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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.

Torpedoing Trump

My news-watching habits have changed a lot during this election cycle. I’ve dropped my NY Times subscription, and I’ve stopped paying much attention to evening news, Meet the Press, Face the Nation or This Week. I’ve been watching Democracy Now! for almost fifteen years, but now DN and The Young Turks have become my primary sources, along with progressive sites like Truthdig, Common Dreams and Counterpunch.

I’ve been criticizing Clinton and the mainstream press so much that a lot of my Facebook friends probably think I’m pulling for Trump. Actually I’m appalled that the establishment media is so openly in the bag for the establishment candidate. It was fairly clear that most of the media, including so-called new media, sandbagged Bernie Sanders, declaring the race over long before it was over; now, there is no doubt that they are doing their best to torpedo Donald Trump. He certainly deserves scrutiny, but all pretense of objectivity has vanished and the election coverage has become strictly a matter of competing identity politics.

Richard King discusses some of the reasons in a persuasive article, MEDIA CULPA: JOURNALISTS TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TRUMP, MANAGE TO MISS THE POINT which he has posted to 3 Quarks Daily:

To observe the rather pompous way that certain newspapers and magazines have broken with their traditional “neutrality” by endorsing Clinton or disendorsing Trump is to see this ideology in action. The implication is that a careful poise of detached objectivity has been momentarily abandoned in order to meet a political crisis the like of which the US has never seen. But there is a difference between “objectivity” and merely acting as the referee between two kinds of conservatism: the Democratic kind and the Republican kind.

King pokes fun at media “self-aggrandizement” but skips over the point that establishment media is going to bat for the establishment candidate. And like the mainstream media, King dismisses Trump’s politics as, “protectionist, parochial, paranoid.” Yes, many of his supporters are protectionist, and yes, they are parochial, but as the joke goes, they aren’t paranoid if someone really is out to get them. America’s hinterland economies have been sold out by the oligarchy in a way that the coastal and urban elites have (so far) avoided. Whether you like them or not, America’s white middle class electorate is actually staring into deep decline, and no longer expect any help from establishment government.

You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to wonder who will get sold out next.

Update: Alternet warns, We Are Ignoring the Worst Dangers of Trumpism at Our Own Peril

History shows that the support base for right-wing extremist movements tends to be primarily the petty bourgeoisie—small businesspeople, professionals at the lower levels—but populism never gets far without the support of large numbers of the permanently unemployed. The official economic statistics would have us believe—and Trump vigorously contests this—that we are at or near full employment. In fact, this is a gross deception, because there are tens of millions of Americans who have given up looking for employment, who for various reasons are not employable in any meaningful sense of the word. Trump claims it is 30 percent of the population, but whatever number it really is, experience shows that it is pervasive, outside a few humming urban centers that give the illusion of high employment. As a matter of policy, the U.S. has not been committed to full employment since the 1970s, as part of the anti-inflationary monetary policy inaugurated by Paul Volcker and carried on by other committed neoliberals.

It is interesting to read bemused articles by correspondents at elite magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker, wondering who the Trump supporters really are (as they do after every populist upsurge), acting as though they were writing about aliens from another planet (which they are in a sense, since the elite commentators cannot understand why the Trumpists take such a dire view of the economy, since everything, from their point of view, seems pretty decent, with a 5% unemployment rate, the stock market doing well, and the evidence of their own booming urban areas).

Update: Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank on Democrats’ Shift Away From Addressing Inequality (Audio)

In their conversation, [Thomas] Frank tells [Robert] Scheer how the [Democratic] party has become class-based, now representing primarily the “professional” or upper socioeconomic class. Frank also talks about the Clintons’ role in this shift and why he believes people who might have earlier voted for Democrats are now flocking to Donald Trump.

When Scheer suggests that Bill and Hillary Clinton may not represent a lesser evil—when compared to Republicans—but merely a “different kind of evil,” Frank responds: “You could make the argument that Bill Clinton did things in the 1990s that no Republican would have been capable of doing. … Reagan couldn’t push bank deregulation as far as Clinton did. Clinton did things that Reagan would never have dared to do: welfare reform … [and] NAFTA. George Bush couldn’t get NAFTA passed. … So you start to think that the game that the Clintons play with us, where we vote for them because we have nowhere else to go. … There’s a sort of political economics of how we the voters are manipulated in this situation, and they’re very, very good at playing that game. And so people like you and me who are on the left are captured, basically. We don’t have anywhere else to go. And they play us in a certain way.”

