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Leslie Savan | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

ABC News Helps Dinesh D’Souza Hype His Latest Conspiracy Theory

Dinish D'Souza ABC

Dinesh D'Souza and Michael Eric Dyson on ABC News

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.)

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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.

Read Next: Leslie Savan on how to stand up to chickenhawks

The Media Are Suffering From ‘Hillary Fatigue’

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

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.”

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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. 

 

Read Next: Will the Democratic Party deliver for working women?

Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’?

nytimes building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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.”

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Only days later, however, the Times ran a front-page story on Ahmad Chalabi that, as Eric Boehlert writes, indicates the paper is still struggling with its own history:

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…”

Read Next: Wilbert Rideau and Linda LaBranche on dominatn presence of prison newspapers in the US.

Vanden Heuvel Tells Kristol That if He Wants War, He Should Join the Iraqi Army

Katrina Kristol ABC

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Bill Kristol face off 

After carpeting their green rooms with neocon artists for weeks, the network Sunday shows have finally had someone on who’s saying what everyone else has been thinking. On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos yesterday, Katrina vanden Heuvel told Bill Kristol to his face that if he wants the United States to intervene in Iraq so much, “you should, with all due respect, enlist in the Iraqi Army.”

Rarely, if at all, has someone put it so directly to Kristol on one of the Sunday talk shows, where the Weekly Standard editor has made quite a successful career for himself. But The Nation’s vanden Heuvel punctured the Sunday-show gentleman’s agreement that we’re all in this TV pundit business together—so, while you don’t have to be polite to one another exactly, if you want to speak truth to a bully’s blather, it’s best to do so indirectly and on tiptoes.

Instead, sitting just a foot from him, vanden Heuvel told Kristol what we’ve all been thinking, especially of leading chickenhawks like him: that he’s one of “architects of catastrophe” who deserves “accountability,” and that what America—and by implication him and the neocons—has done to Iraq is “a crime.”

The panel, including Matthew Dowd and Donna Brazile, was talking about presidential powers when Katrina bent the discussion:

For example, the president should go to Congress if he’s going to take military action in Iraq…. There’s no military solution to Iraq, and I have to say, sitting next to Bill Kristol, man—I mean, the architects of catastrophe that have cost this country trillions of dollars, thousands of lives—there should be accountability.

If there are no regrets for the failed assumptions that have grievously wounded this nation—I don’t know what happened to our politics and media accountability, but we need it, Bill, because this country should not go back to war. We don’t need armchair warriors, and if you feel so strongly, you should, with all due respect, enlist in the Iraqi Army.

Kristol, his smirk fading, shot back, “That’s a very cute line.” (Would he have said that to a man?)

“But it’s real,” vanden Heuvel said. “Millions of Iraqis have been displaced…. What we have done to that country is a crime.”

“What we have done to that country?” Kristol said. “President Bush made mistakes, he was punished for those mistakes electorally as he should have been in 2006, and perhaps in 2008. He also had the courage to order the surge in 2007, which made up for those mistakes, and left things peaceful.”

It’s not clear if Kristol was trying to pin all the “mistakes” on Bush and thereby pretend that vanden Heuvel wasn’t talking about him at all.

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After more back and forth, Matthew Dowd, who worked for George Bush and has a son who served two tours in Iraq, in effect seconded Katrina and obliquely slammed Kristol, “We all know, everybody—most everybody knows—that this has been a colossal waste of money…and the blood of men and women of our country,” he said.

“We don’t fix the first mistake by continuing to make a second mistake." Anyone who’s an enlisted person, he continued, “will tell you that the only way this can be solved is you have commit troops there for 100 years. …I, for one, don’t think we should send another man or another woman, over there in a mistake that was made in the first place.”

Watch it here:

 

Read Next: The Editors against intervention in Iraq 

Should the Left Stop Complaining About the Iraq War Hawks’ Return to the Media?

Cheney

Dick Cheney (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Jonathan Chait writes about politics like nobody’s business, but when it comes to the Iraq war, which he originally supported but now says was wrong, he can’t quite think straight.

Last week, Chait complained about liberals who want the Iraq war hawks and hucksters to “just shut the hell up.” Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Paul Bremer, Douglas Feith, John McCain et al. have been all over TV and op-ed pages lately, insisting that Obama left Iraq too early and that we must now salvage the country with our military might, even (especially?) if it means spending sixty more years in Iraq (per Wolfie) and sending in thousands of more “boots on the ground” (Bremer).

