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The Noise Machine
September 6, 2004 12:54 AM   Subscribe

The Republican propaganda mill, a brief history It's bigger than Bush vs. Kerry. It's about billionaire funded thinktanks (AEI, Heritage) paying columnists to sit around and make stuff up or legitimize crackpot theories (blacks are genetically stupid, japanese internment was okay). Furthermore its about radio, internet, blogs, tv news and publishing houses working in concert to pummel memes onto the American public. When this stuff infects your culture and is no longer the domain of the loons but now as mainstream as apple pie and Wal-Mart, what do you do?
posted by owillis (74 comments total)

 
Absoultely nothing. That's what liberals have done so far.
posted by calwatch at 1:01 AM on September 6, 2004


You expose the maniacs behind the millions, and let everyone know.
posted by inksyndicate at 1:07 AM on September 6, 2004


It is a machine, but not necessarily a formal one, and I don't think the left is much different (except, of course, that it's less effective. and, well, correct.). People will try to spread their viewpoints, and when many people are spreading viewpoints far from yours, the differences and separations evaporate and they tend to look more like they're colluding -- things farther away look closer to each other. I love the Daily Show, but they did air "Bush's Words", which, agree or disagree with it, was essentially a Kerry campaign commercial. Nothing against commercials, per se -- once in awhile they're funny and informative -- but it was one.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:21 AM on September 6, 2004


Clarification: I'm not denying that a relatively small group of people succeded in propelling their radical ideology into the mainstream. But it is mainstream now, like it or not, and implicating Instapundit (for example) as nothing but a cog in the wheel is simplistic.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:25 AM on September 6, 2004


Like Tlogmer says, the left isn't much different (except, of course, that it's less effective and, in Tlogmer's view, correct). So nice try, but no dice. But it was an effective cover for your self-link, Oliver...

I think it's folly for the left to be blaming the right at this time, when it's getting more and more obvious that their main problem is the candidate they selected all by themselves. I mean, an ABB-copout like John Kerry? Are you kidding me? He makes his former employer Dukakis look like a huge political talent.
posted by dagny at 1:41 AM on September 6, 2004


please, dagny. Most people I know who've actually bothered to read Kerry find him affable and intelligent. are you referring to anything in particular, or just repeating some soundbite you picked up off the machine?
posted by namespan at 1:49 AM on September 6, 2004


I love the Daily Show, but they did air "Bush's Words", which, agree or disagree with it, was essentially a Kerry campaign commercial.

I disagree. Had this not been an election year, that clip would've been straight-up political comedy. It stands on it's own as an indictment of Bush's style of "leadership" with or without an opposition candidate in the picture.

It is pretty sad that we have a president who is such an easy target for comedy, but that is beside the point.

You could say that Bush himself is an effective Kerry commercial.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:59 AM on September 6, 2004


While Kerry himself is an effective anti-Kerry commercial.
posted by David Dark at 2:02 AM on September 6, 2004


I find it amusing that the AynRandian usernames (dagny, MidasMulligan) seem to be lining up behind the Christian fundamentalist party.

On preview:
DD, I used to think so, too. I was a big Dean supporter. But after listening to the man on a conference call, without the media filtering it, he does come across as an effective leader. He can clearly articulate both his goals and plans for getting there, and his plans seem reasonably thought out.
That's a helluva lot more than I can say about Bush.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:09 AM on September 6, 2004


After listening to both men articulate their platforms at their respective conventions, the nation disagrees.

But I am curious: Why were you on a conference call with Kerry?
posted by David Dark at 2:21 AM on September 6, 2004


namespan: even leftist activist sites like DU seem to be in full-blown panic mode these days. that says something. also, see kaus.
posted by dagny at 2:24 AM on September 6, 2004


Typical campaign activity - in this case he was speaking to various Democrats Abroad groups. This was just before the primaries.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:29 AM on September 6, 2004


Ah. So you planned to vote Dean in the primaries, but switched to Kerry after hearing his telephone pitch? I imagine he probably would come across better on radio than on television. I think Bush often does, too.
posted by David Dark at 2:34 AM on September 6, 2004


After listening to both men articulate their platforms ...
What percentage of the nation do you think actually listened to the speeches, and not just the media coverage of the speeches? Between the free ride the media is giving the Republicans, the real possibility of vote tampering, the effort by the Republicans to suppress the vote, and the obvious willingness of the Bush campaign to say anything, and sink as low as possible, well, I'm nervous too.
But I think realistically many more Dems are gonna vote this time - and many fewer Republicans.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:34 AM on September 6, 2004


According to published Nielsen reports (and calculations based on the numbers), about 19.7 million people watched Bush's speech, about 18.3 million people watched Kerry's.
posted by David Dark at 2:38 AM on September 6, 2004


No. I voted for Dean - I would like to see a very, very big change in the government. The fact that both sides were scared of Dean made him very appealing to me. But Kerry came across well enough for a more typical politician, and I'll vote for him without any hesitation.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:39 AM on September 6, 2004


Er, that would be households, not people.
posted by David Dark at 2:40 AM on September 6, 2004


So, that is a little more than 10% of the country. (about 35 million people). Not unrespectable, but not the majority, either. And I don't think there is much overlap between the two groups - due to the increasingly narrow mind of the electorate.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:54 AM on September 6, 2004


I sincerely hope the irony of this post isn’t lost on anyone.
posted by ed\26h at 3:09 AM on September 6, 2004


NewsMax, InstaPundit and Fox News are "working in concert"? Are you serious?
posted by reklaw at 3:43 AM on September 6, 2004


I like this post, although I think owillis could have framed this subject differently :

It's really about the darker manifestations which have arisen since the Powell Memo - which wasn't expressly concerned, I think, with propaganda as much as with seizing the lead in the battleground of ideas, and with promoting conservative values - whatever those are held to be.

Powell formulated his plan quite explicitly as a part of the Cold War struggle to stem the spread of Communism and Socialism; and he saw the Anti-War protests of the 1960's as a very dangerous harbinger.

