Tag Archives: media

Who’s to Blame?

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I’m sure that the blame game is played during every election season and, in fact, it appears that it is a perennial political favorite, election year or not. Sometimes politicians place blame to distract attention away from the responsibilities their own party bears for some domestic or foreign situation. In the 2016 election it is quite maddening and entertaining to watch Republicans place the blame on the Obama administration for things that we have been blaming on George W. Bush. Should we blame Bush for ISIS or is Obama to blame?

Well there is truth in the cosmic wisdom that all things are interconnected and if you are a Republican it only takes about 85 steps to get from the argument that places the blame on Bush for the Iraq war to blaming Obama. You just have to say over and over that ISIS formed because Obama is weak, or because he used drone strikes, or because he took the troops out of Iraq too soon, or any of a number of different imagined flaws in the Obama government.

But all the razzle-dazzle reasoning that links Obama to ISIS is really just a ploy to hopefully make us forget the much more seminal role that Bush and the GOP played in destabilizing the Middle East. Republicans hope that enough time has passed to convince most Americans that Obama is the one we should be angry with and that the only possible conclusion we can draw is too elect a Republican. The GOP believes, I think that most Americans have the attention span and the intelligence of gnats. The blame game is so useful exactly because it can cause confusion even in those who were once certain they knew who was responsible.

Today I read an article that blamed elitist Democrats for the rise of Donald Trump. You might guess that it took more than a few logical jumps to accomplish that feat of pretzel reasoning. The gist of the argument is that Democratic Party elites did not back up the middle class when the corporations left, when the free trade agreements were passed, when the unions destroyed the marketplace by asking for ever higher salaries and benefits, when people lost their jobs and their pensions. Instead the Democrats voted in favor of free trade agreements which hurt the American middle class and did not continue to support the regulations on Wall Street. The contention of this author was that the Democrats share with the Republicans the responsibility for Trump because they abandoned the middle class and the middle class has, in retribution, abandoned them. It’s creative, but is it true? Surprisingly this article is from The Daily Kos which usually leans pretty far left.

Obviously there seems to be enough culpability so that everyone can be tarnished in the blame game. But probably if blame must be assigned at all, the bulk of it should go to the group that is connected by the straightest lines. If you have to jump through too many hoops to follow the blame trail then we are back in “everything is interconnected” territory.

There are always lessons to be learned though from events or situations that are serious enough that they lead us to look around for someone to saddle with any given mess. In the case of what happened in the wake of the Iraq War and in the case of what is going on in the 2016 election, placing blame correctly has everything to do with who should win the election, although not necessarily who will win the election.

So both parties look around to place the burden of blame on the other party or on the President or on anyone they can think of if they want to confuse voters. As a voter I can say that they succeed somewhat in arguing that day is night and that the guilty party is not who we always thought it was. By the time the politicians and the media are done with the blame game we begin to question even the events we lived through. The resulting brain tangle is one of the reasons many people hate elections and just decide that they will not vote at all. Be vigilant. Don’t let politicians playing the blame game stop you from voting. You can always fall back on that old school saying “your first thought is best.”

By Nancy Brisson

The Media, Part 2

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Once you perceive the important role the media plays in our society then it becomes clear, I would think, that those in the media bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Journalists can try to be as truthful as personal perceptions allow, they can twist and spin the facts by pretending that commentary is news, or they can even lie.

Propaganda can be subtle or it can be obvious. Journalists can pick a focus group of people, such as middle class white folks, figure out what they think (profile them) and then feed them an interpretation of the news that exploits their mindset. The propaganda can be organized on behalf of any group that sponsors it, such as the GOP or the Tea Party. This is not necessarily new, but, given a news cycle that repeats hour after hour, day after day, is probably more effective at “brainwashing” a target audience in a more casual, folksy way than ever before.

Is this wrong? Should people in the media, who are almost our sole source of news and information, bear a moral responsibility to be as objective and factual as possible? If someone in the media is actually offering commentary on the news should there be a disclaimer? If people agree with the way commentary is slanted are they always more likely to believe it is factual?

There are so many citizens commenting on mainstream media articles and on social media websites who seem brainwashed, who parrot, almost word for word the same nasty insults if anyone disagrees with them, who quote the same right wing sources as if they were Bible verses. Does this signify that there are propaganda strategies that are so effective that if might be immoral to use them, even in a society that holds free speech as dear as we do? How could people listen to blatantly skewed commentary and come to passionately defend such information as straight-forward news?

The reason people mention Hitler so much these days is that they believe that what I just described is exactly how a creepy little man like Hitler was able to create a mass movement in Germany. He told a disillusioned but proud group of people that if they joined him they could win back their national pride. In America both sides have accused the opposition of leading Americans astray in the manner of Hitler. Are our leaders acting in the twisted manner of a master manipulator as the media often claims? The answer depends on who you ask. The GOP accused Obama of acting like Hitler. FOX news has hinted that Obama acts like Hitler. However it is a common tactic on the right to accuse someone else of acting the way you are actually acting as a sort of deflection.

