On the Pitfalls of the Paranoid Style of Political Media

His effort to amass [evidence] has rather the quality of a defensive act which shuts off his receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas. He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter. – Richard Hofstadter

This is a criticism of Karl Rove, though it was written a decade before he was born, in Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style of American Politics. Rove’s famous cognitive dissonance-induced meltdown, after Ohio was called by everyone including FOX News for Obama, is a telling performance of the paranoid style. But Hofstadter’s quote could easily apply to much of FOX News itself. Rove is only the most extreme and visible example – a symbol of what FOX has become, and a warning to other partisan media outlets.

Paranoia is what happens when political media not only cynically spins its own narrative, but then begins to actually believe everything it says. Paranoia, not the clinical term but the political sense, is a suspicious and grandiose belief that one’s culture is being attacked by a hostile world. Paranoid theories are supported by a selective set of facts, or as Hofstadter appropriately said, “at least… what appear to be facts.” In the last two months, FOX’s style of political coverage became increasingly paranoid, as it mired itself in suspicion of mass anti-Romney bias and finally spiraled into a kind of counterprogramming of the news.

Long ago in September, the 47% video appeared, and FOX covered the story in its usual way. Some pundits criticized Romney, some spun it as a call for a broader tax base and some criticized FOX for covering the video. And FOX gave airtime to Romney’s attempt at a counterpunch – the short-lived “redistribution tape.” This was the norm.

But in late September, FOX began a turn inward. While covering the horse race, FOX began claiming the daily tracking polls, stubbornly pro-Obama despite a bad first debate, were skewed. But FOX claimed more: the polls were deliberately distorted by “the left based, mainstream media,” as Steve Doocy put it. According to Andrea Tantaros, who immediately took this as fact, it was a positive sign for Romney: “What does it tell you when the media actually has to skew the polls to help the President out? That they’re very, very scared.”

FOX’s “skewed polls” theory, like all paranoid politics (Hofstadter would agree), had a basis in reality. For example, Public Policy Polling was founded by a Democratic pollster and weighs (FOX would say, manipulates) its results. But the FOX of yesteryear might have spun a bad week in the polls by simply demonizing Public Policy Polling or by making the quantitative claim that all polls have a margin of error and that the candidates often were within those margins.

Something about the “skewed polls” claim was entirely new. FOX made a qualitative claim about the vast majority of pollsters, amounting to – in so many words – they’re all out to get us (and triumphantly concluded that therefore, Romney must be winning). Throughout October, FOX mainly followed conservative-friendly Rasmussen polling and ignored the others.

Parallel Worlds: Was the October Surprise Sandy or Benghazi?

The close of the election season presented an October surprise – Hurricane Sandy. But while both campaigns took a break and the media focused on that historic and ongoing event, much of FOX News presented their own counter-October surprise: continuing coverage, criticism, and rumors about Obama’s handling of September’s Benghazi incident.

On the night Sandy hit New Jersey, while FOX News’s studios were on generator power and their news crawl announced breaking stories like, “MTA: Water is Flooding into Lower Manhattan,” Sean Hannity interviewed a Navy Seal’s father about how the White House supposedly halted a rescue mission and “watched [his] son die,” from a live feed in the situation room. Coverage of a rumored government email scandal coverup continued that week, as developing stories in Sandy’s aftermath dominated the news elsewhere.

Again, these paranoid stories are based on a fact: the administration’s bungled miscommunications after the incident. But FOX’s rampant speculation hasn’t revealed anything real, substantial, or surprising, other than the extent to which Geraldo Rivera and Juan Williams are frustrated by their conspiracy-mongering colleagues.

FOX would present this counter-reality where Benghazi was the headline until right before the election, when their pundits turned again to the horse race and predicted Mitt Romney’s victory (in some cases, a landslide).

And then election night intervened.

Chris Wallace and Karl Rove’s feeble attempt at putting their thumbs in FOX’s epistemic dam to hold back the floodwaters of reality has become a totem of liberal schadenfreude. https://i2.wp.com/static01.mediaite.com/med/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Capture39-300x215.jpgBut it’s a significant moment for understanding the consequences of a paranoid style of political reportage. This wasn’t cynical rhetorical tactics; Rove’s disbelief was genuine. He was certain his math still ensured a Romney victory in Ohio. (Anchor Megyn Kelly’s embarrassed reaction to Rove was like that of an accomplice realizing her leader drank his own kool-aid.)

