Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category


The Democratic debate last night was a good reality check: given how openly authoritarian Trump-TV (Fox “News”) is — a combination of butt kissing (e.g., Jeanine Pirro calling Trump “almost superhuman”), goose-stepping “patriotism” that trashes almost everything America is supposed to stand for, and punching down (encouraging knuckle-draggers to blame immigrants — people even poorer and more powerless than they are — for their misfortunes), it’s easy to give CNN a pass, as CNN is at least openly hostile to Trump.

Last night provided a timely reminder that CNN, though not as awful as Fox, is still pretty damn bad. The moderators spent most of their time trying to provoke fights between the candidates, the low point being moderator Abby Phillip — after Bernie Sanders, in a he-said-she-said denied saying that a woman could never win the presidency, and offering corroborating evidence going back decades — immediately asking Warren, “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” As if that was a fact, not a dispute about what was said in a conversation between two people, with no witnesses.

To call Philip’s question/accusation grossly unprofessional is an understatement. CNN should have fired her on the spot.

Beyond that, the moderators appeared entirely unconcerned with military spending taking up 53% of discretionary spending, and with the U.S. spending as much on “defense” (largely on weapons and overseas bases, not even counting military-incurred debt servicing) than the next eight countries combined. Nope. They were concerned with the cost of “Medicare for all” — universal healthcare coverage.

The moderators’ questions all concerned the cost of such coverage. Never mind that the U.S. is supposedly the richest country on the face of the Earth, that every other industrialized country already has universal, free healthcare, that 87 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, that the U.S. has worse healthcare outcomes (e.g., infant mortality) than all of those other industrialized countries, and that U.S. per-capita spending on healthcare is at minimum twice what the other industrialized countries spend, sometimes considerably more.

No. The moderators’ concern was with the “cost” — never mind the potential savings to average Americans nor what the astronomical cost is now.

They didn’t ask a single question about how much average Americans would save under Medicare for all. Not one.

Nor did they ask what possible advantage there is in having a parasitic middle man (the insurance industry) that drains off $100 billion a year in profits, and that incurs vast administrative expenses for providers in dealing with the nightmarish tangle of private insurance coverage. (Tellingly, one of the questions was about what would happen to the “workers” in the “insurance town” of Des Moines if a single-payer plan eliminated their entirely parasitic jobs.)

As for CNN, the disgraceful performance of its moderators points toward this great advice: “Follow the money.” CNN is a corporate entity designed to maximize corporate profits. While there are some good reporters and editors at CNN, it’s utterly unrealistic to expect the network to act as anything other than a corporate tool designed to preserve the economic status quo and corporate profits.


We hit 100,000 views a few days ago, and to celebrate (if that’s the right word) we’re listing the best posts we’ve published over the years, divided by category. Here’s the second installment. The third will be the first of the Humor installments, and it’ll focus purely on jokes.

Civil Liberties

Economics

Gardening

Interviews

Journalism

 

 

 


Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist and a co-founder of the Yippies, died yesterday at 87. There are undoubtedly many detailed obits on other sites, so I’ll confine myself here to a brief recollection of the single hour I spent interviewing him in 1978. It was at the American Heroes Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, which was sponsored (I believe) by the producers of the godawful, and deservedly long-forgotten, movie, “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich,” a showing of which was the main event at the conference on Saturday night.

There were several famous people at the conference, and my late friend Mike Hughes and I interviewed Krassner, William Kunstler, and Timothy Leary for our college newspaper, the BSU Arbiter, which at the time was a good, independent college paper (prior to being ruined by the journalism department). The interviews have vanished into the mists of time; I stuffed my copies into a drawer about 30 years ago, and when I finally opened it I discovered that the papers had been partially eaten by cockroaches. (It could have been by interdimensional alien visitors, but my money is on the cockroaches.)

All that I remember of the interviewees is that I liked Krassner by far the best. He was gracious, relaxed, and extremely funny.

As a way of saying goodbye, here’s probably the second most famous thing that ever appeared in Krassner’s Realist. (The most famous — which earned him the undying hatred of many — was the satirical piece he ran shortly after the Kennedy assassination in 1963, describing Lyndon Johnson fucking Kennedy’s corpse in the neck wound on the plane ride back to Washington.)

One Nation Under God Graphic from The Realist

Farewell Paul. The world is a poorer place for your passing.

