Politics, media and the politics of media.
One bit of good media news this week: Rupert Murdoch is not going to buy Time Warner and destroy what little media diversity we still have left. At least not yet.
A merger of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and Time Warner would have “created a colossus that loomed over the industry, combining the two biggest movie and television studios in Hollywood,” writes Sydney Ember of The New York Times.
But in a rare rejection for Murdoch, the media mogul was forced to withdraw his $80 billion bid for Time Warner. His failure might have been due less to Time Warner’s objection to the attempted hostile takeover than to his own non-voting shareholders, who, Ember says, “have been driving down the price of 21st Century Fox’s stock since news of the offer broke, fearing he would overpay to secure victory.”
Either way, the slap-down of the father of Fox News is good for creative and political freedom—for, say, Bill Maher and John Oliver, whose shows on Time Warner’s HBO might not have survived. It’s maybe not so good for Jon Stewart, who’s been running a fake Kickstarter campaign to buy CNN—to save it from both Rupert and its own mediocrity.
It’s good for media competition. “Diversity of ownership, diversity of opinion is so vitally important to this democracy,” Times columnist and CNBC contributor James Stewart said, noting that a Murdoch-owned Time Warner would have reduced “control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.” (In 1983, he adds, “50 companies owned 90 percent of the media consumed by Americans. By 2012, just six companies—including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner—controlled that 90 percent…”
And rebuking Rupert is good for the earth. In an interesting bit of speculation, Chris Mooney finds that one reason English-speaking countries are among the biggest climate deniers out of twenty nations, according to a new study, is that they are home to Murdoch’s media empire.
Not only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst….
Indeed, the English language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. An apparent climate skeptic or lukewarmer, Murdoch is the chair of News Corp and 21st Century Fox. (You can watch him express his climate views here.) Some of the media outlets subsumed by the two conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.
In Australia, Murdoch’s native country, significant strides had been made in environmental regulations—and he attacked them with a vengeance. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters writes:
Australia’s carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd….
Murdoch set his plan in motion to target the carbon tax four years ago. “After the 2010 election—which resulted in a minority Labor government—Murdoch summoned his Australian editors and senior journalists to his home in Carmel, California,” Australia’s The Conversation reported. “He made clear that he despised the Gillard government and wanted regime change.”
Only a few years earlier, Murdoch was gung-ho green. “Climate change,” he said in 2007, “poses clear, catastrophic threats.” He pledged to make News Corp. carbon neutral, and even said that he’d be “subtly introducing [the climate issue] into our content.” (Did you know that not only did Dow Jones go carbon neutral but, according to a recent company eco-update, it uses soy-based ink to print The Wall Street Journal?)
We’re not out of the Fox-ridden woods yet. Never one to take no for answer, Murdoch could come back for Time Warner or other media trophies at any time. Says Jeffrey Goldfarb at the Times:
Yet Mr. Murdoch can walk away looking like a disciplined buyer ready to repurchase more shares and with his stock back on the rise. [Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeffrey] Bewkes, on the other hand, faces a bigger challenge. Though Time Warner shareholders may have become too greedy, they will now expect the company to deliver soon at least what was on offer from the takeover. If Mr. Bewkes can’t, Mr. Murdoch may yet turn out to be crazy like a fox.
CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all treated the return of Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, as if he were riding to the hospital in a white Ford Bronco. Chopper cams and speculative commentary trailed his ambulance Saturday through the streets of Atlanta with the kind of excited intensity usually reserved for police car chases and killers on the lam.
In the end, the breathless live coverage was revealed to be embarrassingly over-the-top: Brantly didn’t even need a stretcher; he climbed out of the parked ambulance in a hazmat suit and walked, with the support of just one person, into a back door of Emory University Hospital. That was the tip-off that giving a disease the O.J. treatment is a symptom of a media sickness for which there appears to be no cure.
Ebola is a terrible hemorrhagic fever that can kill from 50 percent to 90 percent of those who contract it. It’s also a symbol to the political right of all the Third World horrors that liberals are inviting past the walls of our City on the Hill. But now that two American aid workers—Nancy Writebol has just arrived at Emory, on a stretcher but, so far, with less fanfare—have brought it directly to our shores, it’s a Clear and Present Danger.
Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey went so far last month as to warn that the Central American children who’ve been turning up at border stations around the country might be smuggling Ebola in with them, like so many contagious Trojan horses (even though Ebola fever has never been detected in a patient outside of Africa). Howlers like Gingrey’s—echoed Monday by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)—work because Ebola, “diseased” immigrants, and “blood pollution” of all sorts fit neatly into the racist subtext of the radical right’s opposition to Obama. After all, our “lawless,” African-born POTUS, whose parents faked a birth certificate fifty-three years ago this week in order to infect America with socialism today, just happens to be hosting fifty-one African nations at a summit in Washington. How much proof do you need?
Various studies have shown that conservatives have a lower threshold for disgust than liberals do, and Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (like vomit, feces and blood, but not through sneezing or coughing) certainly crosses that low bar. Nor is it lost on wingers that AIDS originated in Africa, too.
But many of the diseases that humans are heir to are pretty damn disgusting, no matter where they originate. There aren’t two tiers of diseases any more than there are two tiers of humanity.
There is, however, Donald Trump, who tends to elevate fear of cooties into a political philosophy. He sent out a series of tweets—including “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days—now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!”—that exhibit the germ phobia we’ve come to expect from isolated billionaire crackpots (Trump will be wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes any day now). Unusually for a Republican, though, the magnate’s fears aren’t overcome by the fact that the two infected Americans are Christian missionaries. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” he also tweeted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”
And never mind that fighting such viruses at their place of origin is far more effective than pretending there’s a disinfectant force-field around the Homeland. Brantly is reported to have been suffering the consequences of doing good with a vengeance until he received two emergency treatments: an experimental serum developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company, and, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the relief organization working with Brantly, a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived the disease after Brantly cared for him in Liberia. Guess which treatment gets more coverage on American TV?
Which brings us back to the fever the media has been suffering ever since the ascent of the Tea Party. Rather than dispel unscientific and political myths, the instinct at many news outlets has been to promote them. The scientific truth the media should have been promoting all along isn’t that Ebola is a Holy Terror emerging from “other” races and immune to Western treatment; rather, it’s a horrible illness with a terrifically high kill rate because up to now it has appeared only in Africa, where clean water, enforced quarantines and disposable medical supplies are hard to come by. That first take played on cable news channels, regardless of their political leanings, is a measure of just how deeply the right-wing anti-science message has taken hold on TV.
But by sheer accident, the car-chase media did the public a service, demonstrating, as Brantly walked into the hospital, that the existential danger over Ebola is being oversold. MSNBC anchor Alex Witt asked on-air physicians, including NBC in-house doctor Nancy Snyderman, if they would be afraid to treat Brantly. No, said Snyderman. Any doctor would be “excited” by the opportunity to use the medical precautions and equipment available in America to find effective treatments for the disease without spreading it.
And maybe, once again, The Onion said it best: “Experts: Ebola Vaccine at Least 50 White People Away.”
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The Republican leadership is furious that the media keep talking about their plans to impeach Barack Obama, and the GOP knows who’s injecting this false idea into the talking heads: Barack Obama.
Even as he led the House in the unprecedented step Wednesday of voting to sue a POTUS, House speaker John Boehner insists that all this talk about impeachment is “coming from the president’s own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election. We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans,” Boehner emphasized. “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
And although any alert reporter knows it’s Boehner’s protest that’s the scam (a dozen or so Republican congressmen have openly called for Obama’s impeachment; White House spokesman Josh Earnest named some of them, including Representative Steve King of Iowa and Steve Stockman of Texas, earlier this week), some in the corporate media nevertheless sniff a chance to deploy false equivalencies once more.
