Politics, media and the politics of media.
The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t want to leave all the immigrant-hating to gun-toting militias and US congressmen. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is calling for a “shoot-to-kill” policy at the border. Robert Ray of Al Jazeera America caught up with two such “knights” in North Carolina, and asked if the policy would apply to child migrants.
The “wizard” hemmed and hawed for a moment, then said: “If we pop a couple of ’em off and leave the corpses laying on the border, maybe they’ll see we’re serious about stopping immigrants.”
Read Next: Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss on Rick Perry’s immigrant bashing
With so many wars and crises now exploding across the globe, New York Times media columnist David Carr looks at how social media are changing how the public and journalists themselves experience violence and tragedy. How is news digested when it’s new down to the second? Does the immediacy of the reporting from Gaza or Ukraine or Syria make us more involved, or does the onslaught of information result in more war fatigue, disaster fatigue, or any of the other fatigues rampant in a busy consumer society like ours?
“Bearing witness is the oldest and perhaps most valuable tool in the journalist’s arsenal,” Carr writes,
but it becomes something different delivered in the crucible of real time, without pause for reflection. It is unedited, distributed rapidly and globally, and immediately responded to by the people formerly known as the audience .
It has made for a more visceral, more emotional approach to reporting. War correspondents arriving in a hot zone now provide an on-the-spot moral and physical inventory that seems different from times past. That emotional content, so noticeable when Anderson Cooper was reporting from the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has now become routine, part of the real-time picture all over the web. …
The public has developed an expectation that it will know exactly what a reporter knows every single second, and news organizations are increasingly urging their correspondents to use social media to tell their stories—and to extend their brand. (Unless the reporter says something dumb. Then, not so much.)
Carr quotes Susan Sontag from a 2002 New Yorker essay on “the perennial seductiveness of war.”
“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”
So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking ? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those .
Of course, it’s not an either/or. One person can both care and be emotionally numb within a day or a second. Either way, as Carr writes, “When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.”
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on feminism’s twitter wars
Could any good come out of the latest and most publicized instance of a journalist protesting pro-Israeli coverage in the media? Now that former MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal's appearances have been cancelled for her stating the obvious—that Israeli voices overwhelmingly outnumber those of Palestinians, including at MSNBC—will anyone at the network be embarrassed enough to actually do something about it?
As Jebreal told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “I hope that MSNBC and other networks will actually revise their policies and will have more voices. It doesn’t have to be me. It’s not about me. We have a media scandal that we need to expose. We are responsible for these failing policies in Gaza and in Israel.”
The latest controversy began when Jebreal, a Palestinian and a former anchorwoman on Italian TV, appeared on Ronan Farrow’s MSNBC show, and he asked a good question: Why the discrepancy between what American officials like John Kerry think privately about Israeli airstrikes on Gaza (“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he said sarcastically on a Fox News hot mic) and what they say in public?
Among the reasons, Jebreal said, are AIPAC, donors like Sheldon Aldelson, and the mediasphere itself. “We’re ridiculous,” she said. “We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue. Look at how many airtime Netanyahu and his folks have on air on a daily basis, Andrea Mitchell and others. I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues.”
That last point is hyperbole, especially regarding MSNBC, which, she later conceded, is “better than others.” But point taken, and the point stings, especially when she directed it, however briefly, at Andrea Mitchell, the NBC correspondent whose MSNBC show airs right before Farrow’s.
Within hours, Jebreal learned that she was persona non grata at MSNBC, where for two years she was a paid contributor and the only Palestinian in that role. Later that day, she tweeted, “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?”
The next night, Chris Hayes, considered one of MSNBC’s more sympathetic hosts on Palestinian issues (and a Nation editor at large), had Jebreal on. While he agreed with her that Israeli voices far outweigh Palestinians in the media, including his network, he said that airtime is a “bad metric” to judge fairness, and that it’s very hard to book Hamas spokespeople. She countered that not all Palestinians are Hamas (which, by the way, she criticizes as “extremist” and “the ultimate liability for the Palestinian people.”)
