Archive for the ‘media’ Category

On Point

April 16th, 2019

Recently, Rep. Ilhan Omar incurred the wrath of the Orange Shite by referring to the World Trade Center attacks with the words, “some people did something.”  There is no way that a reasonable person could construe Rep. Omar’s reference to September 11 as minimizing or belittling the scale or importance of that tragic event.  The only reasonable interpretation, in context, is that 9/11 served as a springboard for islamophobia.  As if to illustrate Rep. Omar’s meaning, the present occupant of the White House seized upon her phraseology as an excuse to wave the bloody flag, inflaming anti-Moslem resentment and libeling Rep. Omar as an extremist supporter of terrorism, thus exposing her to death threats. 

I was dismayed to hear David Folkenflik introduce his radio show, On Point, on April 16, by suggesting that Rep. Omar’s words could be interpreted as anything other than what they manifestly were, or that there was any substantive content to the White House response other than hatred, emotional manipulation, and cynicism.  Mr. Folkenflik clearly is an intelligent, reasonable man with a good grasp of language.  It is dismaying when he joins the all too prevalent practice in the media of acting willfully stupid in order to pursue controversy.  To be sure, careful attentiveness to the principle of “both sides now” is a keystone of journalism.  But so is telling it like it is.  Sometimes there are not really two sides to the story.  Sometimes evil needs to be called by its name.   Sometimes – far too often! -by pretending that there are two sides, and by indulging in euphemistic misdirection, journalists mislead and misinform.  Sadly, On Point is not immune to this.

Ten Questions for the New Year

December 20th, 2018

  1.  What would happen to Trump’s support if, after being indicted or impeached, he were to seek asylum in Russia or Saudi Arabia?  (In contemplating this question, it may be helpful to remember Sabbatai Sevi, the seventeenth century “mystical messiah.”  He won a huge following in the Jewish world of that time, many of whom held fast to their faith in him even after he disavowed his messianic mission and converted to Islam.)
  2. Why do we still occasionally hear the phrase “enhanced interrogation” used to describe torture by U.S. operatives?
  3. With so much happening in the world that is worthy of intense discussion, why would Mary Louise Kelly of NPR devote her most vigorous questioning of Amy Klobuchar to followups designed to wheedle an indication that she is going to run for president, after Klobuchar already told Kelly she’s “considering” it?
  4. Even if “wanting your children to do better than you did” may have been at one time a component of the “American dream,” why would a parent want his children to do better than he did if he had given them a comfortable, privileged start in life?
  5. Why are Americans nostalgic for a snickering mediocrity who lied us into an unnecessary war of aggression that resulted in the worst disaster for American foreign policy since 1812?
  6. Why is it considered important, among the news media, for us to know almost everything that Donald Trump says, leading almost every newscast with his latest tweets when it is as well established as could be that literally everything he says is either abusive, false, or misleading?
  7. Why does so much of the national media’s political journalism consist of speculation about what may happen, or what may be said, or what the effect will be on one political party or the other, instead of telling us what the political class, individually and collectively, are actually doing?
  8. Why do American reporters in the national media never challenge stupid, false, misleading, or outrageous statements by major politicians, in contrast to the BBC, whose reporters do not hesitate to interrupt heads of state and tell them to their face that what they are saying is not credible?
  9. Why do American journalists persist in pretending, in the face of all the evidence, that Donald Trump has any substantive reasons for anything he does, other than impulse, ego, financial self-interest, and nativist racism?  To put it another way, why does “journalistic objectivity” create an ethos of willful stupidity?
  10. Why do we rarely or never hear, in reporting on the marijuana legalization  movement, about the impact on costs and other aspects of the mental health and substance abuse treatment systems?

