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.
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.
“Lenin was sent into Russia by the Germans in the same way that you might send a phial containing a culture of typhoid or cholera to be poured into the water supply of a great city, and it worked with amazing accuracy.”
— Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
At a February 13 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to question newly appointed Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, on United States policy toward that country, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) impugned Mr. Abrams’s veracity since he is a known liar who narrowly escaped felony perjury charges in 1991 by cooperating with Iran-Contra Affair Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh. Mr. Abrams took exception to Ms. Omar’s statement. She went on to outline his participation in war crimes and meddling in the internal affairs of several Latin American countries, all while serving as the Reagan administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, an Orwellian title for someone who demonstrated contempt for human rights if they got in the way of his neo-conservative anti communist dogma.
None of the activities and attitudes Representative Omar outlined as pertaining to Mr. Abrams are in dispute, yet in the February 13 public hearing he didn’t want to own up to them. Elliott Abrams has been the point man for dirty work abroad for Republican administrations for nearly 40 years, and yet he expects American citizens and the people of the world to believe he has performed his services only for democracy and for human rights. When someone points out publicly how his record has demonstrated the exact opposite, Mr. Abrams gets testy, even nasty. Apparently his narcissism doesn’t allow for anyone calling him out as the nasty person he truly is, though it’s interesting that in his reaction he confirms it.
Everyone around the world must know, and the Venezuelans in particular must realize, that since the current presidential administration has assigned Elliott Abrams to the case in Venezuela that country is now in for a nasty, horrific time at the hands of the new envoy. It is as if a hockey team has sent in its most egregious enforcer off the bench. With Mr. Abrams on the job, Venezuelan oil will soon be back within the control of big American and European fossil fuel companies and the international banks will be able to squeeze indebted Venezuela dry, and that’s the endgame of the whole regime change charade and manufactured humanitarian crisis of aid supplies rotting at the Venezuelan border. The only ones who don’t know this, or pretend not know, are corporate media outlets and the consumers who uncritically suck at the corporate media teats of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and major newspaper and radio outlets. Slap a patina of democracy and humanitarianism on it, no matter how flimsy, and the American public will largely stand up and salute it, no questions asked, lest they be branded unpatriotic. It worked in 2003 for the Iraq invasion and has worked innumerable times before.
And it’s a tactic which has always worked wonders for Elliott Abrams in his career of promoting democracy and humanitarianism, while only incidentally serving corporate and government interests, which are the same thing. What a great guy! Anyone who believes otherwise is unpatriotic, and possibly a communist. A reasonable person might question why the despicable Mr. Abrams is representing the United States abroad in any capacity at all rather than lying low in shame, if not in jail, but then to stay sane a reasonable person had best give up such honest questions in today’s America.
A scene from the 1984 film Dune, directed by David Lynch, with José Ferrer as the Emperor, Siân Phillips as the Reverend Mother Gaius, Kenneth McMiIlan as the Baron, and Alicia Witt as Alia. Warning: gruesome images.
It wouldn’t be surprising news if the current administration resurrected for its damnable purposes Mr. Abrams’s fellow war criminals Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger. Now that’s a triumvirate of inglorious foreign policy pros to sicken the world! In their world it’s bad enough up is down, 2+2=5, and evil has the upper hand, but everyone is also expected by the current administration, its leaders and its followers, and even by the press, the so-called Fourth Estate for its purported independence from power, to not only swallow their hypocritical bilge, but attest to its toothsome flavor and heartily endorse it for others to swill in large doses. Here’s to you, Mr. Abrams!
“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.
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.
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.“
— Exodus 23:1, from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.
The job of White House Press Secretary has always been to walk a fine line between putting a good face on an administration’s policies and actions and lying about them outright. The current presidential administration and its press secretary have no such concerns and are obviously content to lie outright. When the White House released an altered video last week that made Cable News Network (CNN) reporter Jim Acosta the bad guy in an interaction with a White House intern who attempted to wrest a microphone away from him, they obviously cared not at all whether reasonable people believed their lie. They are, after all, not appealing to reasonable people.
Hip boots in the mud. Photo by Booter. Deep, and getting deeper all the time.
The current occupants of the White House offices know they have a third of the country solidly in their corner, people who will believe their lies without question and with gusto. Another third of the country is in the middle, sitting on the fence to one side or another, some of them perplexed or disturbed by the behavior they see from this administration’s people, but few of them willing to act on their apprehensions. The other third of the country consists of people who are steadfastly opposed to the current administration and are willing to resist to some degree its policies and actions and work toward its demise either electorally or by impeachment and conviction. The current president and his vassals care not one whit about the opinions of those people.