But - in one of history's black ironies - the expression od Powell's general plan, which was far from a centralized effort, has led to the Right's development of tactics that are lifted from the playbook of Soviet-Era Communism (and from Fascism as well). I mean that quite precisely - Soviet political propagandists developed their own, novel at the time, methods which were a counterpart to analogous methods of contemporary fascism. The new US Right, that political tendency which has arisen since the late 1960's, has appropriated many of those methods.

There are really two expressions of American Conservative politics now - 1) that which seeks to develop and promote a political agenda which is backed by honest research concerning what government should be and should do, and 2) that which seeks to gain political power by whatever means necessary including, and especially, underhanded and covert tactics.

One could call this second tendency "Straussian" I suppose - along the lines of the covert Right Wing tendency which holds that the American people is a dumb, crude beast needing to be manipulated for it's own good - but that would be to miss the full extent to which this approach has become a corrupt quest for political power, the American Right's acquisition of political power by any and all means necessary (legal and otherwise) which now corrodes the last modicum of honesty in American politics and which will compel on the part of the Democrats, if they are smart, an equal and opposite response.

But, regardless of whether Democrats can organize their counter-efforts or not, unless the mainstream media begins to grow a backbone and shed it's role - unwitting and not - as an accomplice to the Right's project - then we may soon see the death of American Democracy.
posted by troutfishing at 4:37 AM on September 6, 2004


Let me suggest a less intention-based explanation: conservative arguments are easier to condense into ideographs (a term coined by Michael McGee that refers to brief expressions that summarize entire orientations, a kernel of discourse that helps structure larger ideologies) than are liberal arguments, which are routinely more complicated, or at least more poorly thought out in terms of packaging.

Plus, you really need to factor in the nature of the various media under discussions, since a lot of the "noise machine" requires a particular type of delivery system. When Marshall McLuhan stated that "the medium is the message," he was arguing that the form (or means of delivery) of the message determines or overdetermines the interpretation of its content. With television, which is how the bulk of Americans concerned with news get their news, the form of the news cycle is dominated by a concern with time. CNN has a rule, for example, that no news story (outside from very particular shows and particular interviews) can exceed two minutes, which is a miniscule amount of time in which to cover a story. All of the major news networks, FoxNews especially, spend an indordinate amount of time not only transferring between stories with new graphics and music, but also hyping their own news coverage - they advertise how fair and balanced they are, or how they're the most trusted name in news, and they talk about upcoming stories inbetween other stories. The perception one gets watching the major cable news networks is that the news is constant, changing quickly, and that, as a consequence, there is little time to devote to debates that are admittedly more complicated than the coverage. This is, of course, a very artificial and purposeful perception, one that helps keep the attention of consumers during those commercial interludes, since viewers can't risk turning away without missing the announcement of a "breaking development!" in the Scott Peterson case.

The consequences of this over-emphasis on time are twofold. First, it limits any discussion to superficial platitudes, and second, it transforms television news into an "echo chamber." In both instances, the conservatives get a leg up, and hence Bush seems to be hammering his message home. So, by way of explanation: If I have two minutes to discuss how it is that a particular tax cut, say the abolishment of the estate tax or a lower capital gains tax, is going to effect consumption patterns or economic growth, and I am parrying someone who opposes those tax cuts, I will turn to little memes. I will argue that "it's your money" (no doubt one of the lynchpins of neoliberal economics and conservative ideology), that "the government is inefficent" and that I "trust you with your money more than the government." I will note that more money in the economy means more spending, and so the economy will obviously expand. By contrast, the opponent should rightly note that those arguments are all fallacious: 1) it is not "purely" your money, as you required a vast network of tax-funded law enforcement, fraud law, worker's protections, bank loans, and consumers to make any money, and so it shouldn't be surprising that you give a bunch of it back to the network of interconnections that made profit possible, 2) the government is inefficient in some ways and not in others, that sometimes inefficency can be a good because it prevents the externalization of cost (for example, environmental regulations that stop or control the dumping of toxic waste require a lot of paperwork, but they force businesses to pay for the costs of disposal rather than forcing the people to eat said toxic waste or to pay retroactively for cleanup while the business reaps profits from a lack of responsibility for their own waste), that businesses are often inefficient and fail (for example, Enron, Halliburton, etc), and that if businesses are so great and efficient, they'll learn how to adjust to higher taxes, and 3) that most importantly, if taxes aren't gathered to pay for health care, scientific research, law enforcement, education, etc - that consumers end up eating those costs anyway through higher health insurance premiums, a lack of scientific innovation, an increased crime rate that not only might hinder consumption but that will also require funding for more prisons, and that an undereducated class will hurt growth in the future, thus sacrificing furture economic prosperity for a short-term windfall in one's personal finances. These arguments could easily be bolstered by recourse to empirical evidence. And they might then be countered by different empirical evidence, and a real debate would ensue, but, and this is a big but, the "liberal" side of this argument is much more difficult to encapsulate as an easily digestible meme, much more difficult to transform into a pithy saying with the quick and dirty force of "it's your money." The short time allotted for issue coverage on TV, for issues like the economy and health care and the reasons for terrorism, all but guarantee that more complicated arguments will be displaced by shorter and more abstract memes. To date, liberals have been hard-pressed to compete in that format, which is no doubt why it is that so many liberal print media continue to do well (Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, etc), not to mention the slew of liberal books dominating the shelves of the politics section of your local Borders, even as television moves increasingly conservative. In other words, there are lots of folks out there with liberal perspectives, folks with buying power that can keep these views alive and well, but they aren't ruling television. The other structural component, the echo chamber, comes into play here. Since television devotes such small time to issues, and because it must hook viewers (convincing them either not to leave or to constantly return), the 24 hour news networks must repeat their story coverage over and over, in snippets, while constantly selling the idea that given the amount of news and the speed at which it travels, the story could change ay any moment. The result: the same story will be covered by different achors from 7-11 pm, and they will repeat the same memes ad nauseum. Welcome to the world of the talking points, where ideological directives take the form of memes and get disseminated over the air waves, to the point where the meme becomes the news that it encapsulates. Jean Baudrillard predicted as much back in the 80s, before CNN even hit the scene. (Need examples of the echo chamber? Check out this and that post over at Eschaton.) After a while, this constant repetition becomes reality. As Goebbels famously noted, say a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. (We might more generously replace "lie" with "line," but you get the general idea.)

