Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Media Rants: A TV Debate in 1860

A Television Debate in 1860

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri 

from the December 2015 edition of The SCENE 

So far the Republicans have had four nationally televised presidential primary debates, and the Democrats two. Republican debates become competitions to see who can make the wackiest comment of the evening, while Democrats recite a litany of progressive ideas everyone knows they will never really fight for.

Moderators play a prominent role; CNBC’s probing questions at GOP debate #3 prompted the “tough” candidates to act like crybabies and demand “fairer” treatment from less “biased” panelists. As self-serving as the Republican criticism might be, I do wonder if these “debates” are pointless. 

Yes we are probably better off with them than without, but the overemphasis on generating “clash” seems modeled on WWE Smackdown rather than the PBS Newshour.

Imagine Abe Lincoln in these debates. In 1860 there were eight Republicans seeking the party’s nomination: three United States Senators (William Seward, Simon Cameron, Benjamin Wade), one former Senator (William Dayton), one governor (Salmon P. Chase), two former congressmen (Lincoln and Edward Bates), and one Supreme Court Justice (John McLean).

Imagine a televised debate in Chicago, site of that year’s Republican convention. The moderators are three prominent newsmen of the time: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Henry Raymond of the New York Times, and James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald.

Greeley:  Thanks to all the candidates for being here. If your answers go past 30 seconds, the nonstop sound of a cowbell will drown out your remarks until you cease. Mr. Lincoln we will start with you with a question from Henry Raymond.

Raymond: Mr. Lincoln, your critics point out that in 1840 as an Illinois state legislator you jumped out of the first floor window of the state Capitol to prevent the Democrats from obtaining the quorum necessary to pass a bank bill you didn’t like. Sir, how can the public be certain you won’t flee the White House when Democrats attempt to obstruct your agenda?

Lincoln: Mr. Raymond, I think my actions in the Illinois legislature are not relevant to today. Our Southern states are threatening to secede from the federal union. I suggest that we spend our limited time debating who has the best plan to avert that tragic possibility.

Raymond: Senator Seward, you are the front runner for the Republican nomination going into the Chicago convention. Do you agree with Mr. Lincoln that his past actions are not relevant? 

Seward: Well I’ve never tried to prevent a quorum when I couldn’t win an argument, but let me say directly to Mr. Lincoln: I don’t give a damn about your jumping ability. (APPLAUSE) You simply have not come out strongly enough against the scourge of slavery. 

Lincoln: I am on record as saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half-slave and half-free.

Bennett: Mr. Lincoln, please only speak when you are asked a question. Governor Chase, you have a reputation for working with Democrats, which angers the radical wing of the Republican Party. Why should Republicans support someone perceived as a collaborator?

Chase:  In my time in government I have done more to oppose slavery than any man on this stage. I work with Democrats because I see them as mistaken, not evil. Seeing them as evil will land us in a Civil War. If we nominate Lincoln or Seward, we are saying we want Civil War because no Democrats in the border or southern states, and even many in the north, can even stand being in the same room with them. 

McLean: May I get in this debate?

Greeley: Do you want to say something Justice McLean?

McLean:  Yes. I can work with the other side better than anyone. I’ve worked with Jacksonian Democrats, Whigs, anti-Whigs, Free Soilers, and now Republicans. I’m one of  two judges to dissent in the atrocious Dred Scott v. Sanford case, the decision that sparked talk of Civil War more than anything in our history. We need a judicious mind to see us through these quite injudicious times.

Greeley: Mr. Dayton, as a former Senator what critique to you have of the sitting Senators on this stage?

Dayton: Please remember that I was also, just four short years ago, the first Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. The sitting Senators are doing their best under trying circumstances. I do know that any one of them would be better than the Democratic nominee. (APPLAUSE).

Raymond: Senator Cameron, rumors are swirling around Chicago that your campaign is negotiating a deal with the Lincoln forces to make you Secretary of War in return for your endorsement. Would you like to respond to those rumors?

Cameron: You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. (APPLAUSE)  

This is not a cage match. Look at the questions : "Abe Lincoln, will you flee the White House?" "William Seward, do you care what Lincoln did twenty years ago?" "William Dayton, would you like to insult the sitting Senators over here?” "Simon Cameron, are you corrupt?”

How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?

(At this point Bates and Wade interrupt):  Here Here!!!  Here Here!!!

