30 Years of Hate Radio and Faux News

 

There has been some buzz lately about how the country would benefit more if former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg bought Fox News rather than throwing away his money on a futile chase for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020. Never minding that Fox News is not for sale, the suggestion ignores that the popularity of Fox News is bolstered by its viewers, and not imposed on them against their will. Take away the right wing slant of Fox News and its viewers will simply migrate elsewhere, perhaps to One America News (OAN).

It’s condescending to say Fox News viewers are passive recipients of brainwashing. They are being brainwashed, certainly, but they are hardly passive about it. People believe what they want to believe. The same applies to listeners of right wing hate radio programming like The Rush Limbaugh Show. In the case of radio programming, repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 helped clear the way for right wing radio shows, and it turned out there was an enthusiastic audience ready to embrace them. The Fairness Doctrine applied only to broadcast outlets, however, and not to cable television networks. Fox News did not need repeal of the Fairness Doctrine to clear the way for the debut of its “Fair and Balanced” brand of news coverage mixed with right wing opinions nine years later, in 1996.


An Illustration of The Allegory of the Cave, from Plato’s Republic
An Illustration of “The Allegory of the Cave”, from Plato’s Republic, by 4edges.

 

There is little doubt that the constant drumbeat of liberal baiting and demonization coming from the right wing media on radio and television over the past 30 years has contributed to the current state of political dysfunction and social polarization in this country. It is doubtful no dysfunction and polarization would exist had there been no such drumbeat. “Give the people what they want” has long been a truism held by media companies, one that they also perceive conveniently absolves them of responsibility for highlighting sex, violence, and outrageous behavior, shifting it onto consumers instead. CNN and other media companies gave the current president millions of dollars worth of free publicity during his 2016 election campaign, and they continue to do so today, because his outrageous behavior and pronouncements, viewed by some as coarsening public discourse and by others as “telling it like it is”, have been worth even more millions to them in increased advertising revenue from higher ratings.

Who’s rubbernecking at the dumpster fire of our current presidential administration and all the fires it has sparked downwind in the political and social life of the country? Most of us are, or at least enough of us are watching and listening to make media executives like Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg billionaires many times over. So what if Michael Bloomberg buys Fox News from Rupert Murdoch and turns it into a version of CNN, the centrist cable news outlet? We already have CNN, and it already covers dumpster fires. For right wing opinions and conspiracy theories on dumpster fires, viewers inclined to find that sort of thing entertaining, if not informative in any sense other than they themselves imagine, will seek out another dealer for their daily fix. If no dealer is available at the moment, one will soon pop up to fill the void, because there are billions of dollars at stake.



“Lover’s Return”, a song meditating on regrets, was written and first performed in 1934 by Sara Carter, Maybelle Carter, and A.P. Carter. It is sung here by the Trio of Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton on their 1999 album Trio II.

 

As in the so-called War on Drugs, our society seems always more inclined to attack the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause. We attack supply, when we should really address demand. It’s not far fetched to claim that mainlining much of right wing radio and television programming is an unhealthy addiction, one that can lead to dangerous consequences for the greater society. Some people want that junk, and as long as they do, other people will give it to them. Fox News junkies are not passive receptacles then, and while they may deserve some amount of sympathy, the best recourse for the rest of society in abating the destructive consequences of the Fox News junkies’ addiction is not to relocate their pusher, but to address the root causes of their jonesing for that junk in the first place. No one’s born that way, after all.
— Vita

 

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The Family Dinner

 

Political centrists such as Bill Maher, the television talk show host, firmly believe that in order for Democrats to defeat the current president in the 2020 election they must choose a centrist candidate. In a recent debate on his show with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr. Maher, among his other claims promoting his view, stated that President Barack Obama ran as a centrist in his 2008 campaign and that is why he won. Mr. Moore disputed this, stating that Mr. Obama ran as a progressive populist and had the courage to list his middle name “Hussein” on the ballot. The two bet the cost of a trip to Hawaii on the resolution of their dispute.