Hayes also said that media like The New York Times and MSNBC are better at showing the Palestinian side now than they were in earlier Israeli/Gaza conflicts. She replied that more footage and more stories on the devastation in Gaza don’t make up for a lack of context—they’re not delving into the history and the effects of the Israeli occupation.
As for her cancelled bookings, Hayes said, essentially, that’s what happens when you bite the hand that feeds you:
Let me take you behind the curtain of cable news business for a moment. If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name on any issue—Gaza, infrastructure, spending, sports coverage or funny Internet cat videos—the folks at the network will not take kindly to it. Not some grand conspiracy at work—a fairly predictable case of cause and effect.
“Not the greatest of moments for the generally high-minded Chris Hayes,” Eric Wemple writes. “Read those words again and see if you don’t find a shrugging endorsement of network suits seeking to stifle a dissident in-house voice. To the credit of MSNBC and Hayes, of course, he invited Jebreal back on air precisely to rehash her anti-MSNBC slam.”
Still, Jebreal says she was stunned. “I never experienced anything like this,” she told Goodman:
I mean, I understood doing what I did in Egypt would lead me to be kicked out of the country. I understood in Italy, where Berlusconi controlled most of the media. I was shocked, because most of my friends in the Middle East would tell me, “You know, you will have an issue in America.” And I always thought, “No way. We are truth tellers. We are fact checkers. We are people that actually cover both sides. This is what America stands for.”
Jebreal isn’t the only TV journalist who’s been punished recently for questioning the party line on Israel and Gaza. After CNN correspondent Diana Magnay tweeted that a group of Israelis who cheered the shelling of Gaza and allegedly threatened her were “scum,” she was reassigned to Moscow (where she might be skating on other thin ice).
Even more hair-trigger was NBC’s reaction in pulling highly respected reporter Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza. NBC didn’t explain its action, but shortly beforehand, Mohyeldin had delivered an emotional report about four Palestinian boys killed by Israeli airstrikes while playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. Just minutes before, Mohyeldin had been kicking the ball around with them. After a huge social media backlash, an apparently contrite NBC returned him to Gaza.
This might be stretching, but the Mohyeldin incident makes it seem possible that shame and some raised consciousness among the NBC staff could begin to change the peacock network’s kneejerk response on Israeli-Gaza issues.
In covering the Jebreal episode, Max Blumenthal found both frightening intimidation and green shoots of dissent behind closed doors at NBC/MSNBC:
An NBC producer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Jebreal’s account, describing to me a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip. The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a “witch hunt” against anyone who strays from the official line.
“Loyalties are now being openly questioned,” the producer commented….
According to the NBC producer, MSNBC show teams were livid that they had been forced by management to cancel Jebreal as punishment for her act of dissent.
Given that MSNBC has the most diverse lineup of hosts and guests of any news network—and that with Jose Diaz-Balart’s new show, the anti-Fox network can finally boast a Latino host—and given the backlash it’s facing over Jebreal, the channel is probably keenly aware of the need for more Palestinian guests and contributors.
But if MSNBC does bring in more Palestinian voices, how much would it let them say?
Update: At the top of this post I wrote initially that Rula Jebreal was “canned for stating the obvious.” I meant “canned” to refer to MSNBC cancelling her scheduled appearances, not to terminating her contract. As mentioned later in the story, the contract ended last month when Jebreal chose not to renew it. The text has been updated for clarification.
Here is Jebreal on Chris Hayes’s show:
Jebreal comes on Ronan Farrow’s show at about 6:30:
Read Next: Sharif Abdel Koudouss on the state of hospitals in war-torn Gaza
This morning, Fox & Friends showed a clip of Senator Diane Feinstein advising Vladimir Putin to “man up” and take responsibility for the attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 people aboard. “[T]he nexus between Russia and the separatists has been established very clearly,” Feinstein said. “So the issue is, where is Putin?”
But Steve Doocy says she’s looking for the wrong guy. “She’s asking, Where’s Putin?” he said. “We’re asking, Where is the president?”