The crowd goes wild while Greeley feverishly rings the cowbell. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Media Rants: The Pope Mystifies Mr. Jones

The Pope Mystifies Mr. Jones 

Media Rants 

from the November 2015 edition of the SCENE

Pope Francis’ late September whirlwind tour of the United States put him in the Papal Rock Star category that had been the exclusive domain of Pope John Paul II. Corporate media, conditioned to think of Popes as merely Presidents in groovy outfits, seemed ill equipped to handle Francis’ Jesus-like musings. Surely the media knew what was coming; in his remarkable 2013 apostolic exhortation  EvangeliiGaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) Francis stated a belief in economic principles not endorsed by the Boards of Directors of our media elite:

*No to an economy of exclusion.
*No to the new idolatry of money.
*No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.
*No to the inequality which spawns violence.

According to Millennial, an online journal for young Catholics, Evangelii Gaudium employs the word "love" 154 times, "joy" 109 times, "the poor" 91 times, "peace" 58 times, "justice" 37 times,” dignity” 23 times,  and "common good" 15 times.

Francis’ June of 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’” (“Praise be to you”), subtitled “On Care For Our Common Home” issued similar challenges to the elites: “To claim economic freedom . . . while real conditions bar many people from real access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practice a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” He describes a planet that is the victim of “relentless exploitation”  that is in part the result of “the reckless pursuit of profits.”

In rock and roll terms, those are Woodstock Era platitudes. I found myself thinking of two classic rock era songs every time the Pope appeared on American television: “After Forever” by Black Sabbath and Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Whenever right wing pundits pontificated about the Pope and dismissed his call for reigning in capitalist excesses as somehow nothing more than communist polemics, these lines from “After Forever” came to mind:
“Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope - do you think he's a fool?” and “I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ.”

National Public Radio’s Bob Garfield, cohost of “On the Media,” perfectly summed up the wingnut reaction to the Pope in  a rant called “The Pope is not a Politician.” After citing hysterical reactions to Francis from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Stuart Varney, Garfield argued cogently that “The problem is that in our hyperpoliticized media culture, nothing in the world is immune from partisanship and polemic.  Not atmospheric crisis.  Not evolution.  Not vaccination. Not economic history.  Not even hunger. What should the leader of the Church talk about then? Deflategate?”

We shouldn’t get too upset about wingnut commentators because they only exist to entertain. Only “true believers” take them seriously. Of much more concern are the mainstream, “moderate” journalists and commentators. These journalistas may or may not be Catholic, but they do belong to what New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has long called the “Church of the Savvy.” According to Rosen:

“Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, ‘with it,’ and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it.”

It’s those “savvy” journalists Bob Dylan probably had in mind when he wrote this in “Ballad of a Thin Man”: 

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
In the 1980s the “thin men” running Pravda and other Soviet media viewed Pope John Paul II through a Cold War “evil capitalist/benevolent communist “ frame that had little relevance to anyone outside Western and Soviet elites. State controlled journalists refused to see that the “something happening here” was a grassroots rebellion of millions standing up against a totalitarian state that had spent years squashing basic freedoms and squandering wealth on a pointless arms race. Pope John Paul II, originally from Poland, no doubt inspired resistance to Communist authorities, but like any “great leader” the most he could be was a symbol of what was going on at the street level.

Today, the thin men and women running mainstream USA journalism insist on viewing Francis through a partisan Left/Right lens that is meaningless pretty much everywhere on earth except in USA mainstream media. The subtext of almost all the Pope coverage is that Francis is a moderate Republican on social issues (he upholds traditional Catholic dogma on most issues but is less mean spirited about it) and a liberal Democrat on economics. Like their Soviet counterparts a generation ago, these government lapdog media will not or cannot see that the “something happening here” is a global, grassroots resistance to the “New World Order” that emerged in 1989 with the promise of democracy for all and a “peace dividend” but ended up giving the world more inequality, more environmental destruction, and more elite control of the centers of power.

Francis came to America and preached the old fashioned Golden Rule to politicians and a media establishment that are the chief enablers of the new golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Media Rants: Short Takes

Media Rants 

Short Takes from the October 2015 edition of The SCENE

For October let’s have a few short takes on a bunch of important media action that didn’t seem to get much play in the northeast Wisconsin press.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board Comes to Life:  If you read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, you know that their editorials can usually be placed somewhere between hollow and horrific on the awfulness scale. That’s why it was such a shocking and pleasant surprise to see the editorialists call out Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ (R-Rochester) attempt to gut the open records law in the strongest possible terms: “This brazen, cynical move had nothing to do with protecting constituents and everything to do with protecting ambitious career politicians — and the lobbyists, donors and special interests they make deals with behind the scenes.” The paper even called on the Assembly to elect a new Speaker, and for the voters in Vos’ district to begin the search for “a more trustworthy representative.”