 

 

 


Yes, plural: linings, not lining. Let’s begin with the most obvious:

  • Trump has laid bare the racism that is the foundation of the modern Republican Party. Since the 1960s, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the partial demise of the Jim Crow system, the Republican Party has pursued a “Southern Strategy” that appealed to racist whites through both anti-black/anti-Latino actions (e.g., the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration) and scapegoating rhetoric. Until recently, that rhetoric was of the dog-whistle variety, the use of code words (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “food stamps,” “welfare queens,” “tough on crime,” etc.) that GOP leaders could (im)plausibly deny were racist. Now, the GOP’s racial bigotry is overt. With Trump, the festering racism that is the basis of the Republican Party’s strategy has oozed out from under its rock. In a way, it’s refreshing to see racists being racists, rather than hypocritically asserting that they’re not. (Some Republicans still make that pro forma assertion, but you can tell their hearts aren’t in it, and they don’t seem to expect any but the most willfully ignorant to buy it.)
  • One of the primary reasons the GOP got away for so long with its implausible denial that it’s a racist party is that the corporate media allowed it to. For over half a century, corporate outlets virtually always, under the guise of neutrality, balance, allowed Republican politicians and pundits to deny that their code-worded racist terms and rhetoric were in fact racist. (The way “neutrality” works can be exemplified by the following: “Some say the sun rises in the East. Others say it rises in the West. The controversy continues.”) Now, at least some corporate media outfits (e.g., AP, NBC, CNN) are calling the GOP’s racism “racism,” and some are calling Trump’s, and occasionally other GOP leaders’, lies “lies,” rather than “misstatements,” “erroneous statements,” or “untruths.” I don’t expect this to continue past Trump, but it sure is refreshing while it lasts.
  • Trump’s overt racism has laid bare the GOP’s claim to represent all of America, all of the people. By definition, racists do not represent all of the people, but rather one “superior” group. (While Trump claims to “love” his overwhelmingly white supporters, he, and the rest of the GOP. are cynically manipulating his ignorant, gullible, and mean-spirited followers, while systematically screwing them — consider Trump’s tax scam, his opposition to raising the minimum wage, and the GOP’s perpetual campaign to prevent universal healthcare, leaving tens of millions uninsured or under-insured, with tens of thousands resultant unnecessary deaths annually.)
  • Trump’s overt racism has laid bare the GOP claim to be the party of morality. (The same could and should be said about his sewer-rat personal behavior.) What’s moral about racism? What’s moral about supporting racists?
  • Trump’s racism has also exposed the gross hypocrisy of his evangelical base. Evangelicals claim to be the standard bearers of “family values,” yet Trump’s racist immigration policies resulting in deliberate separation of children from parents, children locked in cages, and U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents literally ripping toddlers from their mothers’ arms, seem not to bother them at all. These theofascists vehemently oppose women controlling their own bodies, and they whine endlessly about abortion killing “babies” (“babies” including clumps of cells no bigger than the head of a pin), yet when Trump inflicts grievous harm upon actual babies and their parents, these hypocrites are silent, and continue to support the bullying, racist thug who deliberately hurts children. If you wanted to put the hypocrisy and amorality of the religious right under a magnifying glass, Trump’s racism has supplied that glass.
  • Trump’s racism has also exposed the sheer gutlessness, the utter lack of principles of virtually all Republican “leaders.” Since Trump took office, they’ve aided and abetted him in covering up his many and serious criminal activities, and now they don’t even have the guts to denounce his overtly racist statements and actions. Trump’s racism has shown the craven and contemptible nature of the GOP and its leaders.

In short, Trump’s racism has shattered the facade of normalcy in America. It’s pulled back the curtain on many ugly truths. Decent people are repelled by the racism and viciousness of Trump and his followers, and that racism and viciousness have shown how necessary it is to oppose Trump’s “very fine people” in the streets and to crush them at the ballot box next year.

 


About ten years ago I set up a Facebook account purely in order to get back in touch with old friends I’d lost touch with. Mission accomplished.

After that, I left the account to moulder, but for very occasional interactions with those old friends.

Now it’s time to terminate that account. And I’d urge you to do the same.

Why?

  • Facebook has poisoned political discourse in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

How?

There are three primary ways it’s done this:

  • Facebook feeds you “news” you already agree with. This aggravates problems with both under-informed leftist and rightist subscribers in that it reinforces established, irrational views. Facebook for the most part doesn’t expose or challenge already established ignorant viewpoints. It reinforces them.
  • Facebook promotes a “let’s you and him fight” attitude by thrusting into your face the most obnoxious opinions opposed to yours. That drives engagement (time spent on Facebook). It’ll raise your blood pressure, leave you depressed, will leave no one convinced of the rightness of your viewpoint — and increase your time spent on Facebook.
  • Facebook encourages people to think they’re informed, no matter how crazy the views it pushes at them. To put this another way, other than being spoon fed crazy conspiracy theories, how could the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist have gone in guns blazing?