Chait disagrees with their arguments, but he says liberals should stop whining about the neo-cons’ neo-access to the media:

What do liberals believe about the current disaster in Iraq? One thing most of us believe is that the United States should stay the hell out. But another thing liberals believe with even greater conviction is that advocates of the last Iraq war should not participate in the current debate. [My italics.]

The Atlantic’s James Fallows argues that Iraq war hawks “might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, writing in the second person, instructs Iraq hawks, “Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done.”

Chait also throws Rachel Maddow and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel into the mix, and says, “This meta belief about who should be allowed to argue about Iraq, more than any actual argument about Iraq itself, has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”

Hmmm. The “meta belief” line sounds good, in that Chaitian way he has of lifting himself above the liberal throngs (see Walsh on Chait).

But if you read the essays Chait cites, you’ll see how ridiculous it is to charge that the authors’ objections to the neocons’ media appearances “has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”

That is, intentionally or not, Chait is reducing the left to a bunch of knee-jerkers who can’t rise above making unfair and illogical ad hominem attacks:

Nor is it easy to see what purpose is served by insisting certain people ought to be ignored. The way arguments are supposed to work is that the argument itself, not the identity of the arguer, makes the case. We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney.

We should disregard them because, as the textbook definition of “the ad hominem fallacy,” says in response to Chait, ad hominem is sometimes the only fair way to go. Michael Austin writes:

[T]he fact is ad hominem arguments are very often the best and most logical responses to another person’s claims. This is true because most arguers place their own character, expertise, or credibility at issue when they make a claim.

[Chait] falls into a logical trap that I call the Ad Hominem Fallacy. This happens when somebody overcorrects for the ad hominem bias by labeling a legitimate challenge to authority as an ad hominem attack.

Cheney, Austin writes, “relies almost entirely on his claims of experience, expertise and moral character. And it is precisely because he is making these claims that his experience, expertise and moral character must be part of the debate.”

What Chait also seems to miss is how the media worked to promote the invasion of Iraq in the first place. It wasn’t about the niceties of arguments or the accuracy of facts. It was, and is, about emotion.

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Mainstream media outlets may or may not favor the United States’ returning to Iraq, but they lean toward teasing us with that prospect because it’s good copy. It’s exciting. That’s why they eagerly book the has-been hawks. Well, that and the MSM’s corporate-friendly habit of creating “balance” by handing large chunks of news real estate to war-happy Republicans. Giving Kristol, McCain, Cheney et al. national face time is like giving it to climate deniers in order to create “balance” to the vast scientific consensus that global warming is indeed real, man-made, and here.

Whatever happens in Iraq, it won’t be an exact repeat of the past. Disgust over the war and the prospect of stepping in again is enormous among the public and is even peeping through in the right-wing media. Fox News’s Megyn Kelly confronted Cheney; Glenn Beck declared, “Liberals, you were right—we shouldn’t have” invaded Iraq. (Still, he shouldn’t get “a cookie,” says Daily Kos.)

But don’t think that the honking of the hawks is harmless. As Daniel Larison writes in The American Conservative, “Unfortunately, the danger as always is that these people will define the terms of the debate and drive it in their direction simply being the loudest and most shameless participants.”

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on the folly of helping Iraq’s shattered army

How Fox News Created a Monster—and Made Two Others Disappear

Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl (Courtesy: United States Army/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Anyone who read 1984 in high school should know that the target of propaganda can turn on a dime. But we tend to forget this lesson whenever the media’s real-life Big Bros crank out their version of “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” as they’ve being doing of late.

It’s worth quickly revisiting Orwell. “On the sixth day of Hate Week,” he wrote,

when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces—at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.

There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place…. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.

We’ve recently gone through a Hate Week or two ourselves. Only months ago, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last POW in Afghanistan, had been valorized by the right. Senators McCain, Ayotte and Inhofe, Sarah Palin and Allen West and right-wing websites wanted Bergdahl freed at all costs, and blamed Obama for leaving him behind.

Then, of course, Obama did free Bergdahl. You can argue that the deal struck was mishandled, but there’s no excuse—none—for the rightwing pillorying of Bergdahl into a one-man Eastasia. With no evidence and “no admission that any change had taken place,” they’ve recast him, variously, as a deserter, a traitor, a jihadist or, as Fox News reporter James Rosen bizarrely put it, “a kind of modern-day Lee Harvey Oswald.” Death threats were made against his parents; his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, canceled a celebration of his return for fears of public safety. Fox News’s Kimberly Guilfoyle declared that he was “lucky” US forces didn’t find him earlier because “he would have come home either in a body bag or come home and gone straight to jail.”

