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“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: The Gullibility Of American Television Audiences

Is NBC really responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?

On a recent edition of the progressive radio program Ring of Fire, hosts Mike Papantonio and Farron Cousins discussed the mainstream media’s role in fueling the momentum of the Trump campaign, and strongly suggested that NBC effectively laid the foundation for Trump potentially becoming the 45th president (relevant discussion begins at 5:58): https://youtu.be/-D35FkhmQVA

I’ve never watched an episode of The Apprentice, and I’ve never quite understood the appeal of that program, or reality television in general. (Don’t even get me started on President Obama and Running Wild with Bear Grylls, despite the climate-consciousness of the December 17 edition of that program.) I’m not quite sure that NBC can be blamed for, frankly, the gullibility of American television audiences. After all, those who wasted hours watching Trump’s antics on The Apprentice could have been reading books instead.

It’s too easy to blame NBC for the rise of Trump, just as it’s too easy to blame Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. There has always been an element of American culture that embraces the low, the vulgar, the putrid and the perverse. Donald Trump and NBC did not create that culture; it was a pre-existing condition in America’s body.

That condition could be fatal. You have to think that, love for his brother notwithstanding, George W. Bush is secretly rooting for Trump to win the Republican nomination and the presidency, since four to eight years of a Trump administration could actually make the Bush years look better by comparison. Sure, future historians will say, Bush lied America into war, abandoned American citizens in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, tortured people, attacked LGBT civil rights and wrecked the United States economy, but at least he didn’t inspire de facto pogroms against Mexicans and Muslims!

It’s creepy to think about it, no? Reagan’s recklessness almost made Nixon look OK relative to Bonzo’s co-star. Dubya’s destructiveness almost inspired nostalgia for the “Morning in America” era. Now, if Trump becomes the 45th President, people will start forgetting the 43rd President’s flaws. Trump would, on some level, have the power to rewrite history.

It is often said that every President becomes a reflection of the era in which he governed. When we think back to the Nixon era, our minds recall the cynicism of the age; when we remember the Reagan era, we think of the “Greed Is Good” ethos; when we think of the Bush years, we recall a time of constant fear. Let’s say Trump serves one or two terms as President. What will we think of when we remember those years?

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mainstream Media, NBC, Reality Television | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Wallowing In Ignorance”: Epistemic Closure Comes Back To Haunt The GOP

Five years ago Julian Sanchez did us the favor of defining a pattern among conservatives that he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely…And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

The entire basis for the existence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is the belief that the “mainstream media” cannot be trusted to tell the truth because they are all “liberals.” This fed something that we as human beings already tend to do anyway – reject information that doesn’t conform to our already-established beliefs. It feels good to not have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance that comes with consideration of conflicting facts. But the end result is that it kills curiosity and we wallow in ignorance.

The disastrous results of epistemic closure for conservatives have been on display for some time now. It explains how they continue to deny the science of climate change, assume that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is “cooking the books” on unemployment data and led to a whole movement during the 2012 election to unskew the polls. But for everyone from Murdoch to GOP leaders, it worked to keep the base angry and engaged.

And then…it got out of control. Take a look at the results of Frank Lunz’s focus group with Trump supporters.

“They’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'” Luntz said. “And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will.”

It is Trump’s ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in “an alternative universe” in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump’s record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

“When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side,” Luntz asked of his focus group. Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.

For these participants, the Republican establishment (and perhaps even Fox News itself) have now joined the liberal New York Times in peddling a politically motivated conspiracy when they challenge Donald Trump. That should come as no surprise when these same people have been told for years that they can pick and chose their facts based on how they make you feel. Stephen Colbert was positively prophetic when he coined the term “truthiness.” And now it’s all coming back to haunt the GOP.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Incredible Weakness Of The National Republican Party”: The GOP Is Now The Political Arm Of Fox News

One of the more interesting things about the GOP debate wasn’t even what happened at the debate, but the meta-narrative of how it happened. It’s also interesting how weak and helpless the Republican Party appeared as events unfolded.

First, the GOP was supposed to have its strongest field in decades. This should, in theory, have allowed for real contentions over major issues and a seesaw effect as governors and senators probed each other’s weaknesses and tested new ideas with the GOP primary electorate. But that hasn’t happened. Instead each of the major candidates has shrunk under the bright lights rather than grown. The field that appeared so strong on paper has turned out to look incredibly weak and slate.

As the major candidates were unable to seize control, an increasing number of also-rans became tempted to join the fray, producing an overcrowded clown car effect. During all of this the national Republican Party was entirely powerless to stop them and clear the field.

