Monday, October 19, 2009

What digby and Steve said . . .

digby: Knowing Thyself
Everybody's talking about the Obama administration taking on Fox News. Earlier today, John Aravosis appeared on CNN and proclaimed "Fox is a political operation, not a news network." On Stephanopoulos,, David Axelrod said "It's really not news, it's pushing a point of view" and other outlets shouldn't treat them as news." Even the NY Times opined in its week in review section about "The Battle between the White House and Fox News." It's obviously become a big story, and for good reason. The Obama White House has decided to acknowledge that FOX is an enemy. Good for them. I hope they take this new found combativeness to heart as they deal with their other political enemies as well (and have the wisdom to know who they are...) People trust leaders who stand up for themselves.

I continue to believe that FOX is operating like a mafia family. Its behavior in the Olbermann O'Reilly feud is chilling, as far as I'm concerned, basically threatening the sic their angry hordes on the executives of rival news networks if they criticize FOX and its politics. That's creepy stuff. Which brings up the question of why anyone who works for another news organization would ever appear on the network.

Jacob Weisberg is the first journalist I've come across to address this question directly (although from the wrong perspective, in my opinion.) He condemns FOX for being a blatantly partisan propaganda machine in the tradition of the European and pre-20th century American press, and calls it unamerican. And he calls on journalists from other news organizations to stop appearing on the network lest they be contribute to this corruption of the allegedly non-partisan press. I agree that journalists should stop appearing on FOX unless they agree with its biases and state that up front. Otherwise, they are contributing to the pretense that FOX is non-partisan.

But Weisberg is wrong in his diagnosis of the problem. As both sides of the partisan divide have learned, the political press is biased and it has been for some time now. But it's biased by class and social network and community, which skews toward the elite ruling establishment. Most often that translates into economic conservatism and hubristic nationalism. As for the social questions on which they might naturally lean more to the left, they have built up a phony construct in which they are all just a bunch of regular folks with "heartland values" like every other working stiff in America, so they now pretend to speak for the social conservatives as well.

But still, we have well meaning village elders writing long think pieces about the foibles of the allegedly liberal press:
The mainstream press is liberal. Once, before 1965, reporters were a mix of the working stiffs leavened by ne’er-do-well college grads unfit for corporate headquarters or divinity school. Since the civil rights and women’s movements, the culture wars and Watergate, the press corps at such institutions as The Washington Post, ABC-NBC-CBS News, the NYT, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, etc. is composed in large part of “new” or “creative” class members of the liberal elite—well-educated men and women who tend to favor abortion rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. In the main, they find such figures as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell beneath contempt.


So, to quote Lenin on behalf of the mainstream media, What is to be done? There are a few things.

An important first step is to abandon the notion, popularized by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, that white working class voters are suckers, willing to cast ballots against their economic interests because corporations and evangelical Christians have scared the bejesus out of them with phony issues like gay marriage, abortion, government takeover of the healthcare system, and distribution of condoms in the schools.

These voters are not stupid. Unlike upscale youngsters in Cambridge, the Upper West Side, and Berkeley, who are equipped financially and psychologically to go with the sexual flow, the children of folks casting ballots for Republicans often get into big trouble when they get pregnant (see, Sarah Palin’s daughter) or tell their teacher to go to hell. To many of their parents, the school system has no business handing out condoms, in effect encouraging early sex. The overwhelming majority of Republican voters already have health insurance and they have genuine concerns about the damage to that coverage that government might do. These are people who arguably lose some of what they have when resources are redistributed under policies mandating, for example, affirmative action and busing. The mindset that perceives these voters as dumb jerks is what permitted a reporter and a series of Washington Post editors to let a description of evangelical Christians as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command” go unquestioned into a front-page story.
Apparently, one of the journalistic poohbahs has to write this column every generation or so just to keep it fresh. But it's no more true now than it was back when Joseph Kraft first wrote the damn thing back in the 1960s.

Have you seen a lot of this contemptuous attitude toward the heartland in the mainstream press? To the average viewer out here in the liberal coastal hinterlands it is certainly hasn't been apparent as a common theme for decades now. Sure, there's some. But there's also plenty of this:
To glimpse a state of nature as Hobbes imagined it, where human life is "nasty, brutish and short," visit the Whole Foods store on River Road in Bethesda. There, and -- let the political profiling begin -- probably at many Whole Foods stores and other magnets for liberals nationwide, you will see proof of this social equation: Four Priuses + three parking spaces = angry anarchy.

Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. Therefore advanced thinkers are agreed that conservatives are especially susceptible to it. As everyone knows, all liberals are advanced thinkers and all advanced thinkers are liberals. And yet. . . .

If you think the health-care town halls in August cornered the market on anger, come to Bethesda and watch the private security force -- normal men in an abnormal situation -- wage a losing struggle to keep the lid on liberal anger. When parking-lot congestion impedes the advance of responsible eaters toward the bin of heirloom tomatoes, you see that anger comes in many flavors.
Granted, this is George Will and he's not writing in the news pages. But that snotty attitude is far more pervasive in the media than any overarching narrative about "dumb jerks" in Ohio. And I haven't heard a single editor apologizing for it or putting a reporter on the "liberal suburb" beat to ensure that their concerns are being honestly addressed. The assumption that the press IS the liberal suburbs would be much more convincing if there wasn't so much blithely nasty commentary about "out of touch" liberals everywhere:
BROOKS: Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, "I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you" on policy. I've been speaking to Obama campaign people in the last few days. I think they're a little too complacent about the fall election. I think they don't quite realize they're going to have to do a few more big changes to get his identity more in tune with independent voters, who right now see Barack Obama as Jeremiah Wright's guy and sort of a question mark, an attractive question mark.

GREGORY: I think it's a very interesting point, Todd, and something that the Obama campaign needs to start contending with soon. What do you say?

TODD PURDUM (Vanity Fair national editor and political correspondent): No, I think it's an excellent point, but I think one of Barack Obama's bigger strengths when he ran for the Senate in Illinois was how well he was able to campaign downstate. Let's not forget, his grandparents are, you know, corny as Kansas in August. They're his mother's parents. They're from Kansas. He talks about growing up eating not only sashimi in Hawaii, but Jell-O salad with grape halves, which as I can tell as a son of the Midwest, is a quintessentially kind of Midwestern dish. So, if he could let that side of himself out, loosen up a little bit, eat a few doughnuts and hot dogs, and not worry so much about his diet, it may sound trivial, I think that kind of stuff is stylistically important, and I think he has the ability to do it. He certainly has the potential to do it if he just pays attention.

GREGORY: I knew we'd get an allusion to Broadway before long. Thanks, Todd. Gene, you're take on that?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, is he -- he's not an Applebee's guy -- is he an Olive Garden guy? I tend to take the sociology a little more seriously when it's delieverd by people who actually eat at Applebee's, you know, more than once in a decade, so --

HARWOOD: You don't?
Yeah. I'm sure John Harwood eats in Applebees all the time ...

If you don't hear the derision in those comments (or these) you aren't listening. And it's coming from allegedly liberal journalists pretending to have some direct conduit to a Real America that Democrats and "the left" just don't understand. You hear it over and over again. But these aren't liberals in any operational sense. They are wealthy, celebrity aristocrats donning "country garb" and pretending to be serfs at the harvest festival.

The truth is that FOX is just more honest about their biases than the rest of them. They may be wealthy celebrity aristocrats, but they've decided to play a blatantly partisan game instead of pretending that they are "objective." And they reap the rewards of doing that by gaining an intensely loyal audience. In a world where so-called objective journalism is perceived to be as trustworthy these days as Bernie Madoff, it's a smart business move. (The fact that they spent many years creating that market is also a smart business move.)

Weisberg calls FOX unamerican because they have adopted the combative, openly partisan style of the European and Australian press. But until you ask whether the true blue "American" style of journalism is any better, whether it's the old style of robber barons dictating coverage for their own profit or modern celebrity elites following their own class and social biases, you haven't begun to get to the nub of the problem.

