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“Who’s Really Laughing About The Invasion Of Texas?”: Just Getting The Larger Idea Into The Mainstream Media Is A Victory

All week long we’ve been having a good laugh over Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordering the Texas state guard to monitor Jade Helm 15, a military exercise planned by the Pentagon to simulate “covert military operations” in Texas and seven other western states. The conspiracy theory on the right is that the operation is designed to “take over” Texas, which is funny because the state is actually already part of the US. The speculation that abandoned Walmart stores are being prepped to hold gun-lovers and patriots makes it only more hilarious because, well, don’t Walmarts already do that?

We on the left can laugh all we want at the rightwing nut-jobs, but don’t think for a moment that liberals are the only ones enjoying the comedy. A lot of Republicans who know better are laughing up their sleeves about the hysteria the media coverage is generating. Texas Representative Louie Gohmert feeds the alarm, warning that “patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned” about the exercise. “I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz says, letting the fantasy fly. “You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It’s a question I’m getting a lot.”

But as Jon Stewart points out, these military exercises have been going on in Texas for years, and the Lone Star state has always welcomed them. Hmmm, what’s different now, he wonders, under a photo of our black president.

This is how ginning up the base works. If there’s a near-time analog, it would be the 24/7 coverage before the 2014 midterm elections about Ebola and the crazies’ theory that the feds were encouraging an epidemic in America by not quarantining anyone who set foot in West Africa. That was a bad joke, too, since, after all, nobody who had not been in West Africa or treated someone with Ebola had ever caught the disease. And the media coverage stopped on a dime when the election was over.

But, boy, did that coverage help drive racially biased voters to the polls.

Whether or not rank-and-file Texans really believe that US generals are threatening to put them under martial law, there’s a sense of pleasure in punking the national media and forcing them to discuss black helicopters. Check out this video, from the Austin Statesman and played this week on Hardball, that shows a US Army spokesman trying to calm fears at a town hall in Bastrop County, Texas. After the 4:30 mark, you can see a young woman smiling and hooting in delight as the spokesman tries to make his point, only to be confronted by folks shouting that they don’t believe a word he says.

The Texas takeover is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia.

And just because Clive Bundy is paranoid does not mean the federal government isn’t actually out to get him. The right perceives their power waning and so proactively taunts the powers that be to expend resources and convince them they’re wrong. Many conservatives are sane enough to know that these conspiracy theories are a crock. But they see that Mitt Romney tried to win the presidency two years ago with a supermajority of white voters and lost convincingly. They want conservatives to win elections, and it is increasingly apparent that their ability to do so in national contests is diminishing rapidly. Defying or degrading the institutions that enforce the will of popular majorities is actually a logical way to delay their expression.

We’re going to have a long hot summer of this sad joke: Jade Helm 15 lasts from July 15 through September 15. There’ll be lots of laughs, but it’s not clear who’ll get the last one.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, May 8, 2015

May 9, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Jade Helm 15, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Are Koch”: We Make Your Planet Warmer And Water More Flammable

Koch Industries, considered Public Enemy Number One by many environmentalists, is blanketing the airwaves with an ad campaign touting its contributions to society.

Charles and David Koch, billionaire moguls of a fossil fuel empire, sign off their company’s self-aggrandizing ads with the triumphant exclamation “we are Koch!”

The main ad in their series of spot commercials features a kaleidoscope of bucolic farms as well as bustling factory workers and lab technicians. A narrator informs us that the company has a 60,000 strong workforce dedicated to providing a broad range of products to” help people improve their lives.” [“We Are Koch.”]

There is no mention of this second largest privately held company in the nation being slapped with numerous fines for pollution offenses. There is nary a word about the Koch brothers using their immense wealth to finance the debunking of climate change. No reference is made to the company’s lobbying efforts to thwart clean, renewable energy expansion and weaken anti-pollution regulations.

One of the ads features Claire Johnson, an environmental engineer lauding the work of her employer, Flint Hill Resources, a Koch chemical refining multi-site operation.

“If a pollution incident does occur,” Johnson declares as she stares into the camera, “we are great at self-regulation…” [We Are Koch.]

Koch’s perception of its self-regulatory skills is not shared by government authorities responsible for safeguarding our air, water and land. You can understand why when you learn that the very same Flint Hill Resources was recently fined $350,000 for allowing a Texas chemical plant to leak a lethal amount of hazardous emissions.

