Monday, June 01, 2009

MSNBC may be a real-world-based "alternative" to Fox Noise, but let's be careful not to think of it as a counterpart


Could we be careful not to confuse the job that Rachel and Keith (and, yes, Jon) do with the atrocities perpetrated 24/7 by the Fox Noisemakers? There really are such things as "reality" and "facts."

by Ken

A colleague, Rory O'Connor, has written a piece of some interest about MSNBC -- with Keith and Rachel, and now Ed Schultz, and who-knows-what to follow -- as a "liberal mecca" and "the progressive alternative" to Fox Noise, featuring excerpts from interviews with network president Phil Griffin and Schultz, "the latest lefty star in the cable television news-and-opinion firmament."

What concerns me is that, while Rory doesn't make such a claim, I think what people will hear is that MSBNC is an ideologically opposite counterpart to Fox's Noise Machine.

I think this is partly why network chief Griffin is so dodgy about the suggestion of a leftward programming "strategy" at the network. And let's be clear: There is every reason for MSNBC and everyone involved with it to fight to the death any analogy between it and Fox Noise.

Fox Noise is a propaganda machine, whereas the the MSNBC program hosts thought to be counterparts to the Noisemakers -- Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and now Ed Schultz (whose show I have to say I've never seen) -- are fact-based observers.

This is not to say that Keith and Rachel don't occasionally get facts wrong. But you see the difference between them and the Noisemakers in their general insistence on correcting factual errors, usually as promptly as possible. I'm certainly not saying that Keith and Rachel (and Ed) don't have ideological views that influence the way they interpret those facts, but their reporting always starts with their best-faith effort to establish those facts. I'm nervous about saying that they start with a commitment to respect as well as try to understand reality, simply because the word "reality" has taken such a beating in recent times, and has in fact been adopted by the Right to refer not to real reality but to what some particular person or group wishes the reality were.

This has become especially freaky as the Right has become increasingly alienated from reality. Of course everyone has the right to imagine the way they think the world ought to be. However, nobody has the right to blur the right between those imaginings and the way things actually are. Difficult as it often is for us mere mortals to determine where reality is, what the actual facts are, there actually are such things as reality and truth and facts.

By contrast, in the propaganda world of the Right-Wing Noise Machine, facts are irrelevant. Fox Noise dabbles in them only insofar as glancing references to them lend credibility among viewers to the fantasies into which they are spun, and of course insofar as shreds of reality can be twisted to bolster the propaganda message. Luckily for the intellectual defectives who populate this creepy world, they don't have to think about the propaganda message, thinking being an activity to which they're not well suited. Which is why they're luckily that the message is given to them in the form of the famous Talking Points, which we discovered in the era when Karl Rove was controlling the message weren't the least bit metaphorical.

When in doubt, of course, if you're a media wingnut, you can just scream about the same inanities and insanities you screamed about yesterday. After all, one of the philosophical underpinnings of the RWNM is that repetition not only isn't to be avoided, it's to be cherished. Messages need to be repeated as loudly and as often as the intended recipients will tolerate. Still, even the most ideologically blinkered recipients have tolerance limits, and a bit of variety is required -- both to provide momentary relief and to make sure the entire agenda is covered. Even as utterly mindless a blowhard as Sean Hannity needs the Talking Points. One is tempted to say that especially as mindless a blowhard as Sean Hannity needs the Talking Points.

And we've had, goodness knows, enough leaks from the Fox Noise inner sanctum, not to mention all those instances of hilariously beyond-the-realm-of-coincidence verbatim repertions among Noisemakers, to know that master Noisemaker Roger Ailes is nothing if not a practitioner of messsage discipline. When the word isn't coming directly from the master, it's coming from the inner circle of surrogates in close touch with his wishes.


As I've written numerous times on DownWithTyranny, for me the single most eye-opening revelation in Blinded by the Right, David Brock's account of his awakening from his former existence as a star right-wing "journalist," is his almost unbelievably late realization that what right-wing "journalists" do isn't journalism at all. And every time I try to explain this, I have the feeling that people still don't understand the magnitude or significance of the distinction. (Note: No pictures of actual journalists have been used to illustrate this paragraph.)

Brock was at the pinnacle of his chosen profession, and already starting to curry disfavor with his loony-tune colleagues, when it began to dawn on him (finally!) that proper reporting isn't actually done the only way it was done in his professional experience. What he and everybody he knew always did was to start out with a fully formed version of "the truth" and then venture out into the world just long enough to collect whatever detritus -- whatever collection of factoids, bought testimony, and if necessary outright fabrications -- it took to lend a patina of believability to the "story."

In their own minds, I suppose, this practice is justified by their imagined possession of "higher truth," the kind the doesn't rely on mere facts. This "higher truth" delusion is the only scenario I can imagine that explains the later career of "Big Dick" Cheney. Having ferreted out this "truth" from the darkest corners of his brain, he wasn't about to be contradicted by low-pay-grade A-holes in new- or intelligence-gathering professions, who've never even been inside Big Dick's brain.

As I always point out when the subject comes up, it's not as if our beloved infotainment news media are rigorous practitioners of the "old" school of journalism. You know, where the one where the crusty old managing editor gets wind of a possible story and sends a truth-obsessed reporter out with orders to "Get me that story" and then puts it on the paper or on the air. It's not hard to tell when you watch TV nooz, or all too often even when you read the NYT or WaPo, that both the assignment editor and the reporter had pretty well figured out what the story was before the poor soul did a lick of legwork, which in this case would consist mostly of tracking down quotes from the Usual Suspects for the subject at hand.

