Tag Archives: media

Telling It Like (I Think) It Is

I can’t decide what I think about the relatively recent phenomenal growth of Substack newsletters. I’m one of the thousands–millions?–who regularly reads Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letter from an American,” and after my sister strongly recommended Robert Hubbell, I subscribed to his daily newsletter as well.

On the one hand, these transmittals afford writers much more scope than they would have if confined to more traditional columns or “op-ed” pages. On the other hand, an individual reader’s ability to pick and choose who to follow–and to disregard arguments from people with contrary perspectives–rather obviously adds to our ability to construct and inhabit “bubbles” that protect us from conflicting points of view, and thus reinforce our own biases. 

Newsletters–and not just those from Substack–are part of the significant and growing fragmentation of our current media environment–a fragmentation that has many Americans living in incommensurate realities.

I am one of those Americans, and despite the foregoing admissions, I will admit that I enjoy getting a newsletter that expresses my own views in language I find particularly apt. That was the case with Robert Hubbell’s reaction to Donald Trump’s announcement that he is once again running for President. I am sharing his response–which includes observations with which I heartily agree–but with the admission that people like Richardson and Hubbell have become essential parts of my bubble (and that I’m not proud that I inhabit one despite genuine efforts to access contrary perspectives…)

Hubbell focused less on Trump’s rambling and low-energy speech and more on the “about faces” of some of those who have previously been prominent Trump supporters. The former President’s announcement met with a marked lack of enthusiasm from major GOP donors, and from Fox News, the NYPost, and the WSJ –a lack of enthusiasm that has been widely reported.

With respect to Murdoch’s media empire, Hubbell wrote

Each was a staunch ally of Trump through two impeachments, insurrection, bribery and sex scandals, and Trump’s criminally negligent handling of the pandemic. The fact that each has changed its news coverage and editorial policy on forty-eight hours’ notice demonstrates that they are not independent news organizations… Rather, the supposed “news organizations” are extensions of Rupert Murdoch’s ego and desire for personal power. It is a disservice to maintain the fiction of their legitimacy. It is a pretense that insults the democratic tradition of a free press.

Then there was the seeming defection of a number of those all-important major donors.


So, too, with Trump’s major donors. The media is ticking off each announcement by a hedge fund billionaire or captain of industry who will no longer contribute to Trump’s campaign. See, e.g., Axios, GOP megadonor Stephen Schwarzman defects from Trump after 2024 announcement, and Fox News, GOP megadonors want to move on from ‘three-time loser’ Trump, look to back DeSantis in 2024 presidential bid.

It is shocking that billionaires are casually mentioning their switch in loyalties as if they are describing their preferences in wine or cigars. Their corruption of the political process is grotesque and yet they are unashamed and unrepentant for their role in funding a man who attempted a coup and incited an insurrection. No apology; no “Mea culpa;” just “Next!”

 In a particularly pithy phrase, Hubbell suggests that the lesson these donors took from their support of an aspiring fascist was that they needed “a better-educated, more articulate aspiring fascist to support.”

Hubbell is quite correct in pointing out that the current exodus from Trump–even assuming it isn’t transitory– isn’t the story. The story–the lesson we observers should take away from the current spectacle–is that

the enablers and co-conspirators who nearly prevented the peaceful transfer of power have learned nothing—except that they can make more money and acquire more power by creating another Frankenstein’s monster. We cannot treat them as if they are legitimate participants in the political process. They are not. They are vultures looking for carrion.

While I appreciate his felicitous turn of phrase, what really makes Hubbell’s newsletter valuable–at least to me– is that he consistently includes suggestions for actions citizens can take. He provides answers to the recurring question: what can we citizens do? It was that aspect of his newsletter that most appealed to my sister, and now appeals to me–a roadmap of sorts that helps dispel the feelings of powerlessness that periodically overcome and depress us.

My newsletters: Richardson for historical context. Krugman for economic wisdom. Nichols for biting commentary. And Hubbell for positivity and–despite occasional lapses into legalese (he’s a lawyer)–intermittent rays of sunshine….. 

Are We On Self-Destruct?

I am still mulling over the attack that sent Paul Pelosi to the hospital.

You will note that I have not characterized that vicious assault as an attack “on” Paul Pelosi, because that would be inaccurate. The maniac who invaded the Pelosi home was clearly intent upon finding and injuring or killing Nancy Pelosi. It was only because she wasn’t home that he turned his fury and hammer on her 82-year-old husband.

It’s bad enough that the crazy media outlets have responded by doing what they do–inventing weird and exculpatory stories entirely remote from any evidence whatever. (One “explanation” making the rounds suggests that Nancy Pelosi attacked her husband and the entire episode as reported was a cover-up. Other rightwing fantasies are equally bizarre.) But coverage from the sources we like to believe produce legitimate journalism hasn’t been much better.

