Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Media in Amurca

Tim F.: FYI

One of the main differences between American and European cinema, a difference that has held up whenever I discuss the topic of evil and Nazism with Europeans, is the concept of where evil comes from. Americans mostly think that evil like Nazism is a geographical construct that you can localize to some other place (Germany) and time (pre-bellum slave states). Obviously, by implication, we have nothing to do with those bad people. Europeans mostly understand Nazism as an impulse towards evil which everyone always has to decide whether or not to indulge. This game show that Glenn Greenwald highlights will be perfectly understood by most Europeans as an expression of that point.

We tried the exact same experiment in America almost fifty years ago (and then we tried it again in abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, and Bargram air base…). Just like French game show players, people mostly tortured when someone in authority told them to. Every psychologist knows about the Milgram experiments (or should) but most Americans never heard of them because they don’t fit our idea of America as a uniquely enlightened place that would never do what entire American towns did to black people as recently as the 1980s.

So Glenn is baffled, or maybe he’s playing at being baffled.

I just watched an amazing discussion of this French experiment on Fox News. The Fox anchors—Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum—were shocked and outraged that these French people could be induced by the power of television to embrace torture.

Speaking as employees of the corporation that produced the highly influential, torture-glorifying 24, and on the channel that has churned out years worth of pro-torture “news” advocacy, the anchors were particularly astonished that television could play such a powerful role in influencing people’s views and getting them to acquiesce to such heinous acts. Ultimately, they speculated that perhaps it was something unique about the character and psychology of the French that made them so susceptible to external influences and so willing to submit to amoral authority, just like many of them submitted to and even supported the Nazis, they explained. I kept waiting for them to make the connection to America’s torture policies and Fox’s support for it—if only to explain to their own game show participants at home Fox viewers why that was totally different—but it really seemed the connection never even occurred to them. They just prattled away shocked and angry about the evils of torture and mindless submission to authority and the role television plays in all of that.

Sadly, in this case the Fox News crew doesn’t really stand out from the rest of us. Can you remember the last time you saw an American action flick where (by the end, plot twists permitting) the lead and the antagonist didn’t have “good” and “bad” tattooed on their forehead? Americans eat that black-and-white shit up. The problem is that this attitude of good-self versus bad-other is not just a great opiate for those nagging feelings of doubt, it’s also an essential prerequisite for acts of incredible evil.

We want to tell ourselves that some unbridgeable gulf separates us from the awful impulses that lead people to commit evil. Our entertainment industry is more than happy to sell that illusion back to us. The further we sink into manichean self-righteousness the more evil behavior will be accepted by politically significant numbers of Americans.

I don’t know whether there is an answer to this. FOX and the GOP have discovered an incredibly rich business model in shrieking manicheanism. At the very least it cannot hurt to have a President who acts like a mature adult and treats others like the same.

Atrios says Journalists is Weird
For years I've watched so many of them sidestep actual criticism to address whatever straw man they've constructed for the day. If they're this dense - deliberately or not - about issues related to their own profession then we shouldn't be surprised when they're dense about issues less central to their daily existence.
Boehlert: CNN's Ed Henry should quit while CNN is behind

This is what happens when you make poor hiring choices -- you force your employers to defend the mistakes, which only makes more people look bad. Yesterday, it was CNN's Ed Henry's turn.

Responding to the criticism that greeted the news that CNN had hired right-wing hate blogger Erick Erickson to be a regular contributor, a tweet on Henry's account read:

For those Tweeting CNN shouldn't have hired @ewerickson as a contributor, seriously do you think a network should NOT have diverse voices

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is just painfully dumb. Henry actually claimed that liberals were upset because they don't want CNN to hire any conservatives; that CNN hired somebody who they will disagree with politically? This is pointless because basically nobody on the Left was making that argument. In fact, they were explicitly saying it was fine for CNN to hire conservatives.

But at least we know Ed Henry can build straw men.

