Hollywood’s Conservative Crybabies

A couple of weeks ago the Washington Times published a story about beleaguered conservatives in the entertainment industry. Just the fact that the story appeared in the Washington Times would normally be enough reason to laugh it off, but the article gets even funnier than one might imagine. It begins:

“A group of politically conservative and centrist Hollywood figures organized by actor Gary Sinise and others has been meeting quietly in restaurants and private homes, forming a loose-knit network of entertainers who share common beliefs like supporting U.S. troops and traditional American values […] The group, whose members call themselves “Friends of Abe” after Abraham Lincoln [are they sure it’s not Vigoda?], was organized as an underground movement because of fears that prominent industry titans with outspoken liberal views would retaliate, said participants. They often were reluctant to name members of the group in interviews for fear it would hurt their careers.”

To the extent that this shadowy conclave of rebels was willing to shed their reluctance to name names (behavior with which conservatives should be familiar), they thoroughly undermined their stated mission. Those courageous enough to step forward include some of Hollywood’s biggest stars:

  • Gary Sinise
  • Pat Boone
  • Jon Voight
  • Kelsey Grammer
  • Lionel Chetwynd

And this list doesn’t include big conservative names that have not been associated with Friends of Abe:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Bruce Willis
  • Tom Selleck
  • Patricia Heaton
  • Adam Sandler
  • Mel Gibson
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Chuck Norris

Conservatives are desperately trying to carve a place for themselves in a Hollywood they believe does not want them. There have been at least three articles in the Washington Times on the subject. It has also been taken up by the Los Angeles Times, the National Review, and Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard did a cover story on it.

But can they really be serious about alleging discrimination, and fear of retaliation when, by their own accounts, they are enjoying stupendous success and popularity? Of course they can. Fealty to the truth or reality has never stopped a conservative before. It’s what the Bush administration relies on whenever they describe programs like “Clear Skies,” “Healthy Forests,” or “iraqi Freedom.” It’s what allows John McCain to complain that the media is unfair to him, or that Barack Obama is a flip-flopper. It is a strategy wherein you assert the polar opposite of what you actually mean – what actually is. This round of bitching is emblematic of right-wing methodology in politics.

It is also ironic that these efforts to exalt celebrity should bubble up at a time when the McCain campaign is mocking celebrity with juvenile ads about Britney Spears.

So it should surprise no one that conservatives would assert that, if they were to disclose their views in Hollywood, they would never be successful, and then trot out a bevy of successful Hollywood conservatives to make their case. This is the way they work, and they pray that the American people are stupid enough to fall for it. I think that’s what they really mean by a “Faith-based Initiative.”

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Gas Station TV Tanks Obama Ad

Gas Station TV operates video terminals placed on gas pumps that display news, weather, and, of course, commercials. However, Barack Obama produced a commercial for the network that discussed his energy policy and advocated conservation. That ad was rejected by GSTV on the grounds that they avoid political messages. But the Obama campaign said that company gave a different reason for turning them down: It was too damaging to the oil industry.

On one hand, it seems reasonable that service stations might not want to host advertising that attempts to persuade customers to purchase less of their products. On the other hand, consumers are already making that decision on their own. With record gas prices they are cutting back on unnecessary travel and are choosing more fuel efficient vehicles.

A bigger picture analysis, however, leads a to an entirely different conclusion. Obama’s energy program includes a $1,000.00 rebate for consumers. That’s money that might be spent on gas. Additionally, Obama is selling his program as a means to eventually lower gas prices. With lower prices come higher consumption. So it could be argued that Obama’s ad will actually benefit the service stations where it would air.

Unfortunately, the short term thinking on the part of the oil industry is going to ignore these arguments and insure that these common sense messages will be censored from this advertising venue. It’s too bad, but it’s not much of a surprise.


