Media Criticism

America’s “first black president”

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander of Salon writes about the mis-used Toni Morrison quote that Bill Clinton was America’s “first black president.” This quote was repeated during the Democratic Presidential Debates — which was the first time I heard it. You can read Toni Morrison’s original article from the New Yorker, but Alexander’s analysis concisely illuminates the key point. Surprise, surprise: this quote is always used out of context, and never in the way Morrison intended.

Her words have been used frequently and almost always out of their original context, as a way of signaling Bill Clinton’s supposed comfort with and advocacy for black people, to the extent that Hillary Clinton even attempted to joke that she was “in this interracial marriage.” …

[Instead, Morrison] questioned the pitch of Starr-fueled hysteria, and said: “Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime … The always and already guilty ‘perp’ is being hunted down not by a prosecutor’s obsessive application of law but by a different kind of pursuer, one who makes new laws out of the shards of those he breaks.” …

Morrison was not saying that Bill Clinton is America’s first black president in a cute or celebratory way, nor was she calling Clinton an “honorary Negro.” Rather, she was comparing Clinton’s treatment at the hands of Starr and others with that of black men, so often seen as “the always and already guilty ‘perp.'”

I have to ask the obvious question: does our media even do its basic job anymore? Can we rely upon it to do anything right? Or will it continue to take quotations out of context and mis-represent ideas like these?

Double-header for Friedman

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

To be honest, I’ve completely ignored the “Thomas Friedman phenomenon” going on in this country. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone reading The World is Flat on the train…

For some reason, people are in love with globalization and outsourcing as “the great leveler.” I have a different take on this. And precisely because The World is Flat was the most popular book about globalization, I never bothered to read it.

But the other day, someone came over and saw the book in my bookshelf. This person was definitely no fan of globalization. Mind you, I’m no Friedman fan — I only own the book to try to understand what the fuss is about. I haven’t turned a page yet. Yet, this person sat there and stared at this book. And I knew what she was thinking. “Another one of these schmucks? Another cheerleader?”

Well, it’ll take more research and time for me to declare my overall opinion of Friedman.

But today, by pure chance, I encountered two hilarious pieces on Friedman:

One, a cartoon by Tom Tomorrow: M is for Moustache.

Two, a review of The World is Flat by Matt Taibbi of New York Press.

A select excerpt from the review:

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

Oh my…

American Thinker?

Friday, February 16th, 2007

I just stumbled across this online newsletter called “The American Thinker.”  I will not link to it because I refuse to give this piece of trash a boosting in any search engine ranking.

I read an article on there (the first one I saw) called “Cultural Marxism.”  Its thesis is that though self-proclaimed communists hardly exist in America, the “new left” is organized around Marxist principles and is just a form of “masked communism.”  Here’s a nice quote:

Both communism and the New Left are alive and thriving here in America.  They favor code words: tolerance, social justice, economic justice, peace, reproductive rights, sex education and safe sex, safe schools, inclusion, diversity, and sensitivity.  All together, this is Cultural Marxism disguised as multiculturalism.

Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah …. it would be funny, if only it were made up.

Search for it yourself.  This is what the American Right reads and how they frame the progressive movement.  Absolutely stunning.

Colbert Follow-up

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Check out this site:

http://www.thankyoustephencolbert.org/

After Stephen Colbert’s (IMO, historically significant) roast of the president and the press, someone started this website to thank him for his “truthiness.”

Yesterday, it had 14,000 thank you comments from the Internet community. Today, it has nearly 23,000. I think this an amazing example of how Internet bloggers and news scourers will simply not be dictated the news by a spineless mainstream press.

Anyone who thinks Colbert’s speech, words, and satire weren’t newsworthy is simply pissed that Colbert spoke truth to the faces of power. The fact that the mainstream press by and large marginalized the Colbert speech and glorified the modest “Dumb Bush/Dumber Bush” act just disgusts me. It also confirms, I think, that Rove and others know that Bush’s general lack of eloquence or sophistication masks his true flaws: the lack of reason or any capacity to reflect on his actions. It was precisely those flaws that Colbert’s speech pointed out. For Bush, the “jury is still out” on issues like evolution and global warming. Why? Because he dosn’t believe in facts.

Listen again to the Colbert speech, and you’ll notice he never once criticizes the president for his inability to say big words or his “Bushisms;” instead, he criticizes him for being able to make complex political and foreign policy decisions without appealing to the facts. That’s what makes Bush dangerous.