At this moment of crisis in the business of journalism, the media has to decide whether they are going to A) straightforwardly take a piece of ideological ground for themselves, B)continue to pretend to be phony exemplars of the All American heartland (while serving ruling class interests) or C) try to create an honest style of journalism that openly confronts the ingrained class prejudices and phony constructs of the last few decades. With all the navel gazing that's been going on I see little of the kind of pragmatism that would lead to A or the soul searching that could lead to C. They continue to assume that they can best be objective by being more attentive and respectful to conservatives. So, it looks like we're going to be stuck with B for the foreseeable future.
digby: Seriously, STFU
I wanted to write a long rebuttal to this insufferable screedabout how the liberals should STFU by the very, very serious Peter Beinert, but I just don't have energy. For an taste of just how bad it is, here's an example of his adorable, sunny contrarianism:
Politically, we live in fairly predictable times. The demographic shifts that have put the Democrats in power—more young voters, more Hispanic voters, more highly-educated voters—have been decades in the making, and aren’t likely to reverse themselves anytime soon. Nor are voters likely to forget George W. Bush. Obama is blessed to have taken office in the aftermath of disaster—which means that he’ll probably be judged against a low bar.
Yes, I could deconstruct that idiotic statement, but I think I'll just let reader Bill do it for me:
Little petey, war hawk and complete fucktard,
was one of those who told those who were right
about Iraq to shut up and stand in the corner.

He has no credibility whatsoever.
Couldn't have put it better myself.
digby: Krugman FTW 
Is Obama tough enough?
NOONAN: “I think it is an old cliché in Washington that a leader, a president must be both feared and revered. I think this president's problems don't have to do with his personality and fearsomeness. I think it has to do with policy issues.” DIONNE: “It takes a lot more toughness to say to your generals, "No," or, "Tell me why you really want to do this," than it does to go along with the generals. So I think on that front, it's wrong.
WILL: “The danger is that this narrative about him not being tough enough occurs in the midst of, A.) the argument about Afghanistan, where to prove you're tough, you might want to escalate, and, B.) when he has to make a decision about the public option. One thing he could do is jettison the public option, offend his left and make himself look moderate, but can he offend his left on the public option and escalate in Vietnam -- in Afghanistan?”
TAPPER: “No, I don't think so. What you hear from -- from them, when you ask them about this narrative, is, yes, we've heard this before. Is he tough enough to beat Hillary Clinton? Is he tough enough to beat John McCain? I think they think that they proved -- I think empirically they proved that -- that he was able to do both those things. “
KRUGMAN: “I think a lot of people are basically just complaining that he's a Democrat.”
I do have to admit that Will's observation has occurred to me as well. And I wonder if the White House sees these two issues in the same light? Does he declare war on the left by ditching the public option and going all in on Afghanistan? Or does he try to split the difference? And, if so, which way?

Not that it makes any difference to me, mind you. The issues are both clear on the merits. But from a sort of macro-political standpoint, I too have wondered if they've made that kind of calculation.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) appeared on CNN yesterday to discuss the latest deficit numbers, and the network described him as "a leading fiscal mind on Capitol Hill." I wish they wouldn't do that -- lending him unearned credibility suggests to the public that Gregg knows what he's talking about.
That's a dubious proposition, at best.
"You talk about systemic risk [caused the federal budget deficit]. The systemic risk today is the Congress of the United States," the Ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, "that we're creating these massive debts which we're passing on to our children. We're going to undermine fundamentally the quality of life for our children by doing this."
"Now you can't blame that on [former President] George [W.] Bush," Greg said, noting that using the Obama administration's projections the budget deficit for the next ten years is $1 trillion per year.... The figures, Gregg told King, "mean we're basically on the path to a banana-republic-type of financial situation in this country. And you just can't do that. You can't keep running these [federal] programs out [into the future] and not paying for them. And you can't keep throwing debt on top of debt."
This isn't the first time Gregg has appeared on national television to repeat bogus talking points about the budget, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.
First, Gregg says we can't blame the deficit on Bush. Of course we can. The largest driving factor behind the $1.4 trillion shortfall is Bush administration policies. Those were policies, not incidentally, that Gregg supported enthusiastically for eight years.
Second, Gregg mentioned Obama projections over the next decade. What he neglected to mention was the key detail: "[P]roperly accounted for, the deficit actually goes down when you compare Obama's budget proposals to current policy, not up."
And finally, why Gregg thinks he has any credibility on this issue is a mystery. Policymakers are "creating these massive debts which we're passing on to our children"? What a convenient time for Gregg to notice. It was, after all, Judd Gregg who voted for massive tax cuts the country couldn't afford. It was also Judd Gregg who voted to finance two costly wars entirely through deficit spending. Judd Gregg also didn't hesitate to put Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind on the national charge card, left for some future generation to worry about.
All told, Gregg supported policies that added $5 trillion to the national debt in just eight years. He did it all with a smile, never once running to CNN to complain about "the path to a banana-republic-type of financial situation in this country."
A "leading fiscal mind on Capitol Hill"? For all our sake, here's hoping that's not true.

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