I didn’t know the Season 2 premier of HBO’s Girls was a monumental political event until it was covered like one by my favorite progressive magazines, TV shows, and national blogs. I was confused about why there was an avalanche of stories in political publications that don’t usually focus on entertainment.
Then I started looking at the bios of the writers. They were nearly all women in their 20s from New York, Massachusetts, and occasionally California, all with degrees from an Ivy League school or a similarly exclusive, expensive college where the wealthy send their children for finishing school. That’s, understandably, who you would expect to write a story about Girls, but I also noticed that the vast majority of stories I read in those publications come from people who share a similar background.
It’s no wonder. The shrinking news industry lays off experienced writers and reporters who are then replaced by more recent graduates at lower wages. With very few positions in the national press available, the top jobs go to writers with Ivy League degrees and the most impressive internship their parents’ connections could get them. Journalism is a fluid, fiercely competitive profession that increasingly appeals only to those who have the privilege of not needing to worry about job stability or supporting a family on their income.
Consequently, we have a national press and pundit corps filled with excellent, well-educated writers with relatively little experience and a background unlike most of their readers. They find it completely relateable and realistic to watch a show about a young woman living in the nation’s most expensive apartment market, whose major life crisis is that her parents might cut her off, making it marginally more difficult to live a lifestyle completely out of reach for 99% of the country.
The national press based in NYC and DC have long had trouble covering stories in “flyover country” and anything related to organized labor. It’s hard to see that getting better with a press corps who are more likely to have visited Denmark than a factory in the small town South. It might be why, for example, I see a string of national stories about fracking in New York, but rarely anything about the much more damaging impacts of coal mining in rural Illinois and Kentucky. Continue reading The Lena Dunham Press
The new Republican marketing plan is a reset; it says it is still okay to restrict the rights of women regarding their own bodies and their incomes, it is okay to stop accusing Hispanics of taking American jobs as long as they are not offered US citizenship any time soon, and it is okay to curse blacks long and loud since they now can’t be lynched or fired. (Remember, this is Republican thinking.)
The media continues to sidestep the GOP’s widening ideology of blame, especially the ideology’s populist use of speech as a hammer to forge negative action and ideas. Although heavily rooted in politics, blame is maintained primarily as a social media form. It’s adapted from hate radio (different from talk radio!), which develops and disperses its inverted ideas of denial and blame.
It develops among those whose priorities see the word as a weapon and put violence before peace. Its world view assumes those with whom its practitioners disagree have a hidden, winner-take-all agenda leading to a society regulated and controlled by occupation and door knocks. This world view equates restraint with control; its practitioners feel suffocated by any social responsibility. Its expressions give voice to the triggered temptations of wanna-be warriors to take down their perceived foes as they themselves fall. Having failed in defining progress and gaining power, or in protecting the status quo, the temptation to defile one and all is strong among them, and even defeats undeniable logic.
Their ideology of blame wears the mask of freedom (the idea of unconstrained freedom, free of responsibilities or constructive engagement) and uses the web, (Twitter, blogs and websites, YouTube) as its negative amplifier, looping and streaming its feedback. It behaves as hundreds of Peeping Toms, prowling digital windows for targets. Words are their stones.
Recently, a woman was fired for posting a picture online of two men engaged in inappropriate conversation about the First Lady; it continued after she reported it. Her employer, hit with a denial-of-service web attack, blamed her; it was the excuse for her firing.
Behind her firing was the ideology of blame. It found a sympathetic supporter in her employer. No longer about error, blame now implies and commands silence. It doesn’t mean limit your protest; it means limit yourself. Accept the great lie of because. Continue reading Free Speech and Those Rubbernecking Toilet Smells
As I read the various articles, blogs, and political message boards discussing the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I can’t help but be reminded of the brave men and women of the mainstream media, who – as the nation stood poised to launch on a misadventure of mammoth proportions and unimagined consequences – picked up their poms-poms and cheer-led a president and an administration that had already proven themselves to be incompetent decision-makers at best, and lying warmongers at worst.
