The Cult Of Foxonality™

The Republican presidential primary debate threw off some interesting bones for chewing. I’m not talking about Rudy Giuliani’s exploitation of 9/11 at every turn, especially his smack down of Ron Paul’s refreshingly rational attempt to offer up a more complex explanation for terrorism than, “they hate us for our freedom.” I’m not talking about Mitt Romney’s pandering to sadists with his applause-bait on Guantanamo and torture. I’m not talking about John McCain’s ludicrous and insensitive promise to be “the last man standing” in Iraq, as if he were volunteering for active duty. And I’m not even talking about the graphics and sound effects that seem to have been lifted from broadcasts of professional wrestling.

What I find interesting is that 2.4 million people watched the GOP debate that aired on the Republican News Network (aka Fox).That is just slightly more than the 2.3 million viewers who watched the Democrats debate on MSNBC. But when Republicans debated on MSNBC, they only managed to pull in 1.7 million viewers. Maybe that was because it was on opposite the O’Reilly Factor which itself snared 2.3 million. So Fox drew the same size audience for their Republican debate as O’Reilly did when Republicans were debating elsewhere.

What this tells us is that a little less than two and half million viewers will show up to watch Fox in that timeslot whether there is a debate on or not. It also tells us that Fox viewers will turn out to get their O’Reilly fix even if there is a Republican debate on another network. [See update in comments].

What this does not tell us is why O’Reilly performs 35% better than a Republican debate on MSNBC. And we can only speculate as to why the Republican debate on Fox performs no better than their daily scheduled program. My speculation to both questions is that Fox viewers are married to the channel and couldn’t care less what’s playing down the dial. Their hypnotic attachment filters out all other sensory stimulation, even if it’s something that would ordinarily excite them.

One way of looking at this would be to acknowledge the success of Fox’s marketing strategy for having developed a powerful brand that inspires loyalty. But I prefer a more paranoid analysis. Most liberals (and objective observers) recognize the tight-knit relationship between Fox and the GOP. However, while we fret about the Murdoch/RNC cabal, we may be missing an even more frightening scenario. Fox viewers appear to be more loyal to Fox than to Republicans or conservatism. This misdirected allegiance bestows a far more influential authority onto a media entity than ought ever to be considered. It suggests that the bombastic demagogues that Fox has shaped into celebrity anchors truly do weigh down their transfixed disciples.

Are Fox viewers more attached to their tele-mentors than to the party and politics they profess? The evidence suggests that this may be so. People who might ordinarily be considered reliable party stalwarts are straying from the pack to trail behind Fox pundits who have come to criticize the administration on issues like Iraq, immigration, and the federal budget. Granted, the criticism is emanating from an even further right stance than the DC GOP has taken, but the result is the same: It’s the Foxebrities that are leading, not elected representatives of the people.

Some may take the view that the people are voting with their remotes, but you have to wonder where all of this could end. Television personalities are still built by marketing and promotion, not principle. If Paris Hilton can command the chunk of media real estate that she does, then clearly intelligence, insight, talent, and vision, are irrelevant in determining who viewers admire. And when admiration swells to idolization in the political realm, how far down the road will fans follow the flickering object of the affection? And how far will the Pundicrats ask their flock to go?

Bill O’Beale: “I’m mad as Hell!”

Paddy Chayefky’s “Network” introduced us to Howard Beale, a new model newscaster that implored his audience to cast off their docility and think for themselves. But today’s Fox version would likely produce Beale’s polar opposite who would only inspire a feverish fealty to himself and his omnipotent infallibility. That is indeed a foreboding picture of a bleak future. Do we have the time and/or will to steer away from it? Or is it already upon us?

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To YouTube Or Not To YouTube

As a follow up to my article yesterday on press freedom which reported the Pentagon’s order barring soldiers from using YouTube, MySpace, and other social networks, there were a couple of notable stories published today:

DoD Flip-Flop: YouTube Banned, But Watch It.
“One day after the Pentagon banned US military personnel worldwide from accessing the wildly popular YouTube Web site via DoD computers and networks, the weekly electronic newsletter of the US-led Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) today makes a banner appeal for US forces and others to watch MNF-I’s new YouTube channel.”

