Tag Archives: cable news

Could a person get some news?

Nothing hammered home the shallowness of so-called in-depth reporting this week quite like the treatment of Director Mueller’s testimony before two Congressional committees. Here are a few reasons my television set is now turned off.

Breaking news is broken. First, if something was reported at 7 in the morning it is no longer breaking at lunch time. Breathless repetition will not endow the item with any more immediacy. Nor will splendid graphics, or dramatic music. It was news at 7 in the morning, it is not news at 7 in the evening.

Secondly, while I appreciate the need for the broadcasters to fill air time, I don’t need endless panels to explain to me what I just watched. For one thing, this all but invites gaslighting. For another, I really am capable of comprehension and some context is welcome, but speculation is often ridiculous.

Speculation should be left to the investment markets. Remember the video of the rat dragging a slice of pizza, the little clip that went viral?  Going a step beyond the previous paragraph,  why should a person ever get the sinking feeling that somewhere a pundit was opining on what the specter of the smallish rat with the large pizza slice portended for urban politics in a polarized political landscape? Mercy, was there a chatterer out there wondering aloud if the rodent were an analog for the gentrification of neighborhoods? After all, it was a large slice of pizza. Or, was it emblematic of urban blight yet unaddressed? Yes, it was a rat. Spare me. There are less imaginative instances.

I’m certain nearly everyone, including the boor at the end of the bar (perhaps especially the boor at the end of the bar) has an opinion on each and every topic possible during a domestic broadcast. Pack enough of these people onto a set, run the cameras, and there’s an Instant Time Stuffer. Pack a sufficient number of generalists and the time is filled with a light fluffy concoction analogous to a news version of cotton candy. There’s not even enough substance for our rodent to bother with.

If you like sports but aren’t terribly good at one, join a fantasy league. The obvious manifestion of this problem remains the horse race journalism associated with national elections.  How many of us are there who really could go for one entire 24 hour period without receiving a single report of the latest poll? The one which may, or may not, have a large sample size; and, may, or may not, have a margin of error larger than the gap between the candidates included in the polling?

Walter Cronkite was no raging beauty. Telegenic is as telegenic does. The camera may love Bonita Bombshell or Howard Stalwart, but if they are delivering drivel…it’s still drivel.  Here’s a thought: If you can’t book A-List guests for the afternoon grill, how about filling the time with…news?

There are things going on in the world not generally noticed by an increasingly myopic American broadcasting system. For example, there’s an Ebola outbreak in Africa, the Greeks have a new government,  and Guatemala is experiencing severe drought. Death due to gun violence in the US has now surpassed that from traffic accidents, and Chinese economic growth has slowed down. However, the chances Bombshell and Stalwart are devoting time to these topics are fat and slim.

So, the television remains silent. I’ve no particular interest in game shows, or contests to see which individuals can make the greatest fools of themselves.  I could watch a ball game, sports talk about sports makes sense. I could select one of the plethora of shows about ancient Egypt, or true crime…enough of that already.  Or, I could, wonder of wonders, read a book, thus avoiding all the problems listed above.

 

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DB’s tired of: Pundit Edition

The problem with national pundits is that they are national pundits, which is a problem when we’re discussing local and state races.  Here’s why —

(1)  Local races are won by those who best represent the views of local people. Granted, national pundits from the right are interested in how the tax cut legislation will play in beautiful downtown Smudgeville, and left leaning pundits are interested in how civil liberties legislation will go over with Smudgeville’s citizens.  Neither may prove to be essential.  What if the major issues for Smudgeville’s residents include health care and education spending?  The candidate who can convince the residents his or her views are aligned with theirs on these two key issues will probably win.  This will not be based on national polling numbers, and certainly not predicated on national issue polling  What’s important in Smudgeville (District 1) may not apply to Downerville (District 2).

(2) Generalizations may not describe local and state political situations. For the sake of argument, let’s assume immigration is a major issue in both District 1 (Smudgeville) and District 2 (Downerville).  However, demographic statistics indicate a large number of naturalized citizens in District 1 as opposed to a low number of naturalized citizens in District 2.  A higher number of naturalized citizens may be predictive of success for a pro-comprehensive immigration reform candidate.  But wait… what if there are historic trends showing low voter turnout from members of the naturalized citizens in the community?  What if there are a lesser number of naturalized citizens in District 2, but these people tend to vote in higher percentages than their cohorts in District 1?

What if a higher number of citizens in Downerville have college and advanced degrees? What if a lower number of citizens in Smudgeville have college or advanced degrees, but they tend to vote more consistently in state and local elections than their counterparts in Downerville?