Norman Rockwell Mural (Marion County, Oregon scenic images) (marDA0166)
A mural replica in Silverton, Oregon, of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting, one of a series he did in 1943 illustrating the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo from the Oregon State Archives. While Mr. Rockwell was depicting an ideal promulgated by a liberal Democratic president, his choice of models and their placement in a hierarchy at the family dinner table fits in well with the current conservative mythos of how Americans should look and comport themselves.

 

It’s not clear who was right about the middle name issue and therefore who won the bet, but in any event it hardly matters since the important point is that Mr. Obama ran his campaign from the left of center and then governed from the center. In national defense matters, such as expanding his predecessor’s drone attacks around the world and vindictively pursuing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama was to the right of center. His stance toward governing should have been clear early on from his appointments of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to oversee the economy.

Barack Obama was never a fire-breathing liberal and never claimed to be one, though he did allow a lot of wishful thinking from liberal Democrats who wanted to believe he was more liberal then he was. They projected their wishes and hopes onto him, and being a politician he naturally turned that to his advantage. That wishful thinking can be glimpsed in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama in 2009 after he had done hardly anything to merit the award other than not being President George W. Bush. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee do not vote in American elections, of course, but like liberal American voters weary of the belligerence and disregard for human rights of the George W. Bush administration, they were eager to project their hopes onto Mr. Obama.

Bill Maher has similarly profited from the projections of many liberals, who seem to think a person who is for the legalization of marijuana and against the policies and tenure of the current president cannot possibly be as reactionary as he really is in many ways. He is reactionary in his statements about Muslims and about gender politics and about how he believes political correctness is more corrosive to our democratic republic than the rapaciousness of capitalist exploitation. Most of all he is reactionary in his repeated assertions that no one to the left of himself among the Democrats can defeat the current president in 2020 because he believes most Americans are firmly in his, Bill Maher’s, camp on most everything that matters.



From Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, a diversity of viewpoints and attitudes, some more subdued than others.

 

Mr. Maher is wrong about the politics of most Americans, as he is wrong about his other more distastefully retrograde beliefs. Michael Moore pointed out in their debate how Mr. Maher’s assessment of where most Americans reside on the political scale was wrong, and that they are more liberal within the Democratic Party than the Party establishment cares to acknowledge. None of Bill Maher’s views would matter if it weren’t for how they are often cited by conservative media and politicians as supporting their agenda and given extra weight by them because they are supposedly expressed by a liberal. It suits their cause to have a “house liberal” of sorts.

The fiction of Mr. Maher’s liberalism is propped up also by uncritical viewers on the left who give his pontifications on Democratic politics more respect than they deserve. Reactionary centrists such as Mr. Maher are uncomfortable with the infighting that always prevails among Democrats, and they see it as giving aid and comfort to the other side while weakening their own. People like Bill Maher may as well decry the spots on a leopard. Dissension is in the nature of liberal Democratic Party politics; it’s what differentiates them from the other side, too many members of which fall obediently into line like good little authoritarians.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a December 2016 appearance on The Jimmy Dore Show. Warning: one naughty word.

Bill Maher is like the brother-in-law at a large family dinner where all the members are squabbling in a free wheeling manner, and he sits there with a slight smirk, believing he’s smarter than he really is and eager to toss out a snarky remark to show he’s superior to what’s going on around him at the table. He and people like him, with an authoritarian streak in their character despite the liberality of some of their views, cannot understand how argument and dissension strengthen, not weaken, Democratic Party politics, and ultimately democracy itself. Falling in line without questioning is for autocrats and their followers. The ancient Athenians were not without their fair share of faults, but today most people recognize their society, noisy and argumentative as the scenes at their family dinner tables might have been, as more worth honoring and emulating than the authoritarian society of the Spartans, who fell in line and did as they were told by their “betters”.
— Ed.

 

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Naughty Naughty

 

It’s not necessary to dive into the dark hole of right wing media articles attacking the so-called Squad of four Democratic congresswomen to catch the drift of the big stink they make; instead, simply read the loaded language of their sneering, derisive headlines. The most obvious characteristic of right wing media headlines of articles about these four women is the use of language indicating they are bad girls who deserve to be put in their place, even punished. This is a characteristic of right wing authoritarians, who see those who disagree with them as misguided souls deserving the wrath of Old Testament Jehovah.

