Mainstream media is deeply upset because Obama did not give them to his golf game with Tiger Woods this past weekend. No, really, I’m not making that up. Sure, they’ve been grumpy about Obama gaming and manipulating them in the past (and not done a thing about it) but not being allowed access to Obama golfing with Tiger Woods is just unforgivable!
This is what passes for mainstream journalism in the US now, lapdog compliance combined with a focus on the trivial, especially when it involves celebrities.
If you’ve been watching the recent controversy over Cornel West’s statements that Obama is “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats,” among other things, you have been witnessing an interesting phenomenon. What you are seeing – perhaps most prominently from West’s Princeton colleague Melissa Harris-Perry, although certainly extending to other sycophantic academics and corporate commentators craving to be seen as the most centrist – is the use of a familiar tool of those who hold the power in our country.
Cornel West is being marginalized. I obviously can’t say whether this is because there is some nefarious plot to do so or whether he offended too many narrow-minded, vindictive people’s delicate sensibilities or if there is some other explanation, but the same is occurring to him that has happened to so many American political, intellectual, and even entertainment figures. Once you venture outside the realm of comfortable, acceptable, Democrat vs. Republican politics, you’ve gone too far!
The best example I’ve seen so far during this most recent controversy, is Joan Walsh’s piece on Salon.com. Walsh characterizes West’s “meltdown” as “tragic.”Â Apparently, if you don’t agree with Joan Walsh – even if you have a long history as a talented speaker and activist and Ivy League professor – you have gone insane. Walsh then goes on to temper her insulting and pedantic critique of West with the most milquetoast critique of Obama that could possibly be written by a human. “I’m on record saying that despite my disappointments on the economic and civil liberties front, I support Obama’s reelection,” she writes. And that’s all you need to know. Either Walsh cannot credibly be called a progressive since she supports corporatist Obama or progressives as a group have lost any credibility they once had. In addition, her critical judgment has clearly been suspended in favor of worship at the altar of elections, Democrats, and the presidency. And if anything other than those topics, if any idea relating to politics that shows some honesty and complexity, is brought up, the person bringing it up is crazy in the eyes of small-minded pundits like Joan Walsh.
Now I’m going on a bit of a tangent, but if I weren’t borrowing a family member’s computer, I would be vomiting on the screen after reading what Joan Walsh wrote. She seems to be the archetypal “progressive” Democratic pundit. Avoid uncomfortable tensions (like real racial issues), always remain loyal to the Democratic Party (especially while it betrays you), focus on trivialities rather than the meaningful message of what you’re criticizing, and never EVER rock the boat (“This is the discussion we’re supposed to be having,” Walsh wrote in a typically Democratic authoritarian fashion about a more mild criticism of Obama). The truth is that, given his harsh criticism of Obama, there’s little to nothing Cornel West could have done to soften the blow of it for people like Joan Walsh and Melissa Harris-Perry. West is being criticized not for the racial aspects of what he said – which are in fact much more complex than he is being given credit for, while avoiding these issues as Joan Walsh does only serves to exacerbate them – but because he dared to show some backbone in standing up for his principles.
This is but one tile in a grand mural of political demonization directed at anyone with slightly original ideas in politics. If you are a prominent American and you voice an opinion beyond what is deemed acceptable (or, and this is very much the same thing, you challenge the two party system or the way it shapes our collective political consciousness), you’re marginalized and shut out of the mainstream debate. Noam Chomsky has not only explained this countless times, he has been an example of it countless times. Ward Churchill lost his job as a professor for saying something unpopular. If you haven’t heard of Roseanne Barr’s new book “Roseannarchy,” ask yourself whether that would still be true if it had been a noncontroversial book about her television career. Ralph Nader has become the pariah of the American left – even though his positive accomplishments probably surpass any modern president – because he directly challenged the ideology of the two party system. Even the one hero of the left whom no one can say anything against today, Martin Luther King, was marginalized in a similar fashion when he started focusing on poor people and Vietnam.
This marginalization plays very much into the hands of those in power. It keeps new, exciting ideas that challenge their systems of power out of the national political debate, thereby limiting peoples’ political thinking, philosophy, and subsequent actions. We are trained to think that the answer is either a Democrat or Republican. If someone challenges that with support for a third party or the radical idea that elections aren’t everything, they are shut out of the mainstream media’s dialogue so that its initial flawed assumptions – which, needless to say, always help the corporate power elite – are never criticized in a meaningful way on a large enough stage to really matter.
This has happened so many times before. Now, perhaps we can only stand up as individuals for Cornel West and hope that these stupid charades will be seen for what they are.
I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.