Pondering these purely hypothetical problems should cause some musing on the part of local campaigns — what exactly IS the composition of the electorate of the two Congressional districts? What exactly are the voting trends in those two districts?  How likely is it that trends may be altered or broken entirely in an upcoming election?

Generalizations have their uses, but any campaign which relies on generalized polling and issue testing will “generally” be out of touch with the electorate in question.  It’s fine for national pundits to rely on generalized data for the purpose of speculating to fill up time on cable broadcasts.  It’s not fine for local and statewide campaigns to do the same.

(3)  Never assume an issue is an issue.   Again, for the sake of debate, let’s assume District 1 is generally considered “working class,” with median household incomes of approximately $50,000 per year or less.  Does the candidate automatically assume that Gun control will be a major issue, with most voters aligned with pro-gun interests?  Careful here.  What if there is a strong and growing pro-control movement going on in the District, independent of the campaigns?  What if meetings of Moms Demand Action is drawing more attendees than pro-gun rallies?  What if March for Our Lives has signed up a significant number of younger voters in recent weeks?  What if Candidate A runs on a pro-gun platform while the voters are primarily worried about health care costs?

Alternatively, what if Candidate B runs on a pro-health care plan as a major element of the campaign in a district in which there is scheduled to be the closure of a large manufacturing plant?   The moral of this part of the story is that national pundits are no better at predicting this race than if they were located on Mars, especially if they don’t have access to internal and local polling and focus group data.

(4) Merely because an issue is of importance to national pundits doesn’t mean it’s of importance or even a modicum of interest to local voters.   We’ve all watched the national pundits pontificate on their favorite topics — immigration, income inequality, student loan reform, health care, gun legislation, religion, tax cuts…ad nauseam.  There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, unless the pundit is trying to squeeze the election in District 1 or 2 into the shoe size of his or her favorite topic.  “Candidate A is facing an uphill battle because of his position on abortion…” unless, of course, abortion isn’t a major issue in the district. “Candidate B is facing headwinds because of her position on education spending…” unless, of course, education spending is barely moving the needle in District 1.

(5) Gratuitous advice is free, and should be treated as such.   “Oh, what will the Democrats do if the Republicans run on ‘impeachment’?”  So?  See items 1-4 previously. If the Republicans and Democrats in our hypothetical Districts 1 and 2 are running quality campaigns, then they are already pouring over data from their constituencies down to the precinct level; they are already reading local newspapers — not for the endorsements but for the lead articles; they are already meeting with local leaders and major local organizations.

While the activities of national parties, and national PACs, may play an important media and financial role in local and state campaigns, this is tempered with a need for caution. Precious few locals like to be told how to vote by “outsiders.”  Similarly, national ad campaigns may or may not, be focused effectively on local issues.  Finally, while phone banking and GOTV efforts are efficacious, they are more efficient if they are conducted by friends, neighbors, and other people from the districts.

In short, sometimes the old rules of the game are still the best rules of the game. The party which recruits the best candidates, candidates who fit the districts they seek to represent, and who are willing and able to run campaigns aligned with local concerns, are more likely to be successful.

If the candidates don’t quite fit the Perfect Candidate Profile of the national punditry, so be it.  The sooner the national pundits get over themselves, and their purity tests, the better.  It’s probably OK for a Republican to run as pro-choice in a pro-choice district, and for a Democratic candidate to run on a DACA yes, comprehensive immigration reform no, platform in a DACA yes, comprehensive plan no, district.  It’s obviously more important to have representatives who align with the voters in their states and districts than with national pundits who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Dear Broadcast News Media, I Give Up Again

Television dump

At 9:05 AM this morning I gave up on cable news – again.  I’d finished washing up the breakfast dishes and a few of their comrades from last evening, and was ready to watch some “news” for an hour or so.  Five minutes into the viewing, including two channel changes, I remembered why I gave up on watching cable news broadcasts a short while back.  The three V’s: Vapidity. Vacuity. Vagueness.

Vapidity: Or, in the long form, a lack of stimulation, challenge, or sharpness; tepid, insipid, and bland.  This is characteristic of those broadcasters who believe that I might be remotely interested in yet another presentation of punditry discussing the semantics of e-mail transmissions.  Digging actual facts out of the morass of “process” punditry reveals that FBI Director Comey was correct – there is NO indication of any criminality in Secretary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. NONE. Done.  That someone has discovered a possible discrepancy in variations of the explanations isn’t news, it’s not even new.  It’s part of a continuous piece of propaganda floated by the Republican Party, and its allies among the Beltway Villagers, for some “Watergate-esque” issue to continue the Clinton assault they’ve enjoyed for the last umpteen years.