Of course, we all now know the latter proved to be the case, beyond all reasonable doubt.
So I thought this would be an appropriate time to ask a few questions of our illustrious “news reporters/journalists”, with a view to getting some answers that might enlighten us all as to exactly what it is that causes once-aspiring truth-tellers to turn into people who will lie to their own countrymen in order to make a buck.
My questions are as follows:
When you find your vision completely obscured as though you are trapped in a narrow, dark tunnel, do you immediately realize that the sensation is caused by your head being, yet again, stuck firmly up your own ass? As a follow-up question: When your head is stuck up inside someone else’s ass, can you tell the difference between one asshole and another?
At what point in your career did you lose your ethics? Was it all at once, or was it due to a gradual wearing away of that part of you where your obligation to your profession and your loyalty to your fellow citizens also used to be?
Has the term “journalistic non-integrity” become part of the reporters’ lexicon, or do you pretend amongst yourselves that you still have integrity, all evidence to the contrary? Or have you simply changed the definition of the word “integrity” to now mean a lack thereof , in which case you can proudly boast that you are indeed – uh, full of it.
Does your paycheck include bonuses for things like (a) being a spineless shill for the corporations that own your network or sponsor your “news” programming, (b) perfecting the art of “going to commercial” when someone confronts you with the truth, (c) standing outside in a hurricane because your viewers are too fuckin’ stupid to know what a hurricane is without constant visual reminders each time one occurs?
Are fledgling on-air newscasters expected to be able to lie convincingly from their first day on the job? Or are occasional slip-ups, where actual facts might be inadvertently blurted out, overlooked due to whatever remaining vestiges of truth-telling they learned in journalism class having not been completely expunged – yet?
Do you ever experience a twinge of conscience when you look straight into the camera and lie to the American public? Or was your conscience surgically removed as part of the terms of your employment?
Did you ever want to grow up to be a conscientious news reporter? Or did you always want to grow up to be a professional propagandist who will say anything for money?
Can you pinpoint the day you decided to sell your soul for financial compensation? Do you celebrate the anniversary of that day each year by buying yourself something extravagant as a reminder of exactly why selling your soul was worth it? Continue reading Dear Alleged News Reporter/Journalist
My first college course in anthropology instilled in me a profound appreciation for best practices. It’s been a personal mission to uncover the best ideas and chart how they work, identifying their structures and functions. One discovery has been that even bad ideas can work well. It sounds strange, but the success of an idea often has nothing to do with its truth or level of insight. Its power and influence has more to do with its context and how it functions with other assumptions and tasks.
We would all prefer strong ideas that work well. Alaska’s Iditarod grips my imagination most winters, more than the State of the Union. The long distance grit of lead dogs Andy, Larry, and Granite guiding teams through 50-50-50s—winds 50 miles an hour, temperatures 50 degrees below, with visibility less than 50 feet—across wilderness and glaciers is a test of endurance rarely seen in politics. And the Iditarod offers equal opportunity. Susan Butcher won three in a row and four out of five between 1986 and 1990, and once had two dogs killed mid-race by a pregnant moose.
Last night’s State of the Union had Speaker Boehner making pregnant moose faces; his uncomfortableness with the President’s proposals was obvious—but was it a bad idea that served, from Boehner’s view, a good intent? Did it function to keep the GOP brand alive, apart from the pockets of craziness where they are winning elections, winning not really based on their platform of budgets (most states have laws that require balanced budgets), but more on hot button issues like immigration and race, or winning in one-party states out west?
The President, often criticized as a poor team player, continued to prove he is an effective leader (Susan Butcher’s dog Granite suffered from the same criticism!) with good ideas. He has also proven he can outrun the lumbering herds of opponents who have not adapted to the new environment and are using outmoded best practices.