And that pretty much sums up the right-wing media spin on the Ukrainian disaster: forget Putin, Obama’s the guy we’ve gotta get under control. They’ve been bashing the president for attending fundraisers since the crash, for using the wrong words, for not being Ronald Reagan, for not being Samantha Power, and for somehow engineering the entire tragedy in order to distract us from
Benghazi the IRS the crisis at the Mexican border.
According to Fox, the smoking gun in the shape of a mushroom cloud is that Obama stuck to his schedule instead of immediately returning to the White House after the plane was downed Thursday morning. That day, Obama made his first statement about the “terrible tragedy.” It lasted about forty seconds and came at the beginning of a prearranged speech about infrastructure he gave in Delaware, where he also did a photo op, before flying to New York for two fundraisers that night.
“We have 300 people shot out of the sky, likely by one of our biggest enemies. And the president’s raising money,” Sean Hannity said Thursday night. “What’s next? He’s going to put golf flags—since he plays golf 180 times—at half-mast? I mean, where is presidential action here?”
“Missing in action,” replied K.T. McFarland, a Fox national security analyst, who worked for the Nixon and Reagan administrations.
McFarland appeared on another Fox show earlier that day to say that when the Soviet military shot down a Korean passenger plane that had accidentally veered into Russian airspace in 1983, President Reagan handled it like an action hero. Reagan, she said, “was on vacation at his ranch in California. He immediately came back to Washington [and] canceled his vacation.”
She also lashed out at Obama for talking about the crash as “being a ‘tragedy.’ That’s compared to Reagan who talked about it being a ‘crime against humanity.’”
Reagan’s supposedly superior response to Obama’s in similar circumstances has been the conservatives’ number-one talking point. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough repeated it today, saying, “[Reagan] immediately canceled his vacation”—only to eat crow moments later when Mika Brzezinski insisted, “No, he didn’t, actually.”
Mika was right. Reagan did not rush home “immediately.” He returned to Washington only under pressure.
Rachel Maddow did a rundown last week of all the attacks on commercial airliners by military forces across the world (including our own, on an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, while Reagan was president). She included footage of then-NBC correspondent Chris Wallace, who reported that first day that Reagan press secretary Larry Speakes, “says the president has no plans to cut his vacation short, that he has the same ability to get information and issue orders at his ranch that he has at the White House.”
(Speakes went on to announce Reagan’s schedule for the day, saying, as recorded by The Washington Post, “The president, as usual, is planning a horseback ride this morning and will generally work around the ranch in the afternoon. The weather there is as it is here, sunny and warm.”)
Meanwhile, it’s been largely up to Wallace to correct his Fox colleagues’ rewrite of history. As he told the nonplussed crew at Fox & Friends last week:
He was in Santa Barbara at his ranch when that happened, and quite frankly he didn’t want to leave. And his advisers realized how terrible this looked, and eventually persuaded him he had to fly back to Washington and had to give this speech to the nation, but it did take him four days.
At Obama’s press conference on Friday (which took place one day, not four, after the Malaysian Airlines crash), he called it (using Reagan-strength language) “an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”
Blunted by history, the Fox talking point swerved after Obama’s presser. The idea now was to mention UN Ambassador Samantha Power as often as possible for sounding tougher on Russia than Obama. Brett Baier praised her for saying “Russia can and must end this war,” while Obama, Baier complained, merely said that “Russia and the Ukranians have the capacity to end the war.” In Foxland, small differences loom large.
Fred Thompson, playing the surrounded male guest on Fox’s Outnumbered, tried to make it clear that even girls have more balls than Barack. The country did get a presidential-level speech, he said, “but it came from Samantha Power,” adding, “Most people think [Hillary] is tougher than the president.”
The emasculation began at the start of the Ukrainian conflict, when right-thinking pundits fell hard for manly man Vladimir Putin, and Sarah Palin ridiculed Obama for wearing “mom jeans.” But their crush on the shirtless tiger-fondler has spiraled to Cliven Bundy levels of embarrassment as Putin is fingered for giving sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons to drunken separatists who shoot down civilian planes and then deny international crash experts access to the crime scene.