The Waterboard Thrill Ride

Late last month artist Steve Powers installed a new amusement at New York’s Coney Island – the Waterboard Thrill Ride:


Photo: Tom Giebel (atomische.com)

This will exhibit, which features a scene of an animatronic torturer and victim, will continue through the summer. Feeding a dollar through the slot in the front, will set the scene, viewed through jail bars, in motion.

Powers: “It’s about time that this uniquely American ritual of intense water horror, a practice long reserved for New England witches and Al-Qaida brass, was made available to the people. This project will give some everyday New Yorkers the chance to experience – for a few brief, bone-chilling seconds – all the thrills of being a prisoner under interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. And the installation is fun for the whole family.”

Once again, an artist has found the most succinct and visceral way to express the horror of what our country is doing in our names. Since our leaders are unable to concede that this barbaric practice is torture, Powers has found another description that illustrates the obscenity of pretending that a universally recognized method of torture is really just “enhanced interrogation.” How can it be bad if it’s enhanced?

This exhibit is stirring some controversy, as do most exhibits with profound social messages. Last year Steve Kurtz was arrested and harassed for expressing himself. In 2006 Dread Scott’s show was ordered shut down even though it did nothing that that George Bush hasn’t done. If nothing else, these episodes prove that artists are still the most dangerous members of society.


Media Diagnosed With ADD

A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) has confirmed what many observers have already suspected. The media suffers from a severe case of Attention Distortion Disorder.

“For the first time since this general election campaign began in early June, Republican John McCain attracted virtually as much media attention as his Democratic rival last week.”

Barack Obama’s tour of the Middle East and Europe generated a slew of press reports detailing the trip and documenting the speeches and meetings with foreign leaders. This was interpreted by pundits as an excess abundance of attention paid to the Democratic candidate at the expense of John McCain. What this analysis leaves out (as usual) is any context that incorporates the content of the coverage, much of which focused on criticisms that Obama was arrogant, presumptuous, and “too presidential.”

Nevertheless, the McCain camp whined that they were being slighted and responded by releasing a series of ads that addressed serious issues like Paris Hilton, Moses, and the alleged love affair the media has for Obama. Actually, the McCain campaign didn’t really release the ads so much as they announced their existence and then let the media air them repeatedly for free. Whatever the method, the strategy appears to have had some success. The PEJ’s study shows that McCain’s press time is now equivalent to Obama’s. And all he had to do was accuse the media of being infatuated with his opponent.

For McCain to suggest that Obama is the recipient of undue positive coverage in the press is laughable. McCain himself once described the media as his base. He jokes with them on his campaign plane and invites them to BBQs at his Arizona villa. He relies on the overwhelmingly complimentary image he enjoys, including the utterly false portrayal of him as a maverick.

What this teaches journalism observers is that if you bash the media for not paying attention to you, you can get them to pay attention to you. You don’t have to provide any substance or even demonstrate that the content of the reporting was unfair. Just complain about the distribution of minutes and let the guilty consciences of the press take effect. Hillary Clinton’s campaign did the same thing during the primaries with the same result.

Further evidence of the success of this strategy can be seen in the allocation of airtime on campaign coverage. The PEJ summarizes the impact of the media focus on advertising by noting that 10% of the “newshole” was devoted to campaign ads. But it doesn’t stop there:

“Advertising was the second-biggest campaign story line last week, filling 10% of the campaign newshole. And the ripple effects were felt throughout the week. The ad generated another narrative – whether McCain campaign was too negative – that filled 6% of the newshole. The tone of the campaign, and the new McCain ad, then triggered a third major story line. When Obama accused Republicans of trying to frighten Americans because he ‘doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills,’ the McCain team responded by accusing Obama of playing the ‘race card.’ And that controversy, at 15%, became the biggest campaign narrative of all.”

In total, campaign advertising, directly or indirectly, drove 31% of the media coverage. The bulk of that coverage was centered on McCain or McCain’s criticisms of Obama. At least three McCain ads were replayed ad nauseum, but at most one Obama ad was given any analysis at all.