[Incidentally, this might explain why the really popular conservative blugs - Instapundit being an obvious example - are so short and quick in terms of the delivery of their content, though I'd have to think that through more.]

And so, you end up with a conservative noise machine that seems to be working in concert, but is really just working from a very well established script. Now, that being said, there is no denying that conservatives have made an intentioned and concerted effort to create that script by funding thinktanks explicitly for that purpose, something liberals are only now realizing they need to do. Liberals probably thought they would have academic recourse, not realizing how effective conservatives would be at marginalizing academic discourse (not that I understand those arguments, but whatever), but the problem is that while a lot of academics are more liberal they are not necessarily more political, and they do not write their arguments or develop positions for political consumption - nor do they think about how to make them more media (i.e. television) friendly.

Finally, there's also no denying that conservatives - Moonie and Murdoch, for examples - are more focused on coupling their political views with the media necessary to deliver them. Air America might be the liberal standard, but it sucks in comparison, and isn't particularly great in its own right.
posted by hank_14 at 4:46 AM on September 6, 2004


Hank's got a point. The increasingly conservative tilt of CNN and MSNBC may be attributable not to the political leanings of their leadership, but the digestibility of empty Republican talking points.

Think about it: Why was Hurricane Frances the only topic on Late Edition yesterday, while the Beslan massacre was ignored? Which of these stories is more digestible? Which is cheaper to cover? And which story gives an excuse for Bill Hemmer to stand outside in the rain with the tropical wind blowing his flowing locks from east to west?
posted by PrinceValium at 5:13 AM on September 6, 2004


PrinceValium - Yup, but there's more at play here than the mere "digestibility" of talking points.

For example, statistical analysis of even "Liberal" NPR shows a general bias towards - oh so accessible (well funded) - Right Wing talking heads. Bias ? Convenience (laziness on NPR's part) ?

Further, US media ownership shows a distinct right-leaning bias going back many decades.

There's far more at play here than simple structural factors.

hank _14 -That's a fine treatment of how the technical framework of mainstream new aids - often unwittingly - the US Right's agenda.

However, your analysis doesn't address the creation of intentionally deceptive memes, the construction of propaganda, the smear campaigns, and the creation of whole bodies pseudo-scientific "research" (such as the Eugenicist "research" behind "The Bell Curve") - to mention of few of the tactics from the wide array now employed by the US Right.

The Right has the means to inject memes into American discourse (and people's minds) by way of US mainstream media - especially TV media - but in shining your particular spotlight (a worthy one indeed) you're neglecting, I feel, US media complicity.

I believe you are letting mainstream media - TV, print, even NPR (see below) - too easily off the hook.

Take the Kerry/Swift Boat Vets smear campaign - it was painful to see mainstream media, Public Radio included, endlessly repeating in close proximity to each other, the words "Kerry","Vietnam","Controversy","War Record".

I cannot bring myself to believe that many members of the US media are so unaware of the effect that the ceaseless repetition of those very contiguous words has on subjective public sentiment about John Kerry.

I call COMPLICITY.

But assume, for the sake of argument, that this was unwitting propaganda. What was less generally noticed was the fact that true equivalence would have demanded the corresponding airing, matched up with the Swift Boat "story", of the controversy over Bush's Guard service record - in the form of the words "Bush", "Guard Duty", "Missing", "Absent" (and so on).

What a sweet dream !

But, the need for that type of balance not recognized, acknowledged, or even generally perceived - it's entirely missing from the media discourse or even from the "media on the media" discourse (except on Metafilter). But I do NOT believe that all mainstream media professionals are so dumb as that would indicate - far from it - and hence my point here : US media refuses to take responsibility for true equivalence, and that amounts to complicity.

______________________


ed/26h - Yes, at one level it can be seen that way. But there is a very real distinction, one worth paying attention to, between a) the promotion of a political agenda by way of naked propaganda and disinformation (both covert and overt) and b) the simple, honest promotion of a political ideology.

So, in an example of the first approach, one could advance the background agenda of shrinking US Federal Government spending on social programs by ceaselessly repeating memes that tar Democrats as big spenders (regardless of current US Republican led government fiscal excess) and also by way of smearing actual Democratic candidates by the sleaziest possible methods - such as the campaign to smear Max Clellan's war record with TV ads that morph Max Clellen's face into that of Osama Bin Laden, and Bill O'Reilly slander which terms this Vietnam Vet - who had three limbs blown off by a grenade - a "bombthrower" .

No example of the second method is necessary, for it simply involves a) announcing a political agenda and b) explaining why the American people should support that agenda.

For those here who would assert some sort of equivalence in the frequency and intensity with which the two US mainstream political parties run "dirty tricks" and smear campaigns, I say : try and show me examples of equivalent Democratic tactics.

That would be good for a few laughs.
posted by troutfishing at 5:39 AM on September 6, 2004


Oliver, you're way off base on this one. Stick to FPPs about your other two passions -- football and half-nude actresses.
posted by davidmsc at 5:42 AM on September 6, 2004


Trout, I agree with a lot of what you write. I was just trying to offer up a way of understanding how conservative arguments have become so mainstream in terms of their televisual dissemination.

But you're right - there are intentional efforts to mislead, and while the Dems do it as well, they lack the resources and lack of restraint that lets them do it to the same degree (though this may be more of a Rove specific claim than a Republican generic claim).
posted by hank_14 at 5:44 AM on September 6, 2004


PV:Why was Hurricane Frances the only topic on Late Edition yesterday, while the Beslan massacre was ignored?

Um, perhaps because Hurricane Frances DIRECTLY AFFECTED millions of Americans, and epitomized "time sensitive" reporting, and all three of the cable-newsers are based in American and serve primarily an American audience?
posted by davidmsc at 5:44 AM on September 6, 2004


According to published Nielsen reports (and calculations based on the numbers), about 19.7 million people watched Bush's speech, about 18.3 million people watched Kerry's.

I'm not too surprised by this; there was a lot more media noise about the RNC. Was anyone protesting at the Democratic convention? Was there a lot of blather about the "threat" of terrorism justifying the response to those protests?