Beyond that:

  • Facebook is a “walled garden” controlled by self-interested oligarchs, the exact opposite of the “open Internet” a lot of us were hoping for two decades ago. The Facebook oligarchs harvest and sell your/our data, and their purchasers use that data to sell us things we don’t need and politicians and political movements we really don’t need.

And beyond that:

  • Facebook is the ideal means for repressive governments to spy on citizens. This goes beyond direct surveillance — very easy via Facebook — to the set-up of honey traps to ensnare political opponents. “Black Lives Matter”? (They do.) The FBI (in all probability) and Russians (certainly) have set up fake “black lives matter” accounts to lure political dissidents, mislead them, and track them.

Then there’s the obvious:

  • Facebook is a huge time suck, and wasting time on it will not only pour your precious time down the drain but will waste the time you could use to do something — anything — more useful.

And after that, for the few who want to use Facebook to good ends:

  • Almost any other means of online organizing (see vpn, TOR browser) is safer than Facebook.

Here’s a link to how to deactivate or delete your Facebook account. I hope you’ll do either.

https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/how-to-delete-facebook-account-2950145

I’m now free of the near unmitigated evil of Facebook.

Please join me.

Again, your choice: family photos, cat videos, and enabling those who exploit and oppress you, or a temporary minor inconvenience. Your choice.

(There’s a great new book on the topic, Antisocial Media, that I’ll review here shortly. More details when I do so. Please stay tuned.)

 

 


Five-and-a-half years ago we published a piece — reproduced below — analyzing whether MSNBC was as bad as Fox News. The verdict was that it was bad, but not as bad as Fox.

Since then, things have apparently deteriorated at MSNBC. (I cut the cable cord  in late 2014 and have seen little of MSNBC since then.) Former MSNBC host Ed Schultz (who died recently) revealed a few months ago that MSNBC deliberately limited coverage of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016, that MSNBC president Phil Griffin “often” told hosts what to talk about on their shows. Schultz also revealed that MSNBC fired him because of his support of Sanders.

That was bad enough, but over the last year or two MSNBC’s support of Hillary Clinton and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party has become even more overt and has taken a very ugly turn: redbaiting of those on the left opposed to the corporate-lackey Democrats. This redbaiting includes the broadcasting of outright lies by at least one of the “analysts” from the intelligence agencies and Pentagon that MSNBC employs. Almost worse, when the blatantly false nature of the smears was revealed by one of the victims (highly respected journalist Glenn Greenwald), MSNBC not only took no action against the liar/smear-merchant, they didn’t even broadcast a single retraction. Greenwald has an informative post about the matter on The Intercept: “MSNBC Does Not Merely Permit Fabrications Against Democratic Party Critics. It Encourages and Rewards Them.”

At this point, MSNBC seems to have morphed into a near-mirror image of Fox “News.” Neither by any stretch of the imagination is a real news organization. They’re both propaganda machines whose primary difference is that they serve different masters.

Our piece from 2014 on MSNBC and Fox is reproduced below.

* * *

MSNBC and Fox News are comparable in some ways, but differ in others. They’re similar in that they’re primarily opinion channels, and they both have political agendas. Fox is unabashedly right-wing evangelical Republican and outright Obamaphobic, while MSNBC is moderately secular-Democratic and outright Obamaphilic. Both have hired politicians as hosts and commentators, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin being the most prominent GOP politicians on Fox, and Washington Democratic insiders Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell being the most prominent on MSNBC.

But that’s where the similarities end. Fox at least makes a pretense of being a news channel, while MSNBC doesn’t–it consists of little but pro-Obama opinion. Fox spends about four times as much as MSNBC on news coverage, though the quality of that coverage tends to be poor. Fox viewers are the least well informed of all news viewers. They’re so poorly informed that people who do not follow the news at all are better informed, while MSNBC viewers are just barely better informed than those who don’t follow the news.

Another place in which Fox and MSNBC vary is in their approach to news and opinion. Fox “News” hosts get daily directives from the head of Fox “News,” Roger Ailes. Ailes tells them what stories to emphasize and even, apparently, the talking points they should use, as witnessed by the identical and near-identical phrasing Fox hosts routinely employ. (Catch “The Daily Show” for examples of this on a regular basis.) As well, Fox day in and day out does its best to manufacture stories that will benefit the Republican Party, reinforce Republican positions, and bolster the fears and hatreds of Fox viewers. Examples include outright false reports about ACORN perpetrating voting fraud; grossly exaggerated reports about the tiny New Black Panther Party intimidating voters; repeated reports about the relatively few cheaters using the SNAP program (food stamps–most beneficiaries are children and the elderly); and the never-ending blather about the “war on Christmas” and supposed attacks on religious freedom, which invariably turn out to be the government’s refusing to allow right-wingers to use public facilities for religious purposes or the government refusing to give bigots the right to discriminate based on their religious “principles.”

