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“What’s Behind The Media’s Ebola Sensationalism?”: How Deeply The Right-Wing Anti-Science Message Has Taken Hold On TV

CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all treated the return of Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, as if he were riding to the hospital in a white Ford Bronco. Chopper cams and speculative commentary trailed his ambulance Saturday through the streets of Atlanta with the kind of excited intensity usually reserved for police car chases and killers on the lamb.

In the end, the breathless live coverage was revealed to be embarrassingly over-the-top: Brantly didn’t even need a stretcher; he climbed out of the parked ambulance in a hazmat suit and walked, with the support of just one person, into a back door of Emory University Hospital. That was the tip-off that giving a disease the O.J. treatment is a symptom of a media sickness for which there appears to be no cure.

Ebola is a terrible hemorrhagic fever that can kill from 50 percent to 90 percent of those who contract it. It’s also a symbol to the political right of all the Third World horrors that liberals are inviting past the walls of our City on the Hill. But now that two American aid workers—Nancy Writebol has just arrived at Emory, on a stretcher but, so far, with less fanfare—have brought it directly to our shores, it’s a Clear and Present Danger.

Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey went so far last month as to warn that the Central American children who’ve been turning up at border stations around the country might be smuggling Ebola in with them, like so many contagious Trojan horses (even though Ebola fever has never been detected in a patient outside of Africa). Howlers like Gingrey’s—echoed Monday by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)—work because Ebola, “diseased” immigrants, and “blood pollution” of all sorts fit neatly into the racist subtext of the radical right’s opposition to Obama. After all, our “lawless,” African-born POTUS, whose parents faked a birth certificate fifty-three years ago this week in order to infect America with socialism today, just happens to be hosting fifty-one African nations at a summit in Washington. How much proof do you need?

Various studies have shown that conservatives have a lower threshold for disgust than liberals do, and Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (like vomit, feces and blood, but not through sneezing or coughing) certainly crosses that low bar. Nor is it lost on wingers that AIDS originated in Africa, too.

But many of the diseases that humans are heir to are pretty damn disgusting, no matter where they originate. There aren’t two tiers of diseases any more than there are two tiers of humanity.

There is, however, Donald Trump, who tends to elevate fear of cooties into a political philosophy. He sent out a series of tweets—including “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days—now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!”—that exhibit the germ phobia we’ve come to expect from isolated billionaire crackpots (Trump will be wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes any day now). Unusually for a Republican, though, the magnate’s fears aren’t overcome by the fact that the two infected Americans are Christian missionaries. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” he also tweeted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”

And never mind that fighting such viruses at their place of origin is far more effective than pretending there’s a disinfectant force-field around the Homeland. Brantly is reported to have been suffering the consequences of doing good with a vengeance until he received two emergency treatments: an experimental serum developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company, and, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the relief organization working with Brantly, a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived the disease after Brantly cared for him in Liberia. Guess which treatment gets more coverage on American TV?

Which brings us back to the fever the media has been suffering ever since the ascent of the Tea Party. Rather than dispel unscientific and political myths, the instinct at many news outlets has been to promote them. The scientific truth the media should have been promoting all along isn’t that Ebola is a Holy Terror emerging from “other” races and immune to Western treatment; rather, it’s a horrible illness with a terrifically high kill rate because up to now it has appeared only in Africa, where clean water, enforced quarantines and disposable medical supplies are hard to come by. That first take played on cable news channels, regardless of their political leanings, is a measure of just how deeply the right-wing anti-science message has taken hold on TV.

But by sheer accident, the car-chase media did the public a service, demonstrating, as Brantly walked into the hospital, that the existential danger over Ebola is being oversold. MSNBC anchor Alex Witt asked on-air physicians, including NBC in-house doctor Nancy Snyderman, if they would be afraid to treat Brantly. No, said Snyderman. Any doctor would be “excited” by the opportunity to use the medical precautions and equipment available in America to find effective treatments for the disease without spreading it.

And maybe, once again, The Onion said it best: “Experts: Ebola Vaccine at Least 50 White People Away.”

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, August 5, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Media, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sanctimonious Fakers”: Border Crisis Tests Religious Faith — And Some Fail Badly

Flamboyant piety has long been fashionable on the political right, where activists, commentators, and elected officials never hesitate to hector us about their great moral and theological rectitude. Wielding the Scriptures like a weapon, these righteous ’wingers are always eager to condemn the alleged sins of others but reluctant to examine their own. They seem to spend far more time on posturing and preening than spiritual reflection. Rarely does anyone call them out on their failures to fulfill their proclaimed devotion because, in this country, that is considered rude.

But occasionally, something happens that separates the people of faith from the sanctimonious fakers. With thousands of defenseless children now gathered on America’s southern border, seeking asylum from deprivation and deadly violence, something like that is happening right now.

Nobody in the House of Representatives is more vociferous about her reverence for God’s word than Michele Bachmann (R-MN) –the Tea Party queen bee who often has said she believes that America is a “Christian nation.” When Bachmann opened her mouth on television about those hungry and fearful children, she demonized them as “invaders” and incipient criminals who could be expected to rape American women and break American laws.