Bergdahl is back now in the United States, being treated at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and God help him when, weeks or months or years from now, he meets the media. (This cartoon puts it succinctly.)

Then, faster than you can switch a long beard from signifying good ol’, homo-hatin’ Duck Dynasty boys to signifying that you look like a Muslim (as Bill O’Reilly said of Bergdahl’s father)—quicker than that, you can make a pair of right-wing cop killers cease to exist.

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The same Fox News that usually torches not only cop killers but lawyers who defend them and singers who rap about them had almost nothing to say about Jerad and Amanda Miller, the couple who executed two police officers as they were eating at a Las Vegas pizzeria. The Millers had attended rallies at the Cliven Bundy ranch and thus hated law enforcement in the right way, in the way Fox had helped to foment. As Eric Boehlert wrote last week:

Primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story [the day after the killings], while Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it. (By contrast, the story covered extensively during CNN and MSNBC’s primetime.) Fox talkers on Monday were still far more interested in debating the prisoner swap of Bowe Bergdahl than they were examining the political ambush in Las Vegas….

In the 36 hours after the shooting, Fox News tread lightly around the Las Vegas story, producing regular news updates about the crime spree. But Fox provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the executions.

And that’s how Fox News deals with right-wing domestic terrorism in America, when it even bothers to acknowledge the killings and the crimes…. on Fox the perpetrators are always portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do not represent any cultural or political movement.

This sort of media-manufactured amnesia goes beyond a mere “flip-flop.” In a well-oiled propaganda machine, who’s lone and who’s representative, who’s a hero and who’s a heel, even good and evil themselves, are interchangeable. Anything can be instantly reframed as circumstances dictate.

As we’re already hearing from some quarters: “We have always been right to go to war in Iraq.”

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on “The New Benghazi

The Media Did Not Have Relations With ‘That Story’

Lewinsky Post cover

The May 7 New York Post cover featured Monica Lewisnky and the accompanying headline, "My Life Sucks!" (New York Post)

Have the media grown up half as much as Monica Lewinsky?

From the looks of it, Lewinsky, now 40, has learned something from the humiliating fallout of the amour fou she had at 22. Unlike most of the stupid things people do at that age, her stupid thing led to the impeachment of a president and made her name into a national punch line for the last sixteen years. “Now,” she writes in an essay for Vanity Fair, “I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.”

CNN New Day co-host Chris Cuomo said last week that if “Monicagate” had occurred today, the press wouldn’t overreact as it did in the 1990s. After all, media attitudes have changed in the last generation. Outside of Fox and some stragglers, the corporate media officially love gay marriage and hate bullying; some MSMers are aware of this thing called “slut-shaming”; and, hey, we have social media, where bullies themselves can be shamed and then tweeted away into the ether. Because Bill Clinton himself survived the scandal, you could conceivably argue that the media sniggered past its adolescence and learned to treat at least some sex scandals (Mark Sanford, David Vitter) with a sense of proportion.

But evidence of a mature media response to Lewinsky is pretty thin. There are plenty of understanding pieces online, of course, like Emily Shire’s “Stop Slut Slamming Monica Lewinsky!” or Mel Robbins’s “Stop judging Monica Lewinsky.” But much of the mainstream media are still writing on the bathroom stall.

The New York Post, for instance, put Lewinsky on its cover last week with the headline, “MY LIFE SUCKS!” Inside, columnist Andrea Peyser was at her ugliest best, making sure you knew it was middle-school pun intended.

She’s America’s favorite beret-wearing former intern, whose very name has become a synonym for a sex act she eagerly performed on her knees, a dame who rocketed to fame for failing to dry-clean a blue dress stained with the seed of the then-leader of the free world.

Now, Lewinsky, 40, wants our pity and, perhaps, a job she can perform while sitting upright.

Peyser has a record of shaming women for daring to speak up. She wrote a column about one of the women who charged former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain with sexual harassment titled “Jobless & shameless gal going for gold.”

