I'm sick to death of neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed [right-wing pundits] ...
Research ››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN
Call it the "New Glasnost." I make my first appearance in TNR -- well, on TNR online -- in, I think, 20 years, here, in response to Jon Chait's 8,000-or-so-word opus on the ideological origins of the netroots. I'd have a lot more to say, but I'm feeling kinda lazy. Oh, and I read here that "never before has [CNBC's Larry Kudlow] had two pinko guests on simultaneously like Senator Bernie Sanders and The Nation's Eric Alterman; you can watch the surreal footage here."
From the forthcoming Why We're Liberals:
(What does everybody think of that, by the way? Still needs a subhed.)
Brian C. Anderson, author of the book South Park Conservatives, says nothing controversial when he writes, "It's hard not to notice that political discussion over the last decade has increasingly degenerated into name-calling -- and that the insults most often come from the left: 'racist,' 'homophobe,' 'sexist,' 'mean-spirited,' 'insensitive.' It has become a habit of left-liberal political argument to use such invective to dismiss conservative beliefs as if they don't deserve an argument and to redefine mainstream conservative arguments as extremism and bigotry." National Review writer Peter Wood complains that liberals engage in "a special kind of theater in which the performer enacts rage and attempts symbolically to annihilate his opponent," and names "Angry Left blogs such as the Daily Kos and Eschaton," New Republic writer Jonathan Chait, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as those who also "dive in." In a conversation with fellow right-wing talk-show host Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly complained of myself, Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Nation Washington editor David Corn, "I won't put any of them on this program ... because I do not believe they want to have a conversation. ... You can't have a reasonable discussion with them." O'Reilly also said, "I believe that they come on in here with a viciousness that ... makes me uncomfortable."
So guess what, bub?
Bill O'Reilly may proclaim at the beginning of his program that viewers are entering the "No Spin Zone," but a new study by Indiana University media researchers found that the Fox News personality consistently paints certain people and groups as villains and others as victims to present the world, as he sees it, through political rhetoric.
The IU researchers found that O'Reilly called a person or a group a derogatory name once every 6.8 seconds, on average, or nearly nine times every minute during the editorials that open his program each night. ... Maria Elizabeth Grabe, associate professor of telecommunications, added, "If one digs further into O'Reilly's rhetoric, it becomes clear that he sets up a pretty simplistic battle between good and evil. Our analysis points to very specific groups and people presented as good and evil."
For their article in the spring issue of Journalism Studies, Conway, Grabe and Kevin Grieves, a doctoral student in journalism, studied six months worth, or 115 episodes, of O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" editorials using propaganda analysis techniques made popular after World War I.
What the IU researchers found in their study, "Villains, Victims and Virtuous in Bill O'Reilly's 'No Spin Zone': Revisiting World War Propaganda Techniques," was that he was prone to inject fear into his commentaries and quick to resort to name-calling. He also frequently assigned roles or attributes -- such as "villians" or downright "evil" -- to people and groups.
Using analysis techniques first developed in the 1930s by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Conway, Grabe and Grieves found that O'Reilly employed six of the seven propaganda devices nearly 13 times each minute in his editorials. His editorials also are presented on his Web site and in his newspaper columns.
The seven propaganda devices include:
- Name calling -- giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence;
- Glittering generalities -- the oppositie of name calling;
- Card stacking -- the selective use of facts and half-truths;
- Bandwagon -- appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd;
- Plain folks -- an attempt to convince an audience that they, and their ideas, are "of the people";
- Transfer -- carries over the authority, sanction and prestige of something we respect or dispute to something the speaker would want us to accept; and
- Testimonials -- involving a respected (or disrespected) person endorsing or rejecting an idea or person.
The same techniques were used during the late 1930s to study another prominent voice in a war-era, Father Charles Coughlin. His sermons evolved into a darker message of anti-Semitism and fascism, and he became a defender of Hitler and Mussolini. In this study, O'Reilly is a heavier and less-nuanced user of the propaganda devices than Coughlin.