 

The authoritarian right wing media seems to have a sliding scale of punishments for meting out to liberals. Of the four women in The Squad, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) appear to be naughty young ladies in need of correction, according to the authoritarian mindset, while Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), being Muslim, are too far Other for authoritarians to bother at all about disciplining, and therefore beyond the pale altogether and deserving of harsher treatment. Which is not to say the inflammatory language of right wing media has not fanned enough hatred in some quarters to prompt threats of violence against any of the congresswomen, regardless of the patronizing view that two of the four may be capable of redemption if only they would stop being uppity.

News & Observer History Rewrite
The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, spins the events of the Wilmington insurrection of 1898 in headlines for the November 11, 1898 edition of the paper to suit the viewpoint of the white supremacist power structure. As the preacher observed in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Using any decent news aggregator website which offers a buffet of articles from across the political spectrum, rather than from only one side or the other, makes it easier to spot the language of paternalism and punishment in right wing headlines because of the contrast with the article headlines from other media outlets. Loaded language is unfortunately a feature of too many media outlets, whether from the left or the right, but it is the punishment angle which is unique to authoritarian right wing media. Those naughty Democrats! When will they ever learn? They’re messing with the wrong people, and the righteous shall come down hard on them, the transgressors!

From the 1980 film The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance and Philip Stone as Delbert Grady discuss the need for correcting misbehavior.

Far right authoritarians are more likely to confine their media consumption to a bubble than are people on the left or in the center, because right wingers feel threatened by ideas and viewpoints from elsewhere on the political spectrum. That, too, along with the desire to punish others, is a feature of the authoritarian mindset. It’s tempting to edit a news aggregator’s collection choices, if that’s possible, in order to avoid even skimming the ugliness of many right wing media headlines. That would be a mistake; that would put the liberal or centrist news reader in their own bubble. It’s better to keep those headlines, with their self-serving denunciations and propagandistic lies, so as to be able to occasionally peek into the netherworld of far right wing media. It’s unnecessary and probably unhealthy to dive in and read the articles.
— Ed.

 

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A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
— from “The Second Coming”, a 1919 poem by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).

The problem with cable news junkies is that they believe themselves with utmost confidence to be well informed, when really they are not. Their misplaced confidence in their knowledge of current events that matter is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Since these people sit before their televisions for hours each day absorbing cable television news programs, they assume they are better informed than the average citizen, a situation which they will cite smugly and insufferably to everyone in their personal orbit.


They are wrong. Cable news may give them a broad grasp of current events that is broad, but it is an inch deep. Alternately, they may have a deep grasp of stories such as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, but in the usually superficial ways that cable news promotes the story as a kind of tawdry reality TV drama, rather than an examination of hard issues. Cable television networks long ago blurred the line between entertainment and news, probably beginning with around the clock live coverage of the 1990 Gulf War by the Cable News Network (CNN), coverage that was steered by the American government as much as possible and resulted in a narrative arc showcasing video footage of superior American battlefield technology fed to CNN by the American military.

Fox Newz Rally to Restore Sanity
Two men attending the October 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., make satirical comments about Fox News and its viewers. Photo by David Shankbone.

13 years later other cable news outlets, and corporate media generally, followed the 1990 Gulf War CNN formula in coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this time accompanied by some unashamed cheering from major media figures such as Dan Rather at the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). When the cable news companies, which unlike CBS need to fill 24 hours with supposedly newsworthy content, weren’t breathlessly following America’s overseas military adventurism, they were jumping in with both feet into the latest scandal, controversial congressional hearing, or human interest story of dubious news value such as the 2009 balloon boy hoax.

What the cable news junkies who sit rapt before their televisions as all this unfolds fail to account for are the corporate puppet masters behind the scenes of the major media companies. In this accounting, it is the questions that are not asked that matter, and the stories that are not pursued by reporters who have either absorbed the parent corporation’s views or are reined in by editors who have. They are not getting the whole story, maybe not even half of it. In the interest of selling their viewers to advertisers, the corporate media steers clear of uncomfortable territory, now more than ever over the past 30 years.

