Tag Archives: Fox News

America’s TASS

Remember TASS? It was the media arm of the Soviet Government–the Russian News Agency, owned and operated by the government. 

Fox News–or as those of us resistant to its messaging like to call it, “Faux News”–isn’t technically owned by the GOP. But it might just as well be; it is the not-so-unofficial arm of the radical lunatics who are now fully in control of a once-reputable political party. This assertion doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone outside the cult, but recent revelations are, if anything, more troubling.

Not just troubling, actually–horrifying.

As The Washington Post and other media outlets have reported, the wacko pundits of Fox had arguably more influence over Trump than members of his official cabinet (not that those cabinet members had been plucked from the gardens of competence…). New revelations from books written by former staffers are eye-opening.

Stephanie Grisham, former press secretary to President Donald Trump, remembers the challenges that came from so many Fox News hosts having the direct number to reach Trump in the White House residence.
 
“There were times the president would come down the next morning and say, ‘Well, Sean thinks we should do this,’ or, ‘Judge Jeanine thinks we should do this,’ ” said Grisham, referring to Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, both of whom host prime-time Fox News shows.

Grisham — who resigned from the White House amid the Jan. 6 attacks and has since written a book critical of Trump — said West Wing staffers would simply roll their eyes in frustration as they scrambled to respond to the influence of the network’s hosts, who weighed in on everything from personnel to messaging strategy.
 
Trump’s staff, allies and even adversaries were long accustomed to playing to an “Audience of One” — a commander in chief with a twitchy TiVo finger and obsessed with cable news.

Investigations into the insurrection have uncovered text messages that illustrate just how closely these unelected, unhinged ideologues were connected to the White House during Trump’s Presidency.

As the violence in the Capitol was occurring, several Fox News hosts sent texts to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, texts that, as the Post reports, “crystallize with new specificity just how tightly Fox News and the White House were entwined during the Trump years, with many of the network’s top hosts serving as a cable cabinet of unofficial advisers.”

A former senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of private discussions, said Trump would also sometimes dial Hannity and Lou Dobbs — whose Fox Business show was canceled in February — into Oval Office staff meetings.

A report from The Week also reported the extent to which Trump relied on Fox pundits for policy decisions.

Alyssa Farah, a Trump White House communications director, said the goal of Trump’s staff was to “try to get ahead of what advice you thought he was going to be given by these people,” because their unofficial counsel “could completely change his mind on something.” 

Farah said Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Pirro, and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs had the most influence on Trump. Michael Pillsbury, an informal Trump adviser, told the Posthe saw the biggest impact from Dobbs, whose show was canceled last February. Trump began embracing lawyer Sidney Powell and other election fabulists after watching them on Dobbs’ show, and he was inclined to believe their patently false claims in part because he was seeing on TV, he added. 

“It taught me the power of the young producers at Fox, and Fox Business especially,” Pillsbury told the Post. “These young producers who are in their mid-20s. They come out of the conservative movement, they’ve never been in the government. They are presented with these reckless, fantastical accounts. And they believe them and put them on for ratings.”

During the four years of the Trump Administration, sane Americans frequently felt we were living in “never-never land”–that what we were witnessing was just too bizarre to be real. (According to multiple reports, our allies shared that level of disbelief.)

I guess when you inhabit a culture that puts a premium on click-bait, a culture that equates celebrity with merit, wealth with competence (remember that wonderful line from “If I Were A Rich Man”? “When you’re rich, they think you really know…”) and dismisses expertise and knowledge as “elitist,” you lose your anchor to reality.

To the best of my knowledge, even TASS never sank to the level of a Lou Dobbs or Tucker Carlson.

 

 

Can Conservatives With Integrity Save Us?

Many thanks to all the readers who posted kind thoughts yesterday. They are much appreciated!

