Monday, January 14, 2013

The Debauchery of the Public Mind and Conscience: Teddy Roosevelt vs. Fox News

by Nomad

A quote from Theodore Roosevelt seems just as apt as it did when he said it over a hundred years ago. Calling out the news media and the their culpability in creating hatred and playing upon the naivety of the public wasn't something Roosevelt was afraid to do.  Isn't it time to call out Fox News in the same way?

It is a strange paradox that often looking back into the “dead” past can inspire us with a fresh view of the present. Take this example of Teddy Roosevelt. 

In his Sorbonne Address in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910, he took on, with his characteristic tenacity, the yellow journalism of his day.
All journalists, all writers, for the very reason that they appreciate the vast possibilities of their profession, should bear testimony against those who deeply discredit it.

Offenses against taste and morals, which are bad enough in a private citizen, are infinitely worse if made into instruments for debauching the community through a newspaper. Mendacity, slander, sensationalism, inanity, vapid triviality, all are potent factors for the debauchery of the public mind and conscience.
He also said that "the excuse" that the public demands this kind of journalism. (in the case of Fox News this excuse is re-packaged as a High Ratings = Popular success = Truth.) That rationalization is, he said, hardly any more valid than food producer peddling poison. 
Roosevelt might well have added another analogy of drug dealers and pimps. Like Fox, your average drug dealer and brothel manager also has his loyal supporters. Fast food, cigarettes, crack cocaine. or sugary children’s breakfast cereals. All of these products might be considered popular. Unquestionably, all of them fill a niche in the marketplace, but what about the harmful effects to society?

The Big Lie and The Marketable Concept
And few would argue that nowadays, even legitimate news reporting is all about profit-making. In her book, Ugly War, Pretty Package: How CNN and Fox News Made the Invasion of Iraq High Concept, author Deborah Lynn Jaramill examines the corruption of television news reporting:
Television news has transformed from a public service into a profit center that operates more or less overtly in the service of corporate parents. The idea of public service lost the tenuous grip it had on television when the networks began expecting their news programs to turn a profit in the 1980s.
Surprise! That just the time that Reagan administration began de-regulating the media when the head of the FCC Mark Fowler decided to abandon the Fairness Doctrine. Suddenly accountability went out the window and nowadays, news is what sells. 
Under those conditions, truth is not particularly important. Peace and diplomatic negotiations? Forget it. How can you film a no-fly zone? The drama of all-out War, “shock and awe”, smart bombs raining down on cities like summer showers, fireworks and noise.: that was what people really wanted to see. 
Jaramill notes that the way to turn a profit is to have a concept that can be sold. 
Central to the narrative is the marketable concept. The marketable concept of the 2003 invasion stated that the United States used its superior technology to exact revenge for the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that its actions were morally justified. (Embedded in this simplistic narrative are the assumption that Saddam Hussein was connected to Al-Qaeda and was harboring weapons of mass destruction.)
It had to be true. Everybody in the Bush administration said so. It had to be accurate. Both CNN and Fox News were reporting it. If the French didn’t believe it, then they couldn’t really be our allies. They had to be weakling traitors, pacifists and socialists.

When you look over that Roosevelt quote, it seems like put his finger on exactly the problem today. Fox News, and CNN (at least, when it tries to imitate Fox) has become a form of “debauchery of the public mind and conscience.” 
Debauchery, defined as "the act of leading one astray, or corrupting morally." That's the only word that can describe the manner in which Fox News became a propaganda machine for the Iraqi invasion. Embedded journalists, were "in bed with" the military brass and strategists, unable and unwilling to speak the truth in fear of being shut out of the story. 

However, the propaganda didn’t end when the realities of war became clear. As a Fox News executive, what do you do when reality doesn’t match expectations? You report only those things that fit your narrative. 

Following the invasion, the news organization created a false narrative that the war was proceeding according to plan. Basically the Bush administration line. And keep in mind, this misrepresentation of facts did not lead only to a waste of resources, to incredible debts we are still paying off. It lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. 

Conservative politicians followed Fox’s lead. Senator John McCain appeared regularly on Fox News assuring the American public- or at least, those that faithfully watched Fox- that the war was being won and that real democracy in Iraq was being established. 

Even today, McCain is still promoting a hawkish view, still giving his advice despite being so dreadfully wrong on Iraq and other foreign policy issues. And he knows that he will always have a platform as long as Fox news remains on the air.

Before WWII, Adolf Hitler explained to his generals the concept of the Big Lie:

"I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn't matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth."
In a fascist state, this idea is undoubtedly true but is Hitler’s cynical view just as true for a nation that hails itself as a leader of the free world? Besides, can anybody actually say that the US was a victor in the Iraq War? We are all still waiting for some sign of democracy and stability.

