Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Frequently Bought Together?: Paul Ryan’s Book and Amazon’s Excuse for Screwing Authors

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan (AP Photo/Stacy Thacker)

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

We already knew that Amazon has been putting the screws to book publisher Hachette and its authors with hardball business tactics. But now we learn from The New York Times that Amazon may also be playing political hardball, giving special favors to one very special Republican.

Amazon, which controls more than a third of the US book business, and the giant Hachette Book Group have been in a bitter dispute since last spring over the pricing of e-books. Saying it wants to save its customers money, Amazon has demanded that Hachette lower the price of its e-books to $9.99; Hachette has refused, saying it wants to retain the ability to set prices for its own books. So, in a heavy-handed display of power, Amazon has been delaying deliveries and withholding discounts for all books from Hachette—and damaging writers’ careers in the process.

With at least one exception:

Take, for instance, the different treatment Amazon has given two new Hachette books on political themes.

Sons of Wichita” by Daniel Schulman, a writer for Mother Jones magazine, came out in May. Amazon initially discounted the book, a well-received biography of the conservative Koch brothers, by 10 percent, according to a price-tracking service. Now it does not discount it at all. It takes as long as three weeks to ship.

The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea” by Representative Paul Ryan has no such constraints, an unusual position these days for a new Hachette book.

Amazon refused to take advance orders for “The Way Forward,” as it does with all new Hachette titles. But once the book was on sale, it was consistently discounted by about 25 percent. There is no shipping delay. Not surprisingly, it has a much higher sales ranking on Amazon than “Sons of Wichita.”

An Amazon spokesman declined to explain why “The Way Forward” was getting special treatment. A spokesman for Mr. Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Hachette declined to comment.

Many Hachette writers, most visibly Stephen Colbert, have not declined to comment, and some have formed a group, Authors United, to campaign against Amazon’s tactics. In Monday’s Times, David Streitfeld listed the non-Hachette “literary lions”—from Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul and Milan Kundera to the estates of Saul Bellow, William Burroughs, John Cheever, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller and Hunter S. Thompson—that have joined Authors United, which is asking the Justice Department to examine Amazon for possible antitrust violations.

“We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ursula K. Le Guin told Streitfeld. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy.”

And by choosing not to disappear an author who just happens to be the chair of the House Budget Committee, Amazon is not only making friends in high places but sending a dangerous message.

Streitfeld, by the way, has been doing a great job covering this story, a much better job than that of his alma mater, The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

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Bezos’s fight with Hachette is just the tip of the iceberg, Jim Hightower writes in Alternet. To get Amazon to where it is today

Bezos followed the path mapped by Rockefeller and other 19th-century robber barons: (1) ruthlessly exploit a vast and vulnerable low-wage workforce; (2) extract billions of dollars in government subsidies; and (3) wield every anti-competitive weapon you can find or invent to get what you want from other businesses.

What other online bookstores do customers buy from after viewing this post? For starters, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s and Marketplace. For more, see “ten socially conscious online bookstores.”

UPDATE—Wednesday, Oct. 1, 12:20 pm: I’ve quoted Streitfeld above from his Monday Times piece. But he amended the chronology a bit in a post on Tuesday. He found that Amazon originally did treat Ryan’s book like all Hachette titles, i.e., lousy, refusing to discount it or ship it promptly. But on Aug. 20, Ryan complained about Amazon on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” and even entertained a question about whether some regulations might be in order. Suddenly his book was given the full Amazon discount and customers could receive it immediately. “All Hachette authors are equal, but some are more equal than others,” Streitfeld writes.


Read Next: When Will the Justice Department Take On Amazon?

Colbert: ‘The Cocks on Fox’ Are Wrong About ‘Boobs on the Ground’

The Colbert Report


Meanwhile, Ann Romney told another Fox gent that talk about a Republican war on women is “ridiculous” and “offensive.”

Bolling later apologized for his comments because, he said, he got “the look” from his wife.

UPDATE: Eric Bolling has apologized again. Meanwhile, the Truman National Security Project wrote an open letter to Fox News, signed by 60 men and women in the armed forces, scorning the “boobs on the ground” comment. And it says, to Bolling, “We issue an apology on your behalf to Major Al Mansouri knowing that anything your producers force you to say will be contrived and insincere.”