Warner Blasts Pentagon Internet Move.
“There is nothing more important to the men and women of the armed forces than to have that connection to home,” said [Sen. John] Warner, who served in the U.S. Navy. “I will be looking into it today.”

Talk about your mixed messages.

The Fear Of Censorship

John Roberts has been CNN’s senior national correspondent and its anchor of the awkwardly-named This Week at War (sounds like a VH1 Top 20 Countdown). He was recently named a new co-host of CNN’s American Morning. In his former position at CBS he served as the network’s White House correspondent and was embedded with Marines during the invasion of Iraq. Now, in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable, this experienced and connected professional speaks out about the handling of the coverage of the war in Iraq and, despite his participation, he has some rather unflattering critiques of what transpired.

In the article, Roberts concedes that the media was unprepared to properly cover events on the ground and should have been more vigilant in the run-up to the war. But by far the more notable observation that Roberts imparts is one that reflects on current coverage:

“If we showed people the full extent of what we see every day in Iraq, we would either have no one watching us because they couldn’t stand to see the pictures, or we would get so many letters of complaint that some organization would come down on us to stop.”

With current polls showing that two thirds of the American public are already opposed to the war in Iraq, the notion that we have not yet reached the nadir of our disapproval is somewhat unsettling. Especially if the reason is that, as Roberts contends, the “full extent” of what the press sees every day has been withheld from us by a media establishment that is afraid of mail and of losing viewers. And I get no consolation from Roberts’ informing me that things are much worse than I ever imagined.

Indeed, the pictures that are presently darkening our TV screens with bloodshed, blasts, and blackened smoke, are enough to sow depression in the most optimistic amongst us. But that is not sufficient reason for responsible journalists to soft-peddle even a harsh reality. In an open democratic society, citizens need to be fully informed because, contrary to the monarchal delusions of President Bush, we are the deciders. If exposure to the truth produces more dissatisfaction, it is not up to editors and programmers to shield us from our own tender sensitivities. That is not the way to cultivate an informed electorate. That is not the way to promote Democracy.

The public’s appetite for this war has steadily declined over the past four years and would likely have declined further and faster had the news been presented impartially and honestly. In fact, we might never have gone to war in the first place if the vigilance of which Roberts spoke had been practiced at the outset by a conscientious and ethical press corps.

There are two problems (at least) with Roberts’ statement above. One is that he gives too much weight to the notion that Americans don’t have the stomach to manage the nation as our Constitution requires. The other is that his fear that “some organization” would put a stop to honest, unfettered reporting, resulted in that fear becoming manifest. The fear of censorship produced censorship and the people were deprived of knowledge. The only organization that profited from this suppression is an administration that was predisposed to execute a war of aggression and preferred to avoid the pesky interference of the will of the people.

To paraphrase Roberts:

If we, the people, show the full extent of what we see and feel every day about Iraq, they would know that we are watching, and they would get so many letters of complaint that our organization of citizens would come down on them to stop suppressing the truth; stop embracing unscrupulous pseudo-leaders; and stop this god-awful war.

This practice of Nanny Journalism is all too common in American media. They think we can’t handle the truth. But it’s funny (by which I mean pathetic) that they keep coming back after the fact to confess their mea culpas.

Iran, Iraq, America: Where Is The Press More Free?

In a tale of three troubled and repressive regimes, there is news today of a puzzling variation of values. Stories from a trio of nations put on display the character of the media in our world and show how that world has been turned upside down.

The Iran Story:
The Associated Press reports that two pro-reform newspapers, which had previously been shut down, are now being permitted to resume publication.

“The decision to allow the papers to reopen appeared to reflect a feeling among Iran’s top leadership — made up of Shiite clerics — that the country must allow a margin of expression for the opposition amid mounting discontent with Ahmadinejad at home. The papers were allowed to resume publishing by a new order from the judiciary, which is controlled by the clerical leadership […] The clerical leadership may be hoping the return of some reformist newspapers will provide a safety valve for the discontent.”