Robin Abcarian updates the ancient gold-digger motif in the Los Angeles Times by adding a soupçon of entrepreneurial envy. “’Take back my narrative?”” she scoffs at Lewinsky. “This is a hilarious misstatement considering she spent a decade leveraging her infamy and earning who-knows-how-much money, exploiting her affair with Clinton. Abcarian indicts Lewinsky with a list of her gigs—SNL guest, Jenny Craig spokeswoman, dating-show host. Worse, somehow, Lewinsky “became a handbag designer whose pricey haute hippie knit bags were retailed at Henri Bendel,” Peyser writes. “Not too shabby.”

Maybe the most telling responses to Monica’s plea for understanding in Vanity Fair have been silent, like Michael Isikoff’s (not to mention Bill and Hillary Clinton’s). But the most slippery by far are those from media figures who sound sympathetic to Lewinsky, while somehow managing to misremember their behavior back in the day.

Joe Scarborough, whose passive-aggressive feelings about women are buried in a very shallow grave, launched into an epic rant last week against female columnists now attacking Lewinsky. He even threw down a copy of the NY Post, calling it “a disgrace.”

“Why is it in 2014 it’s the women who are turned into the bad guys?” he asked. “I never got it, and after all these years there are females going out protecting Bill Clinton for his horrific acts.” Lewinsky, he said, “shows a lot of dignity, a lot more dignity than people who preyed on her and then tried to turn her into a slut or a nut.”

On that last line, I completely agree. But then Joe continued, “You all are sick. You were sick into the ’90s, you women’s rights ladies…. you defended the wrong person.”

Joe Scarborough has to attack Bill Clinton—and the “women’s rights ladies” who defended him for his policies despite his rotten behavior—because, as a young gun in Congress, Scarborough voted to impeach Clinton over the Lewinsky affair. If Bill hadn’t committed a “horrific act,” it would have been horrifically political indeed for Joe and his cohorts to impeach him. Besides, Scarborough’s take on Lewinsky can be folded rather neatly into the judo defense move, pushed most prominently by Rand Paul, that it’s really the “sexual predator” Bill Clinton and the Democrat Party who are waging a war on women.

At the end of his rant, Scarborough absolved the deftest judo master of them all, Maureen Dowd, saying, “I’m not talking about Maureen at all.” Which is a nice white lie to tell about MoDo, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1998 columns on the Clintons and Lewinsky.

Amanda Hess at Slate lays out how Dowd evolved from targeting the Clinton machine (“Should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker?…. It is probably just a matter of moments before we hear that Ms. Lewinsky is a little nutty and a little slutty”) to tarring Lewinsky herself. Dowd, Hess writes, eventually devoted columns “to arguing that, come to think of it, Lewinsky was both nutty and slutty”:

Dowd penned Lewinsky’s book proposal for her: “Preface: Powerful men who are busy running things aren’t as hard to get as you think. It’s really, really easy if you show a little gumption and a lot of cleavage.” Later that month, she wrote, “It is Ms. Lewinsky who comes across as the red-blooded predator, wailing to her girl friends that the President wouldn’t go all the way.”

Just last week, Dowd penned an equally imaginative proposal: that she was never part of the gang attacking Lewinsky. From Dowd’s May 6 column:

My columns targeted the panting Peeping Tom Ken Starr and the Clintons and their henchmen, for their wicked attempt to protect the First Couple’s political viability by smearing the intern as a nutty and slutty stalker. I did think Monica could skip posing for cheesecake photos in Vanity Fair while in the middle of a plea bargain. But I felt sorry for her…. Her bullies were crude strangers in person and online who reduced her to a dirty joke or verb.

Dowd, as Hess says, “appears unaware that it’s the caricature she helped to build that’s still haunting Lewinsky after all these years.”

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The uses of the Clinton/Lewinsky story are so multiple and so crisscrossed that you could almost believe the theory Lynne Cheney introduced on The O’Reilly Factor—that Lewinsky’s essay is “an effort on the Clintons’ part to get that story out of the way. Would Vanity Fair publish anything about Monica Lewinsky that Hillary Clinton didn’t want in Vanity Fair?” To which guest host Laura Ingraham responded, “I love this theory. It actually makes perfect sense.”

When Monica did something stupid, she at least had the excuse of being 21 years old. The media, on the other hand, are ageless.

Read Next: Richard Kim on what Monica Lewinsky gets wrong about Tyler Clementi

Why Is the Right Obsessed With Castration?

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin speaks at a campaign rally in Leesburg, Virginia, in 2008.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Right-wing pols and militia men seem to be thinking about castration an awful lot lately. In speeches and in campaign ads, they’re threatening to cut off their enemies’ balls, and it’s getting weird.

