2006 Word Of The Year: Truthiness

Merriam-Webster has announced that the winner of their first Word of the Year online survey is Stephen Colbert’s own “truthiness.”

“By an overwhelming 5 to 1 majority vote, our visitors have awarded top honors to a word Colbert first introduced on ‘The Word’ segment of his debut broadcast on Comedy Central back in October 2005.”

Colbert had this to say about having been recognized by this prestigious community of linguists:

“Though I’m no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me. And what an honor. Truthiness now joins the lexicographical pantheon with words like ‘squash,’ ‘merry,’ ‘crumpet,’ ‘the,’ ‘xylophone,’ ‘circuitous,’ ‘others’ and others.”

Truthiness, as devoted Colbert fans know, is defined as:

“the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

Ironically, that is also how I would describe of viewers of Fox News. So in honor of Colbert being honored for his grammatical invention, I would like to announce one of my own. Here is the first synonym for truthiness: foxic. Foxic shares the same conceptual meaning as truthiness, but it can be used in more academic contexts, along with variations like foxicology and foxicism.

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The Iraq Study Group’s Media Blindness

In the 96 pages of the ISG report, there is not a single reference to television, radio, newspapers, or any other media in Iraq or worldwide.

Yesterday the Bush family consigliore, James Baker, and his Leisure World Rockettes, released the product of their nine month review of the sad state of affairs (pdf) in Iraq. Their conclusion?

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”

Beyond this mind-numbingly obvious revelation, the report of this fiasco has produced some additional significant news. That news is that: there is no news to report about the news. In the 96 pages of the ISG report, there is not a single reference to television, radio, newspapers, or any other media in Iraq or worldwide. This despite the fact that media has played a central role in the execution and marketing of the war. From paying Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories, to inventing front groups to spread misinformation, to propagandizing on behalf of a dishonest administration, the media has been an accomplice to the monumental failures that much of the ISG report documents.

For this group to ignore the role played by the media, a role media kingpin David Gergen himself describes as “cheerleaders,” leaves a hole in the search for solutions big enough to drive an inadequately armored HumVee through. The report’s omission of the media component even fails to rise to the level of responsibility that many in the media belatedly acknowledged. Mea culpas from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, and others, at least superficially recognized that their dereliction to duty may have made things worse.

The truth is, they made things into a disaster of nightmarish proportions. Through lies, distortions, and collusion with BushCo’s warmongers, the press betrayed the American people, the Iraqis, and a broad array of citizens of the world, who are also suffering from the media’s deceit.

The ISG compounds the problem by not addressing the media’s role and proposing some sort of corrective action. The closest they come to this is to call on the president to communicate honestly with the American and world communities:

“Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support.” And…

“In public diplomacy, the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges [between U.S. and Iraqi leadership] in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed.” And…

“Funding requests for the war in Iraq should be presented clearly to Congress and the American people.”

But that might be a lot to expect from an administration even the ISG criticizes for a lack of credibility in reporting:

“…there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

Obviously, we have a long ways to go. We can’t trust the press to do their jobs responsibly, and we can’t trust our leaders to be honest with us, much less with the press or even themselves. And since the Blue Ribbon Commissions of the world aren’t going to take up these matters, we’ll have to do it on our own. So be alert, be proactive, be aggressive, and let the media know that we, the people, are watching them. Their apologies do not give them absolution. They must repent and reform. And then they must go forth and never sin again.


The FCC’s Ownership Quandry

The Federal Communications Commission is getting it from both sides.

A consortium of broadcasters and publishers wrote to Chairman Kevin Martin, to complain that they still don’t have as much of a stranglehold on the public’s attention as they would like. The letter was signed by all of the broadcast networks as well as radio giant Clear Channel, newspaper conglomerates Gannett and Tribune, and others. Here is a taste of their finely aged whine:

“…television and radio broadcasters are experiencing unprecedented challenges in maintaining their audience shares and the advertising revenues essential to the survival of non-subscription media.”