Then, of course, came Donald Trump. The Republican Party has never looked weaker than it has in dealing with the enormous black eye that is Donald Trump. Reince Priebus has looked variously baffled, snarky, pouty and kowtowing addressing the Trump problem. At every turn Donald Trump continues to thumb his nose at the establishment Republican Party, insulting its leaders and openly mocking any efforts it might make to reach out to women and minorities in order to solve its demographic problems.

And then comes Fox News. Fox News is often described as the media arm of the GOP. But over the years it has seemed more like the GOP is the political arm of Fox News. It was Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch who decided which candidates would appear on stage. It was Fox News’ Megyn Kelly who determined the lines of attack each candidate would face, and which ones would face an easier road than others. It was Fox News that controlled the post-debate spin. In all of this, the actual Republican Party seems to be an utter bystander at its own event.

Of course, there’s the spectacle the Koch Brothers and Shelden Adelson have made of their willingness to buy candidates outright and set up their own shadow field and campaign arms separate from the GOP.

And now comes the RedState forum. Erick Erickson has taken it upon himself to disinvite Donald Trump from the RedState forum. At first glance this might seem to be a boon to the GOP: national leaders desperately want to see the Trump “bubble” burst, and want to take the spotlight away from him in any way possible. But it’s still remarkable that in an election year when national Democratic leaders and the Clinton campaign made a decision to keep frontrunner Hillary Clinton away from the liberal Netroots Nation convention, it is the RedState forum itself that is disinviting the current Republican frontrunner. Once again, the national GOP seems to be utterly helpless.

The Republican Party is a total mess, and it has never looked weaker.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 8, 2015

August 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fox News, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Frenzy Of Ignorance And Indignation”: Scandal? Knowing Zero About Clinton Foundation, Indignant Pundits Blather

A very strange thing has happened to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Suddenly, journalists who never paid the least attention to the foundation’s work over the past decade or so — and seemed content to let the Clintons and their associates try to do some good in the world — proclaim their concern about its finances, transparency and efficiency. Commentators with very little knowledge of any of the foundation’s programs, who are indeed unable to distinguish the Clinton Global Initiative from the Clinton Health Access Initiative, confidently denounce the entire operation as suspect.

What provoked this frenzy of ignorance and indignation, of course, is the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States. Partisan adversaries of the former Secretary of State have been working overtime, subsidized by millions of dollars in Republican “dark money,” to construct a conspiratorial narrative that transforms her husband’s good works into dirty deals. (Transparency is evidently required of the Clintons, but not of their critics.)

The main product of that effort, delivered by media mogul Rupert Murdoch amid a din of promotion in mainstream and right-wing media, is of course Clinton Cash, authored by a former Bush speechwriter named Peter Schweizer.

Compressing lengthy timelines, blurring important distinctions, and sometimes simply inventing false “facts,” Schweizer has attempted to transform the Clinton Foundation from an innovative, successful humanitarian organization into a sham institution that sells public favors for private gain.

While many of Schweizer’s most glaring accusations have been thoroughly debunked already — notably concerning the uranium-mining firm once partly owned by a major foundation donor — amplified echoes of his “corruption” meme are damaging nevertheless. Various media figures who have long hated the Clintons, from Rush Limbaugh to David Frum, feel liberated to utter any outrageous accusation, however distorted or dishonest.

But as so often has proved true when such individuals start screaming “scandal” and “Clinton” in the same breath, the sane response is to take a deep breath, suspend judgment and examine relevant facts.

Appearing on a recent National Public Radio broadcast with me, Frum asserted that the foundation spends far too much on air travel and other expenses. The same philanthropic impact could have been achieved, said Frum, if Bill Clinton had merely “joined the International Red Cross” after leaving the White House.

While Frum doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that won’t stop him chattering for a second. Among the significant achievements of the Clinton Foundation was to build a system that has drastically reduced the cost of providing treatment for AIDS and other diseases across Africa, the Caribbean and in other less-developed countries, saving and improving millions of lives. Bringing together major donors, including wealthy nations like Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the leaders of poor nations to create these programs, he helped turn back a disease that once threatened to infect 100 million people globally. That effort required many hours of air travel by him and his aides — and many visits to extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, places in which Frum will never set an expensively shod foot.

Like Limbaugh, Frum has claimed that the Clinton Foundation wastes enormous resources while concealing its donors and expenditures from a gullible public. The truth, attested by expert authorities on nonprofit and charitable organizations, is that the foundation spends (and raises) its funds with commendable efficiency — and it has posted far more detailed information, including the names of 300,000-plus donors, than federal tax law requires.