Since when was it the duty of the press to provide more coverage of candidate-produced commercials than to the actual issues around which campaigns revolve? The networks are making million dollar contributions to candidates when they broadcast their ads for free. Not to mention they are foregoing revenue that they might have earned had they required the candidates to actually pay for the ad time. What’s their incentive for this poor business judgment? Does it represent a political preference on the part of the media? Just take a look at the preponderance of McCain’s free media as compared to Obama’s and I think the answer is clear.

It is McCain with whom the media is in love. And they are putting their money where their heart is.



John McCain Claims To Be The One

On the heels of his ad mocking Barack Obama as a Messiah-like figure, John McCain has now anointed himself as “The One.”

This new ad declares that “Washington’s broken” and “John McCain knows it.” He admits that “We’re worse off than we were four years ago.” But without acknowledging the brazen hypocrisy, the ad asserts that McCain is “the only” candidate who can fix our broken nation. Then he goes further to seriously describe himself in the same manner he had sarcastically portrayed Obama:

One is ready to lead – McCain”

Here’s the ad:

Much of the last week was spent watching the media chew over McCain’s anti-Obama ad. With the pretense of engaging in substantive political discourse, they speculated as to whether Obama was too arrogant, and some even raised fears that he might be the anti-Christ. But McCain’s ad was a series of out-of-context snippets edited together to suggest that Obama said things that he never actually said.

Will the press take up the same debate now that McCain has made an ad where he is referring to himself in such reverential terms? Can the media possibly ignore that a just few days ago McCain was making fun of Obama as “The One” and now he is calling himself that in his own ad?

Probably. Remember that we are dealing with a thoroughly compromised press corps that is desperately trying to keep this race close so as to produce more drama and, hence, more viewers and advertising revenue.

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The Negativity Of Fox News

For a network that has the word “news” in its name, Fox manages to routinely dwell on trivialities, distractions, and outright fictions. Well known for their obsession with missing white women, the so-called journalists at Fox are also consumed by negativity as documented by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. Their new study reveals that the press in general has been overwhelmingly negative when reporting on Barack Obama, but Fox News steps it up a level or two:

“Since the primaries ended, on-air evaluations of Barack Obama have been 72% negative (vs. 28% positive). That’s worse than John McCain’s coverage, which has been 57% negative (vs. 43% positive) during the same time period […] Obama ran even farther behind McCain on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with 79% negative comments (v. 21% positive), compared to 61% negative comments (v. 39% positive) for McCain since June 8.”

This rampant negativity, however, is reflected in their ratings, which have consistently underperformed compared to their competitors.

Fox showed declines in almost every time period and demographic group, but was particularly lower in the all-important 25-54 demo. This ratings performance may be a hopeful sign that the free market in television viewership (such as it is) may actually be working. At least with respect to viewers tuning out Fox’s brand of propagandistic drivel.

A recent example of the nonsense Fox peddles as news is a report based on a story published in the Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch entity. The Journal posed a question that is surely topmost in the minds of voters: Is Barack Obama “Too Fit to Be President?” In this allegedly serious study of electoral considerations, the Journal asks if…

“…in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.”

By broadcasting its version of the Journal’s article, Fox pulled a twofer. First, they got to disseminate additional commentary that disparages the Democratic candidate. But they also got to further the utterly idiotic idea that a president must aspire to some notion of American Averagism. And apparently the general consensus of the press is that the average American is a fat, beer-swilling, uneducated, gun-toting, evangelical. Politicians who are too healthy or well-informed are only spotlighting how different they are from “ordinary” citizens and are, therefore, disqualified from public service.

That’s the real negative for America, courtesy of Fox News.


Health Insurance Is A Protection Racket

Blue CrossEarlier this week I had a minor medical emergency. It was nothing life threatening, but it was not insignificant. The resultant encounter with the healthcare insurance system was nothing short of insanity. Had this been a more serious malady someone might have died, and no doubt some have.