This complaint is based on the emergence of a vast array of new outlets available to today’s news and entertainment consumer. What they conveniently fail to mention is that they also own most of the new outlets that they accuse of taking their business away. They go on to implore the Commission to amend ownership rules…

“…to ensure that local television and radio broadcasters, as well as daily newspapers, are not unfairly hampered in their ability to serve the public.”

That request would be easier to take seriously if they were presently serving the public. That opinion is shared by a group of senators that sent a letter to Chairman Martin on the same day. Senator Byron Dorgan wrote the letter that was signed by eight other members of the Commerce committee.

“The FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local communities before considering any changes to the ownership rules.”

So what will the FCC do? Will they bend to the will of their corporate overlords? Or will they accept the fact that, come January, the Democrats will be running Congress and chairing the committees that oversee the agency? My guess is they punt. There is an unfinished report on localism that they can use as an excuse to delay making a decision. When we see the conclusions in that report, we’ll know which way they intend to vote on new ownership rules.

For anybody handicapping the outcome, I wouldn’t bet on the FCC weighing in against the business crowd. So that means that we, the people, will have to stay vigilant and make sure they remember for whom they work.


O’Reilly Wants An Apology

Dan Rather recently appeared on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” and revealed the heretofore unthinkable notion that Fox News propagates perspectives from the Bush White House:

“I think it’s fair to say, Bill, in fact I know it is, that FOX News operates in at least a somewhat different way than every other news organization that I know, that they have their “talking points,” in which somebody in the hierarchy, whether this is Roger Ailes who runs the place or not, we know that they get talking points from the White House. And they can say well, we don’t always take those talking points, but I think it’s pretty clear that they had wished the election had gone another way.”

O’Reilly is now reacting typically aghast that anyone could criticize his network or accuse it of bias. But he isn’t merely expressing umbrage. As is the pattern with his psychosis, he is escalating it to the level of jihad and associating it with the well known cloak of hatred that enshrouds all of his enemies:

“As you may know, the far left in America is on a jihad to smear FOX News. They hate us for a variety of reasons…So day after day, the far left loons demean, defame, and attempt to damage the FOX News Channel.”

He goes on to say that neither he, nor anyone he knows, nor anyone at Fox, has ever seen a White House Talking Point. He really didn’t have to look any further than Fox News Vice President, John Moody, to find the elusive memos. And as for wishing the elections had gone another way, again Moody provides the evidence:

“The elections and Rumsfeld’s resignation were a major event but not the end of the world.”

In an attempt to appear even handed, O’Reilly cites his past defense of Rather during the controversy over Bush’s National Guard service, wherein O’Reilly helps Rather out by proclaiming that…

“…there’s no evidence Dan Rather fabricated anything. It was sloppy reporting that did him in.”

That’s a defense? With friends like that, who needs enemas?


MSNBC/Olbermann Continue To Hound The Factor

The train keeps-a-rollin all night long. All week-night long in the cable news ratings, that is.

The latest numbers for the November period show a continuation of a trend that has lasted all year. For ten of the last eleven months, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown has gained viewers while Bill O’Reilly’s Factor sheds them in droves. Countdown improved a whopping 66% compared to O’Reilly’s slump of -17%.

Here are the numbers for network performance in November 2006 as compared November 2005:

Primetime CNN FOX MSNBC
Persons 2+ +15% -19% +29%
Persons 25-54 +40% +10 +38%

Total Day CNN FOX MSNBC
Persons 2+ +15% -13% +25%
Persons 25-54 +40% +13 +43%

Once again, the only declines were posted by Fox. Even where Fox showed improvement, it ranked as the smallest gains of all the networks. The dismal finish by Fox occurred despite expectations for viewer gains due to the mid-term elections and their aftermath. The other networks were able to meet those expectations with strong growth.

Does this foreshadow a bleak winter winter for Fox? Yes, gawd-dammit, it does. And it’s about time.