LAPD gets a cartoonist fired: Ted Rall is one of the edgiest, provocative editorial cartoonists working today. In May of this year Rall, who since 2009 had been a paid freelancer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a blog post in which he recounted an event in which he had personally been roughed up by the LAPD in 2001. After the blog appeared, the LAPD actually sent the Times an audio of the 14 year old encounter between Rall and the police, along with Rall’s complaint at the time. Even though any reasonable person could conclude that Rall’s version of events was plausible, the paper fired him. That Rall has a long history of producing cartoons critical of the LAPD, meaning that the cops-in-charge would take advantage of any opportunity to get him removed from his editorial position, does not seem to matter to the management of the Times. As I noted in a previous Media Rants column, cartoonists over here don’t suffer the same fate as the late Charlie Hebdo satirists. Instead, we “kill” our cartoonists in softer ways; like caving in to pressure from a police department that doesn’t like criticism. 

(below:John Mellencamp's "Authority Song." When it comes to cartoonist Ted Rall's battle with the LAPD, the LA Times want to make sure that authority wins again.). 

 Why We Should Fear University, Inc.: There have been lots of good books released over the years about the corporate takeover of academia. Larry Soley’s Leasing the Ivory Tower and Jennifer Washburn’s University,Inc. are my two favorites in the genre. In September an opinion piece appeared in the New York Times that I hope author Fredrik deBoer turns into a full length book. His “Why We ShouldFear University, Inc.” should be read by anyone concerned with the way the modern university is managed; a kind of Stalinist-lite nightmare that often puts idealistic campus activists in the position of thinking that university administrators obsessed with the public image of the campus can somehow be allies in a quest for social justice. As noted by deBoer:

“I wish that committed student activists would recognize that the administrators who run their universities, no matter how convenient a recipient of their appeals, are not their friends. I want these bright, passionate students to remember that the best legacy of student activism lies in shaking up administrators, not in making appeals to them. At its worst, this tendency results in something like collusion between activists and administrators.” 

The Democrats’ “Exclusivity” Clause: Spokespeople for the Democratic National Committee get extremely defensive whenever a suggestion is made that they have rigged the Party nomination process to ensure Hillary Clinton gets the nod. You would think that the best way to defy that suggestion would be to have many debates, right? Wrong. The Party will sanction only six debates, an absurdly low number when considering the fact that only one candidate (i.e. Clinton) has anything close to universal name recognition. Worse and bizarre for a Party that calls itself “Democratic,” the DNC created an “exclusivity clause” saying that “The candidates will be uninvited from subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to anything outside of the six sanctioned debates.”  So that would mean, for example, that if BernieSanders or Martin O’Malley this month accepted an invitation to debate the Green Party’s Jill Stein, they would not be invited to participate in the DNC’s “official” debates. And the Democratic Party wonders why it has been abandoned by so many progressives? 

(below: Phil Och's "Love Me I'm a Liberal." You can bet that it is the Democratic Party "Liberals" who are trying to deny Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, and other candidates a fair shot winning the party's nomination for President.)

God Save Corbyn . . . from the Corporate Media: Britain’s Labour Party recently elected a full-fledged Socialist to lead them, a stunning rebuke of the moderate “New Labour” platform of George W. Bush’s poodle and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Turns out that Britain’s mainstream media is every bit as hostile to the genuine Left as the USA’s. Corbyn’s election generated hysterical reactions from some quarters about what could happen to the United Kingdom if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, and even the major British newspapers spent days covering the “issue” of whether or not Corbyn sang “God Save the Queen” at a WW II commemorative event. 
(below. The Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." Seems like the British and American press only like British politicians who serve as the USA's poodle. Here's hoping the Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn continues to stand up to the oligarchs.)

Why the Media Love Trump: Is it not ridiculous that the lone billionaire running for President gets the most free media advertising? What more evidence do we need to prove that the American media bias is not liberal or conservative as much as it is corporate? As long as Trump drives ratings, he’ll continue to get the free coverage. That’s pathetic. 