As several pundits have reminded us, this was an attempted assassination of the Speaker of the U.S. House–the person who is third in line for the U.S. Presidency. Think about that.

In his newsletter, Robert Hubbell minced no words, asserting that the attack “has struck at the heart of America’s political dysfunction and mass delusion.”

Major media outlets are going out of their way to caution that “the assailant’s motives are unknown” and limiting their description of what occurred to “an attack on Paul Pelosi” without acknowledging that the intended target was the person third-in-line for the presidency of the US. Right-wing media is in full conspiracy mode, trafficking in wild and baseless claims that are insulting, defamatory, and offensive to a grieving family and a severely wounded victim. Elon Musk inflamed the situation by tweeting and deleting a bogus “opinion” article from a media outlet known for peddling bizarre conspiracy theories, e.g., that Hillary Clinton died before the 2016 election and her “body double” debated Trump

Apparently, Elon Musk tweeted a link to an “opinion” piece that was admittedly pure  speculation about what “might” have happened. According to Hubbell, Musk deleted the tweet shortly thereafter, “but not before it was exposed to his 120 million followers.”

The damage was done. No amount of truth-telling or retractions by reckless Fox affiliates will overcome the momentum created by Musk’s tweet. See NYTimes, Elon Musk, in a Tweet, Shares Link From Site Known to Publish False News and WaPo, Paul Pelosi attack prompts Elon Musk and political right to spread misinformation.

 In short order, Elon Musk and a reckless Fox affiliate converted a near-miss national tragedy into a cesspool of disinformation and delusion. In the process, the Pelosi family is being subjected to a second trauma that may be greater than the original assassination attempt and injuries suffered by Paul Pelosi.

So here we are. An estimated third of American citizens get their “information” from sources so distant from fact and reality that the term “propaganda” seems inadequate. If, as the Founders’ believed, democratic self-government requires an informed citizenry, the United States is in big trouble.

A commenter to a previous post on the state of our information environment pointed out that the ability to spread disinformation and confusion has grown with each “advance” in communication–newspapers, radio, television, movies, and now the Internet. True. The question we face is: what do we do about it? No serious person wants to abandon the First Amendment–and for that matter, we couldn’t totally suppress manufactured garbage if we tried.

And to be fair, it isn’t just America.

We are at a place in human history where a substantial portion of the population simply cannot cope with the realities, constant changes and uncertainties  of modern life. Those humans are a ready-made, eager audience for the purveyors of hate and division–and so long as there is an audience, there will be self-promoters to prey on that audience, either to make money (Alex Jones) or acquire political power (Trump/ fill in your favorite example).

My middle son has a theory that the reason we haven’t detected evidence of superior alien civilizations “out there” is because, at a certain point in the evolution of a civilization, it self-destructs. I hope he’s wrong, but the trajectory of humanity right now sure lends weight to that theory.

In less than a week, Americans will go to the polls and choose whether to continue down the path of conspiracy and theocracy–a path that will continue to facilitate the fascist fantasies being spread by Elon Musk, Fox News and their ilk, and will likely signal the end of the American Idea as we have understood it.

Even if we manage to avoid that result, we will be left with a conundrum: what do we do about the prevalence and appeal of invented realities–lies– and the people who believe and act on them?

 

Stop The World, I Want Off Doesn’t Work

Posted this by mistake, but just consider it an extra…Sorry to clutter your inboxes.

I’ve often thought that if ultra-wealthy people like Bloomberg and Gates really want to help the country reject White Nationalism and misogyny, they would use their dollars to buy Fox News and its clones. (But no one ever listens to me…)

Evidently, however, some rich people on the Right have come to the same conclusion: propaganda can be effective if you dominate the information landscape. As Vox (among others) has reported, CNN-one of the world’s most powerful news outlets– is in the process of change, and that change happens to be in sync with the views of one of the world’s richest men.

OK–so CNN has a new owner, and a new boss. Changes are coming. There is nothing inherently suspicious about change–but in this case, the question is: will change come “because the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, its new owner, wants an overhaul? Or is it at the behest of a conservative billionaire investor in the company who sits on its board?

Malone has repeatedly wished, in public, for CNN to remake itself. And his prescription happens to sync with the new CNN agenda: a plan to steer the channel away from what Malone and others call a liberal bias they say muddles opinion and news. And to shift it toward a supposedly centrist, just-the-facts bent.

Just “fair and balanced,” right? (Malone has opined that Fox News is “real journalism.”..)

Those who now control CNN have hotly denied any meddling by Malone, and insist that their goal is a non-ideological middle ground between Fox and MSNBC. Time will tell, but suspicions of a political agenda raise a more basic question: can the various plutocrats who are  “flooding the zone” with conservative propaganda, the Neanderthals in Red state legislatures, and the ideologues who’ve been appointed to the courts win the fight they are waging against modernity?

