Saturday, August 21, 2010

Re: Eric Alterman on the dim prospects for a progressive Presidency (3)

This is another of my posts on the essay by Eric Alterman in the Aug 30/Sept 6 issue of The Nation, Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now, article 07/07/2010. As I said in my first post on it, Alterman's piece is focused on the particular problems for the prospects of a progressive Presidency. In commenting on the piece, I'm not going to try to insert "oh but there's this to like" points every other paragraph.

As is often the case with analyses like Alterman is making here, the problems can be defied with greater clarity than solutions. In his suggestions, he builds on approaches the Democratic Party base has used over the last five years and earlier, such as challenges to Blue Dog Democrats in nominating primaries and efforts to reduce the role of corporate money in politics. But it is his definitions of the problems that stand out.

Given that scholarly work on the media is Alterman's professional specialty, it's not surprising that his comments on today's corporate media are strong ones. He discusses the great significance of FOX News, along with the rest of the infrastructure of conservative media, not least that of Republican hate radio, of which Rush Limbaugh is king.

He reminds us of the basic qualitative difference in today's left media criticism vs. that of the right:

This is, happily, a fundamental difference between right and left wing media criticism. The right seeks to undermine the messengers of news that does not comport with its worldview; the left wants journalism to stick to its guns and resist such pressures to color the news, believing, as Stephen Colbert once said, that the facts "have a well-known liberal bias." [my emphasis]
(It's worth noting that in practice, individual candidates of either Party mainly want the best coverage for themselves at any given moment.)

He applies that perspective to FOX News, writing, "The combination of commitment to right-wing politics, reach and irresponsibility is literally unprecedented in the modern age of American politics; it's as if Joe McCarthy were not just a senator but a television network as well."

But he doesn't take the lazy approach of acting as though FOX News were the only bad actor in TV news. This longish passage does a good job of capturing the problem with our Establishment press in both analysis and images:

But even to focus on the undeniably right-wing side of the media is to miss a major part of what makes today's political environment so hostile to the possibility of progressive reform. One of the great unremarked successes of the conservative movement in recent decades is the manner in which their propaganda efforts, cloaked as journalistic enterprises, have successfully inserted themselves into mainstream discourse and debate, to the point where conventional journalists are willing to embrace them without even realizing it. Leave aside its overall craziness, as when Glenn Beck posits that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or white culture," including, say, his mother and the grandparents who raised him - a view, by the way, that was endorsed by Rupert Murdoch - and is either a closet Nazi or commie depending on the day. Just look at the behavior of the network's personalities in the political realm and ask yourself how anyone can consider this to be an actual news organization. As a lengthy Media Matters study demonstrated, "Fox News aggressively promoted the 'tea party' protests, which Fox itself described as primarily a response to President Obama's fiscal policies, and uses its airwaves to engage in open advocacy against the White House and Congressional Democrats. In recent years, at least 20 Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes. ... Republican parties and officials have routinely touted these personalities' affiliations with Fox News to sell and promote their events." But when the Obama administration pointed out that Fox News did not adhere to the same standards as other news organizations, most MSM journalists rushed to defend Fox. Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik idiotically professed to hear "echoes of Nixon-Agnew" in the Obama White House and accused the administration of failing to respect "press freedom." ABC's Jake Tapper [formerly of Salon!] got all huffy with White House briefer Robert Gibbs, noting, "It's escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations 'not a news organization' and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one?" he demanded. The idea that Tapper cannot see how the Fox News network differs from than his own is sad but telling. David Axelrod had to appear on This Week to explain to Tapper's colleague George Stephanopoulos, "It's really not news—it's pushing a point of view. And other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way."

And yet instead of objecting to the manner that Fox perverts the news for political purposes, the other networks appear intent on aping it. Ask yourself: why in the world would Stephanopoulos have taken up valuable time interviewing Barack Obama about Acorn? ("George, this is not the biggest issue facing the country. It's not something I'm paying a lot of attention to," was the president's response.) And why did Stephanopoulos badger Obama, in the same interview, about whether the healthcare plan then under discussion a constituted nothing more than a "tax increase" on the American people - a line that was immediately transposed into an RNC attack ad the very next week?

This was hardly an isolated incident. Why is CNN, which found it could no longer live with the racist birther, Lou Dobbs, rushing to hire the incendiary right-wing blogger Erick Erickson on the basis of such clever commentary as to call Michelle Obama a "Marxist harpy" and Supreme Court Justice David Souter a "goat fucking child molester"? Why does MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski insist, rather crazily, on the day after Sarah Palin resigned her job as a governor to begin an estimated $20 million-plus-a-year career as a pundit and public speaker - that Palin represented "real Americans"? Why does CNBC's Jim Cramer casually refer to "Pelosi Politburo emasculation"? Why was racist Rush Limbaugh considered an appropriate roundtable commentator on Meet the Press? Why, indeed, was nutty Newt Gingrich - a man who claims to discern "a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us" - the program's most popular guest in 2009? I could go on. [my emphasis]
Gene Lyons or Joe Conason might add that the mainstream press threw itself over the cliff starting with the Whitewater story in 1992, when the creation of FOX News was years in the future. They didn't need the intermediary of FOX News to be conned by conservative propaganda.

The Nation also provides a number of commentaries on Alterman's post in the same issue.

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