If the e-mail non-story were the only example I might not be so dismissive of cable news, but it isn’t.  There have been precious few attempts by the cable networks to treat any story with any depth. Sadly, many items are mentioned and the presenter quickly shifts to “what does this mean for Senator Sludgepump’s campaign?”  For example,  MSNBC, to its credit, did offer some actual context for the Flint Water Crisis.  And now the parallel universes take the stage – in the broadcast world the issue is “old news” even though the aftermath of the water contamination is far from over; in the real world we are discovering more communities with water supplies which do not meet the maximum contaminant levels for lead – and these are getting back page, below the fold, treatment – and not a minute on cable broadcasts.

The broadcasters are content, it seems, to offer a stream of sequels to stories of limited interest to the general public instead of presenting stories involving critical national issues.   Case in point: Immigration policy reform.  There is a bill, passed by the Senate, languishing in the House which offers comprehensive immigration policy reform, and the GOP House leadership can’t or won’t move it.  Instead of seeing and hearing intelligent discussions of the POLICY issues we are being treated to “how is the Hispanic Outreach project of the Trump campaign” doing?  How is the Clinton campaign doing in the polling among Hispanic American voters?

Vacuity:   In order to hit this level a broadcast needs to wade through Shallow and into Inanity.  Here we go again, we all know that U.S. national elections are composed of 50 individual state elections, and still the cable news networks – months from the general election – tout their national polling.  This adds a new level of nothingness to the abyss.  I might as well inform readers that I have five fingers on each hand and try to pass this off as “news.”

Vagueness:  This is the point in a campaign when the parties should be sharpening their messages, and providing actual examples of policy statements and plans on offer to the voters.  We’re not getting that from the Trump side of the ledger – we get speeches, analysis of the speeches, and follow up interviews with surrogates who inform us that the details will be provided later. When’s ‘later?’   At what point will the reporters on camera demand some solid answers? And, should that fail, when do they point out that those Statues in the Park have no more ‘clothing’ than the policy non-statements issued by the Trump campaign and its surrogates.

There’s nothing that pleases the Press quite so much as whining about the treatment of the Press.  The current whine is that Secretary Clinton hasn’t had a “full blown press conference” for X number of days and counting.  Really? Since when was August a major month for press conferences by any national campaign? And, Secretary Clinton attended a fund raiser and the Press wasn’t invited! Oh dear, and we saw Governor Romney’s comment about the 47% in pool tape? Or, uh-no, it was from a bootleg tape and the press hadn’t been invited to that fundraising event.  How this tells us anything about the POLICY of and plans for an administration is anyone’s guess; but, what it does tell  us is that the media loves to talk about the media.

At least I know I’m not alone.  There’s some comfort in reading this analysis of the situation in Crooks and Liars,

“People want truth. They don’t want talking points, or “both sides do it.” Donald Trump has broken all of the rules of party politics, and also the cable news formula. Some, like Stelter, Bolduan, Keilar and Reid have taken the cue, choosing to aggressively pursue truth-telling. Others are not.

To those who refuse to pay attention, beware. Consumers have moved on from the political pablum you serve. Only those who are bold enough to speak truth to the professional liars will survive.”

And Salon’s article about the long-lived conservative obsession with all things Clinton, especially from Judicial Watch:

“This is the same Judicial Watch that currently has the press panting over every release of the Clinton State Department emails they’ve received from their FOIA fishing expedition, rushing on the air and to print based upon the organization’s often erroneous and misleading press releases. Tom Fitton, the organization’s current president and author of the book “The Corruption Chronicles: Obama’s Big Secrecy, Big Corruption, and Big Government” proudly declared, “Judicial Watch has had more success investigating the IRS, Benghazi and Clinton email scandals than any House committee.”

Considering the outcomes of the IRS and Benghazi “scandals,” it would behoove the press to show a little skepticism. The history of this group is very clear. The first time it waged its campaign of character assassination against Bill and Hillary Clinton, it’s perhaps understandable that the press failed to recognize they were being manipulated by political operatives. The trumped-up Obama scandals added up to nothing as well. There’s no excuse for the media to fall for it again.”

However, it’s my guess they will fall for it – as long as the Three V’s are the mainstays of cable broadcasting practice.

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Media Circus and Freak Show

Freak Show Cable News

It must be remarkably hard to fill cable news air-time. All too often the broadcasts are filled with anchors asking reporters for their opinions about what the anchor just proposed.  The questions are almost as long as the answers, and those answers are all too often not very illuminating.

