Straw Dogs

The controversy over Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination illustrates a fundamental problem with how mass media supposedly “inform” the American public about salient events. To stir up interest (in themselves, mostly), media invite predictable opponents of any nominee to high office to attack that nominee.

Deep thinker Ann Coulter went on TV to call Sotomayor a racist. Revered statesman Newt Gingrich texted that same sentiment to various folk. Media seemed less interested in his (typically mean and shallow) message than the fact that the old bozo had figured out how to text. Resident network intellectual Pat Buchanan declared Sotomayor – Princeton summa cum laude and Yale law review – “not that smart.”

University of Utah dropout Karl Rove opined that there are lots of “stupid” Ivy League graduates. Most people presume his long association with the Yale and Harvard alum George W. Bush taught him that. Michael Goldfarb and other National Review types offered their carefully reasoned opposition. Goldfarb objected to the way the Supreme Court nominee pronounces her own name, saying that “It Sticks In My Craw.”

Failed Republican presidential nominee Mike Huckabee called Sotomayor a nominee of the “far left.” Of course he also referred to her as “Maria,” throwing his own judgment into question. And how about Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, who did not rule out a filibuster of the nomination, even before he learned who the nominee was?

The problem is not simply that media offer conduits to amplify the uninformed opinions of mindless political hacks, attention junkies so thoroughly unqualified to discuss Sotomayor’s legal history and philosophy that they must resort to racist, sexist name-calling. There is seldom any effort to engage the blatant inaccuracy and stupidity of these unwelcome, all-too-familiar “critics.”

Coulter asked why liberals did not show the same empathy for the black Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as they seem to demonstrate for the Latina Sonia Sotomayor. No talking head pointed out that Sotomayor has decades of judicial experience while Thomas had none. His was a cynical nomination by George H.W. Bush, as a less-than-mediocre right-wing replacement for the great jurist, Thurgood Marshall, simply because he was black. Thomas also stood accused of sexual harassment, a charge he never refuted. Instead he blamed the victim and shifted the debate to be about what he called a “high-tech lynching,” then wormed his way into lifetime office, past red-faced wishy-washy liberals including Kennedy and Biden.

Part of the problem is that most media-ready conservative spokespersons possess no substantive knowledge or moral credibility. They are merely dependable attack dogs, foaming at the mouth. Coulter routinely calls people fags and racists; Gingrich is a political thug who resigned in disgrace and profaned his marriages; Rove made a dishonorable career as an unprincipled scumbag. We should demand accountability from the networks and print media who enable these vermin to spew their poison.

Rupert Murdoch deserves particular opprobrium. He provides Rove’s venomous bile outlets in the Wall Street Journal and on Fox News, where Rove joins Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck and other numbskulls, whose vitriol and histrionics substitute for reasoned discourse. Murdoch’s media empire has done more to distort, degrade and dumb down the American democratic process than Tom DeLay, Lee Harvey Oswald and Rush Limbaugh put together. Any sense of civic responsibility mass media ever displayed toward the national political conversation has long since been superseded by a meretricious urge to peddle outrage for profit, no matter how tasteless or untrue.

The diminution of the Republican Party – which staked all on its radical right wing – and the impoverishment of political discourse in our country have fed each other’s decline. The spectacle of politicians sacrificing political ideals for personal ambition is neither new nor surprising. But Rove and Cheney have taken that to new levels, trashing not only all Republican ideals, but Constitutional principles and human decency as well, routinely debasing language and governance with lies and character assassination to maintain their power. They now have the chutzpah to use the complaisant whorish media to condemn the petty sins of the Obama administration. They should answer for their transgressions in a court of law, not on Fox News Sunday.

TV has long been trapped in an oppositional format. Conflict makes for drama. Actual intelligent discussion is too boring. If somebody is not shot or defamed every thirty seconds the audience may turn the channel. It’s amazing that millions of human beings still tune into this trash. But Murdoch and his ilk are not merely polluters. They are perverts, deforming issues and reputations for money. Already a billionaire, Murdoch, 78, clearly cares nothing about the cultural and political damage he wreaks, or the devastation he will leave behind. His straw dogs, on and off his payroll – all trashy bark and no substance – will continue to provide the lowest common denominator for political discussion in our country until we have the will to turn them off.

James is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Documentaries (Praeger 2006), and Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department, (2015). He lives in Quito, Ecuador. Read other articles by James.

16 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Max Shields said on May 29th, 2009 at 8:54am #

    Dominant narratives are probably the most powerful tool to keep the empire intact. The corporate mass media for a variety of reasons provide the narrative format and stimulates the conversation in directions that work for the corporate imperial status quo.

    This faux debate, the same we saw during the election cycle (and many times before) is the primary form of shaping and sustaining that narrative. So, we see wackos on the “right” attacking centrists (“faux liberals”) as radical leftists to keep the narrative confined to totally meaninglessness.