Then there is Bachmann’s colleague Louie Gohmert (R-TX), whose religious zeal is so overpowering that he cannot restrain himself, even during House proceedings – like that committee hearing last month when he proclaimed his belief that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus is destined for hell. But when the subject is the innocent kids at the border of his home state, most of whom are girls under 13 years of age, Gohmert speaks of “invasion” and urges the governor of Texas to unilaterally initiate a state of war. Like many of his fellow far-rightists, he stokes rumors that these children are harbingers of disease and gangsterism.

So does Phil Gingrey (R-GA), a medical doctor who went so far as to accuse the young migrants of bringing the Ebola virus – seen only in Africa — with them from Central America. And so does Sandy Rios, the religious-right talk-show host who speaks of the “hope” that the Lord bestowed on her, but warns that we should treat the border children like “lepers.” And so does Ann Coulter, the Church Lady who suspects that all those kids, no matter how small, probably belong to the murderous MS-13 narcotics syndicate.

Now among the theological ideas shared by many of these figures is a fondness for the Old Testament, which they routinely quote to justify cruel strictures against gays, women, and anybody else they wish to suppress. At the moment, however, these Biblical literalists ought to be studying the very plain instruction of Leviticus:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

More recently, Pope Francis laid down a clear edict on the border crisis that springs from his own Biblical understanding, urging Americans to “welcome and protect” the children arriving on our border. (He didn’t mention anything about immediate deportations.) The Holy Father expressed deep concern for the “tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence…in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain”.

“Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes,” he said. Francis went on to say that only development and security in their own countries would ever stem the flow of migrants heading northward – and that in the meantime, the rest of us should abandon “attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization.” Attitudes like those displayed by goons waving flags and guns and “Go Home” signs, who don’t care whether these little strangers live or die.

Where are the real Christians? Where are the true people of faith? They may be found in houses of worship near the border and around the country, where people of all political persuasions realize that they are called to feed, clothe, shelter, and heal God’s children, even when they arrive on a bus without papers. If there is a kingdom of heaven, it is these generous souls who will be admitted when they reach its border.

The hypocrites will be sent somewhere else.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, July 18, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Faith, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Right-Wing Xenophobes Are Spreading Lies About Migrant Diseases”: Latest Chapter In An Ugly History Of American Nativism

Citing the “potential threat of communicable diseases,” the city council in League City, Texas, voted last week to ban undocumented children from entering the Houston suburb. In Murrieta, California, Mayor Alan Long claimed that the government was placing “ill and contagious” kids in its midst. Even national politicians who should know betternamely, House Republicansare spreading lies and paranoia. Phil Gingrey, in a letter to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote that “deadly diseases” threaten “Americans who are not vaccinatedand especially young children and the elderly.” And Randy Weber said, “We’re thinking these are diseases that we have eradicated in our country and our population isn’t ready for this, so for this to break out to be a pandemic would be unbelievable.”

There’s a legitimate policy debate to have over the border crisis, but it must begin with the facts. Doctors have debunked claims of diseased-ridden children: The migrants tend to be middle class with updated vaccines. By engaging in this right-wing fear-mongering, the aforementioned elected officialsand many othersare earning their ignominious place in a long, ugly history in American nativism that demonizes immigrants under the guise of public-health concerns.

With each wave of immigration, nativists have made public-health excuses for keeping out migrants. In the 1830s, cholera was described as an “Irish disease,” and in the late 1800s Tuberculosis was portrayed as a “Jewish disease.” In 1891, Congress banned any immigrant “suffering from a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease.” Even at Ellis Island, a site we celebrate as America’s front door for the “tired and weary,” medical inspections were a weapon aimed at immigrants who traveled on second and third class and were commonly used to quarantine and turn back unwanted immigrants.

Public-health nativism was also used to justify violence against immigrants. After a Chinese immigrant died of the bubonic plague in 1900, San Franciscans quarantined Chinatown and threatened to burn it down. Mayor James Phelan said that Chinese immigrants were “a constant menace to the public health.” Later, he ran for the Senate under a pledge to “Keep California White.”

More than a century later, the overt racism is gone but the underlying sentiment is the same. The ugly rhetoric we’ve seen over the past few weeks didn’t emerge out of thin air. In 2005, Lou Dobbs’s CNN show falsely reported that there had been 7,000 leprosy cases over the previous three yearsone of immigration’s “deadly imports,” he said. The following year, Pat Buchanan claimed that “clearly the illegal aliens” were to blame for the rise in bedbug infestations. And so on.

Time and again, the public health opposition to immigration has been exposed as nothing more than a socially accepted form of xenophobia. That’s true again today. Ignoring the expertise of public-health officials, congressional Republicans and other conservatives continue to invent their own “facts” to prop up, once again, the idea that our country is pure and that foreigners who are trying to enter it are impure. The real disease here, though, is what Democratic Congressman Luis Guitterez called the right’s “demonization” of these desperate children.