Stephen Colbert at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

I just wanted to point out that if you haven’t seen it yet, you should see Stephen Colbert’s speech, in front of the President, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I think it will go down in history as one of the funniest and most awkward comic coup d’etats ever committed.

At first, you think Colbert is just going to play the Bush sycophant he always does on the Colbert Report. But then he just takes a step farther and mocks all mainstream journalists there, and the President himself, right to his face. Really amazing stuff, you can’t dream up better situations!

Take a look:

part 1, part2, part 3.

Danish Cartoon Follow-Up

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

I was going to do a follow-up post on the Danish cartoon situation, but didn’t get to it yet. Instead, I replied to roman’s post on the subject, and realized it was the length of a post on this site anyway. He asked:

did maheen ever give you a reply?

i know that their protest went ahead anyway, and i heard she started tearing when she addressed the faithful assembled in front of her.

i also heard, admittedly from one of the islamic center kids, that the way the objectivist club went about discussing their cartoons was pretty racist…

but i’d be interested to know how she replied.

To answer his question, no, Maheen never replied to that e-mail. If she does, I’d be glad to post it on my site.

I saw the reporting on the protest, but as you probably know, the Objectivist club was also asked to not display the cartoons by the administration. They displayed blank panels instead, and so from what I heard a lot of the discussion of free speech issues got drowned out by the anger over the administration’s blanket censorship. Unfortunately, the administration has every right to censor an event held on its campus, it being a private university, so there isn’t much to say there.

If they did discuss the cartoons in a racist way, then shame on them. From WSN, I heard that the basic gist was that a couple of the Ayn Randian intellectuals claimed that all religions are basically bogus, and that they ascribe to the only true religion, which they called “rationality”, or somesuch. Of course, this is utter tripe that you can feed to the dogs — “Objectivism” hardly even attempts to answer the existential questions that religions address, so that any form of atheism arising from it is hardly stronger than any fundamentally faith-based belief system.

My main issue in that e-mail and over this situation in general is a principle. The basic principle is that you can’t just claim that you have a right to see something censored because it offends your religion. I think that the freedom of information flow — no matter what kind of information that is — definitely trumps maintaining tolerance for religious sensibilities. If someone publishes things that can be taken as offensive by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus, I don’t want the precedent set that we, as a society, will simply remove that text from our literature. It’s true that here, with the cartoons, we have something that is very clearly anti-Islam and racist, but where do we stop in the protection we grant to speech we don’t like? What if the next time, it is a cartoon portraying Jesus as blinding his followers, or an evolutionary analysis of religion? We have to protect the speech we don’t like, so that the canon of “acceptable things to publish” doesn’t shrink everyday.

Danish cartoon display at NYU campus

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

I received a “call to action” e-mail in my NYU mailbox to protest an intellectual discussion sponsored by the Objectivist Club at NYU on the Danish cartoons and the free speech issues surrounding it. I couldn’t believe people would go so off the Politically Correct deep-end as to want to protest that. So I wrote the head of the Islamic society an e-mail.

Dear Maheen,

I don’t really like the Objectivist Club, as (in my opinion, and they may consider _this_ hate speech) it is a bunch of Ayn Rand sycophants who think that the whole world would be better if governments just gave in to business interests in the name of “Free Markets” and economic neoliberalism. So don’t think I’m defending this meeting from their point of view.

And I agree with you that the Danish cartoons are racist, and in bad taste.

But guess what, no one is posting these cartoons on your front door. It is clear to me the Objectivist club is displaying them in order to discuss them and to discuss the free speech issues surrounding them, not in order to engage in racism. Your protest of this display is a form of censorship. In fact, here is a description of the event from their website:

“Why the eruption of violence and the issuance of death threats make completely irrelevant the question of whether the cartoons are in bad taste. Why the idea that freedom of the press must be ‘coupled with press responsibility’ means that free speech is not a right, but a fleeting permission. Why every Western newspaper and media outlet should have immediately re-published or shown the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonists. Why the cowardly and appeasing response of many Western governments–including our own–will only invite further aggression. Other panelists will present their own views.”