National Pravda Radio

May 18th, 2018

I want to know how NPR can claim to be a credible news source, when its talk show hosts, journalistic commentators, and reporters continue to use the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe such things as waterboarding, when even the New York Times calls them what they are, which is torture.  Is it because powerful people prefer the euphemism?  But isn’t that why we have a free press, to counter the lies of powerful people?  Language matters.  Euphemism elides the truth.  It may be that NPR presents a less distorted mirror than do Breitbart and Infowars and Fox News, in that NPR doesn’t engage in just making things up and presenting them as fact.  But what NPR does is more insidious, if less extreme.  It paints a factually plausible picture of the events it covers, but with the highlights softened and the shadows shifted until the picture no longer matches the reality.  An enhanced interrogation technique is a bureaucratic quibble.  Torture is an atrocity and a crime against humanity.

Why Not Let’s Just Kill A Buncha Folks

April 10th, 2018

In the ongoing media yakkety-yak concerning the recent Syrian/Russian chemical attacks on civilians in Douma, reference is made frequently to the media’s hazy recollection that Trump ordered missile strikes on an airfield a year ago in response to something like such an atrocity.  Will he or won’t he do it again?  One of the things that seems to be forgotten is that the missile strikes did minimal damage, and the airfield was in use again almost immediately.  The missile strikes were a public relations display of ire at human suffering, ordered by a man who is indifferent to the sufferings of others but is fairly sensitive to public relations.

I mention the above in order to emphasize the point that this story is not really about Donald Trump and whatever he may or may not do, although the American media, speaking to and representative of a supremely narcissistic nation, persists in presenting it that way.  The story is about Bashar al Assad.  When you think about it that way, one thing becomes glaringly obvious.  Assad is fighting an existential threat to his regime; and not just to his regime.  For him, one may be reasonably sure, the existential threat is personal.  From that perspective, any action, including the use of chemical weapons, is measured by whether it makes his survival more or less likely.  And by that yardstick, the chemical attack on Douma has been a success, in that it helped secure the battlefield from his enemies.

An equally obvious corollary is that any “punishment” child Trump may, in his “wrath”, mete out, is entirely beside the point unless it is directed tellingly and personally at Assad himself, with sufficient impact to threaten to reverse whatever gains he may have accrued toward his own survival by virtue of releasing the chlorine gas in the first place.  Otherwise, it is just a cost of doing business.  One may surmise with reasonable confidence that Assad and Putin made this calculation for themselves long ago; literally scores of such attacks have taken place since Obama drew his red line.

Take it a step further.  Suppose Trump blows some stuff up.  Suppose he even kills some people.  Suppose some of them are Russians.  Suppose, finally, that Assad and Putin are not the only people playing this game who know the score well enough to understand that every bomb not dropped directly on Assad’s head is a mere public relations gesture.

I am not advocating anything here, much less that high explosives be deployed by the U.S. in the cause of regime change.  I am just pointing out who is getting played for dupes in media coverage that breathlessly enquires, over and over, “What will he do?  Will he do what he did before?”  The deaths likely to result from the imminently forthcoming “punishment,” since that punishment almost certainly will not reach to Mr. Assad, will serve no purpose but public relations; it is hard to believe that Mr. Trump, Mr. Assad, and Mr. Putin do not understand this.  It occurs to me that ISIS was universally reviled in these parts for lopping off people’s heads in order to make a statement.  Tell me how we’re different.  I’m listening.

 

UPDATE 4/14/18:

Well, the good news, if it is not premature to say so, appears to be that they didn’t kill anybody.  So, for only tens of millions of dollars in expended munitions, it seems the following results have been achieved:

  1. Trump enjoyed a catharsis.
  2. Macron and May picked up potentially valuable IOUs against the United States.  You don’t think their participation came free, do you?  I say “potentially” valuable because the debtor-in-chief is Trump, and we all know what his word is worth.  This may explain why Merkel decided the game wasn’t worth the candle.
  3. Trump, May and Macron got to look tough in defense of “international norms”.
  4. Putin got to look tough in standing up to the US, and loyal in standing by his ally, Assad.
  5. Trump got to look tough on the Russians.
  6. Trump got to commit an act of war against a foreign sovereign nation without getting congressional approval, thus striking another blow for the fuhrerprinzip.
  7. U.S. weapons manufacturers will get to build replacements for the expended munitions.  Jobs jobs jobs!
  8. Some empty buildings in Syria got blown up.
  9. Assad got to use chemical weapons on “his” people, again, without paying anything much for it.  Sure, see #8, above.  But this doesn’t amount to much, given the stakes he is playing for.