And so this morning, after Obama gave a short statement on Ukraine, Brit Hume griped that Obama used “weak and gentle” language, and Fox commentators continued to mention Power as the apple of their eye.
Of course, according to the right, whatever the crisis, Obama is always using it to distract from something that would otherwise sink his presidency.
“I don’t want appear to be callous here, folks,” Rush Limbaugh said Thursday, “but you talk about an opportunity to abandon the Obama news at the border? And, no, I’m not suggesting anything other than how the media operates. Anyway, it’s eerie. It is really eerie.”
On his radio show last week, Michael Savage segued from skewering the “illiterate peasants” that Obama is letting “invade” our country to saying, Isn’t it convenient that just as the border crisis is heating up, this plane is shot down?
But it was Fox News contributor and former congressman Allen West who got to the Grand Guignol, writing on his website: “The blood on Vladimir Putin’s hands was poured by Barack Obama who is indirectly responsible, accountable accountable [sic] and no different than Neville Chamberlain’s weakness in the face of the 20th Century maniacal dictator Adolf Hitler.”
“So much for no drama Obama,” he concludes. “He is purposefully creating drama globally.”
As Media Matters dryly notes, “West did not expand on” how “he thinks Obama is ‘purposely creating’ ‘drama’ like the Malaysia crash.”
Sometimes the right-wing crazies over here sound like right-wing crazies everywhere. Top pro-Russia rebel commander Igor Girkin, for example, says the Malaysian plane flew into eastern Ukraine full of dead passengers, whose corpses were merely strewn across the countryside by the missile. So whose fault was that?
It won’t take them long to find it was Obama’s. Especially if they watch Fox.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel on ‘False Balance’ in the Media
Is Tamron Hall the only talking head who sees a link between today’s red-faced crowds screaming at child immigrants from Central America and the white mobs screaming at the nine black teenagers who tried to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957?
Earlier this week, the host of MSNBC’s NewsNation was discussing the protests over the stranded immigrant children. In Oracle, Arizona, protesters waving signs reading “Return to sender” and “Unwelcome—go home” shoved mariachi musicians and stopped a bus—until they realized it was filled with YMCA campers (oops); in Murrieta, California, some 200 to 300 people surrounded buses filled with immigrant detainees and forced the vehicles to turn back.
Hall is one of the very few in the media to even put the words “immigrant children” and “Little Rock” in the same story. She said she was reminded of the “young children going to school in Little Rock and being met by angry adults when the kids did not understand what was going on.”
One of her guests, Politico columnist Roger Simon, readily agreed, and asked, “Who are the real lawbreakers here—the little children on the bus, or the protesters who are blocking the legal actions of the federal government to move children to a federal detention center for their own safety?”
We tend to either forget the past or assume we’ve progressed way beyond those bad old days. Especially when we’re in the middle of a crisis, the media and the country at large tend to lag in recognizing historical precedents.
Hall didn’t go into the details of Little Rock—Governor Orval Faubus calling in the Arkansas National Guard to stop the black students from entering the school; the “jeering, brick-throwing mob” that taunted them and beat up several reporters; President Eisenhower sending in 101st Airborne Division paratroopers and putting the Arkansas National Guard under federal command to protect the students. Two years later, the house of one of the students was bombed. (For more and photos from Life magazine, go here.)
Of course, the two crises are quite different. Aside from the shoving of the mariachi players, actual physical violence has not (yet?) broken out against the immigrant children or their supporters. It’s not clear how far, if at all, President Obama will go in defending the children, or if, as the right is demanding, state national guards will be sent to the border to stop the children (exactly how is a mystery.)
But by even briefly putting the immigrant crisis into a larger context, linking it to something the nation is ashamed of and would rather forget, Hall remembered history, which is a good way not to repeat it.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Obama and the refugees on the border
Waving handcuffs in the air and shouting that the former vice president is a “war criminal,” a Code Pink protester yesterday rose from the audience to disrupt a public Politico interview of the Cheney family. That sort of thing isn't unusual for Pink. But just as security was escorting the woman out, C-SPAN’s live feed of the event went dead. An announcer said they were having technical difficulties, and C-SPAN eventually switched to another program, leaving the ongoing heckling of the Cheneys out of its live feed.