We can only speculate over why some on the right have castration on their minds. Conservative white males, now a minority in a country led by a black president, are losing their demographic cojones. Maybe they’re threatening their foes with what they fear most—or maybe talking like a mohel allows them to sound violent and still be considered vaguely humorous.

Over at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, the folks fighting federal tyranny (that is, refusing to pay for grazing rights on federal land) are still gathering and making speeches.

“All over this country, we are still staring civil war in its bloody face,” said Mike Vanderboegh, leader of the militia group Three Percenters and author of a novel that allegedly inspired a domestic terrorist plot in 2011. He blames Senator Harry Reid (who’s called Bundy supporters “domestic terrorists”) for inciting civil war against a “free people who are armed and who are willing to use those arms in defense of liberty.” And Vanderboegh warned, “Don’t poke the wolverine with a sharp stick, Harry, unless you want your balls ripped off.” That brought hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Bundy’s boys weren’t the first to thrust the image of torn-off testicles onto the 2014 political stage. That honor goes to a woman, Joni Ernst, “Mom. Veteran. Conservative,” who is running for US Senate from Iowa. As her now famous ad goes, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” The spot ends with Ernst promising to get tough on the “big spenders” in DC: “Let’s make ’em squeal.”

While Ernst is not a demographically challenged white male, she is of the Sarah Palin school of righteous gals who talk up the kind of casual brutality usually associated with tough dudes. Palin, who recently boasted that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists” and who regularly argued that “mom jeans” Obama has no balls, said at a Sunday rally for the pig castrator, “I haven’t been this excited about a candidate in quite a while.”

Bob Quast, whose sister was murdered by her abusive husband, is also running for that Iowa senate seat. To introduce his long-shot candidacy, he says in a web ad called “Got Balls?”: “If you are the sexual predator and sociopath who murdered my sister Lynette, and you come to my front door to do harm to my girls, I’m going to use my Glock. To blow your balls off.” On that line, he smiles and his front tooth sparkles with a predatory gleam.

Holding up a knife and the Glock, Quast then invites Bruce Braley, the presumed Democratic nominee for Senate, to a debate. “Congressman Braley, you have nothing to fear,” Quast says. “I will leave my gun at home, Jodi can leave her knife on the farm, as long as you agree to leave your elite law degree in DC,” an elite law degree being, manhood-wise, the opposite of a gun.

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Even without evoking images of making men squeal like a pig, manhood and its supposed absence permeate politics, of course. It’s just that the more “moderate” emasculators don’t get so earthy about it. David Brooks recently said Obama had “a manhood problem in the Middle East,” and Maureen Dowd taunts him regularly, if more coyly.

Here’s the video of Vanderboegh. When the crowd laughs over the “soap dish” he holds up, the reference is to the legend of an Alabaman woman, Jenny Brooks. According to Right Wing Watch, which distributed the video, “…in Vanderboegh’s telling, [Brooks’s husband and son] were killed by state law enforcement collecting taxes for the Confederate government. According to the tale, Brooks went after the men who had killed her family, killed two of them in return, and turned one of their skulls into a soap dish.”

That was the only body part that Vanderboegh held up.

 

Read Next: What did Bush do this year on “Mission Accomplished Day”?

This Is My Brain on Paper Towels

Paper Towel

One of the more creative uses for a paper towel (psyberartist/Flickr)

I’ve been using paper towels a lot—a lot—more often lately, and every time I do, I feel a spark of guilt. It’s wasteful, bad for the environment, I know, but I’ve been sick lately, so I need it. I figure that paper is more sanitary than the cloth towel that’s been sitting out for days. (I can understand the woman with sick kids who said on the radio, “Thank god for paper towels.”)

But I’ve also been destroying groves of trees for reasons that have nothing to do with health or hygiene. Paper towels are easier; there’s a slight satisfaction when the perforated seam rips just right, and when I tear off a piece, I’m participating a little bit more in America and its corporate pleasures. To ignore your worries about waste is itself a kind of pleasure, and for a moment, I imagine that Sarah Palin isn’t scorning me as a wimp mom-pants green do-gooder. That bright white, clean slate of a paper towel momentarily wipes my politics clean enough to join the ranks of both corporate and red America.

My guilt and good sense usually win out over such ridiculous pulp fictions. I recycle and, in the summer, I compost. I try my best to boycott the long list of Koch-owned household products, like Stainmaster carpet and Lycra, that have invaded the world. (So no Brawny paper towels or other Georgia-Pacific products in my house.) I bring my own shopping bags.