Can they take the country back to a time when rich White Christian men were in charge? A time when they didn’t have to share dominance with uppity women, people of color and immigrants from “shithole” countries?

I very much doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong–the forces of reaction can bring progress to a temporary standstill–and “temporary” can be a long time.  As we’ve seen, GOP efforts to pack the courts can end up eviscerating constitutional guarantees and eliminating longstanding rights. The Tucker Carlsons of the world can give aid and comfort to the incels, militias and other assorted hate groups that litter the American landscape.

But ultimately, they can’t erase a century of cultural change. The America we currently live in is a dramatically different country than the one these people want so desperately to re-install.

Let me offer some homegrown examples.

Before I sat down to write this blog, my husband and I shopped at the Costco on the south side of Indianapolis. That location serves the suburban south side of town and the adjoining exurban and rural–very Republican– areas. The store carries a variety of foods catering to its wide variety of shoppers–as I browsed, I saw Sikh turbans, Muslim hijabs and a variety of “ethnic” folks.

I’ve previously noted that I read my husband’s Engineering World Record. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) A story in the current issue highlighted pilot projects testing out “smart roads.” Engineers in Kansas and Denver are working with technologies developed Germany’s Siemens A.G., by  Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and by France’s Renault. Companies from Israel, Italy and India are all in the mix.

Another article reported on several cross-country joint ventures focused on “green hydrogen.” 

When I was a girl–back in the Ice Age–a trip to another continent seemed impossibly exotic. I would have been astonished to learn that I’d have a granddaughter living in England and a son living in Amsterdam–and that I would keep in touch with them between visits via that science-fiction-promised “picture phone”–i.e., FaceTime.

The frightened reactionaries trying to “stop the world” may well create an extended period of chaos, but there is simply no way they can “reverse engineer” the cultural changes that have brought us to today’s normal. Women aren’t going back to the kitchen and nursery; LGBTQ folks aren’t climbing back into the closet, interracial couples aren’t divorcing and Black Americans aren’t going back to the plantation.

The vastly increased diversity of America’s cities has spread to the suburbs. Outside of the most isolated rural precincts, most Americans have friends and relatives who don’t look or pray like they do. 

The Rightwing can make acceptance difficult, or a Blue wave in November can accelerate it.  Either way,  the Right will ultimately lose. 

America isn’t going back to the 1950s.

 

 

 

 

The Decline Of Seriousness

A few days ago, I posted about the idiocy of proposals made by several Republican legislators who advocate arming teachers. On Facebook, a friend who is a lawyer posted a number of points in addition to the ones I’d raised; he’s a good lawyer, and in “lawyerly” fashion, he raised the following nine questions that focused on the significant liability issues involved.

Here are his contributions to the multiple other concerns that any such effort would raise:

1) If a child gains access to the teacher’s gun and something bad happens, will the school system’s insurance cover the liability?
2) If a teacher believes use of force is needed and accidentally harms an innocent child, will the school system’s insurance cover the liability?
3) If a teacher wrongfully decided that use of force is needed, will the teacher face criminal liability?
4) Will the school system (that won’t pay for pencils) pay for the gun, ammunition, training, a trigger lock, a gun cabinet, or other necessities?
5) Will teachers be required to “register” that they have a gun?
6) What happens, in the heat of the moment, if there is a shootout between teachers, each thinking the other is the shooter?
7) How will police differentiate an armed teacher from a school shooter?
8)) Can a teacher defend himself/herself against a police officer who thinks the teacher is the shooter?
9) Will a teacher face liability for failing to use force?

Anyone who has ever practiced law–or, for that matter, sold insurance–will recognize the pertinence of these questions.

Of course, just reading my friend’s questions raises several others. Why aren’t reporters asking proponents of this stupidity to respond to these and other obvious issues? Why are lawmakers–who ask for  our votes on the basis of their presumed ability to consider the consequences of  legislation they pass and programs they fund–seemingly blind to the existence of these very foreseeable concerns? 

That was a rhetorical question; we all know the answer. They aren’t serious–not about arming teachers, and not about doing their jobs.

If it has done nothing else, this entire discussion about gun violence has vividly illustrated the vacuousness of  current American politics and the inability of our institutions–especially Congress–to address the most pressing issues facing the country. It’s true that it has put a spotlight on the clowns–the cohort of embarrassing know-nothings, bigots and nut-cases–but it has also pointed to the reason they are there: voters who, for reasons I cannot comprehend, cast ballots for them.