Among the regular readers of this blog are several people I came to know through Republican politics. Even then–“back in the day”–I had philosophical differences with a couple of them. (I generally described myself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, but even in my politically-active days, I defined “fiscal conservatism” as prudence, as “pay as you go”–not as ignoring the needs of the poor while being generous to wealthy purported “job creators.”)

The thing is, philosophical differences are philosophical. Rational adults can discuss them, agree or disagree about what the evidence tells us, and even find middle ground. As anyone who is following today’s political environment can attest, today’s GOP is neither rational nor philosophical. Its members bear virtually no resemblance to the center-right, generally Conservative party of which I was once a part.

The liberals and Democrats who dismiss help from the so-called Never Trumpers point out that many of them actively worked for the GOP for years and continue to hold very conservative political views. True–and that is their strategic virtue. The crazies who currently control the GOP and its various propaganda arms certainly aren’t going to listen to people like me; they most definitely aren’t going to listen to AOC and think, “you know, she has a point.” When the New York Times or the Washington Post reports that something from Fox News is false, they aren’t going to believe it.

However, when people who are known to be principled conservatives refuse to engage in the propaganda, some who are not entirely lost to the cult may pay attention. So when longtime commentators resign from Fox in protest, it is a hopeful sign.Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg just did that very thing.

We joined Fox News as contributors in early 2009. Combined, that’s more than 20 years of experience, relationships, and friendships. For most of that time, we were proud to be associated with the network, if not necessarily with every program, opinion, or scandal that aroused controversy. We believed, sincerely, that the country needed Fox News. Whether you call it liberal media bias or simply a form of groupthink around certain narratives, having a news network that brought different assumptions and asked different questions—while still providing real reporting and insightful conservative analysis and opinion—was good for the country and journalism.

Fox News still does real reporting, and there are still responsible conservatives providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.

A case in point: Patriot Purge, a three-part series hosted by Tucker Carlson.

As they write, the Carlson piece is not the “hard-hitting expose” Fox is promoting.

it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. And its message is clear: The U.S. government is targeting patriotic Americans in the same manner —and with the same tools—that it used to target al Qaeda….

This is not happening. And we think it’s dangerous to pretend it is. If a person with such a platform shares such misinformation loud enough and long enough, there are Americans who will believe—and act upon—it.

This isn’t theoretical. This is what actually happened on January 6, 2021.

The two of them defend the news programming on Fox, which they say “routinely does what it is supposed to do.” If one only turned Fox on for the news, they’d be told that COVID-19 is deadly, vaccines work, Joe Biden won Arizona, the election wasn’t stolen, and January 6 wasn’t a “false flag” operation. But the news side of Fox has been buried by commentary masquerading as reporting, and they’ve had enough.

As they conclude:

With the release of Patriot Purge, we felt we could no longer “do right as we see it” and remain at Fox News. So we resigned.

We remain grateful for the opportunities we’ve had at Fox and we continue to admire many of the hard-working journalists who work there. This is our last recourse. We do not regret our decision, even if we find it regrettably necessary.

We often hear people bemoan the GOP’s “move to the right.” That isn’t really accurate. I don’t know where insanity falls on the political spectrum, but a collection of conspiracy theories and racial and religious animosities are not a political philosophy. Genuine conservatives with integrity understand that the Republican Party is no longer home to people holding genuinely conservative beliefs.Just ask Liz Cheney.

Ultimately, whether our “backsliding democracy” survives may depend on how many principled conservatives are willing to join Cheney, Goldberg, et al. and draw a line in the sand.

 

 

A Persuasive (And Scary) Analysis

Kevin Drum has published a lengthy, very thoughtful and well-documented article in Mother Jones, investigating the sources of America’s anger.

As he points out, Americans aren’t indiscriminately angry: we’re angry about politics–and “way, way angrier” than we used to be. The question, of course, is: what accounts for the degree of animus that characterizes today’s partisan divide?