    That narrative is then sold to “faux anti-war groups” like to push the agenda to the progressive lite so there is more or less no movement, not real change, no solidarity….

    This is how the imperial empire keeps control. It has boxed off the debate, created a fraudulent narrative around a limited debate around a meaningless twat. This candidate for Supreme Court Justice is more of the centrist thinking cloaked as some kind of “progressive”. Puerto Ricans, like African Americans are being duped and USED as their daily lives fall desparately into greater economic and social despair!!

  2. HR said on May 29th, 2009 at 1:29pm #

    If people weren’t buying the lines the media are peddling, they wouldn’t be peddling them. Simple as that. USans are the most gullible bunch of “educated” people on the planet. They actually WANT to believe what they’re told, particularly when it comes to flag waving and killing for freedom.

  3. bozh said on May 29th, 2009 at 3:09pm #

    i don’t know if said in DV the following: of necessary truth there exist only one enlightenment.
    of necessary truth there exist only one religion; all others being cults. This last observation i’ve posited for the first time. I think i have already written on this thread on DV.

    to be short, the point i am trying to transfer to readers is that if we have one reality/truth/knoweledge then we ought to have only one management which wld observe compliance to this knowledge.

    precisely what US has: its ‘enlightenment’- one and only; while a prez and his team is a mere management; hired and fired after a period of time by the ‘enlightenment’.

    natch, the overseers of the ‘enlightenment’ blow out of proportion importance and power of the managerial team. The cult of personality is a simple ruse to make amers believe that a prez is a near almighty demigod.

    curioso is, that USSR ‘enlightenment’ had been accused by US of cultivating the cult of personality; which, of course, was true. However, cultivation of personality cult is a widespread practice but more so in more iniquitous lands or empires like US, UK, france. tnx

  4. lichen said on May 29th, 2009 at 5:33pm #

    No, the mainstream media right wing media doesn’t care if people believe them or not, doesn’t care if they are in opposition, and yes, it is their fault.

  5. HR said on May 29th, 2009 at 7:13pm #

    Lichen, here in the land of the bottom line, advertisers, which support commercial media, including the “news” outlets, won’t advertise unless they’re seeing results. They only see results if people are watching and reading. And, people here are watching and reading (though, happily, “news”papers are in trouble), which means the blame is shared. Blaming the media without also blaming the people who continue to watch and read and fall for its lies and misinformation, when other information sources are readily available, is infantile.

  6. lichen said on May 29th, 2009 at 9:00pm #

    No, the blame is not shared; even when the right wing media, as is the case in Venezuela, runs counter to the vast majority of the population, they still thrive and move on; it is their fault, and they need to be regulated, blaming the victims does not do that, so you are wrong.

  7. Max Shields said on May 30th, 2009 at 7:04am #

    I don’t think this is purely American. There is no birthrights to gullability. Conditions plan a major role. The conditions which bring us here, today, are unlike those conditions which bring Venezuelan peasants here, to this day. Remember it was not always that way in Venezuela.

    The US with its massive land mass, and extensive diversity coupled with regional culturalism plays into the media because it is one the major “connecting” factors. Many, more and more, see through it but it punctures the consciousness on a regular basis in a million different ways reinforcing the status quo.

    The placation of the American people has been the job of the imperial empire since it’s inception. Whether with militia or through more subtle, yet powerful tactics, learning as it goes the tactics of its opposition as it emerges from here and there. It is not static. And we should not underestimate it, if we are to in the end “defeat it”.

  8. Don Hawkins said on May 30th, 2009 at 7:34am #

    Max to me the reason we see people going into total nonsense is because it’s the easy way out. Wimps who when are forced to use reason the truth, knowledge try the best they can to play both sides. The middle ground.

    The middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. ”

    That program on TV was only that a program? Oh no a little more than that. The fight is on science or superstition light or shadow knowledge or fear. We are out of time to wise up. That simple. If you drop a ball it goes down fact it’s called gravity. The Earth revolves around the Sun fact a done deal. Did human’s come from apes? No we sure did not we are apes fact. The Earth is warming and fast we try now or harder then harder then harder fact. I am going to watch Fox News now and get the fair and balanced story if you live on the Planet Zeenon.

  9. Don Hawkins said on May 30th, 2009 at 8:01am #

    Bozh are you out there because this whole gang thing is true and we apes are now at the crossroads in time and space and so far it doesn’t look good. Cap and trade is the best we got? War is the best we got? Capitalism is the best we got? We apes do have a little bit bigger brain and did get us to the moon and help us make tools to make our lives easer and destroy the Earth for life forms in the process, fact. Still time to use that little bit bigger brain six to be exact years no pressure.