If I held a philosopher club meeting about Mein Kampf, I would hope that people could understand that one could read that book without being a Nazi, or supporting Hitler’s racism, etc. The same rule applies here. This was a form of speech made by some cartoonist. It’s speech you don’t like — and if the cartoonist published it in your face, you would call it hate speech, and that’s fine, and you could be angry with him. But if a group of students and professors want to discuss the cartoons in a private room in Kimmel Center, not in a meeting forced upon the public, but in a meeting OPEN to the public, then that is fine.

Your protesting this display is also your right, but when it comes to justifications, you are ultimately protesting what? An intellectual analysis of images you abhor. You are not protesting racism, no matter how much you convince yourself that you are.

Free speech is _not_ absolute. I agree with that. The Supreme Court has shown that time and time again there is an interest in regulating some forms of speech (i.e. do a Google search on “Supreme Court” and “fighing words”). But in this case, free speech does trump your own hatred of these images, for sure. No public interest is served by not allowing this meeting to take place. In fact, censoring it is so irrational (as it _is_ a contribution to the marketplace of ideas envisioned by the US Constitution), that _it_, the protest, should be abhored.

I suggest you seriously consider not protesting this meeting, and withdrawing your “call to action”. It could ultimately damage your credibility, and be seen as a purely “politically correct” move, so common in colleges these days.

Sincerely,
A left-wing armchair activist,
Andrew Montalenti

I Just Didn’t Know: Republicans invented the reality then, and are doing it now

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

I just didn’t even know this happened.

I knew about the Swift Boat ads, and I knew about a bunch of POWs trashing Kerry’s war record only because he spoke out against the war when he returned back to the states. But I simply did not know the extent of this. Take a look at this great student-written article about it. Apparently a broadcasting company named Sinclair pushed to have a documentary named “Stolen Honor” broadcast on TV just days before the 2004 election. To see what the documentary is about, check out NewsMax’s “news report” on it. I put that in quotes because it begins sounding like an AP article but ends just accepting the thesis of the documentarian hook, line and sinker, and making the creators of this documentary seem heroic.

The basic premise of the film isn’t that Kerry did bad things during war. The basic premise is that he was a traitor because he chose to be against the war while the fighting was still going on. The film includes all sorts of references to POWs who say that their torturers used to refer to Kerry, that Kerry is lionized in modern Vietnam as a hero for the enemy, and that the museums in Vietnam worship Kerry as helping fight the good fight for the Vietnamese.

Of course, this is all bullshit, and even if it were true, it doesn’t mean Kerry’s a traitor. It is true that Kerry was against the Vietnam war, but guess what–historical revisionism is with him on that one. The Vietnamese can idolize whomever they want, the important thing was that Kerry had the courage to come home and admit that this war was wrong. Did he benefit politically from it? Maybe. But that’s a better way to advance your political career than George W. Bush, who was just handed his career by his daddy.

Almost all historians who have studied Vietnam and written anything about see it as nothing more than a war in error, whose nature caused soldiers to act in a completely amoral way simply due to their yearning to survive. No one blames the soldiers for being amoral–the circumstances bred that. There was no fucking law in Vietnam, it was kill or be killed. But it is the task of a government and its generals to prevent those situations–to plan strikes on concentrated enemy forces. We just dropped soldiers into a foreign jungle and expected them to only kill the bad guys. Some plan we had.

Anyone who thinks that Vietnam was a just war, and that someone is a traitor to be against it, is seriously living in a dream world. It was a god-damn mess, and we raped and killed people, gave them cancer with Agent Orange, pillaged villages and lost many soldiers, and all for a war that was very much political from the start (part of the grand national obsession with communism, which has only been replaced by terrorism as of late).

But more than that, this documentary was solely based on a quote of Kerry’s taken out of context, as usual for these Republican scumbags. Take a look at FactCheck’s analysis.

I know Kerry is long off the radar and the 2004 was a long time ago at this point, but this still baffles me. Just look at how the documentarians refer to it as the documentary “that made history.” It even quotes a NYTimes article which says “”Stolen Honor”…should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television,” yet another quote taken out of context. The NYTimes review was actually very negative on the film in general, and said its only value was to show how those being tortured in POW camps felt betrayed when people came out against the war. But the review goes on at length about how various things are blown out of proportion in order to try to make the film a political propaganda piece against Kerry. When the author of the review wrote it should be shown on all news stations, he was being a bit ironic. He said that because he would then say, “This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry’s reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state.” In other words, the political damage has been done, so at this point may as not worry about it.