Aesop’s Trumpeter
Long before Teddy Roosevelt, Aesop, the legendary storyteller, had something to say for those who, like Fox News, rally the public to war.
A Trumpeter during a battle ventured too near the enemy and was captured by them. They were about to proceed to put him to death when he begged them to hear his plea for mercy. "I do not fight," said he, "and indeed carry no weapon; I only blow this trumpet, and surely that cannot harm you; then why should you kill me?"
"You may not fight yourself," said the others, "but you encourage and guide your men to the fight."
People that promote unnecessary wars based on lies must be held responsible. (Journalistic malpractice?) 
As history tells us since the Iraq invasion, the question of accountability goes beyond being accurate or inaccurate. Not holding Fox News to account for the role they played in the Iraq invasion and occupation simply encouraged them to bolder assaults on the truth. 
As Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watch group FAIR (, writes:
Ultimately, the Iraq war was a "Rush Limbaugh/Fox News War" -- based on the premise that in our current media environment if you tell a lie forcefully and frequently enough, the lie will triumph. Limbaugh rose to be the top commentator in our country while conducting a reign of error virtually unnoticed by mainstream media. Fox News, with its "fair and balanced" mantra, became the top cable news channel while mainstream TV writers solemnly debated whether the channel was biased or not.
The ideologues in the Bush White House apparently learned from watching the rise of Limbaugh and Fox News: When you invert or concoct reality, do so passionately and repetitively, and accuse anyone who challenges your reality of liberal bias...or treason.
Ironically, Fox News has engaged in constant campaign against President Obama since the day he took office in a way that, under Bush, they themselves would have considered unpatriotic or even treasonous. 

Today no news organization, especially not Fox News, has apologized for its conduct before and during the Iraq war. Nobody was held to account. Instead they simply changed the subject and moved on. The false narrative of the war was replaced by the false narrative about the economic meltdown. And responsibility for that. according to the new narrative, was, somehow, Obama's fault.

Gloomy Bigotry and Bitter Hate

In the case of Fox News, executives moved from telling lies about Iraq and Bush to creating a new false narrative about President Obama. Under it all, there was an undercurrent of race. (Here's a list of examples.)

Reporting on Fox News since 2008 hasn’t been merely criticism about administration policy. Few can deny the value of the disinterested criticism of news reporting based on facts. It is, after all, a key ingredient to the success of a democratic republic. 

However, what Fox News has reported time and time again was, as Teddy Roosevelt called it, nothing less than slander. Based on intentional untruths and manufactured scandals, the character assassination of the president continued throughout Obama’s first term. Here’s is a site that investigates these lies.

By the 2012 election, Fox News and its guests began doing everything in their power, using every tool of propaganda, to instill as much hatred as possible against the President and the left. That kind of hate, as Roosevelt noted, is a destroyer of democracies.
Bitter internecine hatreds, based on such differences, are signs, not of earnestness of belief, but of that fanaticism which, whether religious or anti-religious, democratic or anti-democratic, is itself but a manifestation of the gloomy bigotry which has been the chief factor in the downfall of so many, many nations.
*    *    *    *
Much to the dismay of Fox News viewers and executives, something unexpected and marvelous happened in the first week of November.

As the dust from the election of 2012 settled, right-wing voters were stunned into speechlessness when Fox News had its inevitable head-on collision with reality. That was perfectly illustrated by Karl Rove’s embarrassing and childish on-air meltdown. 

Election night 2012 was the moment in which reality came a-calling to Fox News studios and proved to be an unwelcome guest. As Mark Howard, writing for AlterNet, puts it
Fox was so determined to shut out anything that might challenge its narrative that it even failed to report its own Fox News polls if Obama was ahead. This was a part of a broader effort to deceive its audience by castigating or ignoring polls when it didn’t like the results and praising the same pollsters when their numbers were more favorable. They launched a campaign to demean professional pollsters and prop up disreputable charlatans with its "unskewed” versions. Not surprisingly, this led to the unprecedented post-election state of shock experienced by those who were foolish enough to rely on Fox for information.
After years of deceiving their audience with misleading tales about the president and his policies, followed by months of quite openly promoting the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, the Fox brainwashers and supporters suddenly found themselves with egg on their faces. 

But.. how could this happen? One source gives this snapshot of election night:
The reelection of the President must have come as a something of a shock to Fox viewers because Fox had been relentlessly positive about Mitt Romney's inevitable success, while portraying Obama as a failure who was destined to be rejected for a second term by a populace who despised him.
The problem for Fox was that majority of voters didn't despise the man quite as much as they had hoped, despite all of the trashing and slanders. (Or maybe they just hated Romney more?)

Straight from The Master of the Art
Paybacks are, as they say, a bitch. 

At the end of 2012, the Atlantic reported that Fox News saw a decline in its ratings since the election-reporting fiasco. Viewers appear to be sick of Sean Hannity and would prefer to watch MSNBC Rachel Maddow. Or nothing at all. (Studies have shown they would be better informed if they simply turned off their television than if they watch Fox.) 

This drop in ratings shouldn’t surprise anybody, after all, Hannity and Dick Morris both confidently predicted a Romney landslide. That, by the way, was after they predicted that Donald Trump would run for president and Herman Cain would overcome his sexual harassment scandal and return to the presidential race. These were the people who warned that the UN, with Obama’s assistance, was about to take over the nation. So many lies to an audience with poor memories.. 
On a daily basis, Fox News made up idiotic lies about the President and gave credence to every unsupported right-wing conspiracy theory, no matter how ridiculous. In fact, it seemed that more ridiculous and outrageous the lie, the more attention it got and the more people were willing to believe it. 

As far as Fox News programming, don’t expect any changes. Its programming comes straight from the master of manipulation. In Hitler’s ideological book, Mein Kampf, he describes his approach:
All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. 
The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.
The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another.
It has taken a long time (and thousands of American war casualties) but even the gullible “human children” of Fox News may have finally caught on to the fact they have been conned by Fox and Friends, Hannity, Van Susteren, and O’Reilly. 
Maybe I am too optimistic.
I suppose as long as one cranky old man in a broken Laz-E-Boy recliner, as long as one hysterical Tea Party hausfrau in Knob Lick, Missouri continues to watch Fox News, the shameful debauchery will continue.