Posts Tagged ‘The Intercept’


Four-and-a-half years ago I 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. and that he was fired 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 their 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 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.

My 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.)


As anyone in his or her right mind would agree, you can’t trust the New York Times — not after their role in selling G.W. Bush’s Iraq invasion — nor the even further-right Washington Post, especially after Satan’s little brother (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) took it over recently. So, what’s left?

A lot. I typically look at a good half-dozen news and/or compilation sites every day or two:

  • The Guardian (the single best paper on the ‘net)
  • El Pais (Spanish-language, the major Madrid daily)
  • CNN (international, i.e., the “adult,” edition — not the U.S. “kiddie” edition)
  • Al Jazeera (the best Middle East news site, and after The Guardian, probably the second best international news site; soft on Islam, but otherwise great)
  • The Intercept — by far the best behind-the-scenes whistle-blower and analysis site
  • Le Monde (French-language, the Parisian paper of record — my French is lousy, so I normally check this only when I want their take on particular stories or events)
  • Truthdig — Chris Hedges’ and Robert Scheer’s essential hold-their-feet-to-the-fire whistle-blower and analysis site
  • Truthout another good leftist compilation/analysis site
  • The Cult News Network Run by a conservative Republican (!), this is by far the best site on the ‘net for news about religious cults
  • The Underground Bunker — getting toward even more specialized news, this is the best source of info about one of the most two American bizarro, destructive cults (Scientology — the other is Mormonism)
  • Fark — The best weird news site, and one which will lead you down all sorts of rabbit holes, sometimes toward real understanding — but more often not.

Please pass along any feedback about these sites, or any others you’d recommend, in the comments section.

 

 


No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a number of good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Update: As of January 2018, the U.S. is planning to keep 30,000 troops in northern Syria — the Kurdish part of Syria — and is promising to help the Kurds builda protective border wall on the Syrian-Turkish border, where for once a wall will be a good thing.)

As for the Kurds themselves, the YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant descendant of NAFTA. (I won’t even get started on NAFTA here; for now, suffice it to say that it screwed American industrial workers and Mexican small farmers — spurring a wave of jobless workers across the border,  desperate to provide for their families — while vastly benefiting transnational corporations.) Among other things, the TPP would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of this abomination, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Until she wasn’t in favor of it. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her. And we’d have been further screwed.

  • Trump is reportedly going to crack down on H-1B visa abuse. This type of visa allows employers to hire foreign workers for jobs for which there supposedly aren’t enough qualified American applicants. In practice, this program provides employers with indentured servants working for half the prevailing wages (often in the computer industry). Even worse, some “employers” have been more slave traders than job creators, hiring H-1B workers and then renting them to actual employers while taking part of their wages. (Ironically, in 2017 Trump took advantage of the closely related H-2B program to hire 70 low-skilled workers [cooks, maids, food servers] for his Mar-a-Lago resort.)
  • Trump, almost certainly out of personal pique against CNN, has opposed the ATT-Time-Warner merger, which would have further consolidated media control into fewer and fewer hands.
  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Democrats have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly higher number of those eligible to vote who don’t even bother to do it (41% in the last election), largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind. But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency last November (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would have cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s most barbaric dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our war-criminal, Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants, promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • By acting as an apologist for neo-Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville, and by pointing out that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders, he’s put a spotlight on a seamy side of American “revolutionary” history that virtually no one talks about. (For more info on this see “A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.)
  • Trump, by announcing the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, has ended the sick charade of the U.S. government’s pretensions of being an “honest broker” in the Middle East. In regard to Middle East policy, for decades the government has been hostage to the extreme right wingers in AIPAC, and to a lesser extent the religious right (some of whom want Armageddon), and has actively aided, abetted, and financed the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Trump just tore away the “honest broker” mask.
  • Trump has interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so repulsive and inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, uninformed, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won last year, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won last year, could have meant “game over” for American democracy.

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory in 2016 hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing — assuming he doesn’t start a nuclear war. In the long run, a Clinton victory could (in my view would) have turned out a whole lot worse.

Of course, things could and probably will, for now, get worse under Trump. He and his minions will continue to degrade the environment, abet the banksters and other corporate thugs in the looting of the economy, and will continue to impose the evangelical theofascist social agenda on all of us.

Still, they’re probably too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it. But god help us if there’s a major terrorist attack. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of this possibility in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”

For now, just be glad that Hillary Clinton isn’t in the White House, and let’s hope for a wave of new social movements; let’s also hope that in the meantime the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will at least temporarily stave off the corporate-lackey Democrats and the theofascist Republicans until there’s an opening for real social change.


BlasphemyFor those of you wondering whatever happened to the 14-year-old kid charged with blasphemy in Everett, Pennsylvania for posting a photoon Facebook showing him simulating oral sex with a statue of J.C., wonder no more. The poor kid was sentenced in October to 350 hours of community service, random drug testing, and being banned from social networking sites for six months.

To appreciate the state of justice in the U.S., contrast that with the treatment of the bank executives who pulled off the largest financial fraud in world history and threw the economy into “The Great Recession” in 2008, causing millions of people to lose their jobs and millions more to lose their homes. Not a single one of the executives responsible has been charged with a crime. In the words of that national disgrace, former corporate lawyer and current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the banks–which he conveniently conflates with their executives–are “too big to jail.”

There are end of the year lists, and then there are “end” of the year lists. One of our favorites is Deadspin’s annual “What did we get stuck up our rectums this year?” As you might surmise, it’s a list compiled from the nation’s emergency rooms. As a bonus, they have links to the lists from the last few years.

Glenn Greenwald, former Guardian reporter and the writer who broke the Edward Snowden NSA story, hasn’t been in the news much lately. The reason is his new web site, The Intercept. It’s the place to go for news about the surveillance state.

Finally, our friends at AK Press are having a 50% off (on everything) sale through this weekend, which we presume means through Sunday ultil midnight PST.