The Iraq Story:
In Iraq, however, the press is being prohibited access to scenes of violence, which would make it near impossible to report on the conduct of the war. The result, of course, will be that the citizens of Iraq, as well as the citizens and lawmakers in the United States, will have even less of the information that is so crucial to their/our lives.

“In a move sure to provoke open contempt and a firestorm of protests from journalists and news organizations, the Iraqi government will soon routinely ban journalists from the sites of bombings and other violent incidents, Iraqi Interior Ministry Operations Director Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf announced today.”

When a theocratic nation like Iran, that is known for abusing and jailing its critics in the press, can show up their Iraqi neighbors, who are supposed to be emblems of freedom’s virtue, as proffered by their American benefactors, there is something terribly wrong going on. But sadly, it isn’t terribly surprising.

The America Story:
Here at home, the Pentagon has announced that soldiers will not be allowed to access Internet sites like YouTube, MySpace, and others.

“Soldiers serving overseas will lose some of their online links to friends and loved ones back home under a Department of Defense policy that a high-ranking Army official said would take effect Monday.”

The soldiers will also be losing the opportunity to relate their experiences to a world that is being kept in increasing darkness. If reporters are not permitted to document the realities of this war, and soldiers are likewise silenced, the truth becomes an evermore distant memory. The White House frequently complains that the good news from Baghdad never gets reported. Now the Pentagon is making sure that those with the best perspective will be mute. What does that say about the Pentagon’s confidence in the stories that soldiers might tell.

With the muzzling of American soldiers and the censorship of the reporters in Iraq, this would have been a bad day for the media were it not for Iran’s demonstration of liberty for the press. How bizarre is that?

Glenn Beck Defends Terrorists To Attack Olbermann

Last week Keith Olbermann delivered a whithering verbal assault on the New Jersey nutjobs accused of plotting a terrorist attack on Fort Dix. These brain surgeons took a video of their training exercises to a Photo Mat for duplication. Olbermann succinctly articulated what everyone else was thinking about these jerks:

There have been far too many instances of over-hyped, hero- worshiping, morality plays being thrust on the public as if we were children over the past half dozen years.

Olbermann: “In other words, the FBI has arrested six morons.”

But for some reason, Glenn Beck is offended by Olbermann’s insult. Beck is upset that the reputations of these fine, young, upstanding terrorists are being belittled and he is coming to their defense. [Transcript / YouTube]

Beck: “…and then it’s six morons, huh, Keith? Is that really what we’ve come to? We can`t even take one night to applaud law enforcement or the FBI for protecting us and our soldiers that are here and they’re saving lives without launching into insults and politics?

How dare you, Keith! These are some the best terrorists America’s broken borders have to offer, and all you have to say is that they’re dumb. Show some respect for heaven’s sake.

To be fair (not that Beck would recognize fairness if he saw it), Beck’s pique actually appears to stem from the notion that apprehending stupid terrorists is a less worthy acheivement than were they Mensa terrorists. Beck would prefer that the plotters be characterized as masterminds of evil so that the FBI heroes could be lauded as mighty dragon slayers who shielded civilization from certain doom. Olbermann, by merely pointing out the obvious, let the air out of that fable. That’s what irks Beck.

This would not be the first time that tales have been woven to craft an idealized version of history. There have been far too many instances of over-hyped, hero-worshiping, morality plays being thrust on the public as if we were children over the past half dozen years. The fabricated legends of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stand as evidence of how far our government, in concert with a compliant media, will go to deceive and manipulate us. And shills like Beck encourage the dissemination of falsehoods in the service of propaganda.