A scene from the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline. Warning: foul language.

Now a loyal viewer of Fox News or of MSNBC, to name the two most popular cable news providers from ostensibly opposite ends of the political spectrum, can go through an entire day of watching without having his or her world view and opinions seriously challenged. Yes, there are real differences in coverage and bias between the two networks. In the broader picture that includes smaller independent news organizations like Democracy Now!, however, the differences between Fox News and MSNBC amount to the choleric disagreement between the Yooks and the Zooks in Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book. Neither network questions the basic assumptions of their corporate masters. Day after day of gobbling up the news as dished out by CNN, the perceived middle-of-the-road cable news outlet, does not make a consumer well informed so much as well suited to be a foot soldier in the corporate takeover of America and its transformation into a full-blown police state.
— Ed.

 

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Happy Public Domain Day

 

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
— Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution

Celebration of the unofficial holiday of Public Domain Day on January 1 is ordinarily bigger in Europe than in the United States except for this year, when extraordinary circumstances brought it into the news. Because of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) passed by Congress in 1998, there was effectively a 20 year moratorium on works passing into the public domain in the United States, making this January a special occasion because of the backlog of works coming into the public domain all at once.


Public Domain Day poster 2011
A European Public Domain Day poster for 2011 noting the artists and writers whose works would move into the public domain. Poster by derochoaleer.org.

 

Copyright has always been a double-edged sword in that, as the wording in the Constitution states, it protects the rights of authors, but unstated in Clause 8 is the protection for creative rights extended to corporations by later legislation. Those rights have been inferred by lawmakers. This has been a matter of some controversy, as noted in the derogatory nickname for the CTEA as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. It’s hard to parse out the rights of struggling authors from the rights of billionaire corporations that (who?) hire struggling authors and artists and place their works under the corporation’s copyright.

It’s good that writers and artists have their financial interests in their works protected for, as the Constitution states, “limited Times”. Those limited times extend beyond the lives of the creators, continuing to grant returns to the creators’ heirs or designated beneficiaries. But then exclusive rights end, as they should so that the public can more easily benefit from a work that has stood the test of time. The works of William Shakespeare and Mark Twain have certainly widened their circle of beneficiaries among readers and performers due to being in the public domain.

Reagan with Sonny and Mary Bono C51271-19
President Ronald Reagan with his wife, Nancy, greeted upon their arrival in Palm Springs, California, in December 1988 by Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono and his wife, Mary. Photo from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Sonny Bono would later serve in the House of Representatives and, after his death in a skiing accident in 1998, would be succeeded in office by Mary Bono. With her support, Congress named the CTEA after Sonny Bono, even though he hadn’t had an especially strong attachment to the bill, having been merely one of twelve sponsors of a similar bill.

It seems the same rules pertaining to inherited artistic wealth could be and should be applied to inherited financial wealth. Why should the heirs of a monetary fortune be entitled to pad their nests in perpetuity with gains they did not secure themselves, or could not have secured without the advantage of great wealth? Heirs of artistic wealth, though they possess a legacy more worthwhile to the rest of humanity than money, are allowed to coast on it for only a generation or two before legal support is withdrawn and they have to make their own way in the world. Will the rules of inheritance, ingrained in humanity for as long as anyone can remember, ever change to reflect a more practical view of what a person is entitled to by birthright, the way it is in copyright law? Most likely not in the near term, but it’s important for the future to plant a seed now.
— Vita

 

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Figure It Out for Yourself

 

Rush Limbaugh - Caricature (6965563089)
March 2012 caricature of Rush Limbaugh, by DonkeyHotey.

On Tuesday, September 11, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the southeastern United States, Rush Limbaugh spouted off once again on his radio program with his own ideas about hurricanes and climate change, much like he did last year when Hurricane Irma was bearing down on southern Florida. Last year, after cynically boasting of his skepticism over the forecast track and intensity of Irma, which he attributed to scare mongering by the political left, he hightailed it from his West Palm Beach estate in southern Florida to Los Angeles, California.