Did the foundation’s staff commit errors during the past 15 years or so? Undoubtedly. Could its operations be more efficient, more effective, more transparent? Of course — but its record is outstanding and its activities have done more good for more people than Frum, Limbaugh, Schweizer, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch would achieve in 10,000 lifetimes.

Why don’t these furious critics care about basic facts? It may be unfair to assume that in pursuit of their political agenda, they are indifferent to millions of Africans dying of HIV or malaria. Yet they do seem perfectly willing to hinder an important and useful effort against human suffering.

When you hear loud braying about the Clinton Foundation, pause to remember that two decades ago, these same pundits (and newspapers) insisted that Whitewater was a huge and terrible scandal. Indeed, Limbaugh even insinuated on the radio that Hillary Clinton had murdered Vince Foster, a friend and White House staffer who tragically committed suicide. Politicians and prosecutors spent more than $70 million on official investigations of that ill-fated real estate investment, loudly proclaiming the Clintons guilty of something, before we finally discovered there was no scandal at all. Talk about waste!

So perhaps this time, with all due respect for the vital work of the Clinton Foundation, we should assume innocence until someone produces credible evidence of wrongdoing.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, May 13, 2015

May 14, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Journalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clinton Cash”: Yet Another Charles And David Koch Production

Endorsements from mainstream media figures have provided a scrim of credibility for Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash, the Hillary-and-Bill-bashing book just published by Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins. Without the explicit support of respectable institutions such as the New York Times and Washington Post, Schweizer’s lengthy record of inaccuracy and extremism – not to mention the dozens of errors in the book itself – would have doomed his project to the same irrelevance as so many others of its all-too-familiar type.

More than once in recent days, for example, Joshua Green of Bloomberg News has spoken out to defend the far-right author. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, during the pre-release publicity push for Clinton Cash last week, Green said of Schweizer: “He tends to kind of get smeared, but it’s worth remembering this is a serious guy who has done serious work that led to a serious article,” said Green, who went on to complain that Schweizer – whose previous works and connections with far-right dark-money sources were scrutinized by Media Matters, among others – is a victim of “character assassination.”

Character assassination is apparently the least of Schweizer’s worries, if the guy was being serious during his May 4 appearance on former Breitbart blogger Dana Loesch’s radio show. Her very first question recalled a loony wingnut legend concerning the tragic 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, deputy counsel in the Clinton White House:

“I know you don’t want to talk too much about it, but there is that, there is always that concern for anyone who goes up against the Clinton machine that they could be Vince Fostered,” she ventured, “and I’m sure that that was something that you took into consideration.”

In reply, Schweizer swiftly abandoned any semblance of seriousness:

“Yeah, I mean look — there are security concerns that arise in these kinds of situations. You know, you don’t like to go into too much detail, there were some things that were going on that we felt needed to be addressed. The decision on security wasn’t actually made by me, it was made by board members of Government Accountability Institute, and you know, it’s I think showing an abundance of caution. The reality is we’ve touched on a major nerve within the Clinton camp. They are very, very upset, and they are pulling out all the stops to attack me in an effort to kill this book off.”

Kill? Oh dear.

Keep this bizarre exchange in mind when journalists like Green insist that everyone must take Schweizer seriously. By contrast, Green tried to undermine me as an “inveterate Clinton defender” when we appeared together briefly on NPR’s On Point. As I pointed out later, he obviously hadn’t read any of my critical columns on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary campaign. (Incidentally, Schweizer declined to appear with me on that broadcast, with his Murdoch publicist offering one feeble excuse after another — but I would be happy to debate him about his outlandish charges against the Clintons any time.)

The Vince Foster reference reflects on the mental state of Tea Party cartoon characters like Loesch, who remain obsessed with the most deranged legends about the Clintons. But it is also a timely reminder that the Vince Foster nonsense, like other “Clinton scandals,” was promoted by the late Republican billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who spent millions on the clandestine  “Arkansas Project” in pursuit of the Clintons’ political destruction.

The true story of those covert activities — or as a famous woman once put it, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” — is told again in our new (and free!) e-book, The Hunting of Hillary, excerpted from The Hunting of the President.

Today, Scaife’s role is played by the secretive financiers of Schweizer’s “institute”  — namely, the Koch brothers and their network of Republican billionaires, whose plotting and financing of this attempted “character assassination” of Hillary Clinton is the best endorsement of her that I can imagine.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, May 5, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Koch Brothers, Peter Schweizer | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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