The truth is that the heroism of patriots like Lynch and Tillman is evident in their character and their pride of service. It does not need to be embellished by the lies of self-serving promoters of war. And when law enforcement professionals in the FBI and elsewhere do their jobs with dignity and skill, I couldn’t care less about the IQ of the perp. In fact, I presume that most captured criminals are less than brilliant. First of all, they chose crime as their profession. Secondly, they weren’t good enough at it to avoid being caught. For me, that does nothing to degrade the value of good police work, as it does for Beck.

But beck takes his condescension even further by depreciating the contribution of the FBI in the Fort Dix affair:

“…we the people, are the best and sometimes only defense against terrorism. Remember, if it wasn’t for one alert Circuit City employee, we might be talking about a completely different situation right now.”

I think the FBI might take issue with that statement. I doubt that they view an untrained and distracted populace as the best and/or only defense against terrorism. And while they are surely grateful that an observant, concerned video store clerk brought a suspicious activity to their attention in this case, that doesn’t mean they believe that they would not have uncovered and foiled the plot had this citizen not come forward.

So while Beck pretends to be supporting law enforcement, he is actually insulting them. And when Olbermann insults terrorists, Becks rises to their defense. Could he possibly have got this more backwards? Or is he just this desperate for a reason to attack his TV rival?

Michael Moore And U.S. Government Conspiring to Promote Sicko

It is now being widely reported that the U. S. Treasury Department is investigating filmmaker Michael Moore in connection with his upcoming documentary, “Sicko.” The feds are alleging that Moore made an illegal trip to Cuba with a group of 9/11 rescue workers who are suffering from health problems related to their relief efforts. But only News Corpse has the courage to reveal the truth:

Michael Moore and the U.S. government are now working together! Despite the protestations published on Moore’s website that the investigation of Michael Moore is “politically motivated,” the more significant revelation is this:

“Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in just one week and opening across the U.S. on June 29th, ‘SiCKO’ will expose the corporations that place profit before care and the politicians who care only about money.”

This kind of publicity is worth millions and is almost never available for documentaries. Are we supposed to think the timing of this investigation is a mere coincidence? How stupid do they think we are? There are only two possible explanations for this investigation being commenced at this time:

  • The Bush administration, with the permission of its pharmaceutical benefactors, is actively promoting the film and its message.
  • The Treasury Department made a clumsy mistake in the execution of their official duties.

The clockwork-like efficiency of this administration effectively rules out option two, so that leaves us with option one: Collaboration!

I never thought I’d see this day, but the evidence of conspiracy is overwhelming. We have to wake up to reality, people. Follow the money!

Update: For good measure, the conspirators have recruited the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post to further advance their plot. The Post is alone in reporting a number of shocking sidebars to this disturbing story that the rest of the media is actively suppressing.

For instance, they describe the film as “an attack on American drug companies and HMOs that Moore hopes to debut at the Cannes Film Festival next month.” This is obviously disinformation as the film has actually already been selected as an official presentation at Cannes.

The Post further reports that, “the sick sojourn, which some say uses ill 9/11 workers as pawns, has angered many in the responder community.” And we all know how reliable “some say” are as witnesses.

Then there is the testimony of Joe Picurro, an ailing relief worker who said, “I would rather die in America than go to Cuba.” I’m sure that’s a sentiment with which all Americans can relate.

But the icing on the conspiratorial cake is this:

“Although he has been a critic of Cuba, Moore grew popular there after a pirated version of his movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” was played on state-owned TV.”

That’s right, Moore is popular in Cuba! The Post’s disclosure of this classified intelligence seals the case that they are in cahoots with the government’s scheme to help Moore generate valuable controversy and media attention. This should put an end to any stray skepticism.

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Big Media: We Are The Sioux Nation – Google Is Custer

As the giant multi-national media conglomerates continue to grow, they are becoming even more brazen in their ambition and arrogance. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., in the midst of a proposed acquisition of Dow Jones, doesn’t intend to slow down. The president of Fox Entertainment, Peter Chernin, spoke at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference yesterday and declared that

This is a market that Murdoch and his ilk do not intend abandon to the unwashed hordes of a free blogiverse.