The irresponsible, journalistically vacant, unethical, propagandizing that is the hallmark of Fox is obviously wearing thin with the American television audience. And as they sink, their desperation is leading them into ever more pathetic theocon-ambulisms. As they struggle to cling to their crumbling empire they resort to inanities like a pilot for a conservative Daily Show, or the memo that sought to console the newsroom ranks by reassurring them that…

“The elections and Rumsfeld’s resignation were a major event but not the end of the world. The war on terror goes on without interruption”

Feel better? I know I sure do.


Gergen’s Cheerleaders

David Gergen has worked in the White House for several presidents including Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. He has also worked in the press as a frequently consulted pundit and analyst. As such he has experience obfuscating the truth from both sides of the media looking glass.

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, he confessed to what many media critics and knowledgeable citizens already knew: The press failed to do their job in the stampede toward the invasion of Iraq. Even worse than that, they affirmatively promoted it.

“There was a sense, in the lead-up to the war, in which the press, I think, was guilty of cheerleading. We were waving the flags and it was almost unpatriotic to question the possibility of war with Iraq.”

That admission should be justification for terminating Gergen and everyone on his cheerleading squad. In a just world, the families of the fallen ought to be able to sue them for wrongful death. There is simply no professional excuse for the behavior Gergen is describing. It is never the media’s purpose to endorse policy. Their purpose is to investigate and report. Had they done that, there is a pretty good chance that we, and the people of Iraq, would not now be mired in the chaos and tragedy that the media’s negligence spawned. Gergen and his cohorts cannot plead ignorance because even he admits that they knew more than they let on:

“…we were too easy on the claims of weapons of mass destruction and the mushroom clouds being a reason to go to war.”

No kidding! And it wasn’t as if there wasn’t a clamoring for further investigation and deliberation. The American people, and people throughout the world, took to the streets in record setting numbers in a vain attempt to head off the hostile intentions of the Bush administration and their enablers in the press.

It is unconscionable that propagandists like Gergen can wreak havoc on the world, and when they discover the curtain has been pulled aside and they are revealed as frauds, they just go on TV again and discuss how the curtain came to be pulled aside.

There are consequences for failure on the level demonstrated here – sad, desperate, enduring consequences. Unfortunately, not for those responsible. Neither our leaders, nor their media co-conspirators will be held to account. But thousands of American families and tens of thousands more in Iraq will forever bear the scars from cuts delivered by Gergen’s Cheerleaders.

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You Better Watch Out

Santa Clause is Coming Town
And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll lay low. Operating from a secret, undisclosed location, Claus’ Dark Ops program is without parallel. That might explain Dick Cheney’s frequent visits. There has never been a credible sighting of the mysterious man and it is said that he never ventures out in daylight.

Still, he manages to maintain an impenetrable network of personnel and data. Admiral John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness initiative pales by comparison. The methods by which Claus accumulated his data are unknown but they are, by all accounts, accurate to the smallest detail. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must envy this guy. He can enter anyone’s home without first obtaining a warrant and he can peer into the most intimate corners of your personal life. In fact, he sees you when you’re sleeping and likewise knows when you’re awake. Frankly, he’s beginning to creep me out.

What do we really know about him, anyway? Some experts have speculated that he is being treated in his hideaway for diabetes and heart disease. But that speculation may just be based on reports of a persistent weight problem. Reports have also leaked from the compound that Claus suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder evidenced by a reflexive desire to produce lengthy lists and check them over twice or more.

Despite controversy, Claus does have an impressive array of supporters both inside and outside of governments throughout the world. But one look at the sort of people that count themselves as his defenders is another reason for concern. People like Bill O’Reilly who has gone so far as to declare that there is a war on Christmas. Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians are characterized as secular in this war and accused of wanting to cut and run from Jesus.

Other interests in the Claus empire include commodities like plastic and timber. His firms have virtually cornered the market in pine. He is also a major player in transportation and shipping and has been called the brains behind Onassis. But his net worth can only be guessed at. We do know that he came in first on the Forbes Fictional Fifteen.