(below: John Fogerty's "Mr. Greed."  The USA corporate media throw Trump in our face for sheer ratings points.  Greed and media don't mix very well, as the round-the-clock Trumpathon is demonstrating all too well.).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fox's Frankenstein and the Sandman

Fox’s Frankenstein and the Sandman 

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri 

from the September 2015 edition of the SCENE
I’ve been following presidential elections closely since 1976 when I was a high school sophomore. As the first post-Watergate national election, the 1976 contest sparked our still intense infatuation with “outsider” candidates ready to “clean up Washington.” Affable peanut farmer and former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter cultivated the outsider persona perfectly against incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford was a 13-term congressman, was the only man ever to serve as Vice-President and President without receiving any popular or Electoral College votes, and pardoned Richard Nixon; Ford was about as “insider” as a candidate could get.  

The outsider/insider dialectic has framed every presidential election since, especially in the primary and caucus season. Today, every Republican seeking the White House is running as a Washington outsider charged up to take on Hillary “the ultimate insider” Clinton. Even the Democratic challengers to the former first lady tout themselves as outsiders.

For most of the summer, the presidential political scene’s been dominated by two self-described outsiders: billionaire Donald Trump on the Republican side and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democrats. In different ways, both campaigns have exposed the moral bankruptcy of the mainstream media.

The Donald’s Trumpapalooza campaign tour is like legendary American Idol contestant William Hung’s music: so awful that it actually becomes entertaining in its awfulness. Or for those old enough to remember the generous and kind kid Richie Rich comic book character, Trump is like what would happen if that kid grew up and became a total asshole. Often he’s like an unfiltered Nixon, as in his conversation with Maureen Dowd: “The nice thing about Twitter, in the old days when I got attacked it would take me years to get even with somebody, now when I’m attacked I can do it instantaneously, and it has a lot of power.” How’s that for a great role model for the youth of America?

 Trump’s been in the mainstream media spotlight for a long time, but the fact that he can be taken seriously as a political candidate is unquestionably because of Fox News. His brand of highly personalized, black or white babbling, delivered in a slash and burn rhetorical style, generates great ratings for a “news” network that prides itself on being a platform for over the top wingnut characters. And that’s why Trump’s public spat with Fox after Megyn Kelly’s reasonable question to him about his history of misogyny and sexism was so amusing: without such a vulgar history, would Trump even be in the media spotlight to begin with? Not surprisingly, Fox’s viewership largely sided with Trump in the spat.

Donald Trump is Fox’s Frankenstein. Yes, Fox has historically served as a forum for many monsters, but usually they are content to go after single mothers, African-American teens, liberal Democrats, and undocumented immigrants. The Trumpenstein monster, on the other hand, appears poised to wreck the entire Republican establishment. Sure, it is hilarious to watch Trumpenstein smack down Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and others in the GOP’s motley candidate crew of  empty suits, lame brains, and lightweights; but as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi argues, the end result is that “candidates have had to resort to increasingly bizarre tactics in order to win press attention.” It’s not pretty, yet there’s not one network news anchor with the moral authority to call out the nonsense.

So what about the Democrats? When Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren declined to run, and with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley failing to spark enthusiasm, it looked like Hillary Clinton might make it through the caucus and primary season unscathed except for the predictable GOP trolling about Benghazi, emails, etc. But then . . . Enter Sandman. Bernie Sanders, the 73-year-old Senator from Vermont who represents the democratic wing of the Democratic Party and articulates a vision of an America of, by and for the people instead of the one-percent, met record crowds in city after city. Rocker Neil Young threatened to sue Trump for using “Rockin’ in the Free World” at rallies, but had no problem lending the tune to Bernie

Actually, I’d like to see Sanders come to the stage with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as the intro music. The song’s theme of childhood nightmares works well with Sanders’ harsh wake up call for the 99 percent, many of whom accept our economic nightmare as normal. 


The mainstream media response (or more accurately non-response) to Sanders is really a prime example of how bogus is the claim that there is some kind of “liberal bias” in political news coverage. If 500 people show up at a Tea Party rally, it is treated as the birth of a new American revolution and often gets space on the network evening news. Sanders in contrast can pack sports arenas with a message of redistributing wealth to Main St. instead of Wall St., yet the events barely register a blip on the media radar. Does this mean there’s a conservative bias in media? No. The bias is toward the corporate, which means Trumpapalooza clown shows that drive ratings will get 24/7 attention.

I hope there’s a high school sophomore following the campaigns. In 40 years people will want to know what it was like to watch corporate media obsess over Fox’s Frankenstein while the Sandman filled the stadiums.