He continues: “I have a lot of friends who say you can’t criticize the Democrats because you’ll just weaken them and then the Republicans will get in. But I say that we can’t give up our critical faculties just because of the ugly historical situation that we’re in.”

Frank also adds that while he is no fan of Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for the presidency leaves “no uncertainty in the minds of his listeners, after they’ve sat through one of his speeches, that he is a guy that is gonna get tough with American companies that want to move their factories to Mexico or China or anywhere like that. Left parties the world over were founded in order to give voice to and to help and to serve working people. That’s what they exist for. And those people are now flocking to Donald Trump, who is railing against things like NAFTA. We’re in this situation now where thanks to the Clintons and thanks to Obama, the social dynamics of the two-party system have been … mostly turned on their head.”

A Subtle Dialectic …

“A subtle dialectic pervades the consciousness of the elite bourgeois soul.” – Manfredo Tafuri

Manfredo Tafuri was an art historian, his densely-packed articles often featured in Oppositions, the glossy red architectural journal that seemed to magically appear in the hands of all the cool kids at CMU around my second or third year. Architecture professor Ed Levin had his students reading Tafuri’s book, Architecture and Utopia, and invited him in for a general lecture and a followup session with a theory class. Later, our own architectural history professor Howard Saalman warned us that Tafuri was a Marxist – in case we couldn’t figure that out from Tafuri’s opening line above, or from his predictions of apocalyptic capitalism.

Thanks to Tafuri, I almost always see dialectics pervading elite bourgeois souls – some not that subtle. Just now, the establishment media is both trying to assure us that Hillary Clinton is leading comfortably while at the same time desperately trying to persuade us that, say, voting for Jill Stein would be tantamount to courting nuclear annihilation. Comically-inclined media types, like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, etc, admit that Trump is a godsend to infotainment and comedy, but are at the same time gobsmacked that Trump is actually a candidate for President. They make a little fun of Hillary, but reserve their harshest digs for the Donald. Peggy Noonan sums it up:

There is another aspect of this year’s media environment, and it would be wrong not to speak it. It is that the mainstream media appear to have decided Donald Trump is so uniquely a threat to democracy, so appalling as a political figure, such a break with wholesome political tradition, that they are justified in showing, day by day, not only opposition but utter antagonism toward him.

I wonder if the media realize a) how tangential they have already become, and b) that no one will ever take them seriously again.

Like many bloggers, Juan Cole tries to explain why Trump has gotten as far as he has in, Whose Fault is Trump? Top 7 Culprits. Cole’s bullet points are:
1. The use of media by politicians to create an alternative reality.
2. Elevating terrorism above other crimes, to the status of existential threat.
3. Islamophobia.
4. Misogyny.
5. The replacement of television journalism with infotainment.
6. Climate Change Denial.
7. Racism.

Cole’s points certainly have validity as problems in current American culture, but do not by themselves explain why Trump has the support of so many otherwise sensible people. In The Atlantic, Yoni Appelbaum comes closer with, Trump Is No Moral Exemplar—He’s a Champion:

… coalitions that believe the moral consensus is cracking, that see their values under attack, and fear their own eclipse may turn away from candidates whose own lives exemplify a moral vision that the broader society no longer endorses. Instead, they seek out figures who seem strong enough, tough enough, ruthless enough to roll back social change, or at least to hold it at bay. They look for a champion.

Appelbaum, however, mostly attributes white support of Trump to anxiety over shifting demographics and loss of supremacy. But is that enough? Could there be rational reasons to look for a champion, even a deeply flawed one?

Though they deride his values, left-leaning observers like Michael Moore and Cenk Uygur admit that Trump is on message insofar as he echoes Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of money in politics and the oligarchy. Cole, Appelbaum, and indeed most journalists are loath to mention the establishment corporate and governmental policies that have savaged the working class. To find that message one has to turn to media outsiders like wealthy Nick Hanauer seeing pitchforks, archdruid John Michael Greer discussing the wage class vs salary class, various pundits comparing Trump to the Brexit vote, or oddly enough, conservative Peggy Noonan citing the “unprotected” classes.

Trump is almost certainly the wrong champion, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need one.