To counter the Koch’s pervasive propaganda, an advertising rebuttal is needed. Television satirist Jon Stewart took a one-time stab with a video parody displaying oil fields and polar bears. The video was accompanied by a supposed Koch narrator rhapsodizing that “with our devotion to fossil fuels, we [Koch] make your planet warmer and water more flammable while lubricating your birds and displacing your polar bears.”

Unfortunately, Stewart doesn’t have the resources to saturate the electronic mass media with his visual message. It is a shame there is no major ad campaign offering such responses as something like the following. Picture a Koch Industries chemical plant discharging suspicious-looking affluent into a waterway with a narrator boasting “here is a Koch plant operating at full tilt.” A sonorous voice then intones “They Are Koch.”

How about a video in which a melting iceberg collapses into the sea as a Koch narrative drones “global warming is a natural phenomenon. There is no human-induced climate change. They Are Koch.”

The camera zooms in on a bulldozer unloading toxic coal residue into a hazardous waste landfill with a voice-over proclaiming “renewable energy at this stage is unaffordable. That leaves the plentiful coal and other fossil fuels we supply as the only practical alternatives for the foreseeable future. They Are Koch.”

Koch Industries employs a lot of people, but it jeopardizes a lot as well.

 

By: Edward Flattau, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Environment, Global Warming, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wanted; Less Terrible Political Coverage On TV”: An Increasingly Tiresome Model Of Political And Current Events Coverage

Jon Stewart is nothing if not America’s foremost cable news critic. On Sunday, he couldn’t help telling CNN what he thinks of them—and he did it on their network. “I want more of good CNN,” Stewart said. “CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it’s good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky.”

It’s not just CNN. Much of what passes for political coverage these days is (to borrow a phrase) “bad Chucky.” What Stewart admires are the “brave correspondents” who cover things like the Arab Spring. What he doesn’t like, though—the breathless and feigned “BREAKING NEWS” time fillers and pearl clutching—is what cable news relies on the majority of the time spent between revolutions and natural disasters. It’s an increasingly tiresome model of political and current events coverage.

Aside from Fox News (as evidenced by the ratings), MSNBC’s Morning Joe (as evidenced by its status as a tastemaker), and comedy shows like the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and HBO’s Real Time (by virtue of their place in the cultural zeitgeist), politics on TV doesn’t seem to be as good anymore. Maybe it’s just me. Then again, cable news ratings are down more or less across the board, and Americans find much of the media untrustworthy.

There are other exceptions, no doubt. But whether it’s cable news or the Sunday morning talk shows, something just doesn’t seem right. One gets the sense that they’re flailing, that the world has changed, but they haven’t. That they’re trying to figure out how to make it work, but so far it’s not coming together.

And I think it’s worth noting that among the shows that I believe to be “working” include several examples that are, ostensibly, comedy. And that makes me wonder if maybe the networks and shows might not want to look to them for guidance? And, of course, they already are: Jon Stewart was seriously considered as host for Meet The Press, a move that would have either changed the whole damn paradigm—or failed spectacularly. But the larger question lingers: Why do these shows work, while much of what passes for straight political commentary and analysis (not to be confused with straight news) seem so stale?

A theory: As our political system—not to mention our coverage of it—becomes more absurd, there’s a natural yearning to point out that absurdity in a way a show like Meet the Press is not equipped to handle. MTP and shows like it are all about how serious this is. These are senators, don’t ya know—statesmen. It’s like the whole format is left over from the Washington that existed in an Allen Drury novel, a time before the message was controlled and you rose in the ranks on your ability to avoid gaffes and raise cash.

Our politics—our culture at large, really—now disincentivizes loose informality when it comes to political coverage. It’s really quite schizophrenic: we urge you to be loose and fun and interesting, but we’ll crucify you if you trip up. It’s all absurd, yes, but don’t take it lightly! seems to be the mantra, and there’s a million tripwires to look out for if you’re a senator talking on a set. So we settle on this arrangement that has this sort of bloodless/uber-serious political coverage on the one hand, and Jon Stewart absurdity on the other. A politician or pundit screws up on one, and is made fun of on the other.

But there’s a missing middle ground here—a warm wit, a little mischievous but not cynical—that Sunday shows kind of miss now.

I’m not advocating that we dumb down political analysis and chase the lowest common denominator. Quite the opposite. The irony is that shows that are meant to be funny are often also the smarter shows. There is a long tradition of Swiftian satire, and in this regard, the comedy shows are selling themselves short when they cast themselves as mere “entertainment.” One could argue that they are providing a service—and a service that could be replicated by other outlets and media.