Was the transmission fail deliberate sabotage or simply an exquisitely timed accident? C-SPAN certainly didn't cut the feed on purpose, a spokesman says, adding, "It was technical, not editorial." And Politico, which sponsored the event with Mike Allen running the interview, wasn't trying to block out the protest--nothing was cut from its own online feed, a spokeswoman says..
But whatever the cause, the fade-to-black was briefly reminiscent of the final episode of The Sopranos, when the crime boss’s family (minus the daughter, Meadow, who was running late) gathered at a diner, under the gaze of ominous-looking characters, and the screen suddenly went blank. Yesterday, the Cheney family—minus one daughter, Mary, who’s been supremely pissed at Liz for opposing same-sex marriages like Mary’s own—gathered at the Politico Playbook luncheon, under the gaze of protesters (and undoubtedly others who can’t stand them), when the screen went mysteriously dark.
The Cheney sit-down started out normally enough, with Dick Cheney chuckling about how “when the family is alone—Liz and Mary and Lynne and I—we usually end up telling war stories about campaigns we were involved in. It’s always funny, it always involves train wrecks. The funniest political stories are the train wrecks, and we had a lot train wrecks along the way.”
Note how the war stories were about campaigns, not about the actual war that was the largest political train wreck in modern history.
Lynne cracked that she and Dick weren’t “dead broke” when he became veep, and Mike Allen had barely begun plugging Lynne’s latest book when the protester began shouting them down. Lynne responded by laughing heartily and Liz, more embarrassingly, by clapping her hands and chanting, “Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”
As you can see in the full, uncut video that C-SPAN ran later yesterday and today, the protest went on for quite a while, as a second woman from Code Pink nearly drowned out the Cheneys, shouting, “You destroyed Iraq and you’re destroying this country!” Security also removed her from the room (neither woman was arrested or fined, according to the New York Daily News).
With the danger soon gone, the Cheneys blabbed on about the grandeur that was Iraq when Cheney left office, the evils of Obama, and everything they’ve been blabbing about for their years-long restoration tour.
Unlike the Sopranos, the Cheneys were able to return.
Read Next: Rebecca Gordon asks, “Does America Still Torture?”
Something to keep in mind this political season comes from the theater world. “Stories are dangerous,” even “fascistic,” says Anne Bogart, artistic director of the SITI Company and author of the new book What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theater and Storytelling.
Humans have always told stories, myths and fables to impose order and meaning on life, of course. But, speaking on public radio’s The Really Big Questions with host Dean Olsher this weekend, Bogart said there are two ways to tell stories: There’s the “fascistic” way, which she defines as telling “a story that has everybody feeling the same thing.” (She says that’s why she doesn’t like Spielberg.) “The other way to tell a story,” she says,
is to create moments in which every audience feels something different or has different associations. Much, much trickier. It requires more responsibility…. And I say fascistic and I mean it literally. The role of fascist art was to make one feel small and the same. And the role of humanist art—I would just make up a name—is for everyone to feel that they take up a lot of space and that they have an imaginative and associative part to play.
Olsher: Stories can mesmerize us. In fact, research is showing us that stories break down our critical function and we are suckers for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them as art, but when they start to get into our politics, which they do in a big way, and even in our science, that’s when I get scared for us.
Bogart: Stories are super-dangerous, and I think it’s why most of my life I resisted them. And yet… a story is a tool. So the question is, how can you be responsible with stories, and can you find room for discourse inside of stories? It’s just too easy for stories, as I said, to be fascistic. But I do not believe that we’re ever going to get away from stories, and so therefore we have to learn how live with them or live in relationship with them.
Olsher: They are propaganda, aren’t they?
Bogart: Oh, absolutely. I use stories all the time to get my point across, and that’s a kind of propaganda, too—to talk people into my point of view. And they’re powerful and they’re seductive.