Why am I worrying about it? Because this points in general to the state of our media. Conservatives don’t like objective analysis. so they have a real easy answer: we’ll just invent the reality. I still remember one of the scariest, and craziest quotes I had ever come across:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Conservatives don’t like global warming, so they pretend it isn’t happening. They don’t like evolution, so they pretend that isn’t happening. They don’t like Kerry, so they pretend he was a traitor to his country. They don’t like opposition to the war in Iraq, so they pretend it is doing lots of good. They don’t like blame for Katrina, so they pretend that “no one is to blame”, or that the poor people Left Behind in that state are to blame for settling down there, or that Democratic politicians are to blame for not doing something about it.

In short, they are creating the reality. NewsMax, Fox, Weekly Standard, Think Tanks, etc. When a conservative says to me the media is liberal, I’m no longer going to respond with the laugh I usually do, saying something like “I wish that the media were liberal. That would make us all a lot better off.” Instead, I am just going to talk about this, and ask them: tell me, what liberal media won John Kerry the 2004 election? Oh, that’s right. The one that pushed out propaganda on public airwaves calling Kerry a traitor. That liberal media.

Arghh, this stuff gets me so angry sometimes!

(p.s. I never really supported Kerry anyway, but for completely different reasons. I didn’t support him because he wasn’t at all radical, he was as close to the center as democrats go. He would have held off the Bush onslaught of 2004-2008, but he wouldn’t have brought our country back to a place I’d like to be–a place where social justice and fairness enter at all into the role of government. But with a President as bad as Bush, Kerry looks like Mahatma Ghandi.)

Real Time with Bill Maher and Conservative Boneheads

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

There’s a great blog post over at The Liberal Doomsayer, and I provided a reply. Here it is.

Great post. Found your blog via Technorati search for Bill Maher (wanted to see what the blogosphere was saying about his latest show, which I just caught last night).

To call her a bubblehead is right on… I couldn’t believe some of the spin this woman was selling. Do you remember when she said that the reason she can say that Iraqi women are doing better now than before the war despite the fact that journalists and reporters have said otherwise is that “as you know better than anyone, Bill, the media in this country doesn’t always tell us the truth.”

Oh, that’s right. If Iraqi women were doing better, the media would want us to think otherwise! When we on the Left say that the media is distorting the truth, say by presenting White House PR as “the truth” or presenting America in the most favorable light possible, the reason we are able to prove this at all is because we know that press access to the White House is controlled by the White House (duh), and therefore, journalists don’t want to piss off the administration too badly since that might cost them contacts in high places.

Would it offend anyone to provide definitive journalistic proof that Iraqi women are doing better after the Iraq war? Of course not! The White House would love an article like that, and we on the left wouldn’t mind it either–after all, what, the hell, are we spending billions of dollars for if humans aren’t even getting basic rights in Iraq?

But this bonehead Conway really is just a talking head of the right, who parrots what the right-wing machine tells her to say. She is what Paul Krugman recently called “an echo chamber”, who simply assumes that what other people tell her in her conservative circles must be true.

Remember when she mentioned that John Kerry voted against what she called “the body armor bill”? She referred to the $87 billion package as “the body armor bill,” even though FactCheck.org and other actual analysts have thoroughly proven the distortion in this claim (a distortion used by Bush to win the election of 2004). It pissed me off that Bill Maher didn’t call her bluff and instead simply used the equally propogandistic “Well, Kerry fought in Vietnam.”

In reality, the proper response would be to point out that the $87 billion package included $300 million for upgraded vests, yes, but that was a mere 1/3 of 1 percent (i.e. 0.33%) of the actual bill’s spending.[1] Do you think what Kerry voted against was those $300 million, or is it more rational to assume that Kerry voted against the other $86,700 million dollars spent in that bill?

1. http://www.factcheck.org/article155.html

Cindy Sheehan smeared by O’Reilly

Saturday, August 13th, 2005

I really would expect nothing less of my unfortunate neighbor, Bill O’Reilly. Apparently on last night’s show he smeared Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother that’s been glavanizing the Left as of late, on his wonderful show, the O’Liar Factor. Apparently we still live under McCarthy, where it’s not who you are, but with whom you associate, that determines whether you are a “radical,” or “commie bastard.”

How do people still watch his show?