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No Country for Old Parties

On a cold Saturday, I was doing my laundry and browsing the internet, when I saw my old Talking Points Cafe buddy Jason in a Facebook video. Jason has started Artisan Politics, and plans to host interactive videos on Sunday evenings, and perhaps during the week. I skyped to ‘Artisan Politics’, and we had an off-the-cuff discussion – which is harder than it looks on TV – for about forty minutes.

At one point Jason said he thought that Richard Nixon had broken the Republican Party and that Ted Kennedy had broken the Democratic Party when he primaried President Jimmy Carter. That seems like ancient history, but it does roughly correspond with the regime change timeline proposed by Professor Corey Robin, which I summarized in a previous post. I was reminded of Jason’s comment while watching Press the Meat this morning. Chuck Todd introduced John Kasich:

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Even though Governor John Kasich of Ohio won only one primary, Ohio, last year, he developed a reputation as a Republican who was willing to work with Democrats and really say what’s on his mind. And Friday he had an op-ed column in the New York Times arguing that Democrats created Obamacare without Republican support and that Republicans are now trying to repeal and rewrite the law without Democrats. He said Democrats were wrong then and Republicans are wrong now. Governor Kasich joins me now. Not surprising to hear something like that from you.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, it’s not sustainable. If you don’t get both parties together, nothing is sustainable. I mean, if they pass this just by themselves, we’ll be back at this again.

CHUCK TODD:

In three years when Democrats take over or whatever.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, you know, look. The other thing is I was there when we created the CHIP program, the health program for children. It was done on a bipartisan basis. It was sustainable. I was there in ’97 when we did the budget deal. I was one of the architects. It was sustainable. But when you jam something through just one party over another, it’s not sustainable. It becomes a point of attack.

Kasich failed to mention that the Republicans were committed to opposing everything Obama proposed, but sure, he wants to work together now. But back to broken parties:

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

We’re all big boys and girls in this town. I mean, if you really want to be a leader. Look, I believe the political parties are disintegrating before our very eyes. I think more and more people across this country see no purpose for political parties.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Because — I’ll tell you something. You talk to people. There are more and more independents because of the squabbling. What’s at risk here to Democrats is you can’t turn your back on these people. And to Republicans, you need to invite Democrats in because we’re talking about lives.

All this consumption with who gains politically, you know, life is short. And if all you focus on in life is what’s in it for me, you’re a loser. You are a big time loser. And this country better be careful we’re not losing the soul of our country because we play politics and we forget people who are in need.

Unfortunately the moment of candor ended when Todd tried to put Kasich on the spot about his loyalty.

The question I have is whether the parties can be revitalized or whether something will arise to take their place.

Fake Accompli

I didn’t watch President Trump’s now-infamous Thursday press conference live. WBAL’s morning news said something about a meltdown, but I mostly pay attention to the weather, so I know what to wear on the bike. I did go to work curious enough about how Trump had handled the Flynn resignation to want to see the entire conference for myself.

When I walked upstairs for our Friday morning bagel and doughnut feed, I asked my office tennis buddy if he had seen the story on Eugenie Bouchard’s twitter date. He was too busy giggling and shaking his head over a video of the press conference on his iPad. He told me Trump was really crazy. A few minutes later another work buddy came over to my desk and asked me if I had seen the press conference. I told him I had a youtube link to watch over lunch. He said I had to watch it. It was great, he said, Trump really gave it to the press!

These are both bright guys, and I like them both. It wasn’t too surprising that they would disagree, but I was intrigued that they had vastly different takes on the same event. So I watched it over tea and a chocolate cake doughnut, and tried to keep an open mind.

I was waiting for him to pull out a pair of steel balls, but mostly saw Trump being Trump. He was lying here and blustering there, as always, but he wasn’t melting down. I don’t like the job he’s doing, but didn’t really blame him for calling out the press for attacking him. He’s threatening the established order – the Deep State – so of course the press is attacking him. And of course he’s going to play the victim.

At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf posted One Press Conference, Two Audiences, in which he claimed:

Viewers who watched it themselves saw a rambling, misleading performance. But those who relied on conservative cable newscasts or talk radio hosts got a very different impression.

But my friend saw it himself, and loved it. So I’m thinking Friedersdorf is engaged in wishful thinking.

Perhaps the divergent coverage of Thursday’s press conference helps to illustrate that a great many of those people aren’t seeing the same information as those who oppose Trump — they are being fed lies and untruths by coastal-dwelling millionaires like Hannity and Limbaugh; and they exist at a time when even more responsible right-leaning outlets that make up their information bubble are unlikely to target the lies they encounter, and in a culture where a columnist like Goodwin sees what’s going on and celebrates it as Trump playing the game well.