When the reporters aren’t asking other reporters for their opinions about what was just reported, we are treated to “analysts.”  What passes for analysis is generally little more than conjecture at best and hyperbolic rants at worst.  In the best of times we get a bit of fact-checking as the dueling analysts structure their responses to fit with the quick retort formula. Nothing too deep, nothing too long, just a nice punchy sound bite.

The national audience is treated to whatever topic has grabbed the attention span of the Villagers within the Beltway.  The Republican Party has played the cable news media like the proverbial harp.  Get “outraged,” get on TV, and stir up more “outrage,” all manufactured of either whole cloth or thin threads, and repeat as necessary to hold the attention of the producers and broadcasters.

“News” is supposed to be entertaining, and thereby attract ratings, and thereby attracted advertisers… erectile dysfunction medication, strange household gadgets, aircraft manufacturers, automobiles, prescription medicines for conditions that used to be solved with a dose of aspirin or  baking soda.

There were a few bright spots in the recent spate of broadcasting in regard to the Black Lives Matter campaign, the killing of two more African American men at the hands of police officers, and the attacks on the police officers in Dallas.  At least one network actually interviewed one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization. One offered air time to a professor who has made a study of policing reforms.  But all together too much time this week was devoted to the Freak Show Media Circus.

There is a difference between presenting “both sides” and broadcasting nonsensical polemics.

Case in point, for some reason, known but to the management of CNN, it was decided to put a right wing radio jockey with absolutely no expertise in race relations, policing, or evidently not much of anything else, on the air. And then “let him defend” his threats against the President of the United States and African American supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. There is no rational defense possible. Nor did any of his comments enlighten the subject or provide historical context.  His air time was simply part of the Freak Show.    So much more could have been done if news were news and not merely vapid offerings for distraction and entertainment.

Perhaps if a cable news network were serious about broadcasting news there would be a higher standard for content?  For example….

Merely because an individual has an opinion on some matter doesn’t mean that the opinion is worthy of broadcasting.

Those who wish to place their opinions before the public have all manner of opportunities to do so in this technological present.  Write a blog, get on Twitter, Facebook, or do it the old fashioned way – stand in a corner of the park with a bull horn.  However, in order to be considered newsworthy the opinions must be supported by facts. Facts presented in context.  Adherence to this simple rule would banish many of the denizens of the Freak Show Media Circus to the margins they inhabited in the first place.

Fact checking is a fundamental part of good journalism.

It doesn’t take any great journalistic acumen or effort to do basic fact-checking prior to an interview with anybody.  News is supposed to be factual. The avoidance of fact-checking, or the assertion that fact-checking is someone else’s responsibility is simply LAZY.

A person allotted air time should have something relevant to say.

Unfortunately, this rule would cut off the microphones for several prominent current and former politicians. Not only should the commentary be factual, it should be enlightening.  Senator Sludgepump may believe to his core that global climate change is a hoax, but his position in government doesn’t necessarily mean he has anything either factual or relevant to say.  Though he may charge through a stampeding herd of bison to get to the first available microphone, that still doesn’t mean he has anything illuminating to reveal on the topic.

Speculation is not analysis.

If we want to have all the air time on a sports talk radio program filled to the brim – ask which major league pitcher was the best in the modern era.  Then, sit back and listen while the audience debates the merits of Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, Bob Gibson….ad infinitum

If we want to fill up air time without actually doing much of any real work, ask “What will be the effect of a potential  great carrot shortage on the ______ campaign?”  Bring on the “strategists, analysts, and activists,” and let them blather on about the hypothetical to the hypnotic.

So, the television set was turned off again. I moved on, there was nothing much left to see.   And, I was never one for freak shows.

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Planned Outrage and the Right Wing Smear Machine

PParenthood

Yet another “undercover” sting operation has targeted yet another organization which does good work for good people, and it’s high time this stopped.  The Center For Medical Progress, which appears to have no other visible function than to attack Planned Parenthood, launched it’s O’Keefe style assault with pathetically predictable results.  These attacks are no accident, and the ways they are used are not coincidental.  Let’s review.

The ACORN Example

Nothing so engages the attention of the powers that want to be as an organization which promotes voting rights, civil rights, community action, and advocates for living wages.  And ACORN did just that.  For its trouble it was vilified for “voting irregularities” although the organization flagged its own suspected forms, and was only in trouble with Nevada law because it paid its temporary employees to gather forms – not because there were any real actual voting irregularities  involved. [NYT] Then came the deluge, the O’Keefe “videos,”  and the myth of the ACORN pimp.  In both instances, which ultimately led to the organization’s demise, the story was picked up and slathered all over Fox News. 