I’d call this a win-win, wouldn’t you?

Feature or bug?

October 24th, 2012

Not long before the nominating conventions, I decided to ignore as much of what remained of this year’s presidential campaign as possible.  Having paid attention during the previous four years, I knew for whom I was going to vote, based on people’s actions and their responses to events as they occurred.  Nothing that would happen during the campaign, in its bubble reality of imagery and rhetoric, was going to change that.

I don’t read a newspaper.  I watch very little television.  My most regular source of daily “news” is public radio, to which I listen sparingly.  I turn it off whenever a commentator or “analyst” comes on to tell me what to think, or when the announcer warns me I am about to be treated to the opinions of eleven housewives in Duluth, or when I hear the word “polls” or the names “Cokie Roberts” and “Mara Liasson.”   The radio is silent a lot, these days.  I avoid speeches and events.  I found something else to do instead of watching “the debates”, although I could not resist tuning into the vice-presidential contest because of my affection for Joe Biden.  On that occasion, I was treated to a split screen image.  On the right was Paul Ryan, squawking animatedly.  On the left was Joe Biden, grinning wolfishly.  “Go get ‘em, Joe,” I said, and turned it off.

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True Stories of Inspiring American Leadership

July 28th, 2011

Wounded Knee is part of our family’s history.  Leonard’s great-grandfather, the first Crow Dog, had been one of the leaders of the Ghost Dancers.  He and his group had held on in the icy ravines of the Badlands all winter, but when the soldiers came in force to kill all the Ghost Dancers he had surrendered his band to avoid having his people killed.  Old accounts describe how Crow Dog simply sat down between the rows of soldiers on one side, and the Indians on the other, all ready and eager to start shooting.  He had covered himself with a blanket and was just sitting there.  Nobody knew what to make of it.  The leaders on both sides were so puzzled that they just did not get around to opening fire.  They went to Crow Dog, lifted the blanket, and asked him what he meant to do.  He told them that sitting there with the blanket over him was the only thing he could think of to make all the hotheads, white and red, curious enough to forget fighting.  Then he persuaded his people to lay down their arms.  Thus he saved his people just a few miles away from where Big Foot and his band were massacred.

Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman (Grove Weidenfeld 1990).  This story bears a striking resemblance to a well-attested incident in the life of Sitting Bull.  There are differences.  In Sitting Bull’s case, the soldiers already were shooting, and Sitting Bull was accompanied between the lines by a small group of followers.  Sitting Bull sat down and in an unhurried

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The first casualty of class warfare…

March 10th, 2011

Really, it is too much.  This morning on Vermont Public Radio I listened to Jim Douglas’ apologia for the shame of Wisconsin.  VPR likes to hire “former” politicians as commentators, as if the politician’s perspective were under-represented in our civic discourse, overwhelmed by the thundering voices of the poor, the marginal and the disenfranchised.  The commentary was presented in Douglas’ usual soothing tones; if you could bottle this man’s voice, you could use it as cough syrup.  He availed himself of the familiar conservative Republican tactic of depicting the facts not as they are but as they might be on a planet where they support the conclusions that he would prefer to draw.  Thus, he described himself as a believer in collective bargaining and implied that, as a former union member, he is a friend to organized labor.  He described Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Senate as motivated by concern for the state budget.

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The First Circle

February 22nd, 2011

Sen. Scott Brown - the face that launched a thousand talk shows

Listening Sunday afternoon to a radio show of interviews with men who have experienced sexual abuse as victims of it, I found myself irked by the way the host and his guest experts repeatedly referred to these men as “survivors.”  I was going to write that day about poetry criticism, but lucky you, I am going to share with you my irkedness instead.