Most of the people planning to vote Kerry are less interested in Kerry than they are in getting rid of Bush, and are thus not particularly interested in what Kerry actually has to say. Which is itself a sad thing.
posted by Foosnark at 5:46 AM on September 6, 2004


Look, davidmsc offers performative proof of my argument! Yeah!
posted by hank_14 at 5:46 AM on September 6, 2004


And no, I was referring to this davidmsc.
posted by hank_14 at 5:47 AM on September 6, 2004


An election with an incumbent is always going to be a referendum on the performance of that incumbent, it's not an indictment of Kerry that people are more concerned with Bush than they are with him. That's just how it goes. Bush giving people a hundred reasons to vote against him vs. Kerry giving 50 reasons to vote for him isn't a strike against kerry, it's hard to compete with just how awful Bush is, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to vote against him.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:05 AM on September 6, 2004


Maybe the right's ideas are succeeding not because they are being forced down America's throat by a sinister propaganda machine, or because they are so stupid that they can be easily crushed into a few sound bites, but because they are more essentially sound than the ideas of the left. After all, Half the world is still permeated with the stink of the rotting corpses of socialist states which took the redistributive policies and class politics of the left to their logical conclusions. We can see what identity politics, the looting of corporations, and attacks on the rich get us: War, poverty, stagnant economies. The evidence is staring everybody in the face. We can also see what free enterprise brings us, every time we go to the mall or nearest shopping center er, Wal-Mart, or Bob Evans, or -- heaven help us -- one of America's stupendously efficient and well-stocked supermarkets: Wealth, plenty, ease, convenience, happiness. Public opinion is very, very hard to manipulate. Even stupid people ratiocinate in a complex, fairly independent fashion.
posted by Faze at 6:18 AM on September 6, 2004


Um, perhaps because Hurricane Frances DIRECTLY AFFECTED millions of Americans

If you're one of the three million people without power in Florida right now, are you getting your information from CNN? Please. This was weather-porn for the rest of us, and had nothing to do with helping anyone who was actually affected by the storm.

Meanwhile, I'm sure it doesn't take a whole lot of deep thinking to realize a series of terrorist attacks that threatens to destabilize the precariously situated Russian government might just be relevant to American citizens. Your perspective is a flawed one.
posted by PrinceValium at 6:31 AM on September 6, 2004


Faze. A quick and dirty list of the fallacies in that last post. posted by hank_14 at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2004


I don't know about any of this, but if you guys vote Bush again, we are going to have to send some hockey enforcers over the 49th to kick some ass.
posted by Quartermass at 6:56 AM on September 6, 2004


1987: Roger Ailes switches gears, from campaign consultant to media consultant.

1988: Reagan quietly eliminates the FCC's equal time doctrine as one of his (preusumably sentient, but I have my doubts) executive orders as president.

1988: Rush Limbaugh

Its all downhill, double-black-diamond, from there.

If someone doesn't reinstate the doctrine and force the giant media corps to divest back to their former regulated sizes (and soon), the fascism will only accelerate.

As it stands, whoever takes the presidency this november, will only inherit a deeply divided nation, mendaciously whipped to a frenzy of angry political disenfranchisement. If its Kerry, more anti-Clintonian tactics. If its Bush, it could give him the justification to further clamp down (but hard) on civil liberties.

Thanks, conservatives, for brilliantly exploiting the dark side of our formerly sainted 1st Amendment.
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:02 AM on September 6, 2004


After listening to both men articulate their platforms at their respective conventions, the nation disagrees.
It's funny you link to that poll, since SurveyUSA is a Republican push-polling operation. Bush's bounce is very real, but SurveyUSA is - crap. But it sort of proves my point.

NewsMax, InstaPundit and Fox News are "working in concert"? Are you serious?
Do they sit down and have dark, scary meetings? I don't think so (though that would be cool) But do they feed off of each other with a similar agenda? You bet.

Oliver, you're way off base on this one.
Baa. David. Seriously. Baa.

Public opinion is very, very hard to manipulate.
Actually, no. Do you know how many people believe Saddam Hussein carried out 9/11? Not "connections" between Al Qaeda and Hussein, but the idea that Hussein was directly responsible. Do you think its a coincidence that the main source of news for these types of people is Fox News?

I wrote this post because where I work I've been able to see the machine in operation (and yeah, I self-linked some).

The story gets floated on Newsmax. Limbaugh reads it to his audience. It gets thrown out as speculation on one of the Fox News shows. A book from Regnery supports the original story. If it doesn't break through yet, the bloggers start bitching. Drudge pimps the book's charges/allegations. Other radio hosts talk about why the author and his idea are being shut out by the mainstream "liberal" media. Brent Bozell at MRC posits that Katie Couric is ignoring the story because she received commands from liberal headquarters. Then the host makes the rounds at Fox News, the hook is often an exciting premise put forth by a telegenic author. The book is now legitimized and spreads across other media, never mind how bankrupt it is poltically, scientfically, or socially (this is the part where I say "In Defense of Internment? Fucking shut up.").

Once I became aware of these groups, I assumed that the left had its own to counter it. I was wrong. Center for American Progress, supposedly the answer to AEI and Heritage has been in existence for about a year and a half. Media Matters for America has 6 months to MRC's eighteen years (though I would posit that our work is fact-based, rather than than their mythical findings, and Bill O'Reilly said we were like the Klan). Air America is nothing compared to Limbaugh, Hannity, and all their little mini-clones on the airwaves posioning the culture ("Tell me the difference between Al Qaeda seeking to hurt us financially and the left of America").

Like I said, this is more than Bush vs. Kerry. I have every belief that if Kerry wins, these groups will make Clinton's eight years seem like tip-toeing through the tulips for any candidate to the left of Joe Lieberman. I think for a long time the left has believed that reason will win out. That is obviously quite wrong.
posted by owillis at 7:07 AM on September 6, 2004


Haha! We've been Laphamed!
That's right, Lapham wrote about the GOP convention speeches before anyone even stepped to the podium. Lapham has apologized for what he's calling a "rhetorical invention," use of "poetic license," and a "mistake."