Claus’ detractors have learned the hard way what it means to tangle with him. He can be a ruthless competitor and he has demonstrated an ability to endure sleepless nights and daunting schedules that include heavy lifting and world travel. The one sentiment that is most frequently expressed by those who have challenged him is an admonition that has gained mythic proportions. Ask one of his victims and they will invariably warn that…

“You Better Watch Out!”

[The Flash movie linked here is my entry in the Huffington Post Contagious Festival. If you like it, please send it to everyone you know and put links to it on your blogs, MySpace pages, etc.]


Is It Civil War Yet?

With violence in Iraq escalating daily, the media has been struggling with how to characterize the conflict. The number of Iraqis killed this month is greater than at any other time since the days of the U.S. invasion 3 years ago. It is inescapable that the rotation of reciprical attacks constitutes a pattern that open eyes have no problem recognizing. Sunnis send suicide bombers into a Shiite mosque on one day. The next day a Shiite car bomb decimates a crowded Sunni marketplace.

What would you call this?

Finally, at least one voice in mediasphere is calling it what it is: A civil war:

“NBC said on the “Today” show that the Iraqi government’s inability to stop spiraling violence between rival factions fit its definition of civil war.”

It does not, however, fit the White House’s definition as they continue to deny reality by using euphemisms that speak of “sectarian” strife that is merely “serious”. It is in the interest of the administration to confuse the matter. They know that if the U.S. were seen to be targets in the midst of Iraq’s internal conflict, the public would not tolerate the loss of life, the wasted billions of dollars, and the international revulsion that results from our continued occupation of the crumbling and chaotic nation.

Bush will be meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister, al-Maliki this week to discuss how to be more effectively deceptive and to continue to promote the fallacy that Iraq is not only not in a civil war, but is improving its security and stability. The Iraq Study Group is also preparing to release their report that early indications say will have no surprises beyond a suggestion that talks be held with Iran and Syria. The president has nixed this idea, but Maliki is already doing it. This further separates the U.S. from any role of influence and makes our presence even more bewildering and tragic. And the PR stunts and photo-ops will escalate along with the slaughter and despair.

The lies foisted on the American people by its leaders have, to date, been regurgitated by a compliant media. When the public is confused, sheltered and lied to, they will be understandably reluctant to draw conclusions. Or else they will become disgusted, disengaged and defensively apathetic. But when events are accurately portrayed in the press, and citizens are treated like adults, they are more willing and able to make better informed judgments.

Is It Civil War Yet? Not if the government and the press hide the facts from the people. Not if Orwellian perversions of truth are permitted to fog the landscape. Not if it’s forbidden to exercise free expression. At least NBC has finally bowed to acknowledge the obvious. Their tardy enlightenment will help to promote a more realistic national discussion. But they are only a single outpost in the media frontier. We’ll have to wait and see if other news organizations chose to contribute to the store of knowledge rather than continue to suppress and mangle it.


The Hippie Phobia Of Jonah Goldberg

For the life of me, I cannot understand how Jonah Goldberg finds anyone to publish his ignorant, unsubstantiated, diatribes. In yesterday’s column for the Los Angeles Times, Goldberg again demonstrates the shallowness of his knowledge and the laziness of his work habits.

The article is titled, A Tradition of Common Sense, and attempts to convey the view that Hippies opposed the concept. But all he succeeds in doing is demonstrating that he has no sense, common or otherwise.

Goldberg first leaps from the limb by stating that Hippies, “turned their backs on “bourgeois” morality, including something called hygiene.”

First of all, hygiene is not a moral concept and here Goldberg is just spewing a cheap and juvenile insult. But more importantly, his disparagement of the morality of Hippies could not be further off the mark. What part of Hippie culture does he consider lacking in morals? Was it their advocacy of peace throughout the world; conviction to love thy neighbor without regard to ethnicity or race; reverence for the earth; belief that there are higher aspirations in life than the accumulation of wealth?