I’ve never liked the sobriquet “survivor.”  It’s inaccurate at best and usually false.  In most cases, including mine, the sexual abuse did not constitute any kind of existential threat.  And in the cases where the abuse did involve some credible threat to the victim’s continued existence, it usually was conditional and ancillary to the abuse itself, for example, “Tell anybody about this and I’ll kill you,” or a result of the victim’s own reaction to what happened, for example, self-medication to the point of addiction.  I became dependent on marijuana.  I kicked this dependency.  Does this make me a “survivor”?

“Survivor,” with its melodramatic punch, seems to me to shove away the hard and sordid and complex reality of what really goes on during sexual abuse and in the long years afterwards.  It telescopes the whole difficult process into one big happy ending.  Like people rescued from a life raft, the “survivors” get handed ashore and congratulated on their luck and fortitude and sent on their way.  The audience to this gratifying spectacle doesn’t have to spend any time thinking about what exactly it is that they “survived” and why there are so many of them and how seamlessly it all fits into our society.

So don’t call me a “survivor.”  At a very early age I had experiences that I should not have had, and these experiences bent my life in all sorts of ways and sent me in all sorts of directions that, in retrospect, were less healthy than other directions I might have gone.  “As the twig is bent…”

All this happened on a level beneath consciousness.  I was sexually manipulated, in the most literal sense of that word, at a very early age by a woman caregiver.  I have no idea what her motivation was, but I suspect it was the way she knew to mollify a man.  I also suspect that at some point in her life she had been sexually mistreated, and so she also may have been acting out some of the feelings she had as a consequence of that.  At the time, of course, I had no idea what was going on, and no way to process it. I had no context within which to understand it, and barely any context for my perceptions of it.  It became part of that armature of unexamined experience that I carried forward into the world, the inchoate, inarticulate basis of so many of my reactions, aversions, and tropisms.  I dismissed it from my consciousness for most of the next four decades, for lack of a place to put it.

I don’t want to engage here in the debate about “recovered memory,” except to say that of course it is a phenomenon that is subject to faking, distortion, and outside influence, and also to say emphatically that the “experts” who deny it exists are ignorant about how memory actually works in the real world.  When my daughter was born, I found myself struggling with a whole lot of rage.  I had no idea where it came from and of course it was entirely inappropriate to the situation.  With the help of a very good therapist, over the next year or so I figured it out.  It had many roots.  My childhood experience of sexual abuse was primary among them.

There came a time when I wanted to tell my parents what I had learned.  It came out one day when we were standing in my kitchen.  I had been particularly worried about my mother’s reaction.  My abuser was someone of whom she had been very fond, and in whose care she had left me.  Even for someone less emotionally layered and hidden than my mom, those factors of affection and guilt, added to the potential unreliability of testimony based on recovered memories, could have produced denial or rejection.  Instead, she looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, honey, I am so sorry.”

Instead of the mawkish, congratulatory-pity of being called a “survivor,” how much better it is to be told, “We love you and we are sorry you were injured.”  I think that is what everyone who has suffered sexual abuse and its aftermath really wants to hear.  For that to happen, though, we would need to live in a society capable of rising above its own guilt and denial.  Too bad.  My mother was truly an exceptional person.

Are you listening, Barrie Dunsmore?

September 24th, 2010

A gurney used in Indiana for lethal injections

National Public Radio reported this morning on yesterday’s execution of Teresa Lewis by the state of Virginia.  The reporter, stationed outside the death chamber, gave us an eyewitness description of Ms. Lewis’ demeanor as she  went in.  According to the reporter, she looked scared.  The reporter repeated this several times.  That was evidently the strongest impression on the reporter’s mind.

On the same broadcast, our local station, Vermont Public Radio, carried a commentary by a former network news luminary about the decline of journalism in the face of blogging and internet media.  He opined that people seek out coverage that they find congenial in preference to  journalism that tells it like it is.

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