Read Next: It’s official: watching Fox makes you stupider

Hardest-Hitting Anti-Koch Ad Ever

Koch brothers

Kochville: Thom Tillis and his Magic Gavel (YouTube)

Maybe it’s the power of the cartoon, but this has to be the toughest ad yet to target the Koch brothers and their effort to buy the US Senate.

The animated ad shows North Carolina Republican candidate for the Senate, Thom Tillis, performing for the Kochs, taking money from education and seniors and making it “magically” appear in his patrons’ pockets. State house speaker Tillis is in a tight race against Democratic senator Kate Hagan; whoever wins may determine which party controls the Senate.

Created by American Bridge, a liberal Super PAC founded by Media Matters’ David Brock, the Tillis spot is just the first in a digital-only “Kochville” series that will go after extreme GOP candidates supported by Koch money. And the number of ads that money can buy is mind-boggling. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “The secretive political network of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has aired more than 43,900 television ads this election cycle.” The brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is expected to spend more than $125 million alone. While American Bridge is supported in part by billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, its ad budget doesn’t even come close to that of the oil barons.

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The hard-hitting Tillis spot may be deeply satisfying to those who know and dread the Kochs, but some commenters on The News & Observer site wonder if it will resonate with rural North Carolinians.



Read Next: How the Koch brothers and other family capitalists are ruining America

Fox: If Obama’s ‘Latte Salute’ Doesn’t Prove He Hates America, His UN Speech Does

White House Instagram

Fresh from finding yet another image proving that Obama hates America—the president gave a “latte salute” when he held a paper coffee cup while saluting two Marines yesterday (more on that raging scandal below)—Fox News has had to try hard to ignore the more hawkish Obama of the last few days. That’s the POTUS who’s been striking ISIS in Syria and who earlier today gave a robust speech at the UN calling for the world to fight terrorism.

Immediately following what he called “a stunningly abstract” speech, former Bush II UN ambassador John Bolton went on Fox and declared that Obama “doesn’t believe in American strength. He believes in the United Nations.”

The president, Bolton added, took the “opportunity to slam Israel.” (Maybe he meant Obama’s clear-eyed observation that “there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.”)

Next up on Fox was Ric Grenell, who has worked for Bolton (and for Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, until the right freaked out that he’s gay). Grenell homed in on something Obama didn’t say: “He said ‘extremism,’ ‘violence, ‘violent extremism,’ ‘religiously motivated,’ but never ‘Islamic extremism.’” The uncoupling of those words is a paranoid sore point with the right because it fails to insinuate that extremism is built into Islam.

But for the right-wing media, perhaps more telling than Obama’s failure to hold “Islamic” next to “extremism” was his holding a cup as he saluted two Marines while disembarking from Marine One in New York City on Tuesday.

“This salute by Obama may serve as a useful metaphor for his entire administration: sloppy, ill thought out, inappropriate, callous, selfish, and disrespectful,” a Red State commenter wrote. “Though, in his defense, he may have been running from that thing covered in a red bag that seems to be pursuing him down the stairs.” The “thing” the writer was referring to is Michelle Obama, in a red dress, following the president off the plane.

Last night, a “shocked” Sean Hannity asked Karl Rove, “Would President Bush ever do that?” Karl didn’t answer—because Bush did do that. Not with a coffee cup but with a dog, when, holding tight onto Barney, he saluted service members at Andrews Air Force Base.

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So Rove avoided the question by letting loose a string of adjectives about POTUS: “We’ve got a chai-swillin’, golf-playin’, basketball trash-talkin’, lead from behind, I’ve got no strategy, Osama bin Laden is dead/GM is alive, a community organizing commander-in-chief. How disrespectful was that?” (It’s not clear if Rove was referring to Obama or himself.)

Rove also seemed to think that “latte” might not be insulting enough. “It’s not a latte salute,” he said. “It’s a chai salute, because he drinks chai tea.” Of course, we don’t know what was in that cup. But “chai” sounds more exotic, foreign, and thus effete than even a French coffee.

A commenter on Free Republic one-upped Karl’s implication and got to the real point, writing: “It’s probably the gayest tea you could imagine like a chai latte. Might as well have been a pink cup.”