Presumably Florence does not threaten any of Mr. Limbaugh’s properties, and he has not made headlines for hypocrisy this time, but merely for being a dangerous loudmouth as usual. If Mr. Limbaugh remains skeptical of anthropogenic climate change and also thinks the hardworking forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) are in league with sellers of bottled water and other emergency supplies, then he should start doing his own weather forecasting and climate assessments using publicly available data from weather stations and satellites. He and his conspiracy theory acolytes would probably find other reasons to twist the facts to suit their beliefs, such as intimating the data were skewed by leftists, but it’s best not to go too far down the rabbit hole with them.

Hurricane Florence Nears the East Coast (43924103114)
In this satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Florence nears the East Coast of the United States on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. West Palm Beach, home of Rush Limbaugh, is safely out of the way at the bottom left of the picture, near the southern tip of Florida.

It’s easier than ever to gather useful data from public sources in this, the Information Age. It’s easier, however, and apparently more profitable, to sit on your butt in the back of the class and shoot spitballs. It’s unfortunately likely that some people who heeded Rush Limbaugh’s lazy, reckless frothings on hurricanes and climate change are now coping with the destructive flood waters brought on by Hurricane Florence, which doesn’t care what he has to say.
— Vita

 

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I Hear You Knockin’

 

After 30 years of dominance on the AM radio dial, conservative talk shows are starting to wane in popularity as their main audience of older white people who live mostly in suburbs and rural communities dwindles as a share of the entire United States population. That is not to say AM radio will make great strides in improving its programming, since so far the slack appears to be taken up by sports talk programs. The demographic groups who enjoy getting their hatred and resentment stirred up by radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh are diminishing in number, and eventually the radio dollars will turn away from them altogether, and that does represent an improvement.

 

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed the Fairness Doctrine policy in 1987, they cleared the way for opinionated talk radio programs such as Limbaugh’s to flourish. The question is – why didn’t liberal talk radio programs gain equal popularity when the rules changed? After all, by numbers alone Democrats are in the majority in this country. The answer lies in two areas relating to the differing mindsets of conservatives and liberals and their uses of media.

Radio - Keep It Free
A World War II poster from the Office of War Information. Today’s wording might suggest you are free to listen to the one side of a question confirming your opinion.

The conservative mindset is typically authoritarian and believes in black and white answers to social and political problems, whereas liberals are more likely to see shades of gray. A conservative tunes into a talk radio program with his or her mind already made up in most cases, and is looking merely for reaffirmation from the host, who has proved over the years to be more than willing to oblige, often with a helping of a vituperate diatribe against liberals as a bonus. A liberal is less likely to be persuaded by the simple answers a single radio host can provide in an hour or two.

In an appearance on the PBS program Austin City Limits aired in 1987, Fats Domino and his band perform “I Hear You Knockin'”.

The other answer to the 30 years of dominance by conservative talk radio lies in the demographics of the daytime radio audience. Who listens to the radio during the day? Truck drivers, construction workers, suburban and rural commuters in their own vehicles, farmers in the enclosed cabs of their tractors. In other words, mostly older, white conservatives. Liberals living in the cities are at work during the day, and when they are commuting they often listen to podcasts of a wide variety of programs. Podcasts are a relatively recent development, and are not as popular with older people as the they are with people under 40. People over 40, and especially over 50, listen to live radio. Many of them listen to Rush Limbaugh, and have for decades. They agree with everything he says because he confirms their opinions. There is no room for argument, never mind debate.
— Vita

 

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Like Sheep to the Slaughter

 

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away,
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out!
There may be dogs about!
I’ve looked over Jordan and I have seen;
Things are not what they seem.

What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes!
Now things are really what they seem;
No, this is no bad dream.

— The first two stanzas of the song “Sheep”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

The first slave auction at new amsterdam in 1655
The First Slave Auction in New Amsterdam [New York City] in 1655, an illustration by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), published in 1917 after his death. Slave or master, master or slave, it has been ever thus.

Why listen to or read reports from corporate media outlets about what the comedian Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, April 28, when C-SPAN has the entire video of her speech available so that you can make up your own mind about it?


Warning: foul language; also, self-congratulatory shills.