The silent test of last night’s State of the Union was to outflank Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama has described Reagan as someone who reset the arc in America’s politics. Yet we forget the circumstances of that reset. Reagan created the meme that all of the problems of society were created by government excess. But what were the problems?
Women pushing for access to opportunity and self-determination, blacks refusing to be exploited, physically intimidated or discriminated against; massive resistance to corporate interests; food purchased from the bins of co-ops rather than on sale in plastic packages and cans stocked by chains. Reagan realized that the government protected those actions and had played a major part in expanding these rights. He coined the idea that government “created” these problems and caused the disturbing sight of school kids being bused and women deciding about pregnancy, and colleges graduating more critical thinkers who challenged the system and the status quo. The government didn’t reflect the will of the people, the people reflected the will of the now all-powerful government. But without the help of government, the gains of the people probably couldn’t be sustained.
In Reagan’s view, stop government, stop the advance of the people. He couldn’t sell an attack against the people—couldn’t demagogue blacks, women, youth as the problem (which for conservatives, they were!)—so he brilliantly assigned blame to government and used exaggerated stereotypes to knock it down. The welfare queen and other non-existent stories were repeated until the bad idea of government’s bad ideas became the Republican best practice for winning elections. Even Reagan’s ideology of cutting taxes to provide greater wealth to the rich didn’t happen during his administration, but the idea survived and is the basis of Republican policy today.
Despite widespread thinking that liberalism (again a code word for blacks, women and youth, packaged as “growing government”) was dead, Barack Obama somehow made it through and revived it in his first term. No matter; the new GOP plan was to blame his success and go after the old groups with a vengeance. If the stimulus succeeded, blame Obama for its size. If the economy recovered, blame entitlements, loudly arguing it could be even better without them. Turn obstruction into patriotism. Sprinkle the discussion with a little of the sour sickness of race—always heretofore cured by blaming the victim. Continue reading A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense
“Paradox” is often a word that appears in this column; it’s a fancy way of saying truth embodies its own opposite—in other words, there are exceptions to our most cherished beliefs, our proudest achievements, to every law, rule and principle, to mathematical models and even divine intervention, as there is one historically reported exception to the irreversible finality of death.
But in the national debate about guns and death, the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes no exceptions. They claim truth without paradox. Their leadership believes and expresses confidence the Second Amendment doesn’t provide for any exceptions. Since no law can stop the use of guns for murder, there should be no laws. Since, in their judgment, old laws were ineffective, there is no need for new laws. Since laws will have loopholes and workarounds, what’s the point? Their logic of default hides a fatal flaw found in the paradox of their absolutes.
That paradox is found not in their faith in the gun but in the law. They think the Second Amendment is set in stone. It’s not. As with all bad law, it can be repealed. In fact, I will raise the ante and hereby call for its repeal. It wouldn’t be the first amendment to be repealed.
Whether successful or not, it opens another political front and will force the NRA to divide its energy and resources. The call for repeal mimics the successful strategy of going after policy issues by swinging for the home run—by going after the law which is the context for the policy. The Second Amendment threatens my safety. I have been a victim of robbery at gun point. The right to bear arms has resulted in 1500+ gun connected deaths since the Newtown incident. This “cherished” ideal is tarnished. I call for the Second Amendment’s repeal. Continue reading Repeal the Second Amendment!
Sometimes, truth is besides the point. In today’s politics, its relevancy is certainly diminished. Its purpose is abandoned, standing as empty and eerie as the giant hollow factory shells of Detroit. We are taught to think of truth as solid and firm, but its integrity sways like the vine bridges built deep in rain forest interiors hidden from view. Truth is adaptable and timeless, which makes it easy to overrun. But in the heat of the moment, the property of truth Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. cited is often forgotten: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
Its role in this season’s Presidential campaigns is over- and underrated, as one is about fear, the other about feel good. It is true that systems in conflict or competition create a set of their own norms intended to gain advantage and defeat the other, and this determines their options and handicaps their outcomes. Yet one campaign has based its entire strategy on betting against truth’s rise, believing truth’s adaptivity can be twisted and crushed by fear. The truth of truth is that truth expands; it is indispensable, not disposable.