Then conservative voices bellowed that the story wasn’t being covered by major broadcast networks because they were “librul.”  This scene was followed by another in which conservative members of Congress called for investigations! Defunding! Running out of town clad in tar and feathers!  And… then members of Congress and other politicians who had supported voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages were asked to “respond to the comments from conservatives.”  The grand finale consisted of smearing those progressive and liberal politicians with “ACORN supporter” labeling.  Members of Congress were so enamored of their fight against organizations promoting voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages that they voted in 2014 for a budget defunding ACORN – an organization which by that time didn’t even exist. [HuffPo]

There they go again!

This time it’s Planned Parenthood, the object of fury for the fringe anti-abortion crowd.  The fact that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortions doesn’t faze this batch of whackies.  They’ll not be pleased until every abortion provider is out of service, every pregnancy is carried to term no matter how dangerous, every progeny of rape and incest is born –wanted or not.  It’s the “not” part which is problematic.  They frankly remind me of the men who brag about their virility in terms of the number of children they have fathered … not necessarily the number of children they have raised.

But, here we go again… a sting video – heavily edited, which doesn’t match the transcript, which doesn’t even match reality, and even less conforms to the laws and regulations surrounding fetal tissue handling and fetal tissue research – which is picked up by Fox News and treated as if it were a real story,  and then the peanut gallery chimes in demanding, I say Demanding, that Democrats respond – I say Respond – to the “damning video.” The peanut gallery has already sounded off in Virginia. [WaPo]  Nothing could be more blatantly political.   All that remains to repeat the cycle are the “calls for investigations,” and the public pillorying of those who support the medical services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics.

Enough!

Here’s some unsolicited advice.

  There is no need to respond to the allegations in a video which doesn’t match its own transcript. [MSNBC] [Politifact] Or, is so edited as to obscure the fact that what the organization is doing is perfectly legal, heavily regulated, and in many cases essential to important medical research.   All that may be necessary is to say, “I understand that the video is highly suspect, doesn’t present facts, and uses statements taken not only out of context, but out of realityIt’s anti-choice propaganda and should be treated as such.”

  There is no need to take Fox News seriously.  It is not a news organization, it is simply a propaganda outlet.  There is also no reason to join in the Fox litany of complaints merely because they bring up specious topics.  Let them say, “We cover it here because no one else will.”   There’s a perfectly sound reason no one else is carrying some of their stories – they aren’t news. Some are manufactured “poutrage,” [Latte Salute] others are simply allegations with no factual support, [Did Scientists manufacture climate change data?]  and still other examples  are merely hyperbolic hypocrisy. [Bergdahl flap]

The Problem Won’t Go Away

The right wing conservative pattern of attacking organizations and agencies which seek to help Americans in need isn’t going to disappear unless the ‘real’ news organizations stop being duped by what appears to be superficially interesting and later turns out to be either a nothing-burger or actually embarrassing – remember CNN and the dildo flag?  Here’s a suggestion: How about doing just a bit of research about the origin and intent of those who make “news items” available before hitting the air?

Nor will the problem of misinformation be alleviated until the media understands that click-bait isn’t the reason for its existence.  Besides the latest shark encounter, there are news stories which aren’t being covered very thoroughly on American television and in American newspapers.  Might we suggest: Refugee problems in Austria; or the issue of Uber in Spanish courts; or political trouble in the Transnistria region (anyone heard of that one?); or European funding of illegal logging in the Central African Republic?

Unfortunately, while cable news is infatuated with sharks and sting videos, the refugee issues in Europe could be reaching crisis proportions; new business models like Uber raise significant legal and economic questions; Transnistria could be the next European breakaway state; and, why do European corporations need to fund illegal logging in culturally, politically, and environmentally fragile areas like the Central African Republic?

We don’t even have to list under-coverage in international news to see the problems – there are gaping holes right here at home.

Meanwhile:

SatNews seems to be one of the few places we might learn “the 2014 Satellite Communications Strategy Report did not identify the appropriate future mix of military and commercial SATCOM; rather, it outlined a plan that, if successful, may allow DOD to do so at a later time. Second, the 2014 Mix of Media Report based its predictions of future SATCOM requirements and demand on DOD’s SATCOM Database, which DOD officials acknowledge lacks comprehensive usage and demand data.”  In short, might it not be useful to know that we really don’t have much of a handle on the mix of military and commercial demand for communication?  Esoteric as this might seem it could have implications for everything from national security to movie broadcasts. Just asking?