But the only "mistake" Lapham made is in revealing for all to see what has long been known by anyone who pays attention to the news: the major media routinely bring to their coverage of significant political events a predetermined storyline -- you might want to call it a "Lapham". Facts that undermine the storyline are ignored or explained away as aberrations to The Truth. For the editor of Harper's and other establishment press figures, it really makes no difference to them what will be said at Madison Square Garden because the Laphams are already set, loaded in the scribblers' word processors and television anchor tele-prompters and ready to go.
posted by techgnollogic at 7:11 AM on September 6, 2004


We really need the fairness doctrine back, and media that isn't so lazy, and isn't so entwined with powerful figures. Investigative reporting has all but disappeared, and regurgitation of talking points is seen as objective, as long as they say "Well, some say that Kerry eats babies. How would you respond?"

The failure to propagate alternative talking points is inexplicable, but at least the ones that are continually being manufactured are now being slightly questioned, and destroyed and mocked online, on the Daily Show, and i think Stern too.
posted by amberglow at 7:22 AM on September 6, 2004


does anyone notice that the far right think tanks have taken their practice of spreading memes and spreading them throughout the culture from the left/artistic culture of the 60s? ... back then it was the left that had the institutions ... that had the proponents that were publically visible ... that had a seemingly coordinated set of outlets in the news media, the colleges, the art and music of the time?

the right was outgunned in that era ... not being stupid people, they took notes and saw how it was done ... and instituted their own counter-counterculture to fight back with while the left slowly became self-absorbed and complacent ... others realized that just as a lot of money could be made from selling books and music that appealed to leftist subcultural sensibilities, money could be made from books and music that subcultures on the right would buy ... thus much country music ... and the la hays series of books became best sellers


where we once had the beatles telling us that all we needed was love, we now have rush telling us that all we need is bush ... do highly entrenched and powerful forces manipulate and profit from the current cultural revolution? ... yes, of course ... is it possible to counter it? ... indeed it is ... if the people who are trying to do it touch the average american with their viewpoints instead of preaching to a small liberal circle of the converted ... but first, the mouthpieces would have to spend as much time finding out what the average american wants as the rightists have

the left dropped the ball and a vacuum was created ... and the right saw their opportunity ... but there is still room for an evening of the playing field ... if the left can keep it simple, appealing and popular

they've failed so far, although i've seen some improvement lately
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 AM on September 6, 2004


" Facts that undermine the storyline are ignored or explained away as aberrations to The Truth." - Techgnollogic, that's a good point. Further, the gist of this predetermined bias slopes rightward.

"A study of ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News in the year 2001 shows that 92 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male and, where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican. "

Newpaper editor bias in action : "There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?'' "Editors at The Washington Post acknowledge they underplayed stories questioning President Bush's claims of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq."
posted by troutfishing at 7:27 AM on September 6, 2004


BTW, re: the 1st link: Is there anyone out there who can read an article by Lapham and one by Vidal and tell the difference, like in a blind wine-tasting?

Me, I find them both risible, on point, salient, and somewhat pretentious.
posted by kozad at 7:45 AM on September 6, 2004


"PBS : Fox's patrician cousin lives up on the hill and goes to gala events at the art museum and on wine and cheese tasting celebrity led sightseeing tours (with photo chronicles of the journey taken for the cultural edification of colored folks at home), to partake of the splendors of sunny Provence. Or perhaps to the Galapagos, to stroll along the beach past Iguanas and Lava-lizards, with glasses of excellent chardonnay in hand, whilst discussing with Nina Totenberg the unbearable weight of serious things. "

"Media covers massive D.C. (and world) Anti-War protests, discounts numbers - Backflash: NPR and the NYT later issued apologies for their drastic undercounting of the Oct. 26 D.C. Anti-War protest"

"You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month"

"George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics - Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing? - Because they've put billions of dollars into it.
posted by troutfishing at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2004


Sad to say, it's no where near bad enough for things to change.

It's not the media. The media can't tell a hungary man he's sated.

When the conservative agenda is fully realized and the average voter feels the full impact of the change, the winds will shift.
posted by mygoditsbob at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2004


blacks are genetically stupid

This seems a little hysterical.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:14 AM on September 6, 2004


Mein gott bob, no! - things can get far, far worse and - even then - that won't necessarily produce a magical resurgence for the Democratic and progressive tendencies in American politics.

Media are the captains of consciousness. They don't shape reality, but they do mold the mass perception of it. And they have become damn good at that. Soviet Era propaganda was child's play by comparison.

The only way forward - the only way things will get better - lies in the creation of a new, mass participatory public interest media : a counterforce.
posted by troutfishing at 9:17 AM on September 6, 2004


So where do I go if I want to get one of these right wing think tank jobs where the salary budget grows on trees? Seriously I want to know. I could use a job!
posted by bukvich at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2004


I think for a long time the left has believed that reason will win out. That is obviously quite wrong.

If reason can't win, then all is already lost.

Bring on the Dark Ages!
posted by rushmc at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2004


"Bring on the Dark Ages!"

We're not already in a dark age?
posted by muppetboy at 10:05 AM on September 6, 2004


"blacks are genetically stupid - This seems a little hysterical." (the fire you left me)

the fire you left me - no, Oliver is not being hysterical at all. His statement was probably the most concise possible expression of the thesis outlined in Murray and Hernstein's "The Bell Curve" (published in 1994) : here's background reference to the American Eugenicist Movement ( a Metafilter post I did recently ) . See, especially, the Pioneer Fund and the Manhattan Institute. Both provided funding crucial for the pseudoscientific "research" cited heavily in "The Bell Curve".

Here's a compendium of criticisms of the arguments put forth in "The Bell Curve", from the University of Indiana.