Yet the power of truth is rare as a social or political force; it has always been tied to a sense of shame, a feeling of inner pain, a self-imposed humility, an emptiness and brokenness that rained on a soul telling a lie. Truth, celebrated as a virtue, carried with it a sense of embarrassment that made it hard to look people in the eye. Despair–agony–waited on those who bent or violated its moral faith. All day demons reigned in the lost hearts that told lies, a separation that left these hearts disturbed in out-of-body drift. Truth is the comfort of wholeness. Truth is foremost an inner quality, a force that builds a fabric of trust.
Akin and the ensuing political arguments badly miss this point. His one sentence/word/day violated a larger, higher trust. One New York Times commenter observed: Continue reading A Faith Lesson for Todd Akin
RE your appearance on The Daily Show, August 15, 2012
I was at once appalled and amused by your comments during your appearance on The Daily Show. But then, I am always appalled and amused when it comes to the topic of the so-called “news media” these days; appalled by the lack of actual news reporting, and amused that people like yourself continue to pretend that what you offer is even remotely connected to actual journalism.
Stewart opened the interview with, “Let’s talk about Paul Ryan. All I have heard from the news divisions across network platforms is how thrilled they are to have Paul Ryan – now they can finally talk substance. When is that going to start happening?”
Your response, “As soon as we exhaust all of our reporting on his driving of the Wiener Mobile while a young man,” was witty and laughter-inducing, as is appropriate for a “fake news” program. The problem is the remark is much closer to the truth than it should be. And that, sir, is no laughing matter.
The Wiener Mobile story is just the kind of nonsense we have come to expect from the TV news media – not in addition to actual news, but in place of it.
As Mr. Stewart pointedly asked: “What is preventing the media from discussing more substantive issues before the introduction of Paul Ryan, and then since the introduction, and then, let’s say, you know, after the election?”
That is the very question on the minds of millions of viewers who are tired of the fact that the mainstream news has become news-o-tainment – replete with snappy graphics, eye-catching effects, and very little of anything of substance.
Your reply, “Well, as you know, there are a lot of distractions in this world …,” was appropriately countered by Mr. Stewart’s comment: “No, I don’t.”
More to the point, sir – “No, WE don’t.” We have difficulty understanding how the so-called news media is so easily distracted away from the actual goddamned news it is purportedly your job to report.
“Wait until people get a bite out of (Ryan’s) voting record. Wait until more people understand the vote on TARP. Wait ‘til we get down the road.”
With all due respect, sir, why should the viewing public have to wait for the facts about Ryan, or the facts about anything else? Oh, that’s right – you were distracted.
“Today, specifically, as I said tonight, was a terrible day for discourse in a democracy. With eighty-four days left to go until the election; you had Biden’s comment last night. Rudy Giuliani comes out today, says Biden isn’t smart enough to be president. You had Romney upset because of Biden last night. And you had Team Obama hitting back at Romney. We can’t, as a country, keep doing this.”
The truth of the matter is that the country isn’t doing this – you and your colleagues are. The many distractions of which you speak are of your own making. How often have we seen these types of non-stories completely overtake nightly news broadcasts?
So Rudy Giuliani said Biden isn’t smart enough to be vice president? When was the last time anyone actually cared about what Rudy had to say about anything – other than TV news journalists who treat every utterance by people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump as though they matter?
And yet this is what we are subjected to, day in and day out, by people like yourself – sixty seconds of what went on in the world today, followed by an endless stream of opinions, comments and remarks by people only the media itself finds fascinating.
Look, Mr. Williams, it’s simple. When I tune into the news, I actually want the facts about what happened today, and just the facts. I am not the least bit interested in what any pundit, political strategist, has-been politician, or reality show fifteen-minutes-of-famer has to say.