Then, there’s the issue of how drugs given a “340B” discount may be over prescribed.  The GAO says this is possible, and the hospitals fired back saying the GAO methodology was flawed and this isn’t the case.  The GAO report came out on July 5, 2015.  I fancy myself a fairly good consumer of news reports – but I can’t say I’ve heard word one about this issue in any cable or major news outlet – although it has a real bearing on health care costs in the United States.

And, while we’re speaking of the GAO, the agency just released its report on the DoD integration of the Armed Forces by gender opportunities.  That report indicates the military is expanding combat opportunities for women, but there is a need to monitor long term progress.  This didn’t make the headlines this morning. However, there is a connection between combat service and promotion in the military and that alone should have alerted someone somewhere in media-land to this report.

Remember all that flap and flutter about the SEC’s Reserve Fund and how that might be used under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act?  Probably not, since it didn’t get much play initially outside of the general squealing about putting too much burden on investors and letting the SEC have a fund Congress couldn’t sequester – however the SEC’s Inspector General’s report came out on July 6, 2015, and the IT modernization at the SEC seems to be kosher. Crickets.  There was some more good news from the IG report on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the “prudential regulators,” saying the coordination was good, and could be better if they’d develop a standard process for notifying regulators of federal consumer finance law violations by institutions with $10 billion or less in total assets.  More crickets.

Okay, there’s no blood on the floor with any of these topics.  However, since all too much blood has been spilled in Charleston and Chattanooga recently someone in the editorial offices might have noticed the GAO report issued on June 19, 2015:

“Nationwide, estimates using 2008-2013 data indicated that approximately 17 percent of low-income, uninsured adults (3 million) had a behavioral health condition, defined as a serious mental illness, a substance use condition, or both. Underlying these national estimates is considerable variation at the state level.”

Think we might want to pay some attention to this news? Or, in retrospect at least to this July 16, 2015 report: “DOD Should Improve Information Sharing and Oversight to Protect U.S. Installations?”  Chattanooga was bad, and we certainly don’t need a repetition of Fort Hood.

I should live so long to see the major news outlets in this country print and broadcast news which actually informs our population, and see them leave the shark attacks, politically pandering pundits, idle speculation, silly polling stories, and sting videos to Fox Noise.

Do they even wonder why more people are now getting their news from the Internet?

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The Fanatic Season: Politics as Liturgy

Fanatic Eric Hoffer summed it up in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements in 1951:

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”

Consider how often the right wing insists on doing the unthinkable?  Why would anyone launch a deliberately provocative  “Cartoon Contest” and call it an exercise in ‘free speech?’  Why would anyone put a gun site target on the names of members of Congress? Why would anyone think it appropriate to print the addresses of physicians who provide abortion services?  Because, perhaps, these are arrogant gestures, with a complete disregard for the safety and well being of others, defying convention (and good sense) as would a single-handed hero in defense of something, anything, whatever…

On the national level this allows Fox News to promote the demonization of Islam and its adherents, or to declare a “War on Christmas,” or to offer comfort to the bigot, the intolerant, and the racist.   On a state level the concept allows the elevation of the gun enthusiasts and supports their sense of victimization – as some unspecified “they” are perceived to be “coming for your guns. “ It also allows the faithful to identify “public servants” as “pigs at the trough” when they aren’t being vilified for not doing their jobs with insufficient resources; and, to degrade the humanity of the working poor for “not making good choices,” thereby relinquishing their right to be treated with compassion as fellow human beings.  Hoffer had a line about this concept as well:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Indeed, the current manifestation of the conservatives in the Republican Party (and this may mean just about all of its leadership at the moment, the moderates being driven from the field) is beset with devils of all sorts.   At this juncture political ideology becomes confused with something we might call political liturgy.

Let’s look at the definitions. First, ideology is defined as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”   Liturgy means “a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.”  A formulary “is a collection of formulas or set forms, especially for use in religious ceremonies.”

The fanatic may have some difficulty differentiating between an ideology and the performance of liturgy. Ideology is properly understood as a position a person takes regarding, say, how revenue is collected for the operation of a government and the priorities for its distribution.  A liturgical element inserts itself as time after time a politician asserts talking points which are faith based with little or no rational substance.