“You’ll see more acquisitions. This is a world where the big get bigger. You’ll see increased consolidation.”

That statement should not be construed as an executive assessment of future corporate activity. It is a threat. It is a loaded missile launcher aimed at free thinking, independence minded citizens of America and the world. These words must be taken as seriously as the man who uttered them.

Even as Chernin spoke, his boss News Corp. was in the process of gobbling up Photobucket, an image storage and sharing web site. While this may not be as consequential as the Dow Jones deal, it does give Fox’s Interactive Media group another 41 million users and advances the imperial interests of its MySpace division. The impact of this should not be underestimated. In this morning’s, release of its quarterly earnings, Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers predicted that

“…consumer Internet traffic will surpass corporate traffic for the first time this year ‘because of next-generation services such as blogs and wikis.’

This is a market that Murdoch and his ilk do not intend abandon to the unwashed hordes of a free blogiverse. Time Warner CEO, Dick Parsons spoke at the same NCTA conference where he boastfully vowed that he and his corporatist troops will not surrender ground to upstarts and insurgents:

“The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation. They will lose this war if they go to war. The notion that the new kids on the block have taken over is a false notion.”

It is somewhat beyond ironic that Parsons would align himself analogously with the oppressed and overwhelmed nation of Native Americans when he has so much more in common with a clueless general fighting for an aggressive and imperialistic state. His words reek with hostility toward a new media world he seems incapable of comprehending. This is not the first eruption of Parsons’ cluelessness. He was quoted in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, The Anarchist in the Library, defending corporate dominion over creative and intellectual property and making the absurd and repulsive assertion that such authority is a requirement for the advancement of culture:

“This isn’t just about a bunch of kids stealing music. It’s an assault on everything that constitutes cultural expression of our society. If we fail to protect and preserve our intellectual property system, the culture will atrophy. And the corporations won’t be the only ones hurt. Artists will have no incentive to create. Worst-case scenario: the country will end up in a sort of Cultural Dark Age.”

If Parsons thinks that the reasons artists create is for material compensation, he has no business running a company that represents artists. His astonishingly ignorant point of view deserves an extended essay all its own. For now I’ll just link to this well articulated response from The Future of the Book.

Unfortunately, the Cultural Dark Age to which Parsons alludes is a very real possibility, though not for the reasons he suggests. It is corporations like the one he heads that will lead us over that cliff. Big Media still has more in common with Custer’s army than with the Sioux. The difference is that in today’s theater of war Custer’s reinforcements would be a phone call away and the Sioux nation would be reduced to rubble. That’s kind of the way it turned out anyway, it would just happen faster today.

The commoditization of culture is much more harmful to open societies than is its free distribution. The American Idolization of America presents a truly nightmarish scenario that trivializes creativity and expression. And as the media behemoths expand beyond all proportion, there is a risk of the bubble bursting like a car bomb in the marketplace of ideas.

National Review’s Cruise Spews Skewed News

In case you haven’t already booked your summer vacation, you might want to look into this event brought to you by the folks at The National Review:

National Review's Ghost Ship

That’s right…Now you and your family can enjoy a leisurely trip to the Last Frontier state with many of the same people that hope to destroy it’s native beauty by drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wilderness Area. Imagine the thrill of hobnobbing with your favorite neo-Icons, like…

  • Arthur Laffer, author of the widely rebuked “Laffer Curve.”
  • Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Politburo.
  • Dick Morris, renowned political turncoat and self-promoter.
  • Robert Bork, rejected Supreme Court nutjob nominee.
  • Kate O’Bierne, reliable right-wing propaganda hustler.
  • Jonah Goldberg, the gold medal model for editorial hackery.

And just added…

  • John Bolton, hot-headed former ambassador and diplomatic self-destruct mechanism.

This promises to be an adventure that the Poseidon’s passengers could not even have imagined. If you have the courage to board a vessel helmed by the same crew that has steered America’s ship of state into the sandbars of Iraq, a perfect storm of corruption, and the depths of economic deficits and gross inequality, then be sure to book your room soon. This will be a Titanic affair that you’ll remember long after the Global War on Terror has metastasized into a perennial nightmare that your children’s children will still be fighting.