Read Next: Karl Rove Has a Democratic Candidate for Governor ‘Arrested’

Karl Rove Has a Democratic Candidate for Governor ‘Arrested’

Karl Rove

Karl Rove (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Karl Rove has committed felonies—uh, not felonies, I mean smears. To avoid any confusion, I’ll repeat: Karl Rove has not been convicted of committing felonies. But he has committed smears (not unlike the one I just committed on him). And, virtually unnoticed by the media, he has smeared again, yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

It was recently revealed that Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, had a most awkward moment sixteen years ago. Police raided a strip club near Coffeyville for drugs and found Davis, then 26 and unmarried, getting a lap dance. He wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing, no charges were brought against him, and even in Kansas, lap-dancing isn’t illegal.

Still, the lap-dance story is fair game for supporters of Sam Brownback, the embattled Republican governor who’s running for re-election. On Meet the Press yesterday, Grover Norquist, for example, interrupted his anti-tax talk to relate the lap-dance incident (“with the naked lady”), which Thomas Frank later shot down as ancient small fry.

But over at Fox, Rove dramatically raised the stakes for Davis, saying that Kansas’s possible future governor had been “arrested”:

The governor’s race in Kansas is close. However, late last week, it was revealed that the Democratic candidate for governor had been arrested—or not arrested, he’d been detained briefly a number of years ago when he was an attorney for a strip joint and the police found him getting a lap dance.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace let it slide, presumably because Rove corrected himself. But the “correction” allowed Rove to repeat the word “arrested,” a word that, even when used in the negative, Fox viewers can now associate with Davis and repeat until it seems true. No small thing when many diehard Republicans in Kansas are so disgusted with the devastation wreaked by Brownback’s tax cuts, that they’re actually considering a vote for Davis.

Of course, Rove may have simply made an honest slip of the tongue. But “Bush’s Brain” has a long list of such ambiguous slips.

Most recently, he suggested that Hillary Clinton had suffered a “traumatic brain injury.” Several months after her December 2012 fall, which caused a blood clot, Rove said, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” She was hospitalized for three days, not thirty, and later that day Rove tried to deny (while simultaneously reinforcing) his innuendo, saying, "Of course she doesn’t have brain damage.”

“You could believe Rove’s denial—but you would have to ignore virtually his entire political career,” as George Zornick wrote in The Nation. “For decades Rove has been circulating nasty, personal rumors about political opponents and placing them in the public conversation, all while obscuring his fingerprints, making the rumors become the opponent’s problem, not his. It’s page one of his playbook.”

A protégé of the late Lee Atwater, the GOP dirty trickster who once boasted that “states’ rights” and “tax cuts” could be used as code words for “nigger,” Rove has been associated with whisper campaigns suggesting that his clients’ opponents were homosexual (Texas governor Ann Richards in 1994), pedophiles (a Democratic candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, also in ’94), or mentally impaired (John McCain in 2000). “Other rumors tied to the Rove-led campaign” in 2000, writes Think Progress, “included allegations that McCain’s wife had a drug problem and that his adopted Bangladesh-born daughter was an ‘illegitimate black child.’”

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Rove is sparing Davis the “mental” and “homo” tags, but having him “arrested” just might do the dirty trick. (And it might help obscure reports, cited by Davis, that the FBI is investigating the fund-raising and lobbying practices of Brownback associates. Brownback has denied any wrongdoing.)

As for Davis, a Kansas state representative, he released a statement to Politico on Saturday. “When I was 26 years old, I was taken to a club by my boss—the club owner was one of our legal clients,” he said in the statement. “While we were in the building, the police showed up. I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

On Fox, Rove was, once again, in the right place at the right time to say the wrong thing.


Read Next: This Is Exactly How Karl Rove Works

PBS Loves Its ‘Roosevelts’—and Its Kochs, Too


FDR at Warms Springs for Thanksgiving, 1932

Ken Burns’s fourteen-hour series The Roosevelts is giving a big ratings boost to PBS. And even with George Will rather gently criticizing FDR, the show makes a persuasive argument for more government involvement in the lives of the nation’s citizens.

But PBS is not so sympathetic to New Deal policies that it would ever welcome the hatred of malefactors of great wealth. In fact, it has often caved to the wishes of rich conservatives, most notoriously when it pulled Citizen Koch, a public television documentary that took on the Koch brothers. David Koch sits on the board and helps fund PBS flagship station WGBH in Boston; last year, he noisily resigned from another flagship, WNET in New York, after a different Koch documentary squeaked through and aired.