Drum points to survey research showing that partisan ire is significantly higher than in the past. He then– meticulously–examines the “usual suspects”–the villains identified by the chattering classes as likely causes. Spoiler alert: he finds them wanting.

I’ve been spending considerable time digging into the source of our collective rage, and the answer to this question is trickier than most people think. For starters, any good answer has to fit the timeline of when our national temper tantrum began—roughly around the year 2000. The answer also has to be true: That is, it needs to be a genuine change from past behavior—maybe an inflection point or a sudden acceleration. Once you put those two things together, the number of candidates plummets.

Drum goes through both those “usual suspects” and the data, eliminating conspiracy theories (as Hofstadter in particular made clear in his Paranoid Style in American Politics, a “fondness for conspiracy theories has pervaded American culture from the very beginning.”) and providing several examples equivalent to the nutty QAnon beliefs with which we are familiar.

He also deconstructs the effects of social media, despite acknowledging many of the concerns about it.

Social media can’t be the main explanation for a trend that started 20 years ago. When you’re faced with trying to account for a sudden new eruption on the political scene like Donald Trump, it’s easy to think that the explanation must be something shiny and new, and social media is the obvious candidate. This is doubly true for someone whose meteoric rise was fueled by his deranged Twitter account. But the evidence simply doesn’t back that up.

Drum even considers the possibility that our national anger has been triggered by reality– by things in the country getting worse: manufacturing jobs disappearing, middle-class incomes stagnating–and for conservatives, the steady liberalization of cultural norms. But as he points out, with examples–contrary to conventional wisdom, a lot of things have gotten better, not worse. Even racism has declined.

So–if the “usual suspects” aren’t the cause, what is? Why has American trust in government plummeted and hostility toward political opponents skyrocketed?

To find an answer, then, we need to look for things that (a) are politically salient and (b) have changed dramatically over the past two to three decades. The most obvious one is Fox News.

When it debuted in 1996, Fox News was an afterthought in Republican politics. But after switching to a more hardline conservatism in the late ’90s it quickly attracted viewership from more than a third of all Republicans by the early 2000s. And as anyone who’s watched Fox knows, its fundamental message is rage at what liberals are doing to our country. Over the years the specific message has changed with the times—from terrorism to open borders to Benghazi to Christian cake bakers to critical race theory—but it’s always about what liberal politicians are doing to cripple America, usually with a large dose of thinly veiled racism to give it emotional heft. If you listen to this on a daily basis, is it any wonder that your trust in government would plummet? And on the flip side, if you’re a progressive watching what conservatives are doing in response to Fox News, is it any wonder that your trust in government might plummet as well?

The anger generated by Fox has demonstrable political consequences.

Rage toward Democrats means more votes for Republicans. As far back as 2007 researchers learned that the mere presence of Fox News on a cable system increased Republican vote share by nearly 1 percent. A more recent study estimates that a minuscule 150 seconds per week of watching Fox News can increase the Republican vote share. In a study of real-life impact, researchers found that this means the mere existence of Fox News on a cable system induced somewhere between 3 and 8 percent of non-Republicans to vote for the Republican Party in the 2000 presidential election.

Finally, Drum notes that the political effects of Fox News have been magnified by religion–more specifically, its decline.

 This decline has been felt acutely by Republicans in particular. White evangelicals may have been the political stars of the Reagan era, but since their peak during the ’90s, Republicans have watched despondently as the reach and influence of conservative Christians has fallen even within their own party….

We’ve seen the impact of this increasingly powerful combination over the past several months, climaxing in the insurrection of January 6. But the insurrection itself was merely the most dramatic moment of a long campaign—and the campaign continues. How, we wonder, can so many people believe what Trump says about election fraud? How can they be willing to jettison democracy in favor of a demagogue? The answer comes into focus when you look at the past couple of decades. Thanks to Fox News, conservative trust in government is so low that Republican partisans can easily believe Democrats have cheated on a mass scale, and white evangelicals in particular are willing to fight with the spirit of someone literally facing Armageddon.