Romney, too, said he felt sucker-punched by the news of his defeat. For conservative media consumers, why wouldn’t you? For weeks FOX presented a President hobbled by a foreign policy disaster and embattled in an unraveling coverup of Watergate-like proportions. Obama was losing in swing states, despite the skewed polls fabricated by liberals.https://i0.wp.com/cdn0.dailydot.com/cache/09/e8/09e8257e7e1c172e5a8341e0e0fb64de.jpg

In the parallel world presented by FOX News – which was unprecedented in its deviation from the conventional news cycle and its closed, self-coherent narrative – Romney’s win was inevitable.

The important lesson for partisan media on both sides is this: Of course you’ll comment, emphasize some facts over others, and spin the news for your team. But beware when your national headlines stop corresponding, at all, to stories being reported throughout the nation – especially if you feel that everyone else is not only misguided, but conspiring together against you. MSNBC, with its increasingly partisan coverage, should be especially wary of following FOX to their logical, paranoid conclusion. Pew’s research found that MSNBC’s coverage of Romney was even more negative than FOX’s Obama reportage. And from seeing hidden racist “dog whistles” everywhere in Republican rhetoric to ignoring polls and forecasts (like Nate Silver’s spot-on prediction) and instead anxiously insisting that the election could go either way, MSNBC is not without its own proto-paranoia.

But the only true exemplar is FOX News. Instead of just employing tactical spin, FOX went further down the rabbit hole, fabricating its own self-satisfied political universe. Their programing was antithetical to the goal of news, which is to present viewers information that is important and useful. FOX’s coverage was, as always, a disservice to bipartisan understanding but moreover it was a disservice to their own strategic goals. Conservatives went from possessing a powerful avenue for publicity and persuasion to being bamboozled by their own paranoid propaganda.

You can’t win a battle by fighting a hallucination.https://i1.wp.com/www.newsrealblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/shooting-self-in-foot.jpg

FOX’s ultimate failure is organizational self-immolation by recklessly playing with fire. In his postmortem, George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum perhaps put it best, saying, “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Or maybe Richard Hofstadter again:

We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.

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GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Even before Obama’s inauguration, there was already quite a lot of speculation as to whom the GOP will run in 2012.

Up to now, it’s still up in the air. While certainly no front-runner has really stuck out, last month, Gallup published a poll which asked Republicans who they’d like to see as the Republican nominee. Here are the results:

  1. Sarah Palin— 76% favorable, 20% unfavorable, 4% don’t know
  2. Mike Huckabee—65% , 10%, 25%
  3. Newt Gingrich—64% , 17%, 20%
  4. Mitt Romney—54%, 19%, 27%
  5. Bobby Jindal—45%, 9%, 46%

So, being the good, flag-waving American that I am (and you are), let’s look at the pros and cons of each presidential hopeful.

Continue reading

Palin For President?

SCREAM!!!!!!

Depending on whose side you’re on, Sarah Palin could either be the next best thing for this country or our worst fears incarnate.

Regardless, the one question that most Americans are dying to know is whether or not the former Governor of Alaska will run for President in 2012. Why should she? Answer: because she can.

Sure, she’s still a newcomer in the political mainstream, but Palin has managed to distinguish herself faster and more efficiently than any other political figure in recent memory. There’s little reason to deny it now, and it won’t even be up for discussion in the future: Sarah Palin is the new face of the GOP, the reigning Prom Queen of the Republican Party.

The proof is everywhere. Case in point, her first book, Going Rogue: An American Life. Of all first-week sales of memoirs from presidents, vice presidents and anyone who unsuccessfully ran for those offices, Sarah Palin’s is the second most successful in history (following Bill Clinton’s). According to HarperCollins, the memoir’s publisher, Going Rogue’s first-day sales were among the most successful for all nonfiction books. Did Mitt Romney’s No Apology: The Case for American Greatness gain as much attention, making him a more sought after Republican figurehead than Palin? If Romney thought so, then maybe he should apologize after all.

And while Obama’s popularity has gradually diminished since his election, Palin’s has done the opposite. In a Rasmussen poll from last November, 59% of Republicans said that they share relatively the same values as Palin. Then, in a CNN poll taken a month later, eight of 10 Republicans said they viewed Palin favorably. And most recently, a February Gallup poll found that 11% of registered Republican voters already said they would vote for Sarah Palin, even though the Alaska’s former Gov. hasn’t announced that she would run in 2012.

Ironically, it is Palin’s perceived strengths which made her a Republican icon that may cost her the 2012 election. Republicans, on one hand, see her as someone who could have been their next door neighbor—the complete opposite of “politics as usual”—while Democrats view her as too Main Street, or someone who’s simply unfit to be described as presidential.