In her fascinating piece, “PBS Self-Destructs: And what it means for viewers like you” in this month’s Harper’s (subscription required), Eugenia Williamson finds that PBS has been kowtowing to the right and the powers that be long before Nixon or Newt tried to defund it, or David Koch silenced it by funding it:

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter that the Republicans couldn’t defund PBS—they didn’t really need to. Twenty years on, the liberal bias they bemoaned has evaporated, if it ever existed to begin with. Today, the only special-interest group the network clearly favors is the aging upper class: their tastes, their pet agendas, their centrist politics. This should surprise nobody who has taken a long, hard look at PBS’s institutional history. Yes, it’s tempting to view the last couple of decades as a discrete epoch of decline, with the network increasingly menaced by a cartoonish G.O.P. hit squad, helmed by Newt Gingrich as Snidely Whiplash. But the present state of PBS was almost an inevitability, the result of structural deficiencies and ideological conflicts built in from the very start.

Much of it started with LBJ, who signed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) into being, but then punted:

Yet this spirit-enriching initiative hit some immediate procedural potholes. Johnson, responsible for choosing the corporation’s board members, neglected his task for months. Ostensibly this was due to some unfortunate developments in Vietnam—indeed, it was the height of the Tet Offensive. But John W. Macy Jr., whom Johnson appointed as CPB president, suspected other reasons for LBJ’s dithering. “The media and the academic community had increased the volume of their protest against the conduct of the war,” he wrote. “Would this extension of the media with federal backing add new sights and sounds of opposition?”

As it happened, it did.

Williamson follows up on the Citizen Koch incident with the grassroots climate-change group Forecast the Facts, which unsuccessfully tried to expel David Koch from the WGBH board:

Refusing to give up, they started a social-media campaign, chipping away at WGBH’s Facebook rating. They rented a billboard directly across from the WGBH complex in Boston to denounce David Koch, and projected KOCH FREE on various Boston landmark buildings. When the station hosted a climate-change panel in March, Forecast the Facts submitted questions about Koch’s presence on the board; a video of the event shows WGBH’s frantic efforts to keep the scientists from answering.

Then came the PBS annual meeting in May. The organization sent several operatives to try to deliver another 300,000 signatures at a WGBH breakfast. Southard was confident that such an enormous number would finally force the station’s hand. “They’d be ignoring the people who’d signed the petition,” she said. “PBS has a sterling reputation, and that should be important to them.”

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But when [Forecast the Facts campaign director Brant] Olson got up onstage to deliver the signatures, wave a banner, and yell into the microphone, the sound was immediately cut. Security chased him down and handcuffed him, even as a PBS staffer held up a notebook to block any photography.


Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel on how we’ve been fighting to get money out of politics since FDR

You’ll Have to Rip Benghazi From Fox’s Cold, Dead Hands


Members of the activist group CodePink gather for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

If you were watching CNN or MSNBC coverage of the Senate ISIS hearing this morning, you probably caught a CodePink protester interrupting the beginning of Defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s testimony. She shouted, politely enough, “No more war,” “War is not the solution,” and so on. Armed Service Committee chair Senator Carl Levin repeatedly asked her leave—telling her, oddly, “You’re acting very warlike yourself.” She did leave, as other Coders waited to protest later and Hagel resumed his testimony. The hearing promised to cover (and did) some pretty urgent, consequential stuff, including putting US troops on the ground in Iraq and arming Syrian rebels.

Meanwhile, over at Fox, they were covering… Benghazi.

It’s as if Fox were staging a caricature of itself. But there was National Review’s Rich Lowry and nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen fuming over the latest Benghazi “scandal” with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum. When her show finally cut to the ISIS hearing, it did so at first with ragin’ John Bolton on a split screen.

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It’s a caricature, but not a surprise. Media Matters released a study today showing that Fox ran nearly 1,100 segments in the first twenty months following the Benghazi attack.

Those are big, obsessive numbers—and they include only five Fox News afternoon and primetime programs, none of the morning shows, like MacCallum’s—but expect them to soar still higher when the House select committee hearings on Benghazi begin tomorrow.

Read Next: Obama is open to ground troops in Iraq, a top general says

In Two Words, Hillary Clinton Just Revealed What’s Wrong With Her 2016 Candidacy

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton in Iowa (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“I’m baaack!” With those two words, delivered Arnold-style, Hillary Clinton revealed a lot about what’s wrong with her probable candidacy.