I think he’s right–and I have no idea what we can do about it.

 

Communicating?

Communication is hard work in the best of times–and we definitely don’t live in the best of times.

Academics who study communication tend to focus on barriers to understanding like cultural differences and different reactions to “nonverbal” cues and body language. (I await research on how Zoom interactions affect those nonverbal cues…)There’s a whole field of intercultural communication, established back in 1959 by an anthropologist named Edward Hall.

So what–I hear you asking–does any of this abstract scholarly research have to do with the people filling American streets clamoring for justice and change?

A lot, I think. An enormous amount of civic unrest is a result of failure to truly communicate.

A recurring discussion on this blog has focused on the extent to which our inability to understand each other is been rooted in the media environment we currently inhabit. It isn’t simply the propaganda promulgated by talk radio, Fox and Sinclair–it is also the relatively recent, well-meaning but misplaced effort of so-called “Legacy” media to be “balanced,” to be fair, to give even the fringiest points of view a respectful treatment. As a result, even bizarre perspectives have been given a patina of respectability. This emphasis on “balance” plays directly into the narrative of the far Right–and the recent publication of the Tom Cotton op-ed by the New York Times is just one recent example.  Zuckerberg’s cowardly refusal to fact-check Republican lies on FaceBook is another.

Heather Cox Richardson sees signs that such unearned respect may be changing–and that Trump’s sinking poll results are evidence that he and his enablers are losing the benefits of that unduly deferential narrative.

Even more indicative that the national narrative is changing was the announcement yesterday that James Bennet had resigned as the editorial page editor of the New York Times. Bennet ran an op-ed last Wednesday by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton titled (by the Times, not by Cotton) “Send in the Troops.” The inflammatory piece blamed “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa” for an “orgy of violence” during the recent protests and claimed that “outnumbered police officers… bore the brunt of the violence.” Neither of these statements is true, and they clothe a false Republican narrative in what appears to be fact. Cotton’s solution to the protests was to send in the military to restore “law and order,” and he misquoted the Constitution to defend that conclusion.

The kerfuffle over this op-ed seems like it’s more than a normal media skirmish. For more than a century, American media has tried to report facts impartially….

Richardson pegs the start of talk radio to the abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine; it was the beginning of a propaganda barrage with which we are now all too familiar:  white taxpayers under siege by godless women and people of color. Fox News Channel wasn’t far behind. Fox’s greatest success was in equating “fair” with “balanced.”  Other media outlets became defensive; in order to protect themselves against charges that they were biased, they accepted the notion that media must show “both sides.”

Richardson thinks Bennet’s resignation over the Cotton op-ed “marks a shift in the media that has been building for months as newspapers and television chyrons increasingly check political falsehoods in favor of fact-based argument.”

If accurate, that is good news. It would be even better if the Left wasn’t–once again–engaging in communicative suicide.

Richardson is hardly the only commentator expressing frustration over the slogan  “defund the police”–a phrase that suggests abolishing police departments. What is actually intended is perfectly reasonable–  proponents want to shrink police responsibilities and decrease police budgets, investing instead in the community resources that have lost money as police budgets have exploded–but it is hard to imagine a stupider slogan or a more welcome gift to a GOP desperately trying to change the subject from a pandemic and massive protests.

They may not be able to govern, but one thing Republicans are good at is labeling, at carefully choosing terminology likely to resonate with the majority of voters who are not obsessively following political news and able to “deconstruct” political phrasing. Remember the “death tax”? Remember when “undocumented workers” became “illegal aliens,” the “social safety net” became “socialism,” and “national health care” became “socialized medicine”?

I think Richardson is right that the media is–slowly– jettisoning false equivalency for fact-based objectivity. That’s good news for “team blue”–and not an invitation to muddy the waters with yet another unforced communication error.