But then it got worse with this tweet:

@buffalo_girl who is the equivalent to Eric Erickson on the left appearing on CNN? Have you seen Begala, Carville ...

Yep, Henry used the "e" word" (equivalent) when discussing Erickson alongside Paul Begala and James Carville. Apparently In Henry's eyes, Erickson and Begala/Carville are the same. And this is where CNN, by making a foolish hiring decision, begins to lose even more credibility; by having staffers like Henry run around and suggest a right-wing hate blogger is just like top-notch Democratic thinkers.

Keep in mind that Begala/Carville, by getting Bill Clinton elected, helped resurrect the Democratic Party, and then counseled a sitting president. Erickson, by comparison, is a city councilman who writes hate dispatches on his blog, like when he denounced a retiring Supreme Court Justice as a "goat fucking child molester."

But in the eyes of Henry, or at least according to his corporate spin, Begala and Carville are just like Erickson. They're equals.

Lately, the complaints from opponents of health care reform have been almost entirely about process. Republicans have decided they don't like reconciliation or the self-executing rule anymore -- they loved it when they were in the majority -- and the debate over how Dems are working on health reform passage has become nearly as important as whether Dems pass it or not.

But if Republicans wants to talk about process, we can about process.

Let's look back at 2003, when the Republican House and Republican Senate worked on Medicare Part D -- a bill Karl Rove saw as a way of creating a "permanent" GOP majority -- which was the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry in four decades.

The bill -- written behind closed doors with lobbyists -- came with a price tag of $1 trillion, despite leaving a "donut hole" that undercut the needs of millions of seniors. How did Republicans pay for it? They didn't. GOP lawmakers, with the Bush administration's blessing, financed the bill entirely -- literally, 100% -- through deficit spending, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.

But that's not the most interesting part. Consider what happened the night of the vote on the House floor.

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called "the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I've ever seen in the 10 years that I've been here."

Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith's son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.

The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn't vote for the bill.

The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged "illegal."

If you don't remember hearing about this much at the time, you're not alone -- the media decided this wasn't especially interesting. After all, even though Dems were beside themselves, reporters were certain "everyone knows" process stories aren't important.

And yet, words like "reconciliation" and "deem and pass" are now all the rage -- both among Republicans who made a mockery of the legislative process when they worked on health care, and among reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Now, it's not enough to say, "Republicans were worse." Democrats vowed to do better.

But therein lies the point -- Dems have done better. While Republicans worked on expanding the government's role in health care with almost comical corruption and abuses, the current health care reform process, while hardly perfect, has followed the rules and been largely above board.

A little something to keep in mind while the GOP and its media allies are hyperventilating.

Booman: Drones
They really are drones. There are dozens of articles available from various right-wing media outlets (yes, that now applies to the Washington Post) that all make the same basic argument that the House procedural move (deem and pass) might be unconstitutional and will allow Democrats to avoid admitting that they voted for noxious elements of the Senate bill.

If I vote for a bill that contains something I don't like (say, the Cornhusker Kickback) and then vote immediately thereafter to remove that provision so that it never lands on the president's desk, in what sense did I vote for it?

It doesn't matter if you do it in one vote or two, because Republicans will blame you for voting for something you expressly voted against either way.

Yglesias: Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Me, on February 22:

Meanwhile, if reform does pass how long will it take for us to see an article claiming it as vindication of Rahm Emanuel’s desire to “throw long and deep” and not shy away from major challenges?

Ben Smith, today:

At the moment, however, it’s unclear if a single member of Congress will oppose the legislation from the left. The base has fallen into line. And if Rahm was right all along that progressives, essentially, could be taken for granted, he’s about to go from punching bag to hero in the eyes of many Democrats.

Of course back when the media consensus was that health care was likely to fail, all these articles were saying that Obama should have listened to Rahm and not pursued comprehensive health reform at all. But as I predicted, if it passes it will “prove” that Emannuel was a tactical mastermind.

No comments:

Post a Comment