Romney and Salvadoran Death Squads

August 9, 2012

Many will think this revelation is part of a dirty tricks campaign and dismiss it off-hand.  I know the headline alone sounds so sensational as to trigger that reaction.  However, it’s a long article with a wealth of information and should be read carefully before making any real judgment.  This weekend I’ll attempt an analysis and post something.  Until then, read up.

More on Wade Michael Page

August 9, 2012

I said in my first blog post that Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist mass murderer who killed 6 people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday, was shaped by a community of ideas and that I doubted whether the media would pursue those ideas to its source.

Along those lines, I think Glenn Greenwald has a very thoughtful post today on the topic.  Please go read it.

My thoughts are still percolating but I will say this:  ever since 9/11 our country, led by government sources in tandem with our media, has ratcheted up the propaganda with respect to Islamic terrorists.  President Bush framed the issue existentially.  They hate our freedoms.  They are trying to kill you.  If we aren’t fighting them over there, we’ll be fighting them over here.  And so on and so forth.  We’re reminded of it every time we fly and every time the DHS issues another alert.

What’s the problem with this?  Well, for one thing, it isn’t exactly true.  These Islamic groups by and large are not motivated by hatred of our freedoms and most of them are not particularly interested in bringing the fight to United States territory.  Most of these groups are formed as a direct result of operations and/or policies we pursue overseas.  They are motivated, first and foremost, by political objectives – often times because of what we’re doing in their countries.

When we were sold the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when the Bush Administration attempted to explain away its own intelligence and security failures leading up to 9/11, we were sold the idea that their way of life and our way of life were mutually hostile.  Therefore, we had to go to war, not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

Now, no one officially condemned all Muslims.  But when you paint the enemy in such broad strokes, the lines are destined to look a little blurry.  And then it was necessary to blur the lines even further so that Americans could no longer tell the difference between terrorists and Iraqi civilians rightfully upset about their houses being blown up, their entire law and order apparatus being dismantled and replaced with… nothing, and their country’s resources being exploited.

And then, of course, there’s the existential threat posed by Iran.

At what point is it surprising that the fringe elements, especially those who have Army training and access to guns, start to see the enemy everywhere they see brown skin and funny accents?

What Glenn said

August 9, 2012

Not only is the isolated quote disgusting but the article that Glenn links to is yet another example of pointless wheel spinning, this time by Mark Halperin.  Our journalistic class is truly another species of human.

Rachel Maddow – Tribal Punditry

August 8, 2012

My second link to Bob.  This is the introductory piece to what promises to be a multi-day analysis of a single segment hosted by Rachel Maddow on her show last week.  I recommend you follow it along with me.

I will let Bob’s analysis speak for itself but let me make a couple of points as an introduction to this criticism of Maddow.  Many of my friends might blanch at my unflattering view of Maddow.  As far as liberals on TV go, I believe she is the most widely watched and she has been packaged by MSNBC and liberal promoters as the Queen of Integrity.  It will not be easy for some of my friends to accept any other image.

I believe that MSNBC made a business decision, most likely starting with the success of Keith Olbermann’s rants on Countdown, to cater to a niche market consisting of people who were angry about Bush policies and angry at Fox News.  Their business model is what I like to call Tribal News.  It draws upon some of the strengths of the Fox News programming but flips it to cater to MSNBC’s targeted niche market.

The Tribal News business model has two mutually reinforcing goals:

  1. Flatter the audience – as often as possible, make your audience feel clever, tuned-in, hip, in on the joke, morally superior, high-minded, better informed, and an integral part of a progressive tide in history.
  2. Paint the opposition as The Other – as often as possible, make those other guys look stupid, dishonest, bigoted, unethical, corrupt, weird, hypocritical, sexist, out-of-touch, without humor, elitist, and part of a fascist-leaning political movement that only survives by hoodwinking all of its supporters, who are all either ignorant, rich, or racist.

Rachel Maddow is MSNBC’s star performer.  Her talent at accomplishing those goals is bar none the closest thing liberals have to a Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity.

I’ll get into what’s wrong with that approach in later posts and why it ultimately harms liberal interests to play that sort of game.  For now, just go over there to Bob’s website and read his first installment.

Frank Bruni is Paid to be Fatuous

August 8, 2012

I’ve got a couple of links to Bob today.

This first one features a common complaint I have too.  The silly, pointless, space-wasting line-up that comprises most of the NY Times Op-Ed writers.  Frank Bruni, who cut his teeth as a restaurant critic of all things, now appears to write about politics.  But (to borrow a phrase from Bob) what he’s actually doing is conducting Potemkin Discussions about politics.

Go read Bob’s full post but here’s the bottom line for me.  Frank’s last three columns from that invaluable NY Times platform:

  1. Guessing who the keynote speaker at the RNC will be
  2. Guessing who Romney’s VP will be
  3. Guessing who the White House nominees for 2016 will be

We have real problems in this country.  This election campaign and its media coverage has been very lean on the issues.  What’s worse, for me personally, is that many who get labeled as liberals voice on Op-Ed pages are writers like Frank Bruni, fatuous pundits who are incapable of expressing authentically the liberal perspective.

Chris Hayes and Social Distance

August 7, 2012

I think Digby overlooks the most obvious sign of cognitive capture by Chris Hayes.  The complete lack of any systematic inclusion, analysis, or critique of the media elite in his book.

I have no doubts he’s a sweet well-intentioned guy but the very best and most accessible material for his thesis was staring him right in the face and he failed to cover it.  The fact that now he can be counted among the media elite make him a case study for his own theory.