Among the findings:
- Fear was used in more than half (52.4 percent) of the commentaries, and O'Reilly almost never offered a resolution to the threat. For example, in a commentary on "left-wing" media unfairly criticizing Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales for his role in the Abu Ghraib scandal, O'Reilly considered this an example of America "slowly losing freedom and core values," and added, "So what can be done? Unfortunately, not much."
- The researchers identified 22 groups of people that O'Reilly referenced in his commentaries, and while all 22 were described by O'Reilly as bad at some point, the people and groups most frequently labeled bad were the political left -- Americans as a group and the media (except those media considered by O'Reilly to be on the right).
- Left-leaning media (21.6 percent) made up the largest portion of bad people/groups, and media without a clear political leaning was the second largest (12.2 percent). When it came to evil people and groups, illegal aliens (26.8 percent) and terrorists (21.4 percent) were the largest groups.
- O'Reilly never presented the political left, politicians/government officials not associated with a political party, left-leaning media, illegal aliens, criminals and terrorists as victims. "Thus, politicians and media, particularly of the left-leaning persuasion, are in the company of illegal aliens, criminals, terrorists -- never vulnerable to villainous forces and undeserving of empathy," the authors concluded.
- According to O'Reilly, victims are those who were unfairly judged (40.5 percent), hurt physically (25.3 percent), undermined when they should be supported (20.3 percent) and hurt by moral violations of others (10.1 percent). Americans, the U.S. military and the Bush administration were the top victims in the data set, accounting for 68.3 percent of all victims.
- One of O'Reilly's common responses to charges of bias is to come up with one or two examples of "proof" that he is fair to all groups. For example, in October 2005, Dallas Morning News columnist Macarena Hernandez accused O'Reilly of treating the southern border "as the birth of all American ills." O'Reilly responded by showing a video clip in which he had called Mexican workers "good people." He called for a boycott of the newspaper if it did not retract Hernandez' column.
"Our results show a consistent pattern of O'Reilly casting non-Americans in a negative light. Both illegal aliens and foreigners were constructed as physical threats to the public and never featured in the role of victim or hero," the authors concluded.
An earlier version of the study won a top faculty award from the Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association.
Read the whole study here.
Since when are Paul Wolfowitz parodies funny? Since when is Foreign Policy a source of humor? (The future starts now ...)
Year in and year out, the press uses haircut stories to paint Democrats as vain (read: effeminate) hypocrites. Note that while appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, NBC's Brian Williams agreed with the host when he said that the John Edwards haircut story was "silly" and there was "no reason for us to continue talking about it." Yet just two days later, serving as moderator for a televised Democratic debate, Williams' second question to Edwards was about The Haircut. Read more here.
On the April 29 edition of ABC's This Week, during a roundtable discussion about the April 26 Democratic presidential candidates debate, ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz asserted: "I think when you listen to [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] on national security and when you listen to some other Democrats, as well, it does seem a bit of a foreign language. There is a learning curve there that they all have to get used to." Raddatz echoed the myth, frequently repeated by the media, that Democrats are weaker and less experienced on issues pertaining to national security and foreign policy than Republicans, despite polling showing that the public does not share that view.
On his radio program, Glenn Beck stated that Al Gore is using "the same tactic" in his efforts to fight global warming that Adolf Hitler used to vilify Jews in Nazi Germany, but Beck said that Gore's "goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal."
Recently, with the approach of the fourth anniversary of the moment when, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the President declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" against the backdrop of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and some reporters mixed it up a bit. In frustration, Perino insisted the President had never uttered the words "mission accomplished" and urged the reporters to read the actual speech the President gave. Tom Engelhardt took her up on her suggestion and ventured down Mission Accomplished Memory Lane.