There has never been an age when information was as freely available in relatively open societies such as ours, and yet people out of laziness, habit, or ideology continue to rely on corporate media to relay news to them. Corporate media has a bias, though, and ultimately that bias has less to do with left or right than it does with green, as in the color of American currency. The part of Ms. Wolf’s remarks that the corporate media objects to most has nothing to do with what she says in the first sixteen minutes, largely about Supreme Leader, his incompetent administration, and the morally or legally corrupt officials in it, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but about her criticisms of their ethically bankrupt empowering of this administration for the sake of lining their own pockets. There are reaction shots of stuffed shirt audience members either stony faced or sour pussed in disapproval throughout Ms. Wolf’s remarks, but in the last three minutes, and especially the last minute, when she takes it up a notch, the reaction shots show media and administration types alike shooting daggers at her from their eyes. You know then she was speaking the truth, and that they weren’t going to report that part of her speech if they could avoid it.

Brit Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band, in an excellent performance of “Sheep” from 2015 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

But allowing lazy, dishonest media to get away with reporting like that are lazy, dishonest citizens who don’t care about the truth. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Criticizing the media is easy really, like shooting fish in a barrel. Who swallows the bait when they boost the weapons of mass destruction myth as reason for invading Iraq? Who goes along meekly when the corporate media repeats the lie from the powers that be that the banks and other financial institutions who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008, and did destroy the livelihood of millions of citizens, are too big to fail and require a bailout from the same people they screwed? Who listened and watched enraptured as the corporate media gave more coverage to a reality TV star presidential candidate in 2016 than any other candidate, regardless of substantive discussion of real issues? Who?

— Ed.

Who was born in a house full of pain?
Who was trained not to spit in the fan?
Who was told what to do by the man?
Who was broken by trained personnel?
Who was fitted with collar and chain?
Who was given a pat on the back?
Who was breaking away from the pack?
Who was only a stranger at home?
Who was ground down in the end?
Who was found dead on the phone?
Who was dragged down by the stone?

— The last stanza of the song “Dogs”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

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H-A-double N-I-T-Y spells Hannity

 

“And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

— from Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).

 

Recently Michael Cohen, lawyer and fixer for Supreme Leader, revealed in court that one of his other clients was Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. It’s difficult to classify Mr. Hannity professionally, though “journalist” he certainly is not. Commentator will have to do, since “blowhard”, while more accurate, descends to the same kind of ad hominem mudslinging Mr. Hannity himself indulges in, and you can’t beat someone like that at his own game. Is Sean Hannity really Michael Cohen’s client? Mr. Hannity doesn’t think so, and the $10 he paid Mr. Cohen for his services was merely hush money in the form of attorney/client privilege.

Alice Humpty Dumpty
Illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914) of Alice greeting Humpty Dumpty.

Michael Cohen certainly works by an unusual business model, taking merely ten bucks from Sean Hannity in return for supposedly giving only real estate advice, and supposedly out of his own pocket forking over $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels. What a great guy! Maybe he’s independently wealthy. He didn’t want to trouble the Horndog-in-Chief (at the time of the payoff still only Candidate Horndog) with the piddling matter of $130,000, and so he coughed it up himself.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, directed by Michael Curtiz, is a 1942 musical biography of songwriter and showman George M. Cohan, and in this scene Joan Leslie and James Cagney sing a shortened version of Cohan’s song “Harrigan”.

 

For such an unusual attorney, to whom money means apparently nothing, there’s no telling what that sawbuck from Sean Hannity bought, if anything other than a little advice and some privilege to cover it. Speculation is a fun game, and in this case it might involve the guess that the $10 was for guidance in hiring a plastic surgeon to wipe that smirk off Mr. Hannity’s face. That can’t be right, though, since Mr. Hannity’s smirk is his signature look. He can’t do without that any more than Moe Howard of The Three Stooges could have done without his bowl haircut. Maybe the money was part of Mr. Hannity’s philanthropic effort to invest in neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates. Attorney/client privilege in that case would have been in the interest of true giving, where the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doeth, whether that’s slapping an eviction notice on an old lady’s front door or smacking down a librul (metaphorically, of course).

Humpty Dumpty
John Tenniel’s illustration of Humpty Dumpty shouting in the ear of the messenger in the poem he recites for Alice.