Last month we had the phony Afghanistan strategy review in Washington, and thanks to Politico, we got a shiny new buzzword: The “Progressive-Realist-Centrist Axis of Agreement”. It’s a fancypants way of saying “conventional wisdom”, roughly synonymous with the “Establishment” or Digby’s “Village”. Whatever the out-of-touch think tankers, journalists, and politicians in DC happen to think this week, that’s the “Axis of Agreement”.
The strategy review was Washington’s way of unveiling it’s brand new Axis of Agreement on the war in Afghanistan, transitioning from last year’s platinum mega-hit “COIN” (or counter-insurgency) to the new 2011 narrative. I wrote:
[The] review is not really a review of the military strategy, it’s an act of political theater. This is not the Commander in Chief and his generals tallying up their data and fine-tuning their tactical approach, this is the whole class turning in a book report so they get an A. […]
[This] year’s line is “effective, affordable, and sustainable”. That means 30,000-ish troops, training police, drones ‘n Pakistan ‘n stuff, and also negotiating with the Taliban (ooh, controversy!).
I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.
I’m not perfect. I don’t get everything right, not by a long shot. For example, remember my optimistic response to Thomas Ruttig’s pessimistic report on the Kabul Peace Jirga? Turns out I was super wrong about that. I understand this blogosphere of ours is an open debate, and I’m willing to reassess how I may have misjudged whatever the situation is on any given day.
Mainstream media is all, ah, atwitter about major stories that have recently been broken by blogs, as well as all that information flowing freely through social networking sites. Apparently these new media upstarts are not being properly respectful of the dinosaurs of journalism, who now plan to take decisive action – once they figure out what’s happening, that is.
The NY Times, after ignoring the ACORN story for an embarrassingly long time, will now have an opinion media czar who will monitor those bloggy things to ascertain what stories might be deemed worthy of their attention. The czar will of course be forced to remain anonymous to avoid “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.” Those bloggers might be useful, but the czar does need to avoid the possibility of undue contact with and possible contamination by those icky bloggers.
This, of course, is the stupid reaction of a cornered and endangered animal. Deers in the headlights of a new world that is barreling head on right at them.
Meanwhile, the anonymously written Zero Hedge has broken major stories on high frequency trading, flash trading, and Goldman Sachs. This of course has pissed off the mainstream media, who are now flaming them. A bunch of anonymous rabble rousers have gone and made them look foolish, inept, and compromised. So they’re trying character assassination and sliming after trying to unveil them, as witness a NY Magazine article.
Zero Hedge responds. Here’s a few excerpts. Read the whole thing. It’s principled, intelligent, and dead on target.
The Fourth Estate has spent and leveraged its reputation capital in keeping with the finest traditions of 21st century investment banking. As a consequence, these age-old institutions are quickly for the way of their banking parallels: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, we would like to make a few points:
1. Anonymous speech is not a crime.
You may or may not be aware that there is a long tradition of anonymous speech in the United States. It did not begin here. Not by a long shot.
2. Your unveiling motives are less than pure.
Demanding the unveiling of anonymous authors is often a pretense for opening the door to personal attacks.
3. The era of personality-centric media needs to end- quickly, and (hopefully) painfully.
The fact that you thrive on the momentum of personality-centric reporting does not mean that we do, or that it is the right kind of reporting.
4. You can’t fight a dead model. (They don’t respond to the sleeper hold at all, and getting caught with one while trying is bad news.)
It is not our fault or our problem that your business model is dead. We didn’t kill it. You did.
5. Take it from us. It’s time to punt.
When you’ve gotten to the point where you are attacking online media in order to boost viewing of embedded video clips of your content, inventing fights with new media to boost ratings, when you are boosting online ad revenue this way, might not it be the time to just cut out the expensive cost center middlemen (we are looking at you- in the eye- stacked anchors) and move to online distribution entirely?
6. Get out of the cycle of co-personality-dependence.
When your biggest ratings and embedded hit counts come from fights between the various gargantuan egos on your anchor desk it should tell you two things. First, that your have become addicted to on-air sideshows. Second, that you have hauled your audience down with you into the blackness of personality-dependence addiction.
One of the things that inevitably happens when someone like Zero Hedge causes as much damage as he has to very wealthy and connected people is that the media will start looking at who he is.
But when you shine a light on Zero Hedge, you’re taking the light off the people he’s focusing on. That’s the primary problem with this kind of activity, and one of the reasons you often see this tactic employed against an uncomfortable news-breaker.
I’m all about Zero Hedge. I think there are a great many things about him that represent an enormous improvement over traditional media, and a real rebuke to the thinking of most traditional editors. I know at most commercial news organizations reporters are told that the public has no appetite for complex issues, and that material has to be dumbed down for presentation to the public. Zero Hedge went 10,000% in the opposite direction and became a huge hit. Readers, it turns out, are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
Zero Hedge (and Matt Taibbi) have been drawing blood lately with their attacks on the wealthy and corrupt and have made real and serious enemies. They deserve our support.