When you return your friends will be consumed with envy and will hungrily interrogate you for details. But having endured the torture that this trip is certain to inflict, you will be able to resist and maintain a Dead Calm. So get ready to board because, if you pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity, the terrorists win.

Murdoch Burned By Dow Jones Spurn

While Rupert is Wall Street Jonesin to expand his empire, the Dow J contingent just aint feelin it. Aside from the fact that the DJ’s controlling family, the Bancrofts, have already expressed their opposition to the takeover; and the paper’s union is firmly against Murdoch’s proposal; and journalism experts have denounced the plan; a couple of new wrenches have been thrown into the gears of Murdoch’s machine.

Ottaways Deplore Bid by Murdoch
This New York Times report discloses the not-so-subtle view of the Ottaway family, another major Dow Jones shareholder group. James H. Ottaway Jr. is adamant that, “Dow Jones is not for sale, at any price, to Rupert Murdoch.” His son goes into a little more detail:

“As an investor, I would be very concerned to live in an era of making investment decisions based on the Murdoch-filtered business information. As a citizen, I would be afraid to live in a world where news is solely entertainment, and there is an agenda behind every story I read, watch or hear.”

Authorities investigate trading in Dow Jones options
This story speculates that somebody knew about Murdoch’s intentions before they were publicly disclosed:

“More than 10,000 call options on Dow Jones stock were traded in late April, compared with about 7,000 during all of the January-March quarter.”

Both Dow Jones and News Corp acknowledge receiving subpoenas from the New York attorney general’s office and inquiries from the SEC.

This could get interesting – fun even. And I could get a chance to practice my New York Post-style headlines like the one above.

Bush: Don’t Believe Me. Listen To Zawahiri

George Bush makes a lot of noise about fighting terrorists. And although his efforts have met with something far less than success, he sputters on about the clash of civilizations, fighting them over there, and some ill-defined notion of victory. The media eats it up and regurgitates it back to the sparrowlings in the audience to sustain our hunger for war. That partnership reinforces the fable of Bush as a courageous defender of America’s huddled masses, cowering in the shadow of terror.

But Bush has also been known to approvingly take the counsel of our enemies and use it to validate his woeful failures. In a press conference on October 11, 2006, the president warned of dire consequences should we conclude our occupation of Iraq that would provide al-Qaeda with a “new safe haven.” And how did the president know this? Let him tell it:

“How do I know that would happen? Because that’s what the enemy has told us would happen. That’s what they have said. And as Commander-in-Chief of the United States military, and as a person working to secure this country, I take the words of the enemy very seriously, and so should the American people.”

OK then, Bush takes the words of the enemy very seriously and so should we. In fact, Bush even subjugates his viewpoint to that of bin Laden and Zawahiri:

“…all you got to do is listen to what Osama bin Laden says. Don’t believe me that it’s a part of the war on terror; listen to the enemy, or listen to Mr. Zawahiri, the number two of al Qaeda, both of whom made it clear that Iraq is central in their plans.”

Alright then, let’s listen to what Mr. Zawahiri said yesterday about the legislation that Bush just vetoed calling for a redeployment of American troops to begin in October:

“This bill reflects American failure and frustration. However, this bill will deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces which we have caught in a historic trap.”

“We ask Allah that they only get out of it after losing 200 to 300 hundred thousand killed, in order that we give the spillers of blood in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson, which will motivate them to review their entire doctrinal and moral system which produced their historic criminal Crusader-Zionist entity,”

So Zawahiri wants us to stay in Iraq and Bush also wants us to stay in Iraq. This harmony of purpose affirms the Bush campaign slogan extolling him as a “uniter, not a divider.” Never mind that he is in unity with the terrorists and in division with the 70% of Americans that want us out of Iraq.

Once again, Bush is listening to our enemies – just as he told us he would.