For anyone anti-Palin, there are too many examples of why she’d be better off staying in Alaska. Foremost, there’s her interview with Katie Couric. The interview was a complete disaster for Palin. She couldn’t manage to name a single Supreme Court ruling she disagreed with (besides Roe v. Wade). And worst of all, when asked what newspapers and magazines she followed on a regular basis, Palin answered with little more than a blank, deer-in-headlights stare. All of these factors conspired to make that interview The Perfect Storm.

Then, there was the interview with Charlie Rose around the same time. When Rose asked Palin to name her favorite columnist, she said Doc Sheehan, a former writer for Runner’s World Magazine. Good grief. And interviews aside, who could forget Palin’s crib notes written on her hand, making her look like a high school freshman cheating on an algebra exam?

But wait, there’s still more. In fact, the further that Democrats and anti-Palin Americans investigate on Sarah Palin, the more fodder they find. For example, Palin’s opponents say she’s unfit to be president because it took her five years (and four schools) to earn a bachelor’s in journalism. There’s also been some grumbling over the fact that she was in the Miss Alaska Beauty Pageant, and that she’s been supposedly receiving $100,000 as a speaking fee. And finally there’s the recent stain on her political career, where she resigned as Alaska’s Governor. Why? According to Palin, it’s because she didn’t want to be “a lame duck” at the end of her term. If she were president, would she do the same?

Well, maybe Palin isn’t a Nobel Prize winner, like President Obama, but her shortcomings still won’t indefinitely destroy her chances of becoming president. How is that possible? Look as far back as our last president. George W. Bush barely graduated from Yale with a 2.35 cumulative GPA, and he flubbed so many speeches, interviews and public appearances that Wikipedia has a page solely dedicated to all of his “Bushisms”. Yet Bush, a convicted felon, went on to become a two term president. So, Sarah Palin, keep in mind what Bush said in a commencement speech at his alma mater: “To all the C students, I say, you too can be president of the United States.” Of course, the former president meant that as a joke, but he also proved that it was unfortunately very possible.

For some, Sarah Palin is the answer to all their prayers, others think she’s their worst nightmare come true. Still, the United States may one day address Ms. Palin as Ms. President.

The Audacity of Socialism

god damn it, America

The President is a Socialist.

Well, that’s what they keep saying anyways.  And by “they”, I mean 67% of Republicans across the country, according to a March Harris poll.

They must be terrified. With the Gallup polls currently estimating Obama’s approval rating to be in the 50’sespecially after the passing of the Health Care Reform Bill it’s only illogical for these neo-Archie Bunkers to assume that the Commies aren’t only in the Oval Office…they’re everywhere!  Look out John Birch Society, here comes America…again.

AAAH!!!!!

But if this was actually happening in our country, what are they going to do about it, honestly?  I suppose they could buy more miniature American flags (probably made in Communist China) and wave them really hard at those “godless” Socialists, or perhaps staple a few more Lipton tea bags on the bills of their baseball caps.  That’ll show them Reds whose America this really is.

They have to keep in mind, however, that this isn’t our first Red Scare, and the unfortunate truth is that our country has an anything but perfect record at fighting Socialists, Communists, Trotskyites, or whatever you prefer to call them. So if the Republicans want to get serious about saving this country from Socialism—assuming they had the power to actually do so—let’s think about what would most likely happen.  I promise they won’t like it.

When it comes to eradication, guns usually come first to mind.  And why not?  Firing a gun is as easy as moving a finger, and it allows whoever uses it successfully to shoot first, ask questions whenever they feel like it.

But we certainly can’t use the military, not against The Communist Manifesto, that’s just M.A.D. Every time we’ve used very tangible bullets against the intangible idea of socialism, we’ve fallen as efficiently as a row of dominoes. Take the Vietnam War for horrible instance, which amounted to being one of the worst, combined wastes of military muscle and young lives in our history.  Our arsenal couldn’t prevent Communism from spreading in a space that’s about the size of New Mexico, so how could we be successful at fighting 50 Vietnam Wars at once?

Of course, we have previously tried to out socialism, without bullets and bombs, from within our borders before.  The most memorable example is Sen. Joseph McCarthy (another Republican) and his witch hunts back in the early 50’s, during the height of the Cold War.  All for the sake of exterminating the Communist from our shores, there were blacklists, loyalty oaths, and a complete disregard for due process.  America practically suffered a nervous breakdown thanks to the Junior Senator from Wisconsin, but common sense became common again and McCarthy was eventually censured by Congress.