Given the facts, I am more than capable of forming my own conclusions. But it is the facts that are invariably dismissed by the media as not sexy enough, not grabby enough, and somehow not important enough to be proffered without being jazzed up for the viewing public, who – or so you and your colleagues seem to think – want to be distracted by the he said/she said war-of-words between political camps. We don’t.
There is one event that I knew heralded the decline of TV news journalism, and that is the fact that newscasters such as yourself did not immediately distance yourselves from what Fox News was doing from its inception. I would have expected real journalists to decry the concept of an alleged “news network” skewing the news in such an obvious way, and blatantly acting as the propaganda arm of the Republican party. I would have expected journalists with integrity to state, without hesitation, that such obvious bias in reporting the news was contrary to the principles of true journalism.
Instead, the other news broadcasters looked at Fox’s numbers and began to emulate their techniques: offer opinion rather than fact, offer commentary in place of an unbiased presentation of current events, offer airtime to politicians without ever questioning their statements of alleged fact. So much for putting journalistic integrity above ratings.
Your reference to Sy Syms, and his hallmark phrase that “an educated consumer is our best customer,” was dead on the money. Said you: “And I thought, well good on the late Sy Syms, because he was right about being a haberdasher, but he was also right about our business.”
That begs the question, sir: just how educated are the consumers of TV news these days? Do they know what’s going on – or do they only know about the “distractions” you serve up as news? Do they know Joe Biden’s accomplishments or failures as a vice president – or do they only know what Rudy Giuliani has to say about the matter?
Was the TV news viewing audience apprised of the facts before the invasion of Iraq – or were they spoon-fed opinions by newscasters wholly-owned by corporations with lucrative government contracts that would result in increased profits if the nation was at war?
It’s said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. What makes for stranger and much more dangerous bedfellows is corporate-sponsored news programming that tailors the news to fit their own agenda. I’ve no doubt that Sy Syms would be appalled at such a state of affairs. Continue reading An Open Letter to Brian Williams
I generally enjoy the WTTW PBS program Chicago Tonight, but their guests on Friday made me wonder if I had accidentally turned to Fox News. The program promised “three local weather experts discuss Chicago’s 2012 weather trends: a mild winter, a spring heat wave, and a hot, dry summer.”
The host, Joel Weisman, raised the question of weather patterns gently at first. When none of the guests took the bait, he pushed them more directly by bringing up climate change. The meteorologists reacted as though someone had dropped a turd in the middle of the room. Turning away, throwing up their hands and groaning, it was obviously the last thing they wanted to talk about.
Phil Schwarz of ABC-7 first brought up the “natural cycles” argument that climate change deniers have retreated to since the global trend is now undeniable. He claimed that whether man-made pollutants are causing the problem is the topic of debate.
Next someone suggested that climate trends are regional and that harsh winters in some areas somehow disprove the fact that we’re experiencing a global phenomenon.
I believe it was Jim Allsopp of the National Weather Service who inserted a little knowledge into the discussion by pointing out that climate change causes more extreme weather in all seasons, including winter blizzards and unpredictable spring flooding. At least one person displayed a basic understanding of the issue, even if he didn’t forcefully refute all the nonsense coming from others on the program.
There was no acknowledgement that climate change is a catastrophic problem, much less that there are specific industries most responsible for making it worse.
Well, that kind of pissed me off. I left this message on their blog and Facebook page.
I was very disappointed to hear the meteorologists’ irresponsible and misleading dodge on the climate change issue. It was false to claim that there’s still a debate among scientists about whether the problem is man-made. The scientific community has reached a consensus. It’s only the political world that distorts the issue. Claiming that the question is still unsettled adds to that distortion.
Additionally, suggesting that harsh winters in some areas somehow disprove climate change showed astonishing ignorance.