Some Examples

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) concerning proposals to increase the minimum way is that doing so will have a negative economic effect.  This is often reduced to the formulaic: Increasing the minimum wage will cost jobs.  The problem is that there is no substantive research confirming this notion.  There are several credible studies indicating there would be no “negative employment effects” of increasing the minimum wage, and the talking point defies the common sense notion that an employee of one company is always a customer of others.  Empirical studies demonstrate that lower wage workers are more likely to spend marginal income than wealthier ones. [Salon]

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) is “Support the Troops;” and a person can easily obtain a yellow ribbon car magnet for this message to place alongside the “Love Your Country Live With Pride” bumper sticker.  That this is a liturgical insertion rather than an ideological position is illustrated by the disinclination of Republicans in general to vote in favor of increased wages for members of the Armed Forces, in favor of more benefits for service members and veterans, in favor of more job training programs for veterans, and in favor of the extension of more VA medical services to veterans who served during peacetime.  At the risk of sacrilege, I’d say this is roughly analogous to reciting “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison” without thinking of the meaning.

And then there’s the standard GOP line … “the government is the problem.”  Until, of course, it’s the solution.  We might consider Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s remarkable illustration of how this liturgical element can be reversed as he begged for federal aid for Texas cities literally drowning in flood waters.  This, from the self-same Senator who voted against federal relief expenditures for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. [DailyBanter]  This line is hauled out of the vestry and applied to attempts to curtail malfeasance (and worse) in the banking industry, to curb polluters, to put the brakes on corporate mismanagement, until the nation becomes a victim of banking malfeasance (or worse), the state has to clean up a toxic spill, and the investors in a corporation despair of any relief from greedy executives.

The Ramifications

When policy positions (political ideological statements) become articles of faith (as part of a liturgy) then there’s a danger that portions of the electorate are no longer participating in a political process, but are voting and behaving as a “mass movement” in which the Devils will be scourged by those who can recite all the correct elements of the liturgy.  Nothing contemporary illustrates the liturgical quality of Republican leadership statements as the current blathering about climate change.

When the Pew Foundation did some polling on the subject it found that 67% of all adults surveyed believed that climate change is occurring, and 84% of Democrats (or those leaning toward the Democratic party) agreed.  Among Republicans 46% agreed the climate is changing, and this represents 61% of “mainstream GOP” who agree the climate is changing, and 25% of Tea Party adherents who agree.

Bear in mind the Tea Party  percentage when noting that 66% of Democrats agreed that human activity was a major cause of climate change, compared to 43% of independents, and 24% of Republicans in the 2013 survey.

The 24-25% of Republican voters would likely find nothing untoward about presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s request that the Pope leave the “science to the scientists.” [CSMonitor]  It’s probably important to note at this point, that no, the Pope doesn’t have the equivalent of a master’s degree in chemistry – but he did have a degree in chemistry in the Argentine educational system and according to a fellow Jesuit: “Liebscher said he hopes this does not sound like “we’re denigrating his education. Francis certainly respects the scientific method, and careful measurement ranks high in his list of values.”   The “correct” liturgical response about climate change has evolved in Republican political parlance.

Initially, and there are still adherents to the position, the GOP response was that Climate Change was misinformation, or at worst a hoax.  Later on the position was Climate Change is real but human beings aren’t responsible. The present iteration seems to be that Climate Change is real, human beings just might be responsible for some of it, and ordinary people shouldn’t talk about it because “science is best left to scientists,” the optional liturgical insertion may be “I’m not a scientist.” [Bloomberg]

Moving beyond a single illustration of how the transformation of ideology into liturgy is problematic for a democratic republic, when the correct formulaic recitation of liturgy stands in place of a discussion of policy alternatives only the True Believers are deemed fit to carry the party banners.  This is what former Republican official Bruce Bartlett complains of when writing that Fox News has actually harmed the political prospects of the Republican Party.

‘Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season.’

Compare this to one of the original quotations above:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

The unspoken assumption seems to be that Fox News will only beat out the rhythms of the Pure, the uncontaminated unadulterated liturgy of the extreme right.  It will only sate the political appetite of those who prefer liturgical formulations rather than explain the underlying catechism; in other words – those who wish to cast out the “devils” — be they African Americans in urban areas, minimum wage workers, environmental advocates, human rights activists, critics of the banking industry, or Democrats.

The proper incantation of the political liturgy will comfort those who wish to be comfortable in their biases, prejudices, and ideology.  Just as their unquestioning belief in a particular confession of faith grounds them, their insistence on a political liturgy relieves their anxieties keeps them anchored.   A liturgy which validates their fears – of African American men, of the working poor, of unemployment, of immigrants, of members of the LGBT community, of Muslims, of economic displacement, of anyone or anything outside their immediate experience – is consoling.

The Bottom Line

The problem, as Bartlett observes in a political realm, is that the more ideology is replaced by a confession of faith, and the more the confession of faith is sustained by the participation in ritualized liturgy, the more likely it is that the movement devolves into a sect.  Once a movement is reduced to a sect at least two things can happen, and they’re both bad.