But at least most of those people know, and pay occasional lip service to, the way the job is supposed to be done. Some of the more idealistic reporters, likely to be the younger ones who haven't yet learned the lay of the land, may even get out there and do some honest-to-gosh reporting and see how much of it they can slip past their Village-coopted editors.

It's a grim prospect, no doubt about it, but still an order-of-magnitde different from what goes on at the Fox Noise propaganda shop, where everyone understands that the truth is always a last resort, to be called on only when truly no useful fib can be found or fabricated.

*THE BILLO EXCEPTION. Fox Noise icon Bill O'Reilly can often be heard, for reasons only he could explain, insisting that what he is is a journalist. What a kidder!


In the piece noted above, MSNBC boss Phil Griffin [right] tells Rory O'Connor:

"People who like Rachel will like our new 10 o’clock show host and what we are going to do there. No, I take that back. Rachel’s audience will love it! I promise.”

Now I'm just speaking for myself here, and I realize that this is the sort of problem that has never concerned Roger Ailes in programming his propaganda machine, but even before the arrival of The Ed Show MSNBC was already testing the limits of my absorption capacity. Much as I hate to miss either Keith or Rachel, not to mention Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart when there are new shows, I was already having trouble committing those two and a half hours a day, what with so much other important TV to watch, and then two baseball teams to follow, not to mention occasionally going through the motions of pretending to have some sort of life.

More and more I've found myself doing Keith or Rachel, or Keith and Rachel between innings, or even neither one -- and somehow losing track of Jon as well. (Don't tell me about "making sacrifices." I've made sacrifices. I hardly ever watch baseball pregame shows now, and my policy on postgame ones has for some time been: only after Yankee or Met victories, or when I'm too lazy to change the channel.)

I feel the loss, really and truly, but I don't honestly know what to do about it. The real logjam, of course, is all these hours I waste every day coming to an office to make a living, not to mention the well over two hours of daily commuting time. If I'd had the presence of mind to check off the "independently wealthy" box in the initial paperwork, perhaps this could all have been avoided. But that's probably why I haven't seen Ed Schultz's extravaganza. Sure, it would be annoying if I didn't like it, but it might be even worse, consequence-wise, if I did.

So personally, I don't even want to think about 10pm. Just as NBC is simplifying my life by wiping the flagship network's 10pm slot clean (oh yeah, like I'm gonna watch Jay Leno!), would it be so cruel as to put something on MSBNC that its president is so sure I"m going to love? Please tell me, Phil, that you've teamed Pat Buchanan up with Tucker Carlson.

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At 5:53 PM, Blogger Mac G said...

You cheer for both the Mets and Yankees? Is that allowed? I would recommend a TIVO as well.

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

"What concerns me is that, while Rory doesn't make such a claim, I think what people will hear is that MSBNC is an ideologically opposite counterpart to Fox's Noise Machine."

That was precisely the tack taken by God's Gift to Big Pharma, Ben Nelson, several weeks back, when he tried equating Olberman and Maddow with Hannity and Limbaugh as purveyors of misinformation. Which of course leaves the genial, ever-truthful Nelson as a middle road. Right.

I think Colbert said it best when he pointed out that "Reality has a well known liberal bias." So it's natural Maddow et al would come across as progressives--regardless of personal political orientation--when they dig into the political lies and unearth evidence that, surprise, surprise, big money does its level best to control everything it can. But revealing this shouldn't be called liberalism. It's simply good journalism.

At 2:15 AM, Anonymous john paul jones said...

Balakirev: Beautiful post. The nice thing about the web: If you read long enough you will get a hint of the truth. The difference between the two sides is the left is on the side of the people and the right is on the side institutions. The right is a static force that can never adapt, living in the past backing into the future. Their side is based on lies and hate and therefore they cherish ignorance. Look at your average tea bagger. They hate science and love superstition. They are sway in the breeze idiots waiting for the rapture. Religion is their refuge. These folks can barely tie their shoes. Waiting to be told what to do by their moron leaders...Limbaugh, Beck, malken, Crystal, Dodson, Robertson, Bennett, Dobbs, Kraughtenheimer, Will. In politics Ben Nelson is the poster boy for evil. A corporate shill and bribe taker among the many doing the bidding of the corporations.

As long as the main stream media gives these folks equal time then the stupidity will go on. It is the difference between dumb and smart. Evil and good. Murdock and Murrow.

Time Warner will charge you for a new TIVO every three months but you'll still have the same piece of junk.

It the dawning of a new age and it is called the net. Truth will spread fast to the youth for they are our main hope to defeat ignorance and the work of corrupt lairs.

The universe operates only on the truth and it will win out in spite of all the greed (wall street), lies (religion) and misdeeds (politics) of humanity.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess people standing up for there rights by protesting at tea parties and being called tea baggers by Maddow is hard news. The left arent for the people and against institutions. They are for the institutions as long as they get 50% and can tell you how to run it. Conservatives are for individuals that believe its in your hands to make your own destiny. Do you honestly think only Repub run institutions. Alot of rich people latch onto the freedom that conservatives want that doesnt mean their repub. They have their own religion called The Almighty Buck and How to Make it Grow. When we all are "equal" money wise, where will you get the trillions? I really am interested on how you would answer that. Please dont come back with "Uhh you misspelled a word or something ignorant like that". Try arguing your point instead of tossing around generalities.


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