Perhaps what Goldberg means by “bourgeois morality” is the greedy, intolerant, wasteful, and ego-centric lifestyle that is the hallmark of the Republicanism he espouses. Indeed, the Hippies turned their backs on that.

Goldberg continues his nonsense by asserting that, “The recent elections are being interpreted – accurately or not – as a repudiation of religious conservatism.”

By whom? Goldberg doesn’t even bother to insert the hackneyed psuedo-journalistic attribution of “some say…” No, he just posits it as a fact, when the truth is that most analysts agree that religious conservatives were not repudiated, they just decided to vote for Democrats:

“the national exit polls told a dramatic story of changing views in the pews: Democrats recaptured the Catholic vote they had lost two years ago. They sliced the GOP’s advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points”

Obviously it’s Goldberg’s moral superiority that has led him to impugn the piety of Democrats. But he goes even further:

“Even those leftists and libertarians who display ritualized contempt for tradition understand that we do some things today because we’ve learned from the mistakes of our forefathers. If everything is open to revision, then slavery is still a viable option.”

Do you suppose Goldberg could be prevailed upon to produce a list of those leftists he believes are guilty of ritualized contempt? And if that weren’t enough repugnant slime wallowing, he somehow finds a way to associate liberals with a reinstatement of slavery. Then, in a feat of Olympic segueing, he turns his lunatic rant to Madonna, whom he calls slattern and an aging pop star. That must be a display of the kind of moral uprighteousness that might also describe Dolly Parton as an old country hag. First he berates Madonna for adopting a child from an impoverished nation. Then he condemns her for choosing life in the song, “Papa Don’t Preach.”

After reading his column, I’m still at loss to see what any of it had to do with traditional common sense. It’s just an overly long exercise in childish name-calling with a pathetic dearth of insight or civility. Now that we have gotten rid of a good portion of Republicans in congress, can we please start working on throwing out trash like Jonah Goldberg?


The Shame Of The L. A. Times

An editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times argues that the O. J. Simpson mock-fession calamity is proof that media companies should be allowed to grow ever larger, unregulated, and unimpeded by the public interest. While this may be the most perversely distorted logic of the century, it is also appallingly insensitive and overtly self-serving.

The editors at the Times are so obsessed with securing for themselves the ability to buy more TV stations and newspapers, and to expand their monopolistic ambitions, that they would exploit the controversy surrounding this double murderer to make their case. Their argument is based on the contention that when independent affiliates exercise discretion with regard to which network programs they will carry, they are engaging in censorship. That may be true in some cases, but the Times can’t recognize which is which:

“…most times when local TV stations pass on network programming it is not for high-minded, public-interest reasons. More typically, they do so out of economic interest (to sell more local ads) or because they want to avoid putting on programs they consider offensive.”

The truth is that when stations pass on programming it is never for high-minded reasons, it is always out of economic interest (the same motivations as the networks). They only avoid offensive programming because of its potential impact on ad revenue. That is, in fact, the reason for the cancellation of the Simpson program. Fox made a calculated decision that airing the show would cost them too much money as they were unable to get advertisers to sponsor it. There was nothing high-minded about it.

But isn’t that what a free market is all about? That’s precisely the reason that local stations ought to have discretion in what they choose to air. The Times correctly points out that many local stations are not managed locally, but by station groups with distant headquarters. However, instead of advocating more local ownership, the Times suggests regulatory relief to give the networks greater clout. However, the networks will only exacerbate the problem and localism will suffer accordingly.

This is not the first time that the Times has used its own pages to promote the economic interests of its parent, The Tribune Company, but it is the first time it has used such convoluted logic that feeds on the scandalous exploitation of such lurid tabloid fare. This is a repulsive attempt at persuasion via negative association and the Times editors should be ashamed.

The Times’ readers should join the Subscriber Revolt.