But as faking sincerity is difficult, replicating insouciance is a challenge. It helps to have fun, smart hosts who don’t have an ideological ax to grind. That’s not to say Stewart and Oliver and Maher (just to mention three) don’t have a point of view; they tend to universally lean leftward. But they are probably more intellectually honest—more willing to call their own team for BS—than most political commentators.

They’re also funny. For them, the rule has to be to “be funny first.” You can have an agenda, but it’s always second fiddle to being funny. Or, if your show is about ideas, then I think it has to be intellectually stimulating first. My point here is that scoring political points probably can’t come first, at least if believe this is the model that works best.

Here, talent is important, too. There were a lot of things about that infamous Jon Stewart rant on Crossfire that I thought were unfair, but one thing he got completely right is that being funny is harder than doing political commentary. On the other hand, Stewart and Oliver and Maher have some huge advantages over their political interlocutors, such as a team of writers helping them come up with one-liners. They’re also held to a lower standard, partly at their own insistence, allowing them to quickly move back and forth between serious public-service style journalism and “we’re all just having fun” irreverence.

So I leave you with this: Could a cable network—tasked with providing content 24/7 replicate the quality of these shows, day in and day out? There’s probably no way that would happen. It’s so much easier and cheaper to book guests to gab about the news of the day. There’s little time or money for flying the perfect guest—maybe a smart author—across the country to have an elevated discussion. But it could work as a model for the Sunday shows which, let’s face it, would benefit from a little more levity.

Political commentary will slowly evolve, and what I think we’re witnessing right now is a kind of transitional period—an adolescence, if you will, and that’s rarely an attractive stage. The current formula for TV news isn’t working, and the networks know it, but they haven’t quite figured out what will replace it. Yes, there will always be a place for serious discussion about policy, but this much seems obvious: A decade from now, political punditry will look very different. And I’m betting on the funny guys.

 

By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2014

November 23, 2014 Posted by | Cable News, Journalism, Network Television | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Only Interesting Thing About Meet The Press”: So Many Journalists Think It’s Interesting To Anyone Other Than Journalists

Kevin Drum’s piece altered me to the fact that Jon Stewart was considered to be the next host of Meet the Press. I googled on “Meet the Press Jon Stewart” and found that Kevin’s was one of a tidal wave of pieces weighing in on this earthshattering revelation. The New York Times, Washington Post and US News and World Report were just a small set of the outlets that analyzed this Cuban Missile Crisis-Level near miss that might have destroyed our country forever. The Stewartgate coverage of course followed a good twelve months of virtually every political journalist in the country writing about how then-MTP host David Gregory was in trouble, and who would replace him, and would this person plunge the nation into peril or redeem its lost greatness (Lest you think that the recent spate of Meet the Press-related coverage was just because of Jon Stewart’s media profile, check out the non-Stewart-related MTP coverage at, to name only a few, New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post and FoxNews). God, the suspense of having our species’ future hinging on who — Dear Lord tell us, who? — would take the throne as Meet the Press host and thereby do something apparently quite important.

Or not. Seeing all these articles actually made me throw up a little in my mouth because I cannot take another round of journalists treating anything and everything that happens on MTP as more than remotely newsworthy. There are contests to name the most undercovered stories of the year in journalism. The goings-on at Meet the Press deserve the prize for the most overcovered story for several years running.

In the days when Lawrence Spivak walked the earth, Meet the Press developed an innovative concept in television: Have political journalists talk to each other and to politicians about the political events of the day. Since that time, this format has been copied to the point that one could literally watch such shows 24 hours a day every day if one were that masochistic. By Sunday everything momentous and everything trivial in the week’s politics has been chewed over 100 times already, and seeing the soggy orts remasticated on MTP et al. is the television version of experiencing “harsh interrogation methods”.

And alert to journalists: Almost no one other than you watches Meet the Press anymore. The many stories making a big deal about which of the Sunday morning shows is ranked first are analogous to making a big deal over who has the best batting average in Professional Baseball’s Double AA minor league system. Hit shows in the United States draw 10-20 million viewers per broadcast; you can be first among the not-so-vaunted Sunday morning talk show competition with less than 3 million viewers tuning in, counting all the people who are dozing off in the nursing home’s common room.

The only thing interesting about Meet the Press is that so many smart journalists think it’s interesting to anyone other than journalists. Please folks, find something more important to write about, like the war, the economy or what you did on your summer vacation.

 

By: Kevin Humphreys, Ten Miles Square, Washington Monthly Political Animal, Octoer 10, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | Journalists, Media, Meet The Press | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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