Rather than employing the same Machiavellian manipulation of the news, MSNBC takes a simpler approach: It seems to hire only hosts who share the same rather narrow, Obama-worshipping ideological views. Several of MSNBC’s most prominent hosts–Chris Matthews, Ed Shultz, Al Sharpton–virtually never criticize the Obama Administration for anything, while routinely heaping fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise on it. Other hosts will occasionally criticize Obama and his administration, though their criticisms tend to be muted, and they also routinely defend Obama. The most prominent hosts in this category are Rachel Maddow and Laurence O’Donnell. One suspects that even the most independent host on MSNBC, Chris Hayes, who dares to routinely criticize the Obama Administration from a left-leaning/civil-liberties viewpoint, mutes his criticism.

This brings up another apparent part of MSNBC’s approach: self-censorship. MSNBC hosts avoid certain topics like the plague. One very noticeable example is the Israeli brutalization of the Palestinians, and more especially the stranglehold of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on American politicians and policies regarding the Middle East. MSNBC hosts never examine this stranglehold, and rarely mention it even when AIPAC (which represents the Israeli extreme right) and its numerous minions in Congress are trying to stampede the U.S. into war on Israel’s behalf.

Other matters that MSNBC hosts do their best to avoid include the Obama Administration’s assault on whistleblowers and civil liberties, and its massive, illegal surveillance program. Some MSNBC hosts even take the part of the Administration. Ed Schultz, for example, called whistleblower Edward Snowden a “punk,” and Lawrence O’Donnell a few nights ago smirked about Snowden’s being unable to criticize Putin’s policies in Russia because the U.S. government has trapped him there.

MSNBC is also careful to avoid critical examination of the role of the media in politics. This is especially so in its failure to analyze or to report on the role of the media in the run-up to the Iraq War. Last year’s documentary by Rachel Maddow, “Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War,” is the prime example. Remarkably, in this documentary, Maddow only analyzes the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, et al., not those of the media. This is remarkable, because without the active complicity of the media (including MSNBC), Bush and company would never have gotten away with the massive con job that resulted in the Iraq disaster.

Maddow apparently made a deal with the devil. She apparently thought that telling half the truth to a relatively large audience was better than telling the whole truth to a smaller one (that is, not on MSNBC).

Her documentary exemplifies the primary difference between Fox and MSNBC: Fox actively manufactures “news” to fit its political agenda, while MSNBC avoids news that threatens its political agenda.

Beyond that, Fox appeals to the absolute worst in its viewers: cruelty, a preening “patriotism,” feelings of victimhood, and fear and hatred of scapegoats–poor, black, brown, gay, feminist, and nonchristian human beings. By and large it succeeds in this.

MSNBC appeals primarily but not exclusively–there’s a heavy dose of hero-worship/bootlicking in the mix–to the best in its viewers:  hope and compassion. And then it strives to turn those admirable qualities into support for politicians who cynically and systematically betray its viewers’ hopes.

Which is worse, the cynicism and viciousness embodied by Fox, or the cynicism and betrayal of hope embodied by MSNBC? You decide. I can’t.

 


Thomas Frank

“I don’t like Amazon, and I don’t like Donald Trump either. I would approve enthusiastically if a president started enforcing antitrust laws, but that’s not what Trump is proposing to do. What we are being offered instead is a choice between the worst president of our lifetimes and one of the most rapacious corporate enterprises in the country. And, eagerly, we are lining up with one or the other.

“This in turn seems to me an almost perfect representation of the wretched choices available to Americans these days, as well as the megadoses of self-deception we are swallowing in order to make them. It is everything that is wrong with our politics, and it extends from the most sweeping matters of state right down to the individual reader.

“. . . [T]his [is] where we are now in the world’s greatest democracy. We have the billionaire Republicans, with their bigotry and their war on all things public, and the billionaire Democrats, with their oblivious ideology of globe and technology. To the common people, assembled in all our majesty, the momentous question is posed: who do you hate more?”

Thomas Frank, in his wonderful piece in The Guardian,Trump’s enemy is not your friend

(U.S. readers might not be aware of this, but The Guardian [formerly  The Manchester Guardian] is the single best news source on the Internet, including sources hidden behind a paywall [e.g., New York Times or Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post]; The Guardian is the best source, period. I like them enough that I occasionally contribute money to them. The only other news outlet that I would unreservedly recommend is The Intercept, which due to lesser financial resources posts fewer stories than The Guardian, but whose journalism is arguably of even higher quality. For opinion mixed with news, you won’t do better than Truthdig.)