But… I eagerly stock up on plastic shopping bags, for the kitty litter. I get a lot of take-out and, not always bothering to track what’s recyclable and what’s not, I throw out tons of plastic containers and unused knife and fork sets. Water? I often forget and let it run and run.

And I rationalize: I’ve never been a purist, I tell myself. We’re all a little corrupt. As long as I’m pointed in the right direction, that’s good enough. Excuses and small daily denialisms course through our minds as much as fire retardants, pesticides, BPA, phthalates and PFOAs (the magic ingredient in Teflon) course through our bodies.

It is comforting, after all, to think that everything is OK. In fact, only since writing this have I dared look into the dioxins that are a byproduct of the chlorine used to bleach paper towels and tissue.

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Corporations depend on our rationalizations: it absolves them of doing anything wrong and it creates guilt-free consumers. That’s why they run all the ads that tell us, “What, you worry?” Falling back on wasteful or toxic products not only has its perverse pleasures, but it can seem “natural,” especially if those products are featured in ads with wild animals and awe-inspiring landscapes.

So of course it’s better not to go with the corporate flow. But if you sometimes do, mop up the excess with old rags.

Read more of The Nation's special #MyClimateToo coverage:
Mark Hertsgaard: Why TheNation.com Today Is All About Climate
Christopher Hayes: The New Abolitionism
Naomi Klein: The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External
Dani McClain: The ‘Environmentalists’ Who Scapegoat Immigrants and Women on Climate Change
Mychal Denzel Smith: Racial and Environmental Justice Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Earth Day’s Founding Father
Wen Stephenson: Let This Earth Day Be The Last
Katha Pollitt: Climate Change is the Tragedy of the Global Commons
Michelle Goldberg: Fighting Despair to Fight Climate Change
George Zornick: We’re the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Cheap Date
Dan Zegart: Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court
Jeremy Brecher: ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter the Divisive Big Lie
Jon Wiener: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction and Climate Change
Dave Zirin: Brazil’s World Cup Will Kick the Environment in the Teeth
Steven Hsieh: People of Color Are Already Getting Hit the Hardest by Climate Change
John Nichols: If Rick Weiland Can Say “No” to Keystone, So Can Barack Obama
Michelle Chen: Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?
Peter Rothberg: Why I'm Not Totally Bummed Out This Earth Day

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Will George Bush Ever Paint the Ghost of an Iraqi Child?

Bush painting

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, painted by George W. Bush as part of his exhibit, “The Art of Leadership: A President”s Diplomacy“ (AP Photo/Benny Snyder)

The Onion News Network was always the best place to look for an honest review of George W. Bush’s post-presidential painting hobby, and here it is at last—including an analysis of the “ghost of an Iraqi child that follows him everywhere” that should be in every painting but, sadly, is usually replaced by a puppy dog or an impersonal caricature of some foreign leader’s Google photo.

It’s hard to tell which is funnier: the paintings themselves (the Onion artist who copied Bush’s primitive style captures his flat planes and between-the-lines coloring practice), or the upbeat chit-chat of the Onion News host and correspondent, who perfectly mimic the mainstream media’s happy-talk accounts of Bush’s surprising hobby.

Showing one morbid painting after another, the host says, “You can see that Bush’s art is improving over time. At first he could barely draw the Iraqi child’s transparent hands, but now they look much more realistic!” George and Laura are shown smiling in one work, and seem not to notice that W is holding the bleeding, dead Iraqi child in his arms.

This is, of course, the opposite of what Bush’s paintings really do, as they tend to hide things about the ex-POTUS rather than reveal them. Just as his self-portraits in the shower cover up his private parts, Bush would rather paint Putin or a Saudi noble than one of his own controversial lieutenants, like Cheney or Rumsfeld. That would be getting too close to home.

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The Onion paintings get grislier and grislier. One depicts Bush’s bedroom at the Crawford ranch splattered in blood with Manson-like zeal. “Laura Bush says he’s more focused than ever, locks himself away for hours at a time and won’t talk to anyone while he’s painting,” the host says.

It’s more or less what many of us have imagined: that George Bush is going quietly bonkers after years of repressing the reality of what he’s done. In real life, however, Bush paints to forget, not to expose.

Watch the Onion video below (and a similarly themed video from cartoonist Mark Fiore here):

Read Next: Florida wants to drug-test all its government employees.

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