An overall perpective on the book, by Leon J. Kamin, who is "professor of psychology at Northeastern University; he is author of The Science and Politics of IQ, and with R. C. Lewontin and Steven Rose of "Not in Our Genes." ""The publicity barrage with which the book was launched might suggest that The Bell Curve has something new to say; it doesn't. The authors, in this most recent eruption of the crude biological determinism that permeates the history of IQ testing, assert that scientific evidence demonstrates the existence of genetically determined differences in intelligence among social classes and races. They cite some I,OOO references from the social and biological sciences, and make a number of suggestions for changing social policies. The pretense is made that there is some logical, "scientific" connection between evidence culled from those cited sources and the authors' policy recommendations. Those policies would not be necessary or humane even if the cited evidence were valid. But I want to concentrate on what I regard as two disastrous failings of the book. First, the caliber of the data cited by Herrnstein and Murray is, at many critical points, patheticñand their citations of those weak data are often inaccurate. Second, their failure to distinguish between correlation and causation repeatedly leads Herrnstein and Murray to draw invalid conclusions.""

Here's a description of the Manhattan Institute - which was cited by George W. Bush as being highly influential to his political philosophy :

"You won't find swastikas or paintings of Hitler decorating the walls at the Manhattan Institute nor will its staff be seen wearing Nazi uniforms. Their stable of well paid academics, writers and intellectuals are masters of using politically correct terminology to advance and express racist ideas. They are often the most effective guest speakers on television programs and at university conferences on social issues. While the ideas they advance may superficially appear to be about improving quality of life, cutting government waste, improving education and perfecting police strategy the common thread is that every policy is aimed at targeting minorities, immigrants and the poor while benefiting the corporations and wealthy individuals with whom they are aligned and by whom they are funded.

These ideas are very similar to those espoused by Adolf Hitler with one notable exception. There is no anti-Semitism involved. The despised groups in this contemporary NYC branch of Eugenics are African Americans and Latinos. However, if one looks to the early years of this century one will find the exact same attitudes were expressed about New York City's millions of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. They were considered to be uneducable, diseased, mentally inferior, crime prone, violent, unfit parents, socially toxic and a ruinous drain on the economy and infrastructure."


_____________________

""Following is a transcript of the ABC World News Tonight story on The Bell Curve and the Pioneer Fund. It aired November 22, 1994. We are also responding directly by e-mail to requests but this may save everyone some time.

Thanks for the interest.

PETER JENNINGS

There is more to this controversy about intelligence and race. Some of the ideas found in the book, The Bell Curve, are not new. Our Agenda reporter Bill Blakemore has been looking into a fairly obscure research fund that has drawn attention because of this book, The Bell Curve - a fund with a history.

BILL BLAKEMORE, ABC NEWS

(VO) - This mailbox service in Manhattan is the official address for the Pioneer Fund. There is no office. The fund's president and four directors avoid publicity and rarely talk to journalists. Ever since 1937, the Pioneer Fund has promoted the study of racial purity as a an ideal. Over the past 10 years, according to public documents, the Pioneer Fund contributed $3.5 million to researchers cited in The Bell Curve.

Psychologist Arthur Jensen received $1.1 million from the Pioneer Fund. Twenty five years ago, he started writing that blacks may be genetically less intelligent than whites. Psychologist Philippe Rushton received $656,000. He says his researchers show small genitalia may be a sign of superior intelligence. Psychologist Richard Lynn, $325,000 from the fund. He has written that incompetent cultures should be phased out. Close to half the footnotes citing authors who support The Bell Curve's most controversial chapter that suggests some races are naturally smarter than others, refer to Pioneer Fund recipients. Historian Berry Mehler charges that the Pioneer Fund's interest in race differences made The Bell Curve's arguments possible.

BERRY MEHLER, HISTORIAN

The Pioneer Fund has been the key source of funding for the last 20 years of scientists who have produced the material that is the foundation for the claims that African American people on average are intellectually inferior to whites."


__________________

"How Media Let The Bell Curve's Pseudo-Science Define the Agenda on Race"

See here for an in depth treatment of "The Bell Curve" and also it's authors' extensive association - financial and otherwise - to the neo-Nazi "Pioneer Fund" and to the Manhattan Institute.

And what if "The Bell Curve" argument had some validity ? Wouldn't my "argument" here be reduced to guilt by association ? Perhaps. But the book itself was rather - errr - questionable. Here is a look at the book by one academic familiar with the field ( Julian Paul Keenan,
Department of Psychology, The University at Albany ) who conludes that the book is not wholly without merit - mostly for sparking the consequent debate on race and IQ - but notes that it is filled with unfounded assumptions and unsupported statements and, further, is associated with some rather "colorful" groups : "The most interesting aspect of The Bell Curve lies in its motivation. Organizations such as the Bradley Foundation and the Pioneer fund surround both authors and the connection to the groups is certainly interesting, to say the least. ....The Bell Curve cites a journal called the Mankind Quarterly five times throughout the course of the book. Furthermore, seventeen of the researchers cited from The Bell Curve have contributed to The Mankind Quarterly . Ten of the citations in the book refer to editors or former editors of the journal. Mankind Quarterly was founded by Robert Gayle, a notorious racist. He testified for the defense of five members of the British Racial Preservation Society, and he is quoted as saying during the trial that blacks are "worthless".....In fact, one member of the editorial board took part in the race science under Hitler during Nazi Germany's rise to power....The journal is now run by Roger Pearson and it is supported by the Pioneer Fund. The fund was established in 1937 by a Nazi Germany sympathizer and a strong advocate of apartheid; the fund's first president was a leader in a eugenicist movement that attempted to ban immigrants. In fact, the initial charter of the Pioneer Fund was set up on the agenda of race betterment, with special reference to the people of the United States (see Jacoby & Glauberman, 1995). The connection between Herrnstein and Murray with the organization is somewhat substantial. As well as citing the authors who have published in the Mankind Quarterly, The Bell Curve makes reference to thirteen scholars who have received funding (over $4 million dollars) from the Pioneer Fund. "

Here's a web page which critiques specific fallacies, inaccuracies, distortions (and so on) in "The Bell Curve".
posted by troutfishing at 10:22 AM on September 6, 2004


Oh and - sorry for the partial derail, owillis.

I didn't think you'd mind that I took the time to go into that little morass in some detail
posted by troutfishing at 10:29 AM on September 6, 2004


Bring on the Dark Ages!


Read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle which portrays that golden era of laissez-faire economics-- you know before those pesky socialist programs such as OSHA were born.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2004


hank_14, you should really post more often.
posted by weston at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2004


hank_14, you should really post more often.

