was forced to resign her position.

But oh, did we mention that someone somehow had accidentally dropped a pair of shears on the video and cut out the portions that put her remarks in context and clarified that far from being racist, she had aided the farmer to the best of her ability and even become perennial friends with him? (In the aftermath of the faux scandal, this farmer and his wife even came to Sherrod’s support.) Eventually the deception was discovered and Sherrod was offered a new post in the administration by the apologetic Obama. But by then the damage had been done. Chalk up another glorious victory for ACORNization.

Meanwhile, O’Keefe himself was not exactly resting on his devious laurels. He employed his “citizen journalism” to play the other side of the race card in targeting another right-wing bugaboo, National Public Radio.

NPR has long been assailed by the punditocracy as a bastion of “liberal” propaganda; Mozart and the Car Talk guys are  allegedly communist agents.  (Most NPR listeners, on the other hand, describe themselves as either “conservative” or “middle of the road”.) The ideologues surely don’t even believe this kind of crap themselves, but they do know that NPR is at least not a spittle-flecked right-wing rantfest. (If it was, they’d call it fair and balanced.)  And since NPR receives public funding, cutting off that funding would be a golden opportunity to silence a voice that doesn’t always sing along with the choir. Not surprisingly, Republicanoids have been trying to do just that for years.

Aside from the “librul bias” smear, there is simply the Randian (Ayn or Paul, take your pick) notion that government shouldn’t fund anything but defense. Yet NPR receives less government funding than do the students of Liberty University in Virginia, which is undeniably partisan and in fact blatantly bigoted, having banned the student Democratic club as being “un-Christian”.  Founded by Jerry Falwell (and bailed out of a financial bind by the rabidly right-wing and stridently anti-American Rev. Moon), this is a RELIGIOUS institution supported by tax dollars and promoting extreme right-wing values. So how many Republicanoids do you hear clamoring to cut that particular purse string?

In any case, here comes another O’Keefe cinematic masterpiece, this one depicting a (recently resigned) fundraiser (yes FUNDRAISER, not journalist, or even anyone who, like O’Keefe, pretends to be one) for NPR saying that the Tea Party crowd is over the top and racist. And the world was shocked, shocked! How could anyone suspect that this group with ties to white supremacists,  this group that carries around signs with racial epithets directed at the president, how could anyone possibly think this crowd harbors racists?

But as always with an O’keefe opus, there was more to the story. The unedited footage shows that the fundraiser was actually discussing not his own views on Tea Partiers, but those of some REPUBLICANS. And while the butchered video made it appear that NPR would accept ethically  questionable donations, the fundraiser actually stated 6 times during the interview that they would not.

But as always, the media demonstrated its unbridled lust for sensationalism and pettiness, and its severe allergic reaction to even the mention of research.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you’re a “conservative”, it’s okay to portray someone else as a racist (at least as long as the someone else is black) even if you have to fabricate evidence. If you’re anyone else, it’s a scandal of tsunami proportions to suggest that anyone else is a racist, or even that anyone else thinks anyone else is a racist (especially if they’re white) no matter how much evidence you have. And if you’re James O’Keefe, Andrew Breitbart, or anyone of comparable character, the world is your oyster.