  10. Don Hawkins said on May 30th, 2009 at 8:09am #

    Here’s a smart ape a very smart ape.

    Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference — the possibility that space- time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death! Stephen Hawking

  11. bozh said on May 30th, 2009 at 11:58am #

    well,thats’ what my wife tells me: she says, Bozh you too are smarter than an ape. So don’t expect me to tell you what to do!
    she tells me that when i ask her for advice. However, if i don’t ask her for advice, all day she tells me what to do.
    in the kitchen and pitch and put playing par five, she makes rules especially for me.
    and, of course, for self as well.
    it just goes to show that one is treated better in one is not married; and especially to a smart woman. tnx for your comment

  12. Hue Longer said on May 30th, 2009 at 10:37pm #

    Just a note on what HR and Lichen are discussing…

    The advertisers don’t follow what people watch. They create what people watch and limit the choices to anything that represents their products. When one considers how incestuous the members of media and the supposedly non media corporations are, it’s not hard to see how the product (physical or idea) is sold.

    I remember Gore Vidal once discussing this very same argument and he pointed out that a show he was on (sorry, I forgot) had the highest ratings to that point. He wasn’t invited back and the lie was STILL used that they were just giving people what they wanted.

    I’m sure if Democracy Now was presented with the same production which hits the TV viewer’s conditioned receptors; which have them believing 60 Minutes is entertaining (prime time on a trusted network, expensive edits, more expensive commercials and promos for movies and other TV shows), it wouldn’t be turned off. Of course the need to watch all the other shit would soon be in jeopardy and the “choices” would go quickly back to making USmericans stupid.

    Killing that TV is the place to start

  13. bozh said on May 31st, 2009 at 6:08am #

    it may be best to assume that americans are not an exception nor exceptional.
    they are, tho, more victimized on econo-military-political level than any other people because of several factors.
    one is, US had not been invaded. This fact was used by the ruling class to point out how great america is. Sanctification of the constitution was another enabler.
    calling gangsters “public servants” was another scheme that worked. Cultivation of people as ‘saviors’ was another ruse.
    and, of course, presentation by entertainment/media/press of a fictive reality to intended victims.
    americans were the better liars because of the factors i have just enumerated. tnx bozhida balkas

  14. Don Hawkins said on May 31st, 2009 at 6:57am #

    When I read it’s almost like this fictive reality will go on into the future never ending. I don’t think so. When we see in the States the State of Colorado being barb wired from end to end we will know something is up. I still think we give to much credit to so called elite’s as on the knowledge front I just don’t see it. Are these people knowing the problems full well just making plans for the survival of that 5%. They are not that smart and yet still don’t ask for help I do find it amazing to watch sort of. To watch just the climate change bill being debited was amazingly stupid. I guess the whole thing is an attempt to keep the money and power where it should be. It’s not even money anymore but debt and of course the debt to the Earth that seems to be a tad bit hard for them to understand. I will keep reading the smart apes as best I can knowing full well they don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell so far and maybe it is just the low road into the future never ending. Let’s just watch this summer and next and see if we change our mind on that never ending concept.

    Why can’t I just eat my waffle?
    Barack Obama

  15. Don Hawkins said on May 31st, 2009 at 7:44am #

    Gm going bankrupt tomorrow. Tomorrow tomorrow it’s only a sorry I lost it there for a second. We here much on why the government is now government motors. One idea we don’t hear is the reason our government is doing this is because in just a few years when a little problem is right in our face it will be easier for the government to change over GM like in World War Two to not make cars but clean energy systems mass transit clean water infrastructure and trucks for the military. Are they that smart? I don’t think so as if that is the plan it should start now just tell people that we are in deep do do and it’s what we have to do. So why can’t they do that. Because the people who control the money sorry debt and power would get mad at them, fascinating and completely stupid in it’s complexity.

    “People of Earth we are in deep do do”.

    Why can’t I just eat my waffle?
    Barack Obama

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 3rd, 2009 at 4:37am #

    James,Murdoch has had the same baleful influence in Australia, his birth-place, which he repudiated in his lust for power. His media outlets here are a sewer of hatemongering, disinformation and the bilious excretions of Rightwing ‘intellectual’ thugs who shamelessly ape, and often plagiarise, their US exemplars. In particular, no doubt as a result of the great number of Likudnik type extreme Rightwing Jews in positions of power in the opinion pages, the bias towards Israel, and the odious racist and xenophobic denigration of Moslems, Arabs and the Palestinians in particular, know no bounds of decency or mendacity. Murdoch, in my opinion, is the most malignant influence ever in Australian life. Yet, strangely, the woman who bore him, his mother Elizabeth, seems a lovely woman, widely admired and apparently genuinely loved by those who know her. Ironies do not come much more bitter than this.