I think we’re getting a predictable amounf of slant from both sides. Scott Adams thinks different expectations lead to Imaginary News.

We live in our own personal movies. This is a perfect example. Millions of Americans looked at the same press conference and half of us came away thinking we saw an entirely different movie than the other half. Many of us saw Trump talking the way he normally does, and saying the things he normally says. Other people saw a raving lunatic, melting down.

Adams is pretty much on board with Trump, but I don’t think he’s wrong about the people or the news. As others have pointed out, the mainstream media used the term fake news to vilify news they couldn’t control, and now it can’t control that many people see it as little more than better-packaged fakery.

From Russia, With Love

A story originating in The Washington Post, also known as Pravda on the Potomac, has become the leading excuse for the establishment presidential candidate’s stunning defeat in the electoral college. The Post asserts that the CIA believes that Russian hackers acted to swing the election to Donald Trump:

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter. …

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.

Mainstream media are all over the story. On Meet the Press, Reince Priebus denied it, while on Face the Nation, John McCain pressed for further investigation. These are, however, the same outlets that did just about everything short of begging us to vote for Hillary Clinton, so I am not inclined to believe them.

Also, there have been reports of a power struggle with the CIA favoring Clinton and the FBI supporting Trump – “minor disagreements” – so it makes little sense that the Post should blindly repeat CIA claims without that perspective.

Even if Russia did hack the DNC, nothing that was revealed was particularly surprising. The DNC was in the bag for Clinton, and for big donors. Everyone knew that.

A useful hack would have been learning that Trump was going to stock his cabinet with establishment billionaires.

Choose Your Fake Reality

What are those Kubler-Ross stages of grief again? Oh yeah, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think a lot of us are still in denial, or maybe anger, but at Salon, Andrew O’Herir seems to be bargaining, as he attempts to prepare us for a Presidency in which the traditional media may well be out of the loop:

Fake news, a fake president and a fake country: Welcome to America, land of no context 

… After an election cycle driven by lies, delusions and propaganda — including lies about lies, multiple layers of fake news and meta-fake news — we are about to install a fake president, elected by way of the machineries of fake democracy.

The country that elected him is fake too, at least in the sense that the voters who supported Donald Trump largely inhabit an imaginary America, or at least want to. They think it’s an America that used to exist, one they heard about from their fathers and grandfathers and have always longed to go back to. It’s not.

Their America is an illusion that has been constructed and fed to them through the plastic umbilicus of Fox News and right-wing social media to explain the anger and disenfranchisement and economic dislocation and loss of relative privilege they feel. …

I have a quibble with selectively blaming this or that media. For all of us, our view of America has been fed to us by selective memories of older folk, by what is taught in schools, and by what is portrayed in our increasingly intrusive media. Our parents talked about the good old days – that’s nothing new. We were also taught that America is a beneficent democracy rather than an opportunistic economic empire – jingoism is not terribly new either.

And, for just one example, my generation watched endless melodramas in which a hero shooting someone actually solved more problems than he caused. That sentiment might not have been new, but we’ve progressed from clean deaths on The Rifleman to blood spurting everywhere on Call of Duty.  Just yesterday we saw some self-styled hero trying to “clean up the town” at Comet PingPong – which ironically was the subject of a fake news conspiracy asserting Clinton and Podesta were child trafficking out of that pizza place’s non-existent basement.

Trump supporters certainly imagine a fake America in which white people are the good guys and darker people can only succeed by emulating us. But Clinton supporters just as certainly imagined a fake America in which business is booming, unemployment is falling, and things would get even better for everyone if only we passed the TPP.

Who To Blame

By now we’ve all read many, many pieces to the effect that the burghers of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, and much of the new internet media, vastly misread the working class electorate. Matt Taibbi has another good one in Rolling Stone.

But yesterday I ran across an article in CNN: How Gary Johnson and Jill Stein helped elect Donald Trump.

The entire scenario conjures up memories of Ralph Nader’s Green Party run in 2000. Nader’s share of the vote in that year’s razor-thin Florida contest was 1.63%, according to the final totals from the Federal Election Commission. Bush won the state by just .05%, which tipped the Electoral College in his favor. (Nader has for years denied his candidacy played a role in Bush’s 2000 victory.)