Listen to Bogart here, and listen here to Olsher analyze the power of stories with other guests, including psychologist Melanie Green, who says that stories influence our behavior and beliefs even when we know they’re false.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell on racial politics in theater
In yet another of the MSM’s misbegotten attempts at political “balance,” ABC News’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos lent right-wing conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza a veneer of legitimacy to promote his latest “documentary,” America: Imagine the World Without Her. Guest host Martha Raddatz omitted mention of why else D’Souza has been in the news lately—he recently copped a plea to making illegal political contributions through straw donors, a felony for which he’ll be sentenced in September. But she did squeeze in an invaluable plug, saying, “It’s a very interesting movie. Everybody should go see it and continue a debate like this.” (Is it too conspiratorial to suggest that the omission and the plug were prerequisites for his appearing on the show?)
The debate was between D’Souza and MSNBC contributor Michael Eric Dyson, but giving a prestige platform for D’Souza’s latest wack-job theory (this time it’s a nefarious connection between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) is akin to giving climate deniers equal media time with climate scientists.
Dinesh D’Souza is the author and filmmaker who likes to cherry-pick coincidences from the past to explain present-day liberal politics—like his Newt Gingrich–endorsed theory that you can’t grasp “how Obama thinks” unless you understand his Kenyan father’s raging “anti-colonialism.”
To her credit, Raddatz introduced D’Souza’s recently released movie (currently number twelve at the box office) by saying, “[you] essentially have a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turning this nation into a socialistic nation, something you said started when Hillary Clinton was in college.”
D’Souza denied it was a conspiracy theory, but then went on about how Clinton and Obama were both influenced by radical community organizer and writer Saul Alinsky. Hillary met him in high school and wrote a college thesis on him; as a young community organizer in Chicago, Obama was influenced by some of Alinsky’s teachings.
And therefore… what? Hillary and Barack telepathically exchanged Alinsky vibes so they could turn the country red decades later? As Crooks and Liars points out, D’Souza didn’t mention that the right is now embracing Alinsky’s tactics or that in high school Hillary was also a Young Republican and a “Goldwater girl.” Nor are secret socialist sympathies evident in these two centrist Democrats. Hillary, knocked by left and right for only ambiguously owning up to her substantial wealth, is more of a Wall Street symp. A front-page New York Times story today starts: “As its relationship with Democrats hits a historic low, Wall Street sees a solution on the horizon: Hillary Rodham Clinton.” As for Obama, if only he followed Alinsky’s emphasis on confrontation a little more.
This is hardly the first time the corporate media has offered their stage to far-right media figures. A few years ago, CNN signed up (and has since waved adieu) RedState.com’s Erick Erickson and St. Louis Tea Party activist Dana Loesch as paid contributors. In April, ABC News brought on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham as a contributor; she’ll continue appearing on Fox News, where she subs for Bill O’Reilly. (Ingraham recently lit into the children being held in detention at the border for “complaining that the burritos and eggs they’re being given in their holding areas are making them sick…. I’ll bet there are American kids who would like free food before they go to bed at night.” Not that she’s for giving free food to hungry American kids, either.)
It’s not that Tea Party types shouldn’t appear on the networks’ signature Sunday shows; they should, they’re in the news. It’s just that when they do, they’re not grilled terribly hard. It’s as if mainstream media are as afraid of the far right as John Boehner is.
I wrote above that ABC helped legitimize D’Souza. Let me amend that: “gets” like D’Souza or Ingraham help legitimize ABC News with the Tea Party right. Sometimes seeking balance is really a plea to call off the dogs.
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The same media that are obsessed with Hillary—asking nonstop will she or won’t she, when will she, what’s that pause in her voice mean, is she likable enough—that same media have decided they are experiencing “Hillary fatigue.”