Seconded.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2004


trout: you mean Indiana University. The educational establishment you mis-name is non-extant (Class o' '92, fwiw). It's a common misapprehension, though, so don;t sweat it.

also, ohnoitsbob is saying the only thing that will create effective counterorganization on the left is the long-term economic effects of the right's triumph. Good will didn't lead people to organize in the 30's, near-starvation did.
posted by mwhybark at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2004


I'd 3rd that on Hank_14

mwhybark - I agree that the economic woes of the declining US middle class will generate the raw energy of frustration, but will that energy necessarily translate into effective political action ? And if so, why aren't the Republicans better positioned to take advantage of that discontent than are the Democrats ? Economic dislocations fed European fascism, and there's no reason the same cannot happen in the US.

Much has changed in the American political landscape since the Progressive Era and the worker's rights/unionization struggles of the turn of the last century :

1) Those forward looking elements of Christianity which fed American Progressivism are very weak today - Christians, many of them, are just as likely to be aligned with the US Right regardless of where their actual economic interests truly lie. Much of Jennings Bryant's heartland - Kansas for example - has lurched rightward.

2) Communism - as a valid political program - has been largely discredited and Socialism is in slow retreat, harried by the financial impact of globalization, and American unions - initially forged, indeed, in part by Socialist ideals - are now moribund.

3) The media has shifted rightwards - as demonstrated below : ""The magazine Editor & Publisher has been tracking newspaper endorsements of presidential candidates since 1932.  Contrary to the myth of the liberal media, in only two elections since then -- 1964 and 1992 -- have more endorsements gone to the Democratic candidate than the Republican.  The 2000 election was no exception, according to a survey E&P (11/6/00) commissioned of newspaper executives: 48 percent said their paper would support George W. Bush, while only 23 percent were picking Al Gore.  Personally, 59 percent of publishers said they planned to vote for Bush, v. just 20 percent inclined to Gore."  (Extra! (FAIR), January/February, 2001). (passed on via this site, and also see here

Here, almost in it's entirety, is the Rosetta Stone of modern American Editorial and Publisher bias, this, pre-2000 election E&P survey :

"George W. Bush is heading for a surprisingly comfortable win in Tuesday's presidential election, according to a new E&P/TIPP survey of the nation's newspaper
editors and publishers, completed Tuesday."


What's my point ? To be dismally negative ?

No, I'm pounding away at this theme because I think the only recourse lies in the creation, now, of new mass-participatory populist media. During the last 3 decades, the US Right created similar counter-institutions (to promote, in many cases, anything but the unvarnished truth), and now the left may do the same to counter such efforts, but I'd personally rather support a third way which had a less partisan, cleaner agenda :

A third way which would explicitly recognize current institutional biases but seek to counter those, rather than with propaganda and misinformation, by the promotion of good, solidly supported facts - let the truth out and the chips fall where they may.
posted by troutfishing at 12:27 PM on September 6, 2004


Incidentally, has anyone drawn a possible parallel between the "Pioneer Fund" and Dubya's "Pioneers" (his biggest fund-raisers/donors)? It's a common word, so there may be no link at all, but...
posted by hincandenza at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2004


Factual Correction:

According to published Nielsen reports (and calculations based on the numbers), about 19.7 million people watched Bush's speech, about 18.3 million people watched Kerry's.

Before David Dark and the tiny green nutjobs get too carried away with this statistic, it should be pointed out that there is no corrolation between those who watched Bush's speech and those who will vote for him. For all David knows, half of those watching Bush were, as I did, watching to see what new increadable bullshit he could come up with that we might give him a second chance ... him having squandered the first, of course.

(/side topic)
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:31 PM on September 6, 2004


The most interesting aspect of The Bell Curve lies in its motivation.

troutfishing, I'm familiar with the Pioneer fund, and I've read Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and bought copies and given them to friends.

I also realize there are razor jaws awaiting any new data "supporting" vicious beliefs. Their ancient motivation is an evil. But science is not moral.
posted by the fire you left me at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2004


I'm not sure we should concede that conservative positions lend themselves more readily to sound-bites or memes. For "It's your money," "government is the problem, not the solution," "tax relief," liberals could invent equivalent but opposite ones. It's not possible to rebut these in terms just as short, but there are others which can be used to link to different narratives.
We all have to pay our fair share. Why give up on the progressive tax system?
They're lying to you again. How many illustrations do we need?
Bush is sending your children to fight his wars.
Bush cares about some of America, not all of it.
The problem is that the left tends to believe that people vote on the basis of reason, and so the appeals come in that form. The right has (alas) a better sense of psychology with all its irrationality, and they have us deciding whether Daddy will make us safe again. I have yet to be convinced that the political left (actually, the political center, as it was 30 years ago) can bring itself to respond in kind.
posted by palancik at 2:05 PM on September 6, 2004


I'll convince you--get me Kerry on the phone! ; >
posted by amberglow at 2:50 PM on September 6, 2004


left tends to believe that people vote on the basis of reason

That's one of your little sound bites right there.
posted by techgnollogic at 3:07 PM on September 6, 2004


Bring on the Dark Ages!

That's no so far off. The origins of the Conservative - Liberal split in Western politics can be traced to the High Middle Ages. Europe after the fall of Rome in the 5th Century went into a period of decline of population, most of the Roman cities decayed as trade came to a halt and most everyone lived in rural surroundings. Around the 11th century population started to increase as the weather got warmer and new technological advances made more food available so between the 11th and 13th Centuries the population of Euope doubled. Along with this population increase towns and cities began to develop, and with them so did trade. Townspeople were completely diffrent from the rural people. Townspeople made a living from trade and craft and the use of money as barter, while the rural folk were still using land and serfdom (Feudalism) as the means of wealth. These fundamental diffrences between the landed rural gentry and the urban townspeople is basically still with us. The values of urban folk: education, class mobility, equality, are not the same values as the rural folk who value security and safety of the land. These are just some broad strokes and obviously things are not exactly the same as they were 1000 years ago institutions have changed but the origins and patterns still exist.
posted by stbalbach at 3:12 PM on September 6, 2004


Were they as disingenuous about their counterparts' beliefs as you are?
posted by techgnollogic at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2004


the fire you left me - Pardon me if I was reactive. owillis could have phrased that more accurately (to reflect Murray and Hernstein's questionable premise) as "blacks tend to be less intelligent, on average, than whites".