“Hello, Iowa!” she beamed from a stage at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola over the weekend. Then, raising her arms, she delivered the Terminator’s catchphrase, showing herself to be tone deaf to the negative perception of her as an indestructible robot, as “inevitable,” the same presumption that hamstringed her campaign in 2008.

Not to mention the annoying factor. “I’m baaack!” is the greeting from people whose return is at best tiresome.

Watch the video:

Maybe Clinton used the phrase to evince a get-back-up-on-your-feet gumption. That’s what it seemed to mean to her many fans, who cheered wildly at her return to Iowa, where she came in third place in the ’08 Democratic primary in a defeat she’s called “excruciating.”

But for the rest of us, quoting a cyborg is yet another sign (like her disingenuous comments about her wealth) that she’d make a poor candidate who can’t help but step on her own feet.

Most of the press didn’t mention this awkward moment. They were abuzz instead with their usual, insufferable will-she-won’t-she game, marveling at how adept she was at teasing them.

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“I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” Hillary told the Iowa crowd, bringing up Chelsea’s pregnancy and adding slyly, “Then, of course, there’s that other thing.”

But voters also have other things on their minds. When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked some twentysomethings at a Des Moines coffeehouse the rah-rah question—“When you look at Hillary Clinton, what do you see first—a politician, a woman, a president?”—they didn’t respond in kind.

“I think people see kind of the cronyism on Wall Street,” a woman named Carla told Mitchell.

“I’d love to see the first woman president, but it doesn’t matter more to me than my progressive values.”

UPDATE: After a movie-quote geek-out in the comments section below--was Hillary channeling The Terminator or Poltergeist II or maybe even The Shining?--The Colbert Report nailed an absolute doppelganger Monday night. It’s in the first two minutes:


Pop phrases migrate and mutate over time, as they’re used and re-used, and fused. The Schwarzenegger catchphrase “I’ll be back” was born in the first Terminator, in 1984; when “Poltergeist II” came out two years later, there was some sense even then that “They’re baaack!” was conversing not only with the 1982 Poltergeist’s “They’re heeeere!” but with “I’ll be back.” Randy Quaid’s tauntingly defiant “I’m baaack!” in 1996’s Independence Day was likely a child of both by-then classic movie catchphrases. Schwarzenegger’s cyborg clipped it to “I’m back” in Terminator III (2003), and variations of the “[pronoun] [verb] back” formula have been interchangeable in popular usage ever since.  

But all this misses the larger point. For years, Hillary has been called, charitably, too studied, or, as Joe Scarborough said Monday, “a robot.” Many people cringed when she reached for “I’m back” even without pegging it to a specific movie. That’s because, whether the reference was to Arnold, a little girl in a ghost movie, or a guy seriously pissed-off at his alien abduction, the phrase suggests horror, revenge, and/or a threat. Jon Stewart picked up on that Tuesday night, showing Hillary’s arm-raised “I’m back!” and finishing the thought for her: “...even though you fucked me over!” 

Read Next: Hillary Clinton Joins GOP 2016 Hopefuls in Bashing President Obama

Chris Matthews Can’t Go ‘Homeland’ Again

Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“Homeland” is back. Not just the Showtime drama, which is returning in October, but the word, with all its totalitarian-lite implications. As if they flipped a collective switch, pundits, politicians and President Obama transformed America overnight into “the Homeland,” a place both pastoral and martial, where fearsome invaders are always heaving at the gate.

And the word has Chris Matthews hopping mad. “I am very uncomfortable with the phrase ‘homeland.’ It strikes me as totalitarian,” he said in a long rant on Hardball earlier this week:

It’s a term used by the neocons, they love it. It suggests something strange to me. Like who else are we defending except America? Why don’t you just say ‘America’? Why doesn’t [Obama] say we defended against attacks against this country? As if we’re facing some existential Armageddon threat from these people. Do you buy the phrase ‘homeland’? I never heard it growing up, never heard it in my adulthood. It’s a new word. Why are we using it? Is there some other place we’re defending? What are we talking about when we say ‘homeland’? What’s it about?

Actually, it’s not a new word at all. When used to refer to America (and not the “homelands” of other people, as in “the Palestinian homeland”), “homeland” first hit these shores in 2001 just weeks after 9/11, when George W. Bush formed the Department of Homeland Security. The word became an overnight sensation as media figures—though few real people—robotically substituted it for “America.” In his 2002 book Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, Chris Matthews himself solemnly invoked the term.