Chuck Todd, for example, said on Morning Joe, “I think the White House ought to be embarrassed at how they’re trying to play it. Boehner, the idea that he’s saying, Oh, we’re not talking impeachment. The lawsuit, please. That’s about placating the impeachment caucus in his own party. This is sort of an embarrassing moment for Washington. The leaders of both parties here, they’re driving away people from the polls. They’re driving people away from politics. This is cynical, it’s ugly, it’s disgusting.”
This pox-on-both-your-houses rant ignores the two houses’ very different dimensions. Calling for impeachment when no grounds for it exist and responding to those calls by raising funds to beat the impeachment-wingers at the polls are not equally cynical. It’s true that Democrats are exploiting GOP calls for impeachment to raise ire and money—several million dollars so far. And good for them. Why, in the age of Citizens United, shouldn’t they? “It would be malpractice if they didn’t do it,” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart said on Hardball.
The Republicans’ inability to throw their base red meat without sane people noticing drives them into high-dudgeon denial. Hilariously so. On Tuesday, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “Republicans, conservatives, not talking about it. Only Democrats. It’s to gin up the base before November.” He said this even though, just days earlier, as Media Matters points out, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on F&F “and counseled the GOP to impeach the president, which Napolitano claimed would ‘focus his attention immediately.’”
Fox is also trying to gloss over the impeachment soap opera coming from some of its other contributors, like Allen West and, most famously, Sarah Palin. Yeah, but those are just has-been fringers, not to be taken seriously, centrists point out. Chuck Todd even mocked Josh Earnest for listing pro-impeachment officials currently in office. The White House spokesman, Todd said, was “sitting at the podium trying ticking off names of—oooh-oooh—look at Republicans that want impeachment.”
But look who’s wagging the dog here. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 57 percent of Republicans say they support impeaching Obama. And Representative Steve Scalise, the new House majority whip, wouldn’t put impeachment off the table when Chris Wallace asked him about it three times. (It was a fascinating example of getting hoisted on your own talking point: each time Scalise refused to rule out impeachment, he blamed Obama for keeping the issue alive.)
For the record, John Boehner won’t take impeachment off that increasingly crowded table either.
Worse, Boehner is ignoring the top GOPer who “started” it: himself. The notoriously weak speaker set this latest round of impeachment talk in motion by bringing the lawsuit against Obama to the floor in the first place. The idea of this “impeachment lite” was to let his Tea Party masters vent their Obama hatred in a way that it would squelch talk of actual impeachment. The Republican leadership knows the issue could backfire on them during the 2014 elections, just as it did when the GOP impeached Clinton in 1998 and lost five House seats that year they previously had in the bag.
But rather than cool impeachment fever, the lawsuit has in fact heated it up by giving extremists in the House another way to question “responsible” Republicans’ true commitment to the cause. At least four of the five conservatives who voted against the lawsuit did so because they think it’s a weenie version of impeachment.
Here’s the bottom line: Boehner responded to impeachment talk from his right wing by filing a lawsuit. Yet when Democrats responded to that same impeachment talk from the same right wing, Boehner claims that it doesn’t exist—and if it does, the Dems are behind it.
We’ve seen this political blame-the-victim game before. Republicans from Glenn Beck to Karl Rove blamed Obama for keeping the birther issue alive by not releasing his long-form birth certificate as soon as they demanded it. (When he did, the Trump-led crazies received a very public pie in the face.) Last October, Republicans with presidential ambitions, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, blamed Obama for the government shutdown, even though they both voted for it and maneuvered around their leadership to make it happen. It’s worth recalling that before the shutdown went down, Boehner insisted that it was going nowhere—just as he now swears that impeachment ain’t gonna happen.
Making the GOP bear some responsibility for the crazy in their ranks is the real purpose behind the spotlight Democrats are shining on the right-wing fever swamps. The media’s “both sides do it” reflex obscures the real meaning of this particular charade. Chris Matthews, I think, has it right: he’s been saying the right wants to delegitimize this president (more than they did even Clinton), to put an “asterisk” by his name in the history books so they can pretend that a black man was never really the president of the United States.
If Republicans win the Senate in November, then we’ll be hearing more a lot more about impeachment, no matter how much John Boehner says otherwise.
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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.”
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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:
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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.
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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