And Hillary, they say, should be worried about it. “I think that the thing she has to fear is fatigue among the media,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said on Morning Joe earlier this week. “The media is going to have Clinton fatigue before the country. I don’t think the country has Clinton fatigue. I think the media has Clinton fatigue. You can sort of feel it sometimes in the way the coverage—"
Then, in the next beat and without a glimmer of self-awareness, MJ co-host Willie Geist asked Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller, “Let’s play the parlor game…. who would be the strongest challenger” to Hillary Clinton? (Lewis obliged, suggesting Rubio and Christie, two nonstarters, but if they somehow luck out, they could rise to ranks of fatigue-makers, too.)
The fatigue galloped on. On yesterday’s MJ, Mike Barnacle asked, as if he were stuck in the political junkie’s version of 50 First Dates: “Chuck, it’s obviously July 2014, but do you sense, within the media, already, right now, Clinton exhaustion, just from covering the early stages of not even a campaign yet?” Chuck spent another chunk of segment explaining that he sure does sense that.
Of course, it’s not just Morning Joe that’s exhausting itself over Hillary. All of the MSM’s endless, repetitive, obsessive speculation about Hillary (or, really, about anyone or anything that stimulates their mass fantasy) is little more than media masturbation—getting themselves excited in the easiest way possible, without actual reporting, excited enough to fill the required twenty-four hours of “news” and to do it all again the next day.
“Hillary fatigue” isn’t just a media ailment. It’s also a GOP talking point. It’s been around, on and off, for years. But Tom Kludt at Talking Points Memo says the meme got a huge boost recently, when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, “There’s Hillary fatigue already out there. It’s setting in. People are tired of this story. And I just happen to believe that this early run for the White House is going to come back and bite them. And it already is.”
From there, Kludt traced “Hillary fatigue” to U.S. News & World Report, as well as to Morning Joe. But “[in] fairness,” he adds, “this storyline bubbled on the left two days before Priebus appeared on Meet the Press. Liberal comedian Bill Maher urged Clinton on Friday to ‘just go away’ before her 2016 run. Otherwise, he warned Clinton, ‘you’re going to blow this.’”
None of this is to say that Hillary fatigue isn’t a real, palpable thing. A lot of people, in and out of the media, are tired of Hillary—of her politics, aspects of her personality and/or of the incessant coverage of her.
But like any catchy term, “Clinton fatigue” can be overused and misleading. “A Clear Case of Clinton Fatigue,” the New York Times headlined a story, in 1999. There was a spate of such headlines then, most asking whether Al Gore should keep his distance from Bill Clinton for his 2000 presidential run.
Now, the rearview wisdom is that Gore would have done better by ignoring the fatigue warnings and basking instead in the Clinton good-economic-times aura.
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If you suspect that The New York Times still hasn’t learned all it should from its hawkish coverage in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you’re right.
Back then, the Times, led by the self-admitted “testosterone”-drugged Bill Keller, tilted heavily toward publishing pro-war op-eds as well as misleading front-page pieces, most notably and disastrously by Judith Miller, now of Fox News.
Surely now, as we decide what to do about the current Iraq crisis, the Times would check its reflex to again hand valuable real estate over to the neocons. You know, fool me once…
But no. As the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday, readers on “high alert” about the fog of pre-war again descending on the paper are right to worry.
Readers, she writes, have been complaining “that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”
Sullivan cites documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who tweeted: “Another day, another NYT article about a neocon and Iraq! Where are the articles about hundreds of thousands against escalation?”
So she counted:
I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.
But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.
She found that today’s anti-interventionist arguments are largely in-house, from Times editorials and columnists, some of whom have changed their minds since 2003. For instance, Sullivan says, Thomas Friedman “was a leading voice for intervention last time, and has since said that he was wrong. He wrote recently: ‘For now, I’d say stay out of this fight…’” (I’d watch out for that “for now.”)
Sullivan ends on the hope that “the editors—on both the news and opinion sides—will think hard about whose voices and views will get the amplification that comes with being in The Times.”
Here’s what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here’s what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq’s supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove [the] Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war.
While the Times published “something of a mea culpa about its war coverage” in 2004, acknowledging “its flawed reliance on Chalabi as an ‘occasional source’ for its stories,” Boehlert writes, it “never mentioned Miller by name…”