Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There has been a certain amount of attention focused on some attacks being made on Barack Obama by the Right Wing punditry of late. I'm referring of course to this "birther" notion, espoused by Lou Dobbs, among others, that Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii, or in the U.S. at all. That he was actually born in, umm, maybe Kenya or something.

And naturally, I'm also referring to the proposition put forth by Glenn Beck, that Obama is a racist. Yes, a racist with a "deep seated hatred for white people." This because the President suggested that it was "stupid" for Cambridge police to arrest Henry Louis Gates for breaking and entering his own home. Ok, the arrest was actually for disorderly conduct, "after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" after the cops came in to his house and asked for ID, and Obama called it stupid (then backtracked on that language the next day.) And for that Glenn Beck says he's racist. Or it might be because he (the President) invited the participants in that arrest debacle to the White House for a beer to talk things out. I'm not sure.

And I'm not sure it matters. Here's the thing: I don't think these guys necessarily mean what they say. Is there any chance that Obama was not born in the U.S.? Not really, no. I mean, strictly speaking, sure - anything is possible. (including that some invisible being created the universe 6,000 years ago and that all evidence to the contrary is the work of some other, EVIL, invisible being) But - really? No more than there is a chance that Obama is a racist. Again, sure there's a chance that this man, whose mother (did you hear that? his MOTHER) is white, has some deep seated hatred for "the white culture."

But, I put it to you once again: really?? No, of course not.

So what's the deal? I'll tell you what - and it's surprisingly simple, and you probably already know it, though I think people lose sight of it all the time.

Here it is:

Television News is Show Business.

See? That's it. It's that simple. TV News is not all that brilliant in the way of sharing knowledge, or even information, and most of it isn't even pretending very hard to be. I mean, yes, of course, there are some very important exceptions once in a while, but even those exceptions fall into the category of "we need to make people watch us or our ratings slip and then we lose our jobs."

And - just as important, and even easier to lose sight of - it's true for the people we agree with too! Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, for instance: they too are there to sell soap.

You may be tempted to sputter "but Maddow and Olbermann are brilliant! They're not evil and devious and subjective the way Glenn Beck is!" I agree, part way: they are brilliant; they are not evil; they aren't that devious; but they are pretty much just as subjective and snarky in their presentation as Beck and Dobbs.

In the case of Olbermann and Maddow, I agree with much of the stuff they say. Beck and Dobbs don't say things that I agree with very often at all. See how that works? There are all kinds of levels of ideology working out there, no matter how 'objective' one tries to be. Even in (gasp!) newspapers.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't resist the Becks and Dobbses of the world. On the contrary, I think you should. Just be careful how much credit you give them.

And I am DEFINITELY NOT saying that those clowns are just as viable as Olbermann and Maddow, or that there is ANY credibility whatsoever to this notion, seemingly in common currency, that making whacked out statements that fit with your ideology 'balances' out contrary statements (no matter how accurate those contrary statements are), or that repeating those assertions over and over and over again makes them true.

What I am saying is: do your homework when it comes to gathering information. Use some critical thinking when you turn that information into knowledge in pursuit of the Truth. (Oh my, I'm trafficking in lofty themes today.) And make a very clear distinction for yourself between publicity and policy. Dobbs can say any wacky thing about Obama's birth. Beck can say what he wants about Obama's 'racist' attitudes. Representative Broun can go on about how health care reform will kill old people. Vice President Cheney can say any reprehensible thing about how useful, heroic and necessary 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were and are.

WHOA. Wait a minute... those last couple are a little different, aren't they? Broun and Cheney have (or should have) a different kind of responsibility, because they fall into the category of policy-maker, and elected ones at that.

These guys can say what they want (it's one of their most fundamental rights) and you can react how you want, but the question you need to be asking is - what is going to happen as a result? As a result of their statements? As a result of your reaction? There is a difference between media reaction, popular reaction and legal (re)action. And there is a big, huge, gigantic difference between calling someone names, and derailing a plan that might help to save the health care system of a nation; or getting off the hook for ordering your citizen soldiers to torture their prisoners, discrediting those who oppose this practice for being unserious about defending the nation, and in the process doing intense damage to that nation's standing, and making it impossible to prosecute those prisoners who were actually guilty of something. Just as an example.

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