My fellow liberals will protect him, I’m sure, the way they do Maddow.  But I’ll be watching.

Trayvon Martin’s Family “Sued” by Insurance Company

August 7, 2012

The Huffington Post’s Trymaine Lee has been one of the worst reporters to cover the Trayvon Martin shooting.  This article is a case in point.

Here’s an objective recitation of the situation, as related to this article:

1. The Retreat at Twin Lakes’s Homeowner’s Association appointed George Zimmerman as it’s neighborhood watch coordinator in September 2011.

2. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman while in the The Retreat at Twin Lakes.

3. A month after Martin was killed, the Homeowner’s Association took out a liability policy with Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America.

4. Trayvon Martin’s family filed a claim against the insurance company.

5. The insurance company is now seeking clarification of its rights and obligations as to that claim in federal court.

Sounds pretty straightforward, eh?

Well, if you’re Trymaine Lee, this is yet another opportunity to carry water for Benjamin Crump, the Trayvon Martin family attorney who has been a constant source of misinformation to both the HuffPost and MSNBC.

Note how Lee’s framing of the issue (“Trayvon Martin’s Family Sued By Insurance Company Disputing Mother’s Claim Against Homeowners”) allows Crump to sound reasonable in contrast.  Also, note that no other person is quoted for the article.  Other than references to the Orlando Sentinel article, that lacks Lee’s slant, and quotes from the federal filing on behalf of Travelers, there is simply no foundation at all for Lee’s framing.

The final touch, of course, is the sympathetic photograph of Trayvon’s parents.  This article, like many written by Lee about this ongoing story, was not designed to inform his readers.  It was designed to inflame them.

Ah, but don’t worry.  Trymaine Lee is a Pulitzer Prize winner.  I guess that makes it okay.

Romney’s Tax Plan is Issue, Not Tax Returns

August 6, 2012

I think that the McClatchy service is better than its competition a lot of the time.  However, this article is mostly worthless.  The hand-wringing and outrage over Senator Reid’s charges are only there so that McClatchy can continue to reprint the charges.

Having said that, the experts in the article provide a pretty good case study on how predictable and uninformative the oft-quoted experts can be.  In particular, I was taken aback by this quote from Kathleen Hall Jamieson which is just embarrassing.

While Jamieson criticized Reid’s remarks, she said, “There’s a legitimate public interest in Romney releasing his tax returns, because his tax plan could affect people like him.”

Ms. Jamieson is widely treated as an expert of on U.S. electoral politics, appearing on various media outlets and is co-founder of FactCheck.org.  Can she possibly not know that Romney has released his tax plan?

If Mitt Romney had not already proposed a tax plan which vastly favors the wealthiest Americans, at the expense of everyone else, perhaps his tax returns could shed some light on his attitude towards taxation.  But he has already proposed that tax plan so we don’t need to guess what his plan’s effect would be on “people like him.”  His tax returns are mostly irrelevant to that effort.

Our media need no more data to make the point that Romney would push for even more radical redistribution of the tax burden than Bush did, shifting that burden ever more heavily on to the middle class.

Is there a title more worthless than professor these days?

Wade Michael Page

August 6, 2012

The Southern Poverty Law Center has some details about the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooter who killed 6 people yesterday.  Basically he was a member of two bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate.  Page (and his bands) identified himself with the Hammerskins, a white supremacist organization that adopts the “White Power Skinhead” lifestyle, according to its website (you can find it on Google if you really want to go there).

Amanda Marcotte links approvingly to the SPLC announcement and gives a hat tip to David Weigel for pointing her to that article.  Then she proceeds to write a post that is fairly typical of her style.  Let me shorten it for you – skinheads are so dumb.

Well done, Amanda.  We all feel better now.

The List is Long and I’m Mostly Lazy

August 6, 2012

I could spend most of my life cataloging every single issue that the media, collectively, fail to cover accurately, much less adequately.  I won’t do that.

What I will do is cherry pick every now and again.  I will also presume that truth and accuracy are part of the overall objectives of any given media coverage and judge accordingly.

If you want the big picture, there are any number of wonderful works that analyze media performance/behavior and point to the root causes of its failures, persuasively in my opinion.  I’ll figure out a way to make a reading list of books I like and post the link to the right.

Until then, here are some starting points to understand my particular point of view (ever evolving):

1. The overriding bias in the media stems from corporate ownership.  In other words, it’s not so much about liberal bias or conservative bias.  There may be an editorial tribal bias but that tribal bias has been defined as part of a business model set by the corporate ownership.  Its purpose is to cater to specific niches, to flatter its audience and to make it feel like its a part of a high-minded movement.

2. The thesis in Manufacturing Consent, developed by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, is by and large the single best model that I know with which to explain and predict media coverage.  The great part about that model is that it is fueled not by ideological pressures but by market pressures.  It should be palatable to those with a Neoliberalism focus (often referred to as today’s conservative movement) but is not for various reasons.

I will likely add to this list as time goes on but this is a good starting point to understanding the perspective from which I look at the media.  I will add that the media model offered in Manufacturing Consent should be updated for today’s audience, even though it was published just over 20 years ago.  A lot has changed – the fall of Communism, Latin American politics, and global terrorism.

Additionally, although Herman and Chomsky focused mostly on foreign affairs and policy, media coverage of domestic politics and social issues fill out the model quite well.  I recommend Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler whose coverage of the media is very much consistent with Herman and Chomsky’s approach.