But today Matthews is right: “Homeland” gives off an authoritarian vibe. It evokes the Russian Motherland, the German Fatherland and, worse, the Nazi’s “Heimat,” or homeland.

Watch the video:

Matthews can be unintentionally hilarious when chews on a bone, which he does like no one else in the press. But his emotional overreactions to what seem like mere pet peeves can be a mood ring for the national psyche. Whether it’s a tingling up his leg over the charismatic 2008 Obama (which in all honesty had other people’s limbs tingling, too), or a fury at Republicans clipping the adjective Democratic to the rodent-like DemocRAT, the man is often on to something.

And now he’s a human thermometer taking measure of war fever. This time around, he doesn’t want to be played like a chump, as he was when he initially supported the invasion of Iraq and said, in 2003, “We’re all neo-cons now.”

Now he’s not. “WMD. Homeland. It’s the language of the neocons,” he says. “It’s the language to get us further into wars.”

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“Homeland” immediately puts us on a warlike footing, but with extra goodness built in. (In 2001 I wrote, “If at worst ‘homeland’ sounds a bit totalitarian, at best it sounds like a new line of Campbell’s soups.”) It has all the easy and shallow patriotism of “USA! USA!” but with loads of gravitas.

“Homeland” is more specific than “America”—it encourages us to visualize ourselves getting bombed or buried under debris from falling office towers, to see America as a fortress that can and will be breached.

And the heightened ability to visualize horror is what’s driving us now toward war (or, as John Kerry puts it, “a very significant counter-terrorism operation”). Americans’ big shift toward supporting air strikes in Iraq and Syria came only came after seeing the beheadings of two Americans on video. Visuals, or “optics,” rule. (See “Has The World Been Bamboozled By The ISIS PR Machine?”)

In the first episode of the coming Homeland, agent Carrie Mathison is dubbed “the Drone Queen,” and she doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe that’s because she can’t visualize the people she’s blowing up as more than stick figures. In Season 2, Homeland was one of Obama’s favorite shows. Will he still be a fan?

Read Next: Leslie Savan on the media’s obsession over the optics of Obama’s ISIS speech

In Covering Obama’s ISIS Speech, Can the Media Move Beyond ‘Optics’?

President Obama


As the whole world watches President Obama’s address on combating ISIS tonight, you can depend on the US media to obsess over the “optics.” Is he coming across tough enough, Putin-y enough? Will his demeanor please the Republicans and frighten the terrorists (or vice versa)? And what does his suit have to say about all of this?

From Obama”s refusal to cut short his vacation after the Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine, to golfing after commenting on the beheading of journalist James Foley, to his wearing a beige suit (which the press mistakenly called “tan,” a bad habit of white folks, as people of color know), the media has lately been speeding up its favorite game—spitting out millions of words about image (the old word for “optics”) instead of substance.

I’m torn: I write about the nuances of imagery all the time. It holds tremendous power, public figures must know how to advertise themselves, the medium is the message and all that. But today we have so many layers of media interpreting imagery, from cable pundits to billions of tweets, that it’s getting harder for people to see for themselves.

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We don’t know how much optics scolds like Maureen Dowd and Fox News have played into Obama’s decision to strike in Syria. But Eric Boehlert reminds us of what happens to journalists when they continually opt for optics: it weakens their already compromised ability to analyze issues, much less reality. Compared to optics babble, he says, analysis “is more difficult, more rigorous, and it’s much needed.”

And Boehlert chronicles how journalists have actually agreed at times with this or that policy but decide to harp anyway over this or that vocal inflection:

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus recently agreed that the country’s current immigration failures were the “fault of House Republicans.” She then proceeded to pen an entire column attacking Obama’s “erratic” style because he “looks weak” and he “looks political” in his decision-making.

The same went for Post colleague Dana Milbank: Obama’s comments about the threat Islamic State posed to the United States were “probably true,” but unnerving nonetheless. Why? Obama wasn’t projecting enough panic, apparently. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argued that while Obama’s recent foreign policy commentary “reflects a prudent disinclination to repeat past mistakes and overreach,” he non[e]theless failed to deliver “savvy, constructive P.R.”

“Worrying about image projection and the degree of savviness in the Administration’s P.R.,” noted media critic Jay Rosen, represents “signs of a press corps that can be deeply unserious about international politics.”

You can read more on the Media Matters blog.

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