Of course, in order to do so, you now have to travel a vast distance, as if through some Star Trekian wormhole into an alternate universe. You have to reach across the chasm of Bush administration disasters -- from Kabul and Baghdad to New Orleans and Walter Reed Medical Center -- to another moment, another mood in the United States. If you do that, perhaps the first thing you'll note about the President's May Day speech, carefully crafted by White House advance men to be given on that carrier deck in the glow of what image makers call "magic hour light," is its globally messianic and militarized nature. That was caught in typical phrases like "the highest calling in history" (what the American military was engaged in), "something the world had not seen before" (what the U.S. military could do), "a new era" (what the military was bringing about), and "a great moral advance" (the military's ability to kill the enemy without harming civilians).
And you also discover that Perino was absolutely right! As Engelhardt puts it: "The President didn't consider his mission accomplished -- not by a long shot. That's why he never used the two words together in a speech otherwise filled to the brim with 'victory,' flushed with success, high on winning. Yes, 'major combat' was over in Iraq, but that represented only 'one victory in a war on terror.' " George W. Bush's actual words that day were: "the mission continues." Above all else, his speech was a reaffirmation of an American "mission" in which time, maybe even all eternity, was on our side.
Engelhardt then jumps to the present and the war image on the lips of almost every military and civilian official in Washington up to the president today -- an ominously "ticking clock."
"No longer," he writes, "is there a landscape of freedom with its milestones and turning points; no longer is the timescale in generations. Now, administration officials are begging, wheedling, or bullying for months, thinking in weeks, worrying in days. They no longer demand several lifetimes' worth of time, but plead for just a little extra bit of it -- a modest suspension of disbelief until September -- to give the President's 'new' plan a 'chance.' "
He concludes: "Thought of another way, from the moment those two towers came down on September 11, 2001, our President and Vice President have themselves been ticking clocks. Before their terms are done, before the clock runs out on them, they may turn out to be the true suicide bombers of this era."
Nellie, as you know either from listening to her or reading about her here, is both crazy talented and just plain crazy (and beautiful too, while we're on the topic). Her talent is virtually limitless and just barely under control. She writes jazz and punk-infused Tin Pan Alley songs that are so clever, it hurts. She sings well, plays the piano like a maniac -- in a good way -- and provides endlessly entertaining asides and introductions. Last Friday night at Zankel, she was working out a lot of new material, but there was next to no distance between her and her audience and so everyone had a good time; audience participation-wise, it was a pretty demanding concert. What I also find entertaining, but also trying, is the vehemence, charm and well, nuttiness of Nellie's political rants. Two of her targets were Sheryl Crow for the single square of toilet paper thing, and The Nation, for its Green issue, because she thinks that the Root of All Evil is agriculture for meat-eating purposes. Believe me, I feel her pain. She's a vegan who goes into restaurants and asks, "What do you have that tastes like a burger?" I'm sure that, like Peter Singer and Eric Schlosser, she's a far better person than I am. (I wrote a column owning up to this, once, here.) But man, this is a lost cause. And picking on the global warming idea, while kind of cute/daffy, strikes me as a bad idea, whether by the wonderful Ms. McKay or the malevolent Mr. Cockburn. Still, you won't regret it if you buy either one (or both) of these.
Last night, at Joe's Pub, I saw Neil Sedaka do a solo gig at the piano. Having seen a (wonderful, but historically woefully incomplete) Pete Seeger documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival a couple of nights earlier, my body was suffering from a severe irony deficiency. Still, 55 years of pop standards, many of them wonderful, some not so, constitute a pretty strong argument for a great time in a bar with an old guy at the piano. Sedaka started us off with some useful personal and professional history -- following a photomontage of artists who recorded his songs -- and basked in the applause and appreciation. I think I was the youngest person in the room by a good 10 years. Thing is, however old this guy is -- and he was bragging about his grandchildren -- his voice has not lost a single note. He sang both versions of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," and they sounded as fresh as a nice warm bagel (made with water, like the ones on 108th and Broadway, not the mediocre kind you can get anywhere these days). His "Stairway to Heaven" is a far better song than that monstrosity by Led Zep. ("Does anybody remember laughter?" Oy vey is all I can say.) Anyway, Like Nellie, his enthusiasm was infectious. And having read the amazingly capably edited Always Magic in the Air by Ken Emerson, I was able to appreciate Sedaka's performance all the more for the history it represented, even if he is stall bragging about a high-school date with Carole King that she denies. Razor and Tie, one of my favorite companies, has the new 22-track single-CD collection here. Try it, you'll like it.
Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
On the fourth anniversary of Mission Accomplished Day -- the day that Chris Matthews and so many other media pundits got all warm and runny at the image of Bush the "fighter dog" touching down on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, strutting with codpiece in place for the cameras -- I'm wondering if there are any navy personnel who were on that ship who would like to reflect on what they thought then and what they think now.
Given all we were told back then about how wrong the critics of the Iraq invasion were, it seems rather ironic that Stephen Hadley is now fruitlessly searching for a someone to become "war czar," you know, the job that Gates said Hadley would do "if he had the time." Here are the qualifications for the position, according to Hadley: "What we need is someone with a lot of stature within the government who can make things happen." I submitted two names already for a virtually identical position -- Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. They clearly met the requirements that the Bush administration is so desperately looking for. Come to think of it, would this new position have been posted if either one had been hired?
Is there anything more surreal, and telling, than the Bush administration conducting a search for a commander-in-chief, regardless of how they want to re-name it? Since Condi's supposed to be a Soviet scholar, did she weigh in on the name? Given the fragile state of international affairs, it might be worth think about how Russia might react when they find out we're shopping for a czar. The Bush team wasn't satisfied with calling their incursion in the Middle East a "crusade," now they want a "czar" to run it. Oy.
One point that I've almost never heard in the MSM when discussing the Iraq conflict and the administration's (current) rationale for continuing it is that by fighting them over there we avoid having to fight them over here. Ignoring for the moment the silliness of that argument I would like to know why no one is asking the question "What gives us the right to fight a war against terrorists in someone else's country?" I've got the terrible feeling it's as simple as the fact that *clearly* American lives are vastly more valuable than any number of foreigners. A few hundred thousand innocent Iraqis die so we can feel more secure at home? Let's at least have that discussion.
May I vent? This article is MSM reporting at its worst, especially the beginning of the second paragraph:
"Why does the Sunshine State feel compelled to cut in line like this? Florida has traditionally held its primaries in September -- so late in the year as to render the voting remarkably inconsequential given the large load of delegates the state sends to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions."
Now, it's true that Florida has traditionally held September primaries ... for statewide offices. As long as I can recall, Florida has had an early presidential primary, and in fact, before the advent of Super Tuesday, it traditionally had the first primary of the large states. Florida's primary was in March and in 1972, it was the primary that determined that Scoop Jackson would not be the Democrats' nominee.
But I'm sure you've already picked up on the biggest mistake -- if Florida held its presidential primaries in September, it would be holding them after the presidential conventions.
I'm passed laughing at this stuff and am back to weeping.
Dear Dr. A:
As you have often noted, the news coverage at the WSJ is generally excellent, particularly when compared with the crazed spoutings on the editorial page. If Murdoch gets his hands on it, we can expect the whole paper to become "fair and balanced."
Heaven help us.
I'm beginning to think the on-line web magazine Slate should just rename itself, along the lines of "Mohammed Speaks," to "Christopher Hitchens Speaks." Really, what editorial process is behind the decision to turn Slate into a billboard for a writer whose only interest is to justify his own spectacularly wrong thinking about Iraq, pausing every now and then to aim his poison pen at, for instance, anyone who felt bad about the Virginia Tech massacre.