When I determined that I needed to make an emergency appointment with a medical provider, I called my insurance company, Blue Cross, and asked if I could see a doctor who was not my assigned provider, but who was more convenient at the moment. After some discussion, that merely demonstrated how difficult it is to get them to understand simple requests, I was told that because this was an emergency, it would be OK. Thus began my ordeal.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office, they told me that they had spoken with Blue Cross and were told that I would not be covered for services there and that I needed to call the insurer. When I finally reached them they advised me that there was no record of my being told that I could visit this provider and that, in any case, if I was told that that it was wrong. This led to a series of arguments that included several telephone agents and supervisors. On several occasions they put me on hold for twenty minutes or more. After more than two hours they indicated that they would not make an exception and that I must see my assigned provider who was thirty minutes away on the other side of town. Bear in mind that I am still waiting to receive care for an emergency.

So I return to my car (that has been ticketed because it was over the two hour limit) and make a call to my assigned provider. I get a recorded message that says that the phone number I dialed is not in service. I double checked it three times. Same recording.

So I call back Blue Cross and explain that I can’t reach my assigned provider to make an appointment and ask again if I can receive treatment at the office I was already sitting in. The answer is still no, even though they confirmed that the provider was not reachable. This leads to another round of arguments and escalations to supervisors.

This is the insane part. As a self-employed artist, I’m paying my own healthcare premiums. But apparently I’m paying for something that they have no obligation to provide. They insist that I have to see a provider that seems not to exist. And they won’t let me change to provider that does exist and is ready to treat me. What the hell am I paying for? They are telling me that the only provider I can see is one that can’t be reached. At one point they suggested that I should drive across town to ascertain whether or not the provider’s office is there. I’m waiting for emergency care and they want me to be their field investigator.

I continue trying to persuade them that they have to let me see somebody. What would stop them from assigning all of their customers to phantom providers and never have to pay a cent in coverage? This time, while speaking to a manager, my cell phone battery dies. It has been four hours since I first started talking to them about getting a little emergency care. When I find another phone to use, I speak with a manager who says he will see if he can switch me to a new assigned provider (DUH!) and call me back. Half an hour later, the doctor’s office I have been sitting in for four hours receives a call telling them that they can treat me and that it will be covered.

As I noted above, my problem was not life threatening. But there are surely others who go through bureaucratic torture like this who have much more on the line. These sort of situations should never occur, but with the current healthcare system in this country they are inevitable. Health insurance is a legalized protection racket that requires that you pay them to keep from being financially ruined. But like all criminals, they cannot be depended on to keep their word or comply with their contractual obligations. Why should they? They are the sole arbiters of the agreement. Blue Cross, in particular, has had other well-publicized events where they unlawfully dropped coverage for patients who had the audacity to get sick and file a claim.

I have always advocated universal health care. Fortunately for me, it has always been from a position wherein I was not in need of much of it myself. This experience is a vivid affirmation of my commitment to a more humane system of care that puts the patient before profits.

But my ordeal is not really over. The coverage that I was eventually granted is still woefully under funded. My portion of the cost will still be be several thousand dollars that I don’t have. For the first time in my life I am now indebted to my credit card, the only means I had of paying. So this is still going to haunt me for some time to come. If anyone reading this is of a mind to help, there is a virtually painless way to do so. I will not ask for charity or donations. But I will remind you that you can purchase products from Crass Commerce, my business site. So while helping me to recover from a medically driven indebtedness, you can enjoy, for example, your very own John McCain NOPE stickers or t-shirts.

Thanks to all those who are able to help. And thanks even more to all those who keep up the fight for universal healthcare so that no one should have to go through this sort of nightmare.


Diamonds On The Soles Of John McCain’s Shoes

John McCain has made Barack Obama’s alleged elitism a centerpiece of his campaign. In virtually every stop of the Doubletalk Express, McCain finds an opportunity to impugn Obama as out of touch with ordinary Americans. The press uncritically regurgitates this nonsense without even a hint of irony. They portray the wealthy McCain as an authentic man of the people despite the fact that the opposite is true.

