Saturday, October 03, 2009


Yesterday I posted on Neal Gabler's excellent essay on how the conservatives have turned from being a political party to being a fundamentalist religion. He asserted that part of the reasons for the success of this movement was the pusillanimous press: "The media have certainly been cowed; they treat intolerance as if it were legitimate political activity."

In a bit of serendipity, I came across the same theme in a recent "Comment Is Free" column in the The Guardian (UK) written by Dan Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy referred back to the interview David Gregory did of former President Bill Clinton last Sunday in which he asked whether Mr. Clinton believed the "vast right wing conspiracy" his wife alluded to during the days of the Monica Lewinski scandal was still in operation. The former president stated that it was, and that it was just as virulent. And it is at this point that Mr. Kennedy takes off.

Clinton was right, of course. From birthers to teabaggers, from talkshow host Glenn Beck's denouncing Barack Obama's alleged "deep-seated hatred for white people" to Confederacy-worshipping congressman Joe Wilson's yelling "You lie!" at the president, it's clear that the extreme right is as irrational and vocal as it was in the 1990s. And now, more than ever, the extremists are virtually indistinguishable from the mainstream of the Republican party.

But another, equally toxic element has carried over from the 90s – an element that Gregory, not surprisingly, failed to bring up and that Clinton was too polite to mention. It is simply this: Major elements of the media, terrified of accusations that they're in the tank with Democrats and liberals, would rather deny reality than tell the simple truth. This abject spinelessness is a significant factor in how the lies of the right infect public discourse. ...

In hyping overblown rightwing claims, the media have reverted to form. The way it worked then, and the way it works now, is that nominally liberal journalists are intimidated into giving equal and oftentimes unquestioning coverage to the right in order to prove how fair and unbiased they are. The result: absurd stories such as Travelgate, Whitewater and the virtual wilding to which Al Gore was subjected in 2000.

The trouble these days is that one of our two major parties has run entirely off the rails. And our media system, dependent as it is on false notions of objectivity, rarely acknowledges it.
[Emphasis added]

That states it quite nicely. While I would argue that more than cowardice is involved, that the corporations which own the major media outlets are perfectly happy to catapult the propaganda because it suits their quarterly bottom lines, the effect is the same. Truth is watered down to fit the meme of the day, the outlines of the blastfax, the replacement for "if it bleeds, it leads."

One of the major checks on the excesses of government and on political action in this country has traditionally been a free press which assiduously roots out the truth. That check, which the founders considered invaluable enough to include in the Bill of Rights, has been squandered, bounced (if you will) in favor of a bizarre game of "he said/she said" when what he said is so patently false that equating it a response that is grounded in truth is so irrational as to be worthy only of a seat at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. That is what we are left with in the opening of the 21st Century.

Most of the time I regret that I'm growing old because I have so much enjoyed living in such privileged circumstances. Right now, however, I am grateful. I won't have to see, close up and personal, just where this will lead. For those of my younger friends and family who don't have the luxury of age I would simply advise that you get off your couches and demand better. Because if you don't, you will find yourself in a fundamentalist country that cuts off hands for stealing your daily bread. And your daily newspaper will be facilitating that shift.

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Blogger Batocchio said...

I enjoyed the Gabler piece you quoted the other day. Several writers and bloggers (myself included) have been writing about thisdynamic for years, but mainly using terms such as authoritarian conservatism and authoritarianism. I don't think it's inherently religious, but there's no doubt that these people approach the world in a dogmatic, fantasy-based fervor, so saying they're treating politics as a "religion" is pretty apt – and useful in some quarters. They have no objective principles, save perhaps power over others and the inherent, unfailing righteousness of anything members of their group does.

10:11 AM  

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