Marjorie Taylor Green just won her primary. She’s far from the only certifiably crazy member of Congress, just one of the loudest. Remember Paul Gosar? His siblings took out television ads warning voters that he was unfit to serve, but despite the fact that several of his brothers and sisters warned that he was mentally “off,” he won his election. I’ve never seen Jim Jordan when he wasn’t screaming something partisan and off the rails. Most people who read this blog can name a number of others, and none of them seem to make the slightest attempt at transmitting gravitas, or seriousness. They evidently think they were elected to put on a performance (preferably on Fox News) not to study and consider the pros and cons of legislation.

Today’s GOP isn’t in the business of governing; instead, its members are providing bread and circuses.

With respect to my lawyer-friend’s very foreseeable, very logical questions, I’m quite sure  these bozos have never considered any of them–they are too busy fighting a culture war and setting Americans against each other. The suggestion to arm educators is just one way among many to avoid actually thinking about the problem of mass gun violence–a glib and facile response that excuses them from doing the difficult job of thinking about the problem and devising and evaluating reasonable solutions.

Bottom line, I am SO TIRED of people who spit on a Constitution they’ve clearly never read or studied, who refuse to give taxpayers a single day’s real work for the dollars we pay them, and who spend zero time or effort considering the national interest or the common good.(They think any effort to legislate for the common good is socialism–and they’re agin it.)

And I am really, really OVER the morons who vote for them and the millions of non-voters whose absence at the polls increases the likelihood that the morons’ candidates will win.

Okay–rant concluded……See you tomorrow.

The Story Of Our Age

Jeffrey Goldberg is the editor of the Atlantic, one of the more credible and informative publications I read, and he recently transmitted an email to subscribers titled “Notes from the Editor-in-Chief.” I am going to take the liberty of quoting large portions of that message, because I entirely agree with him about the nature and extent of the danger we face.

Last week, a Michigan congresswoman whose existence had not yet entered the rest of the country’s consciousness credited Donald Trump with having “caught Osama bin Laden,” among other terrorists. It is difficult to forget that night in 2011 when Barack Obama told the world that, on his orders, a team of Navy commandos had killed the al-Qaeda leader. But Representative Lisa McClain, a first-term member of Congress, showed that, with effort, and with a desire to feed Trump’s delusions and maintain her standing among his supporters, anything is possible.

In ordinary times, McClain’s claim would have been mocked and then forgotten. But because these are not ordinary times—these are times in which citizens of the same country live in entirely different information realities—I put her assertion about bin Laden on a kind of watch list. In six months, I worry, we may learn that a provably false claim made by a single unserious congressional backbencher has spread into MAGA America, a place where Barack Obama is believed to be a Kenyan-born Muslim and Donald Trump is thought to be the victim of a coup.

Disinformation is the story of our age. We see it at work in Russia, whose citizens have been led to believe the lies that Ukraine is an aggressor nation and that the Russian army is winning a war against modern-day Nazis. We see it at work in Europe and the Middle East, where conspiracies about hidden hands and occult forces are adopted by those who, in the words of the historian Walter Russell Mead, lack the ability to “see the world clearly and discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings.” We see it weaponized by authoritarians around the globe, for whom democracy, accountability, and transparency pose mortal threats. And we see it, of course, in our own country, in which tens of millions of voters believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president because the man he beat in 2020 specializes in sabotaging reality for personal and political gain. This mass delusion has enormous consequences for the future of democracy. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum has noted, “Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.” Sophisticated, richly funded, technology-enabled disinformation campaigns are providing losers with other options.

The Atlantic has joined with the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, and the two entities staged a conference focusing upon disinformation of all sorts. (The conference is available online.) The Institute of Politics was founded by David Axelrod, who has expressed his opinion that the “future of this country—and of our democratic allies around the world—depends on the ability and willingness of citizens to discern truth from falsehood.”

Goldberg was forthright in admitting to the nature of the challenge disinformation poses for “big-tent” magazines like the Atlantic.  He reiterated his belief that citizens of democracies require  a wide variety of views and opinions, and insisted that

We strive for nonpartisanship at The Atlantic, and we aim to publish independent thinkers and a wide variety of viewpoints. But this most recent period in American history has presented what might be called “both-sides journalism” with serious challenges—challenges that have prevented this magazine from publishing many pro-Trump articles. (After all, our articles must pass through a rigorous fact-checking process.)

Long-term, the emergence of our citizens from the Tower of Babel we currently inhabit will require a co-ordinated effort. My own repeated calls for more and better civics education–leading to greater levels of civic literacy– obviously point to an important part of that effort, but civics education alone cannot address the economic and psychological insecurities that make so many Americans receptive to the lies and hatreds being promoted by would-be autocrats and their enablers.

I don’t know what it would take–what policies could impose at least a minimum of coherence and integrity to the Wild West that is our current information environment without sacrificing the First Amendment– but as Goldberg  and Axelrod clearly understand, figuring that out is obviously job number one.

I’m on vacation without reliable Internet access, but when I get home, I intend to click through and watch that conference….