Haven’t they noticed that it is McCain who is the son of privilege? His father and his grandfather were both Admirals. He left his first wife to marry a beer heiress worth more than $100 million. And he has lived off of the American people his whole life – first as a Naval officer, then as a Senator. Obama, on the other hand, is the son of a single mother. He worked his way through college and law school, and then eschewed the lucrative legal firms to dedicate himself to community service in South Chicago.

So how will the media handle the news that McCain has been caught gallivanting around the country in $520.00 imported Italian Ferragamo loafers?

Well, let’s see how they handled John Edwards:

  • Jonah Goldberg:[Edwards] gives new meaning to the term ‘poverty pimp.’
  • USA Today: “Edwards, most prominently, has undermined his passionate advocacy for ordinary Americans by seeming to be anything but ordinary himself. Expensive haircuts reinforce the elitist image of a wealthy trial lawyer…”
  • Bill O’Reilly: “Edwards is running a preposterous campaign. He lives like a sultan in a 30,000 foot North Carolina house […] I have no respect for him. He’s a phony and is in the tank for special interest to damage this country.”

McCain has upped the ante on Edwards’ haircut by $120.00. Plus, he has eight homes and a private jet. Does O’Reilly disrespect him or consider him a phony? Edwards and Obama share the experience of having had to work hard for their good fortune. McCain was born into privilege, and then marriage enriched him further.

The press really needs to be made to answer for their hypocrisy. What excuse could they have for the disparity in the coverage of these candidates? The reality is so obvious that the media cannot feign ignorance. It is past the time for excuses and neglect. It is time to force the media to be honest.


The Wall Street Journal: Rupert Murdoch’s Bitch

Today’s Wall Street Journal published an editorial castigating FCC chairman Kevin Martin. Normally, that would be an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Martin’s tenure at the FCC has been a gift to Big Media, allowing them to consolidate at will and presiding over a deregulation fest that has benefited everyone but consumers.

However, the reasons for the Journal’s pique are more typical of their reputation for greed and self-interest. The FCC is reportedly prepared to rule against Comcast for blocking legal access to the Internet. At Save the Internet, Craig Aaron has nicely documented Comcast’s violations and laid out the myths versus the realities of Network Neutrality. But that’s not the end of the story.

For the Journal to take up this issue now, they are treading deeply into some serious conflict of interest. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. purchased the Journal last year. The center of News Corp’s universe is Fox News – a cable network. Cable networks depend on carriage from cable operators like Comcast. Murdoch also owns a new cable operation, the Fox Business Network, which is gasping for viewers largely because they lack carriage on enough cable systems to stay afloat.

Now the Journal is coming to the rescue of Comcast. Is Murdoch attempting to curry favor with Comcast, and the cable industry in general, in order to secure more channel space? Does a pimp want to get paid? The ferocity of the Journal’s attack on an otherwise uber-loyal Republican appointee tells the story. The column starts out swinging:

“Bad personnel decisions have haunted the Bush Administration, and one of the bigger disappointments is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin. In his last months as Master of the Media Universe, he seems poised to expand government regulation of the Internet.”

That’s the sort of rancid rhetoric that the Journal usually saves for Democrats. On that measure, the Journal doesn’t disappoint. Delivering what must be the ultimate insult to a right-wing toady, the Journal suggests that Martin is “greasing the skids for a potential Barack Obama Administration.” Remember, we’re talking about a man so devoted to the rightist agenda that he was over-ruled twice by Congress. He never saw a merger he didn’t like. He got his job as a reward for helping Bush steal the Florida election in 2000.

Martin is not the typical target of the Journal’s scorn. But if it means consolidating more power, and making more money, Murdoch will use his house organ to achieve whatever ends he desires. Even if it means beating up one of his prized whores. It’s hard out here for a pimp.