Name: Steven Hart
Boy, Robbie Robertson sure knows how to slip the shiv in, doesn't he? Over at Salon.com, The Man Who Broke Up The Band gets to field three questions on the occasion of the release of "The Best of A Musical History," the compilation culled from the luxury box set "The Band: A Musical History." And on the third question, he gets to stick it to former bandmate Levon Helm:
"I don't have any issues with Levon. I just haven't been in touch with him. I know he's upset about something. It just reached a certain point a long time ago where it seemed like he was always upset, so I stopped paying attention to him. I don't have any issues. I think Levon did a great job playing and singing some songs that I wrote."
Now, fans of The Band and Bob Dylan have plenty of reasons to thank Robertson for his undeniable place as guitarist and chief songwriter for The Band and his work as Dylan's right-hand man during the dicey mid-1960s period when His Bobness went electric.
But the regal condescension of "I think Levon did a great job playing and singing some songs that I wrote," which reduces Helm to the status of a groundskeeper looking after Lord Robbie's prize begonias, only reinforces my instinctive belief that Helm's frequently withering appraisal of his old bandmate in "This Wheel's On Fire" is a lot closer to the truth than the pompous self-mythologizing offered by Robertson in "The Last Waltz."
Not only is Helm's book a great read, but his readiness to concede Robertson's central role in the Band's songwriting makes him all the more convincing when he accuses Robertson of doing everything he can to diminish the contributions of his bandmates. Helm's chief beef is that the one-for-all, all-for-one spirit of The Band was sucked away when Robertson began hogging sole songwriting credit for tunes that had been heavily shaped by communal workshopping. There's no denying that the inspiration burning bright through the first two Band albums, "Music From Big Pink" and "The Band," dwindles to a faint spark on "Stage Fright" and "Cahoots," and vanishes entirely under the stale professionalism of the subsequent works. "Rock of Ages" is such a splendid concert album, it's shocking to realize the short span of time separating it from "Before the Flood," which is virtually brought to a halt by the side and a half of overplayed Band standards, spiced only by one uninspired new song.
Bob Dylan fans also have plenty of reasons to distrust Robertson's presentation of The Band's legacy. One of the reasons I became a bootleg collector was the news that my beloved official copy of "The Basement Tapes" included only a fraction of the songs recorded during those legendary sessions, and the Band tracks larded into the playlist were in fact recorded during separate sessions but included by Robertson to give the incorrect impression that the Basement Tapes sessions were a gathering of equals, rather than an instance of Bob Dylan leading his on-call backup band through a bunch of new and old songs. That's why my copy of "A Tree With Roots" remains in heavy rotation, while the Columbia-produced "The Basement Tapes" is strictly for backup on long car trips.
Fortunately, The Band's legacy can be encompassed without shelling out money for shelf-busting box sets. You can find it in those first two Band albums and "Rock of Ages"; if those get your curiosity going, you can continue prospecting in "Stage Fright," "Cahoots" and the all-covers "Moondog Matinee," which boasts what may well be the single cheesiest extant version of the theme to "The Third Man." The self-embalming of "The Last Waltz" is worth at least one viewing, though the aroma of formaldehyde and cocaine can get oppressive. (Helm's book is particularly scathing, and often uproariously funny, on this subject.) "Islands" and "Northern Lights, Southern Cross" are strictly for completists.
And by all means, check out "The Basement Tapes." His Bobness never sounded so relaxed and funny, and those bogus Band tracks are enjoyable in their own right. If you get a yen to hear the complete version, log onto eBay and place bids on a couple of Dylan recordings. You don't have to win the bids. The bootleggers will make it their business to get in touch with you, and you'll be on your way.
But I think you'd be wise to leave "The Best of A Musical History" on the shelf. Like they say, you'll go looking for history, but what you'll get is His Story.
Eric adds: Here is a link to a new interview Robbie Robertson did with iFilm.