It’s impossible to know how an election could have gone under hypothetical scenarios, but the Johnson campaign regularly said they thought they were pulling support equally from would-be Trump supporters and would-be Clinton voters. Stein’s campaign, meanwhile, made a constant, explicit appeal to disenchanted Democrats and former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

First, whenever the press mentions Al Gore’s electoral defeat in 2000, they never, never, never mention their complicity in the meme that Gore claimed to invent the internet. The video clip of Wolf Blitzer’s interview of Gore was strangely unavailable until after the election, but there was endless rehashing and misquoting of that story. Gore is a fairly vanilla guy, and ran a fairly lackluster campaign. He failed to carry his home state. According to all recounts but one, Gore won the popular vote in Florida, but lost in a controversial Florida Supreme Court decision, that was essentially upheld by the US Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case.

But they always have, and always will blame Nader.

Second, Gary Johnson did help Donald Trump win. But he did not take votes away from Hillary Clinton. Some Libertarians are very well read, but most are essentially conservative Republicans that want to smoke a little weed, don’t like the US fighting in foreign wars and know something about Ayn Rand and Freedom. Very few of them would ever vote for a big government Democrat.

With former Governor William Weld behind him, Gary Johnson was well-positioned to siphon Republican votes away from the disreputable Trump campaign. Early on, Johnson-Weld were polling between five and ten percent of the vote, or more. Then came Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” gaffe, followed closely by an interview in which he could not name a foreign leader. Johnson limped out of the race taking only 3% of votes away from Trump.

After offering her spot to Bernie Sanders, Dr Jill Stein – who urges a healthy skepticism towards big pharma – was repeatedly savaged by online DNC trolls as an antivaxx advocate, and her campaign went nowhere, too. She took maybe 1% away from Clinton. If Johnson had known even a little about foreign affairs, and taken 5%, Clinton may have won the battleground states.

But third parties make excellent scapegoats.

Update 20161112: The video at the end of the Rolling Stone article also claims that third party votes contributed to Clinton’s loss, and Rachel Maddow has also made the same argument on her MSNBC show.

Update 20161113: John Laurits crunches the numbers of the third party vote. Thanks to trkingmomoe for the link.

Refusal to Learn

Greenwald just knocks it out of the park. Here are some snippets, but read the whole thing at The Intercept. [Update: Greenwald was interviewed on this topic on today’s Democracy Now]

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

THE PARALLELS BETWEEN the U.K.’s shocking approval of the Brexit referendum in June and the U.S.’ even more shocking election of Donald Trump as president last night are overwhelming. Elites (outside of populist right-wing circles) aggressively unified across ideological lines in opposition to both. Supporters of Brexit and Trump were continually maligned by the dominant media narrative (validly or otherwise) as primitive, stupid, racist, xenophobic, and irrational. In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory. Afterward, the elites whose entitlement to prevail was crushed devoted their energies to blaming everyone they could find except for themselves, while doubling down on their unbridled contempt for those who defied them, steadfastly refusing to examine what drove their insubordination.

The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

1. Democrats have already begun flailing around trying to blame anyone and everyone they can find — everyone except themselves — for last night’s crushing defeat of their party.

2. That racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are pervasive in all sectors of America is indisputable from even a casual glance at its history, both distant and recent.

3. Over the last six decades, and particularly over the last 15 years of the endless war on terror, both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.

The Meritocratic Elite

A few days ago I listened to a three-months-old discussion between Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank – author of What’s the Matter With Kansas, and Listen, Liberal – in which Frank defined what I had been calling the comfortable class as the meritocratic elite: people who go to the same sorts of schools, know the same sorts of people, enjoy the same sort of success, etc. Frank sees them as the top ten percent, while I was thinking more like top twenty of thirty percent.

Anyway, for those who are still ticked off at our choice of presidential candidates, Mr Frank brings up the elite again in an article in Harper’s called Swat Team, The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders, and real reform

But 2016 was different. It was a volcanic year, with the middle class erupting over a recovery that didn’t include them and the obvious indifference of Washington, D.C., toward the economic suffering in vast reaches of the country.

For once, a politician like Sanders seemed to have a chance with the public. He won a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and despite his advanced age and avuncular finger-wagging, he was wildly popular among young voters. Eventually he was flattened by the Clinton juggernaut, of course, but Sanders managed to stay competitive almost all the way to the California primary in June.

His chances with the prestige press were considerably more limited. Before we go into details here, let me confess: I was a Sanders voter, and even interviewed him back in 2014, so perhaps I am naturally inclined to find fault in others’ reporting on his candidacy. Perhaps it was the very particular media diet I was on in early 2016, which consisted of daily megadoses of the New York Times and the Washington Post and almost nothing else. Even so, I have never before seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.