I understand that anyone who admits the scientific consensus of climate change will be attacked by angry conservatives who whine about liberal bias. But, someone in a public role has an obligation to inform, rather than pander to ignorance. Six Cook County residents have died in the latest heat wave, so far. Illinois crops are suffering drought. Flooding is destroying river communities. This issue has real life and death consequences. Meteorologists with a platform on television become part of the problem when they display the kind of ignorance and cowardice I saw on the program tonight. Honest discussions of climate change should be part of the weather report.
You can see what happens at any online news comment section. Any mention of climate change brings out the horde of conservative Fox/talk-radio listeners, repeating the latest talking points, ranting about Al Gore’s socialist UN conspiracy, and whining about liberal bias. I’m sure they get similar phone calls and emails. Meteorologists are being bullied into silence in the same way that the right has bullied much of the press into self-censoring liberal viewpoints. The right has effectively silenced those who prefer to avoid controversy.
So, I can understand why a television weather anchor would rather keep people happy by not taking sides. The trouble is that, by pretending this is still an open question, they did take sides.
The strategy of the oil and coal industry is not to deny climate change. That’s no longer a defensible position. Instead, their goal is that the science behind it be treated as an unsettled question. They simply want to cast doubt about whether a scientific consensus exists. So, when meteorologists describe the issue of humans contributing to climate change as an uncertainty, they’re parroting the talking points of fossil fuel industry propagandists. Continue reading Climate Change Cowardice from Chicago Weather Anchors
I realize that with the upcoming presidential election in November, the MSM will be doing what it does best over the next few months: i.e. not reporting the actual news, but using every effort to boost their viewership – which, sadly, is what the MSM is now all about.
The importance of this election is of no interest to the talking bobble-heads. The importance of ratings and audience share is.
As a result of the aforementioned, the issues will be ignored, the facts will be forgotten, the statistics will be skewed, and the ever-changing opinions of self-proclaimed political experts will be trotted out like an all-you-can-eat bread basket at a cheap restaurant – in hopes that the patrons will be too stuffed to notice that the meal they’ve ordered will be not only be slow in arriving, but equally lacking in substance.
The MSM doesn’t just want a horserace – they need one. Whoever is in the lead one day will be relegated to also-ran status the next. Poll results that favor one candidate will be loudly touted in the morning; completely opposite survey findings will be proclaimed by eight p.m.
Any and all numbers will be based on whatever information might translate into “too close to call” – a phrase we’ll be hearing throughout the summer – and the source of said numbers will be vaguely alluded to, lest one scrutinize the origin of such data a little too closely and find it wanting, or just downright ridiculous.
All of that being said, I’d like to give the MSM a heads-up on what I won’t be buyin’ – regardless of how hard they will undoubtedly attempt to sell it:
Don’t show me up-close-and-personal photos of Romney addressing a crowd in Anywhere USA, while telling me how well-attended the event was. I ain’t buying it. If it was well-attended, you’d pull the camera back to show the massive audience that turned out, instead of focusing on the three people he shook hands with after the fact. But then, there was no massive crowd, was there?
Don’t tell me how Romney is really catching on with the very voters who, no doubt, he will do his empty-headed best to belittle, besmirch and insult – you know, the ones he hasn’t pissed off already. I ain’t buying it. And neither are they.
Don’t trot out the usual shills and label them The Best Political Team on TV. If this is your idea of the best, I wouldn’t want to know what the worst is.
Besides, whenever I hear that phrase, I always think of The Best Lil’ Whorehouse in Texas – the difference being that the ladies depicted in the musical actually rendered services for the money earned, as opposed to the “I’ll say anything you want me to say for a buck” whores who get paraded in front of the cameras on a regular basis and verbally masturbate for the camera. I ain’t buying it. I’d suggest you dispense with airing their worn-out rhetoric and just leave fifty bucks on the bureau while singing “The Sidestep” as you zipper up. Continue reading Ain’t Buying It