The truth is there’s just no telling what went on between Michael Cohen, selfless lawyer, and Sean Hannity, do gooder. The truth may ooze out when big, bad Robert Mueller, independent counsel, puts the squeeze on Mr. Cohen. Sean Hannity, Fox News commentator, will of course commentate – or bloviate, depending on your point of view – upon the proceedings in his usual fair and balanced manner. Then he will go hang out with his buddies at Mar-a-Lago, where no one dares to pee in his Post Toasties.
— Ed.

A full version of “Harrigan” from a 2008 recording by The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra; Rick Benjamin, Director; with singer Colin Pritchard. New World Records produces recordings using the instrumentation and style of a musical piece’s original performance, in this case American musical theater of the early 20th century.

 

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To Tell the Truth

 

Investigative journalist Robert Parry, founder and editor of the website Consortium News, died on January 27 after a series of strokes precipitated by pancreatic cancer. He was 68.

Adding “investigative” to Mr. Parry’s job description of journalist gives an insight into the principles he applied to his work. Aren’t all journalists investigators in some way or other? No. Some are content rewriting press releases. Robert Parry was not one of those, and for that he paid a price in getting pushed out of working for mainstream media outlets. He would never be one of those television talking heads claiming journalist credentials while making millions of dollars for asking trivial questions of celebrities about their plastic surgeries. He came by his credentials through hard work looking into things that matter.


Reagan meets with aides on Iran-Contra
President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office on November 25, 1986, with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State George Shultz, Attorney General Ed Meese, and Chief of Staff Don Regan, discussing remarks he intended to make at a press briefing on the Iran-Contra affair.

Robert Parry was best known for breaking the story in the second term of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s that eventually became known as the Iran-Contra affair. The Contras were Nicaraguan rebels or terrorists, depending on point of view, who sought to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Earlier in the decade, the United States Congress had passed legislation making it more difficult for the Reagan administration to meddle in Nicaraguan politics by supporting the Contras. The administration circumvented the law by selling arms to Iran, a purported enemy, and funneling the profits to the Contras.

Mr. Parry also wrote about how the CIA appeared to be enabling drug trafficking by the Contras in order to give them more material support, though it was another investigative journalist, Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News who explored the story in greater detail in 1996. In the early 1990s, Mr. Parry wrote about another aspect of the Reagan years that remained in shadows, which was the possibility of a deal between Reagan’s campaign team and the Iranian government to delay releasing the 52 American hostages Iran had held from November 4, 1979, until after the U.S. presidential election in 1980. Iran released the hostages on January 20, 1981, when Reagan was sworn in as president. Jimmy Carter lost his bid for re-election in large part due to the poor economy, and at least in small part due to the continuation of the hostage crisis.

 

Because of Mr. Parry’s habit of pursuing stories like that, he wore out his welcome with the corporate media outlets he had been working for, such as Newsweek and the Associated Press, and in 1995 he started Consortium News, possibly the first independent online news site written and edited by a reputable, professionally trained journalist. Since then online news sites have proliferated, which has been both good and bad for readers. It has been good for the obvious reason that more choice means a discerning reader is likely to find a trustworthy site delivering quality journalism, and bad because more choice means the non-discerning reader is likely to find a site masquerading as news that serves up opinions which reinforce existing prejudices. Add to that the algorithm of a social media platform like Facebook which ensures readers see more of what they want to see, and it’s an uphill battle for the truth.

Kerry report cover
Cover of the Kerry Committee December 1988 final report of an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations into the possible role of the Nicaraguan Contras in drug trafficking.

Robert Parry surely understood the maxim that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. He also understood that some facts, known collectively as the truth, were unpleasant for all kinds of reasons, chief among them that they afflicted the comfortable, another maxim. And to underscore how old school was his journalistic integrity, never mind his early appearance on the digital frontier, Mr. Parry knew his first job was to tell the truth, and if that meant he wasn’t invited on the Washington, D.C. cocktail club circuit, then so be it. People like him don’t end up making millions of dollars, and don’t realistically expect to, but to the readers who valued his services he was one in a million.
— Ed.

 

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