What’s particularly galling about the episode with Mr. Acosta is how the current Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed devout Christian whose father is a minister as well as a politician, a woman who has never uttered any sincere support for womens’ rights otherwise and who works for a reprobate in the Oval Office who openly insults women at every opportunity, suddenly got religion about the issue of men assaulting women and used that as the excuse for revoking Mr. Acosta’s White House press privileges by way of her false witness regarding the altered video. He got handsy and rough with our female intern! No, he didn’t. Doesn’t matter, because the only people we need to convince will believe our version of events, and some of the rest will be so flabbergasted and flustered by the sheer chutzpah of our lying they will be paralyzed into impotence. The other third – who cares what they think?
Ms. Sanders has apparently made peace with her hypocrisy, no doubt rationalizing her aiding and abetting of evil as somehow being in the greater cause of Christianity. It is worrying, though, that a majority of white, middle class women have gone along with her down that road. They may have other reasons than Christianity to justify their support for and following of the Pussy Grabber in the Oval Office, but they all have rationalizations that can’t have much to do with the actual man and his policies. It’s almost understandable why white, middle class men might remain in his camp, because however misguided their wishes are, too many of them surely look up to him as someone worth emulating. But the women are a different story.
Authoritarian Personality Syndrome (APS) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are two of several characteristics that may explain why women follow the current president. Both are predominantly conservative characteristics and, by extension, fundamentalist Christians such as Ms. Sanders. Far more fundamentalist Christians are conservative than liberal. Without delving too deeply into differences in religions, it is safe to say fundamentalist Christians are more patriarchal than the average Christian, and more inclined toward APS and SDO characteristics. Women have to engage in more mental gymnastics than men to rationalize their devotion to the Leader of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, but they do it, most probably with little introspection, and if his pep rallies are any guide, they are overcome with such starry-eyed enthusiasm they will approve of anything he says or does.
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control,’ they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink.’
― from 1984, by George Orwell.
The idea, so long promulgated that people have come to uncritically accept it as truth, of a “liberal media”, meaning by that the mainstream, corporate media, has never been more laughable than today. If people think corporate media outlets such as Cable News Network (CNN), Microsoft National Broadcasting Company (MSNBC), the New York Times, and the Washington Post, are “liberal” then perhaps their definition needs adjustment, because all of these media outlets are owned by giant corporations, and giant corporations are not known for liberal views.
Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company, depicting a young Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press.
What is more important with news is what is left out than what is left in and reported on. Those are the editorial decisions that filter down from corporate headquarters. Individual reporters may be to the left of Karl Marx, but it hardly matters if editors change their stories at the bidding of headquarters. What matters are the terms of debate, or what is open to question and what is not. Much of this is internalized by reporters eventually, or they don’t get to become editors. They have certainly learned and adopted as Gospel the rules of the game by the time they are ready to move up to senior staff.
But readers or viewers of the news never learn what has been left out by politic editors on behalf of their conservative corporate masters. Not every corporate master is conservative? Doubtful. Liberalism doesn’t go with that territory. Some astute members of the public may pick up the general drift of coverage from a particular outlet, but when it comes down to really important matters, they are addressed in nearly the same way by all the corporate media. It comes down to the narcissism of minor differences that Sigmund Freud pointed out when he wrote “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.” For the diversion of the masses, educated as well as uneducated, the pundits on television and in the op-ed pages of the newspapers dispute how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while their corporate masters fleece everyone of every last dollar. It’s a neat trick.
All of that aside, it truly is a disgrace to see the open contempt the current presidential administration and it’s Republican allies around the country display for the Fourth Estate, the Free Press. The corporate, greed-based media, have brought some of this treatment upon themselves with their craven promotion of a shallow reality television star for president – what did they expect? – but what is truly unfortunate is how the disgraceful treatment coming from the White House press room has overflowed to independent news outlets that try to honestly hew to journalistic principles.
The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement”, an 1866 painting by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
There are questions to answer, however, before getting up in arms about the bad behavior of the current presidential administration in how it treats media it doesn’t like. First of all, the question of how the current crowd got into office can be bypassed. They are there now, and that’s that. The main question for now is: Who watches these television news shows uncritically and then counts themselves as informed? and Who reads these newspapers that have long since stopped being liberal in anything but stale reputation only, and thinks that they are caught up on the latest left of center take on important issues? Who are these delusional viewers and readers whose uncritical attention and financial support allows this charade to continue and thrive? Are they the ones who support a Free Press against an antagonistic, authoritarian regime in Washington, D.C.? Don’t bet your last corporate media stock share on it.