First, as Bartlett notes, the sect becomes so restricted that it cannot reach a wider audience, and secondly the sect is inclined to defend the indefensible, merely because a fellow member is being criticized.  Witness the defense of the Duggar family’s handling of their son’s molestation of his sisters which almost perfectly summarizes the DARVO position – Deny, Attack, Reverse the Victim and the Offender.  Again, the more the sect becomes identified with a cultish adherence of defending the indefensible the more narrow the appeal of the movement.

One one hand there is some consolation in the idea that the Republican Party may eventually restrict itself to a narrow cult of unelectable True Believers, however, as one who finds the restriction of alternative points of view counter productive in politics and public policy the prospect of a degenerating GOP is not very appealing.

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Shut off the Set, Open your Mind?

television 3The Sin City Siren posts an article decrying the lack of quality reporting on LGBT issues in Nevada; what the heck… I’m going to go further.  I’m going to expound on the possibility that the current media (some in print and more in broadcasting) isn’t all that informative and we’d probably be better off shutting off the TV and hustling down to the public library.  The pontificators are becoming altogether entirely too predictable.

Sequacious Sycophants:  Having never had an original thought in their adult lives, our Sequacious Sycophants are pleased to talk about, muse upon, and otherwise parrot the well prepared themes devised for them by their ideological masters and mistresses.  From the right, having long ago decided that an African American, any African American, cannot approach the intellectual level of his or her White contemporaries, the President must be “bumbling, stumbling,” unable to function without a teleprompter, easily duped, and dependent upon the assistance of others.   Pick a topic, almost any topic, and the Sequacious Sycophant is pleased to blather on about how the Administration is stumbling, bumbling, lurching,and grasping at policy issues.   This, in observation of an Administration which has reversed the recession, revived the automobile industry, wound down actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, made better opportunities for equal pay for women it’s first legislative initiative, enacted the first major health insurance reform in decades, and is currently keeping the U.S. out of complete entanglement in the Syrian mess.

From the Left, having decided that former presidential candidate and current Senator John McCain is a “flip flopper,” a maneuver  he performs well and often, not much else is required.  All that appears to be essential is to find some video of the Senator saying one thing and then offering his latest verbiage on the subject.  This is easy. Too easy. The least difficult posts I’ve ever written were the old “deck bass” flip flop pieces.   One of the more strenuous was the post pointing out that McCain’s general bent is militaristic, it was laborious trying to find background information because few authors had attempted the lay the groundwork for this analysis.

Suggestion: Instead of listening to the Sequacious Sycophants,  lope down to your public library and check out Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.  While it may not be the “best ever” writing on diplomatic history before the Great War, it is one of the better ones, and should dispel any delusions that all diplomacy is necessarily rational or linear.

Stridulating Sensationalists:  Certatogyrus marshalli aren’t the only ones capable of making shrill noises by rubbing body parts to make un-ingratiating sounds.  Melodramatic anchors are equally capable.   Witness, CNN talent Blitzer asking the President to speak to the camera and address President Assad…and then witness comedian Jon Stewart eviscerate the moment.

If Blitzer were the only anchor pumping up the volume, if not the content, of explicating contemporary issues we’d be in better shape. Unfortunately, he is only one among many teasing major questions with hyperbolic palaver.

Suggestion:  Shut down the stridulation, and pick up a copy of Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality, “…It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power  by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” [NYT]  Not exactly riveting drama, but a good answer to the technocrats from both ends of the political and economic spectrum.

Hysterical Histrionics:  One needn’t be loud (although it may help) to be a hysterical histrionic, even tones can be employed to announce the imminent demise of American civilization.  Evidently some people simply don’t have enough drama in their lives, and therefore some must be manufactured and foisted off upon the rest of us.

Blustering, irruptive to the point of stammering syllables, reductive to the borders of irrationality, all topics — no matter how nuanced — are compacted so that the Hysterical Histrionic can “discuss” them to his or her self-satisfaction.  Most of this ilk have forgotten the fact that most problems have more than merely political ramifications, but politics is easier and more convenient to debate, so discussions involving the economic implications or the social consequences are dismissed as “uninteresting?”  MSNBC has a collection of these, Fox has an impressive assemblage, and CNN is right in the mix.

Suggestion:  Instead of bounding from wall to wall with the head-banging hand wringing Hysterical Histrionics, take part of an hour to read William R. Polk’s article, “Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part II,” in the Atlantic magazine.  While you may not agree entirely with the analysis — your blood pressure should resume a normal range after reading it.

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