So, what has history taught us about America vs. the Red Menace?  Well, we can’t fight socialism using weapons or by Senate Committee.  But if that’s the case, what else can we do to stay uninfected?  Is Democracy doomed? Absolutely not.

There is only one way to combat an idea, and it’s with an even better idea. And I believe, along with Edward R. Murrow, that a better idea than socialism has always been democracy.  As Murrow concluded in his TV debate with Sen. McCarthy, I believed 20 years ago and I believe today that mature Americans can engage in conversation and controversy, the clash of ideas, with Communists anywhere in the world without becoming contaminated or converted. I believe that our faith, our conviction, our determination are stronger than theirs, and that we can compete and successfully, not only in the area of bombs but in the area of ideas.

Better RED than DEAD...oh, wait...

So far, outside of a bunch of name-calling, the Third Red Scare has been relatively uneventful, thank God.  If this thing really gets going though, all we have to do is flip through the pages of any high school U.S. history textbook to figure out the inevitable outcome.

Anyone who’s attempted to purge this country of so-called Socialists or Communists (i.e., the McCarthys and, coming soon, the Becks) has been remembered as paranoid villains with a genuine, unforgivable lack of respect for the Constitution. And ironically, it is typically those being threatened and persecuted for their supposed Socialist beliefs that take a stand and become the heroes of our story.


The Republican Party Has Become a Grand Old, Unfunny Joke

I still remember the day I found out I wasn’t a Democrat like it was this morning.

It was during a 5th grade U.S. History lesson.  I was usually busy staring out the nearest window—watching the grass grow or something equally as interesting—but that day, my teacher was talking about the various political parties, like the Whigs and Free Soil Party.

I was a little embarrassed to raise my hand at first, but I finally got up the nerve to ask, “What’s the difference between a Republican and a Democrat.”

Expensive historical reenactment of the beginning of my Republicanism. Money well spent.

The teacher took a second to think it over (after all, it’s not the easiest thing to put into terms a 5th grader would understand), and said, “Well, there are a lot of things that make a person one or the other.  But, basically, Democrats believe in using the power of the government to help people, and Republicans think we should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”

There’s probably a better definition out there than that, but that was good enough for me.  So just like that, I was a Republican.

And sure, I’ll admit it.  At first, like most kids, I was politically blind, deaf and dumb—any Democrat was bad, all Republicans were good.  But can you really blame me?  You couldn’t ask a 10-year-old to spell politics correctly, much less know anything about the subject.  That, and at least I stopped at an early age, unlike the majority of the U.S.

Still, the more I looked into it, the more I liked my Republican Party, too.  I liked the idea of states’ rights, “that government is best which governs least”, and just about everything Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the party, stood for and against.

Really? Who let that asshole in? Oh yea, the majority of us...twice.

But like many former Republicans, I lost the faith thanks to President Junior.  First was the “they hate our freedom” thing (first uttered by Bush only 9 days after 9/11).  I see two problems with that response: 1) it sounded like an answer from a kindergartener, not the most powerful man in the world, and 2) according to Bin Laden’s tapes, Bush was way off.

When it comes to George Bush, I, like anybody who lived through his reign, could go on for days.  There’s the Patriot Act, Iraq, stem cell research, waving at Stevie Wonder…you get the picture.  So, when it was my turn to vote for the first time, I threw my hat on the ground went with Kerry— I still don’t know why (besides the fact that he wasn’t Bush).

But can you blame me for not being a Republican anymore?  Just take a look at some of the Republican figureheads.  There’s Sarah Palin, who gets stumped by real mindbenders like “What do you read?”, and there’s Michael Steele, who can’t leave his house without being justifiably criticized by the political left and right.

And who can forget the tea partiers?  Party affiliation aside, shouldn’t we all be embarrassed by these frightening people?  After all, when tea partiers carry around signs like “Obama is the Devel”, they’re not exactly playing around with metaphors.

I’ll stop here because there’s literally thousands of examples that constantly fuel my hatred for the Republican Party, but—don’t get me wrong—the reason for all of my ranting is not to rile up any Republican readers.  After all, they’re just going with their guts, and they, too, want exactly what we all want: the best for this country.

All I really want is a Republican Party I can really get behind—one that doesn’t seem to only care about protecting what’s left in their wallets and Bibles— or, at the very least, respect.  Because, when it comes to the future of this country, settling for mediocrity is nothing but unacceptable and lazy.

Is that too much to ask?  Probably.