 

By: Samuel Kleiner, a Fellow at the Yale Law and Information Society Project; The New Republic, July 15, 2014

July 16, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, House Republicans, Immigrants, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Low Sanity Threshold”: In Georgia, The Bar Is Scraping The Ground

Being back in Georgia always reminds me of the very different norms governing politics in Deep Red country. Yesterday I mentioned that in Georgia’s 11th district GOP runoff, Barry Loudermilk and Bob Barr were in disagreement about what, if anything, the U.S. should be doing in Iraq. I didn’t mention they both favored the impeachment of the president (Bob Barr touts his experience as a Clinton impeachment manager as a plus), though Loudermilk thinks maybe it’s a waste of time to pursue it so long as Senate action to finish it is unlikely.

In another GOP runoff in north Georgia, in the 10th congressional district, the Rev. Jody Hice, who finished first on May 20, is an aggressive supporter of the point of view that only Christians should benefit from First Amendment protection of religious liberties, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jay Bookman reports:

“Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” Hice wrote in his 2012 book. “It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

Hice believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the United States, with the intent to impose Sharia law on all of us. He also believes that it’s fine for women to seek political office, at least if certain conditions are met. “If the woman’s within the authority of her husband, I don’t see a problem,” he told the Athens Banner-Herald in 2004.

That makes him a spiritual brother to 11th District candidate Loudermilk:

Loudermilk is an eager member of the Glenn Beck wing of the GOP. He is also an apostle of faux historian David Barton, who preaches that the U.S. Constitution is a document intended to create a conservative Christian government. Like Hice, they reject the notion of a separation between Christianity and state, and argue that the First Amendment was intended only to keep government from favoring one particular Christian denomination.

In their world view, Obama is anti-Christian and pro-Islamic, and they hint at darker motives.

Of course they do.

Loudermilk and Hice, of course, are seeking to succeed Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, respectively, in the House. So the sanity threshold is set pretty low.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Georgia, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mission Accomplished”: Tea Party Has Succeeded In Moving GOP Further Right

Last week, primary elections in several states killed off a few ultraconservative candidates whose views flirted with nuttiness. In Georgia, for example, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun — a physician who has called evolution and the big-bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” — drew only 9.8 percent of the vote in a crowded race to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

In the same Georgia primary contest, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, an obstetrician-gynecologist, pulled down just 10 percent of the vote. Last year, the gaffe-prone Gingrey drew national ridicule for defending former Missouri congressman Todd Akin, who had said that natural processes protect a woman from pregnancy after rape.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily dispatched a Republican challenger, Matt Bevin, who had suggested that legalizing gay marriage could lead to parents marrying their children.

Those results, among others, cheered the Republican establishment, which has grown tired of fielding weird candidates who cannot win general elections, and led to a round of obituaries for the Tea Party movement, which had backed several of the losers. According to the chattering classes, the election results prove that the Tea Party is on life support, a dying force in conservative politics. That goes double for the doyenne of the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, whose chosen candidate in the Georgia Senate primary, Karen Handel, also lost.

But that view is just wrong. Tea Partiers have already accomplished what they set out to do: move the Republican Party much further to the right. While the foot-in-mouth, reality-challenged candidates may have been swept from the stage, the Tea Party has grafted its DNA onto the GOP. The Republican Party is now a small tent of hard-right absolutists who deny science, worship the rich and detest compromise.

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize his party — and wouldn’t be welcome there either, as former Florida governor Jeb Bush noted two years ago. “Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” he said.

Georgia’s Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat (as Senator Saxby Chambliss retires) was instructive. It was a frenzy of Obama-bashing, an unedifying contest among candidates who repeated far-right orthodoxy like a mantra. They pledged to fight Obamacare, to resist tax increases, to cut spending on social programs, to defend every citizen’s right to own a shoulder-fired rocket launcher. Each of them pledged to fight abortion, though they all want to cut the programs that help keep poor babies healthy.

When the leading candidate, millionaire businessman David Perdue, said something rational, it was denounced as a gaffe and used as fodder by his opponents. Asked by a Macon Telegraph editorial writer whether he would chose spending cuts or increased revenue to improve the economy, Perdue said “both.” His opponents jumped on the remark quickly, claiming he had given notice that he would raise taxes.

The peculiar aversion to compromise runs counter to the example set by Reagan, the patron saint of the modern conservative movement. He famously bartered with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill to arrive at a 1983 agreement to cut spending and raise taxes, which firmed up Social Security for a generation.

Yet, the Tea Party takeover of the GOP is holding strong, producing an adherence to far-right dogma. That’s what voters are likely to see in the runoff for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, in which frontrunner Perdue will face U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston on July 22. Both candidates will feel pressure to prove themselves to the Tea Party supporters who voted for Gingrey, Broun and Handel, so they’ll engage in even more ultraconservative rhetoric and indulge even more right-wing impulses.

The Republican establishment thought that it was going to use the energy of far-right activists to win elections while remaining firmly in control. If any members of the GOP establishment — including old-line institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce — still believe that’s what happened, they are only fooling themselves.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at the University of Georgia; The National Memo, May 24, 2014

May 25, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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