If the media will not act in a moral fashion and tell us when we are getting news and when we are hearing opinions should we pass laws that require them to label their content? I don’t think we would be happy doing that because it would curtail freedom of speech. Obviously all we are left with is appealing to the better instincts of our media outlets and their journalists. But as long as money and profit play such large roles in our culture I suspect some in the media do not feel their better instincts, not so much.

All an educated citizenry can do is analyze what they hear and try to consult sources that slant all different ways. It is interesting that the same people who are trying to use media to exploit the downturns and disillusionment of the white middle class are arguing against free public education and against teaching things like critical thinking. You cannot hang on to freedom if you are not educated to read, write, and understand all the language and the intent of the language that is constantly being broadcast to your brain. We should be learning a lot about propaganda and manipulation because we have been subject to large doses of each. Hopefully we will be less susceptible in the future. Perhaps, perhaps not. Seduction is powerful even when it uses only words.

By Nancy Brisson

The Media

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We may not always like the media, or parts of the media, or certain voices within the media, and we are certainly offered a lot of choices. Some Americans like to collapse everyone in the media into one cynical package and pretend that they do not have to rely on the media, in some form, to draw conclusions about everything under the sun. And this is especially true in politics.

When you buy a piece of electronics you might solicit personal advice from friends or read the possibly unreliable online reviews or talk to a salesperson in a big box store who is there to drive up the store’s profits. We eventually learn that totally objective advice on any subject is almost impossible to come by. And we learn to accept that in some areas we have only the media to rely on.

In the earliest days of our nation some people probably only knew candidates for government through broad sheets or news sheets, although America was quite small and there may have been large numbers of citizens who actually knew the candidate much as we know candidates running for local government today.

We have seen old movies and newspapers that show candidates taking trains (once trains were available) out to small towns and larger cities all across America, waving to voters, stopping to give a stump speech and moving on. Many citizens got to see a candidate in person in this way. Some even got to shake his hand (there were no female candidates although there were sometimes wives of candidates).

Today few of us have seen a candidate in person unless we live in an early primary state. I saw Dan Maffei in person when he was running for Congress. I saw Bill Clinton in person but only after he was no longer President. I saw Joe Biden when he was actually VP. I did not meet them or shake their hands but I heard them speak on behalf of Mr. Maffei who eventually lost his seat to a Republican that most voters did not even know, but who was endorsed in the local newspaper.

So we rely on the media and there is lots of it. We have print newspapers, online newspapers, magazines, online magazines, and online commentary sites like Slate, Politico, Daily Kos, Salon, and many, many more. We have cable television media sources like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, C-SPAN and network media on ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, and we have all of our local news channels. We have radio media used by people who are on-the-go and cannot access TV all of the time.

Candidates are swamped by media. There are so many microphones pointed at them we can barely see them. Donald Trump is just about the only candidate who is meeting large numbers of Americans in person and this could be one reason his followers defend him beyond what most of us consider reason. It also tends to make him look sort of fearless, or it would if any dissenters were not at the mercy of his followers. But however often Donald harangues the media and excoriates anyone who dares to critique him in any way, he too must and does rely on the media to take his message to most Americans.

Oddly, while we have this proliferation of national media, we are losing media in the local market because our print newspapers are folding. I like the way Rachel Maddow always brings this to our attention. This is a bad thing. It will put candidates for our Federal government even more out of reach for voters. Will online news sites that are local find the funds to pay reporters so that we continue to get news that focuses on regional concerns? When the print equivalent of a website goes out of business does the online version suffer?

All our online media is disappearing behind the pay wall. Keeping track of all those electronic fund transfers, even if you can afford them, is a real headache. These EFT’s do not always occur on the same date making budgeting even more difficult. Most of us cannot afford to read every source we would like to. In the old days we could go to the library to read the big newspapers and magazines. If print sources keep going out of business this may not always be the case. News might become the province of the wealthy.

Skewed media is certainly not new, but it has had a profound effect on political discourse in America in the last several decades. I still contend that the right wing in America would not be so united in fringe extremism if it were not for Talk Radio and FOX news. Left wings talkers were nowhere near as effective in riling up their voters because possible they did not understand the angst of the audience they were addressing.

In these days when there is an invisible ideological line that separates the American people it is especially easy to see how dependent we are on our media people to create our national spirit or even to pit our spirits against one another. I don’t see any way the media will become less important in sharing information, opinions, and even disseminating propaganda unless we devolve into anarchy or evolve into a totalitarian state. Most of us will never get to know our political candidates as friends, neighbors, part of our social group.

We only have the media. If we could rely on their professional objectivity it would be easier for us all to take in facts and make reasoned decisions. Too bad we are not all computers. We are people and we like a little emotion in our news. Our very nature as humans encourages the media sources to outdo each other in order to catch our attention or sway our minds into sharing their passionately-held beliefs.

This is the legacy of a free press. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we hate it but, hopefully, we always treasure it, continue to wend our way through the conflicting messages, and never give into the temptation to turn it into one clear, sanitized and leadership-approved voice. Freedom is hard but it is too wonderful to ever give up without a fight.

By Nancy Brisson