When you mean “reform policing,” say “reform policing,” or something similar. Don’t hand Trump a weapon with which to confuse and mislead. Communicate!

Making Matters Worse….

If Trump and his sorry band of predators were simply inept–unable to govern (and certainly unable to govern in the public interest)–it would be bad enough, since  incompetence alone is causing hundreds–perhaps thousands– of unnecessary deaths.

But Trump can’t leave bad enough alone. As crowds of seriously stupid people protested “stay at home” orders in several states, he took to Twitter to encourage them–in language that has been interpreted as advocating “overthrowing” the (Democratic) governors of three of those states.

It’s never safe to attribute intent to Donald J. Trump, since most of his attempts at communication are incoherent. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that encouraging the violent overthrow of the government may be a federal crime. (I’m sure Trump would reiterate his position that the President cannot be investigated for criminal behavior, let alone charged–a position he’s held only since becoming President. It certainly wasn’t his position when Obama–of whom he is clearly insanely jealous–was in office.)

However, as Heather Cox Richardson has written (link unavailable), there is more to it than Trump’s usual obliviousness.

Since the 1980s, the Republican Party has retained power by insisting that its leaders were defending America from dangerous “liberals,” who wanted to redistribute wealth from hardworking, religious, usually white, taxpayers, to “special interests.” In the years since President Ronald Reagan, there has been less and less nuance in that narrative and, by the time of President Barack Obama, no room to compromise. The division of the nation into “us” versus “them” has come to override any attempt at actual problem solving; Republican lawmakers simply address national problems with what their ideological narrative requires: cuts to taxes, regulation, and social welfare programs.

The coronavirus pandemic requires us to unite for our own safety, but members of the Republican Party can only see the world in partisan terms. Boston College political scientist David Hopkins notes that “The contemporary Republican Party has been built to wage ideological and partisan conflict more than to manage the government or solve specific social problems.” Republicans remain so consumed by their war on Democrats and liberals they cannot fathom working together to fight the pandemic.

Richardson sees Trump’s tweets in the context of that GOP narrative–and notes that it is a narrative constantly and wholeheartedly advanced by Fox News. As she points out, the relatively small protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan was not some eruption of grass-roots sentiment; it was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the DeVos family, and the reason anyone even heard about it was because right-wing media–especially Fox– hyped it.

FNC personality Jeanine Pirro said of the Michigan protesters: “God bless them, it’s going to happen all over the country.” FNC personality Laura Ingraham tweeted a video of it, saying: “Time to get your freedom back.” FNC personality Tucker Carlson interviewed a representative of the MCC on his show; the person got another interview on “Fox & Friends” the next day. Indeed, Trump’s “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” tweet came just after a program on the Fox News Channel ran a story on protests at the Minnesota governor’s office by a group called “Liberate Minnesota.”

The goal of this enterprise is to keep Republicans in office in 2020. The latest filing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) leadership committee shows that four of the top five donors are executives for the Fox News Channel. Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Viet Dinh, FNC’s Legal Adviser and Policy Director, and the president of 21st Century Fox all gave $20,600.

Richardson identifies Trump’s “central political problem” as his inability to work with Democrats to implement the measures needed in a time of crisis. I think she’s being kind. I think his “central problem” is a combination of mental illness, narcissism, abysmal ignorance and stupidity. (Ignorance and stupidity are not the same thing; ignorance is an absence of information and can be remedied–stupid can’t be fixed.)

Be that as it may, however, the “central political problem” America faces is an administration composed of people with whom our mentally-ill and entirely self-regarding President feels comfortable. Its an assemblage that is both thoroughly corrupt and totally unfamiliar with the proper purposes and operations of government–  and it’s supported by a base in thrall to a “state media” that puts Pravda to shame.

We know Trump and his administration are stealing us blind; what is worse, between their daily rollbacks of environmental protections and their monumental incompetence in crisis management, they are literally killing us.