In fact, I'm re-reading "Guns Germs and Steel" myself. Great book.

I take your comment on the amorality of science as a general truth (yes, I agree) and maybe also a sly nod to the new Eugenics - a new, "improved" version that, for example, an acquaintances of mine is employing as she peruses lists of donor profiles before her purchase of donated human eggs - which will be impregnated with her husband's sperm for her to then bear to term. The new Eugenics is truly unstoppable. Everyone desires "improved" children - and why not ?

This new, science driven but ultimately naturalistic sort of Eugenics is one I like to distinguish from it's earlier, vicious and primitive counterparts.
posted by troutfishing at 3:38 PM on September 6, 2004


techgnollogic - your right I am anti-Feudalism
posted by stbalbach at 4:04 PM on September 6, 2004


Hank and troutfishing -- does the fact that neither of you guys can compose a concise statement correlate to your diagnosis of the left being unable to create easily understandable soundbite memes? This is a discipline that is available to everyone, left and right. As far as I recall, the last meme the left created in the country was "It's the economy, stupid."
posted by Faze at 4:42 PM on September 6, 2004


Faze, the obvious answer is yes. If we both lack the capacity to be concise, and we both believe that the left lacks the capacity to produce soundbite memes, then yes, the two facts "correlate." On the plus side, at least we're not dumb.

Perhaps you are trying to imply that our love of exposition blinds us to the potential of the left, to which, at least for my end, I would point you to the concept of the ideograph, which has more to dow tih orienting social policy that catch phrase, and from what I understand from trout, I'd point to the large amount of documentation supporting conservative research into packaging their arguments. You might also re-read my argument concerning the time function of modern media (like television) and how that reinforces message dissemination.

As for availability for everyone, that's an obvious non-truth, as not everyone has access to that echo chamber, and even those that do have different levels of resources that overdetermine the quality of their access. As for the last meme of the left, you are, I think, correct - and I would note that it carries no argument other than one of kairos (i.e., the phrase means: at that particular moment, the main concern of voters is the economy), and not one of social policy position.

Finally, I'd also return you to the quick and dirty logical fallacies I highlighted in your earlier post, which I specifically labeled with short expressions in case the explanations got confusing. Pithy in a nutshell, see?

And one more, as a parting shot: it's argument, stupid.
posted by hank_14 at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2004


TOO MANY OB-GYNS ARE UNABLE TO PRACTICE THIER LOVE WITH WOMEN ALL OVER THIS COUNTRY.
posted by quonsar at 6:05 PM on September 6, 2004


"The problem is that the left tends to believe that people vote on the basis of reason, and so the appeals come in that form."

I don't buy it. I listen to a fair amount of NPR, WBAI and "Air America" and the universal belief espoused seems to be the self serving and elitist one that the US population is stupid sheep zoned out on MTV and "survivor" without a brain in it's head mindlessly following Fox news.

They don't at all believe that reasonw ill prevail or even brak through - because they almost universally have a saviour complex that is predicated on a self image that demans they are the only peopel who are awake" and can see "the truth". it's no wonder they need to believe in such a large zombie creating conspiracy - otherwise they will have to accept that (gasp!) intelligent people may disagree with them.

You can see the same forces at play here on MeFi. If your a Bush supporter you are obviously a "talking points" idiot who coudl not possibly have looked into the issues and simply (the horros!) disagree.
posted by soulhuntre at 9:12 PM on September 6, 2004


As far as easily digestible ideas: the left is alive and well outside the U.S. Australia is offering financial incentives to get people out of suburbs and back into inner cities. Canadians liberals are disproportionately concerned with stuff like memetics. We'd do well to read what they're saying and adapt some of the concepts for the U.S. (when was the last time you heard an american media outlet mention the tragedy of the commons? That's a powerful, widely-applicable response to some of laissez-faire economics, and would be great shorthand if anyone here knew what it was).

Fiscal center-leftism's couple-decade reliance on common sense (sort of the reverse of the social conservatism/liberalism pattern) is starting to end, but remains a problem. Privatize schools? Ridiculous! But common sense shifts over time under various pressures, which is why appeals to it, apart from being insubstantial, eventually stop working.

Sorry if I seem a bit contradictory. I guess what I'm saying is that good political argument requires accurate sound bites, but also compelling, creative ideologies that draw on current thinking from outside of politics. (Complex systems, memetics, etc. The capital-L Libertarians, with their decentralized-but-still-functional social organization, were ahead of the game (Small Pieces Loosely Joined?), though their philosophy, like communism was, is too radical and reliant on long logical trees to appeal to anyone but net-addicted intellectuals.)
posted by Tlogmer at 9:49 PM on September 6, 2004


Excellent thread.

Great discussion and supporting links/documentation.

I really appreciate all of you who provide such positive contributions.

Now to the ramparts!! Shut Up!! Just shut up O'Lielly!!

How's that for a short soundbyte that "NASCAR dad" can embrace?
posted by nofundy at 7:20 AM on September 7, 2004


This new, science driven but ultimately naturalistic sort of Eugenics is one I like to distinguish from it's earlier, vicious and primitive counterparts.

You do realize that at the time, eugenics was widely considered to be the cutting edge, even here in America? There's no reason to expect that the new eugenics will ultimately be any different. To our grandchildren, our science will most likely appear as primitive and brutish as that of our grandparents appears to us.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:24 AM on September 7, 2004


sonofsamiam - Yup, I did know that. But, I think there is a significant difference between the new Eugenics and the old. Still, you may be right. I wasn't trying to say that I support the new Eugenics but, rather, that I suspect it now has unstoppable momentum.

"Hank and troutfishing -- does the fact that neither of you guys can compose a concise statement correlate to your diagnosis of the left being unable to create easily understandable soundbite memes?" (Faze)

Faze - No, and I'm not going to join you in belittling the intelligence of the American people.

(hee hee)

_____________

Also, this conversation seems to be continuing over here : metafilter 35443
posted by troutfishing at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2004


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