Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why the American Left Needs A Coordinated National Media Voice and New Institutional Outlets


An outstanding, important, and very informative article that goes to the very heart of why the American left and their various mass media representatives (such as they are) are currently being outflanked and marginalized by sheer right wing demagoguery, Orwellian media propaganda (and endless lies), and the increasingly mediocre to braindead corporate "mainstream media" sources--and what crucially needs to happen both practically and ideologically to turn this very serious crisis around...


Why the Left Has No Answer to the Right-Wing Lie Machine
Wednesday 05 May 2010
by: Ernest Partridge | The Crisis Papers

An Uneven Contest:

What if there were a great debate concerning the nature and future of American society, and only one side showed up?

That approximately describes the condition of the U. S. media today.

The right wing is operating a super-charged carnival of hype, hysteria and hoopla, while the left struggles along with a pipsqueek sideshow: a few magazines like The Nation, Mother Jones and The American Prospect, with minuscule circulation among the already converted, some tolerated columnists like Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Frank Rich, and of course there’s Shultz, Olbermann and Maddow on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, one by one, the lights are going out: in January, Air America Radio fell silent, and last month David Broncoccio’s outstanding investigative program, NOW, closed shop. Last Friday, Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS broadcast its final program. Shultz-Olbermann-Maddow remain on MSNBC at the sufferance of the owners and managers of NBC and MicroSoft, while Comcast is attempting a takeover of NBC. If successful, how long will this lone outpost of progressive cable-TV commentary remain?

The good news is that the audience size of FOX News is vastly over-rated. On a good night, Beck or Hannity or O’Reilly will be seen by three million viewers. That’s less than one percent of the U. S. population. The worse news is that the progressive voices at MSNBC draw about a third as many.

The influence of FOX News is amplified as their antics and outrages – “birtherism,” climate change denial, baseless accusations of “socialism” or even “fascism” – are uncritically reported far and wide by the mainstream media (MSM). In addition to FOX, the airwaves are crammed solid with right-wing talk shows – about 90%, by some counts. Leading these is Rush Limbaugh, with an audience estimated from fifteen to thirty million.

To be sure, there are many admirable broadcast voices on the left, in addition to the MSNBC team: Thom Hartmann, Amy Goodman, Bill Maher, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, Mike Papantonio, Cenk Uygur, and Randi Rhodes. But their messages are uncoordinated, dispersed, and poorly promoted. And unlike FOX and Limbaugh, etc., there is almost no corporate media amplification of progressive talk radio and cable TV. Strange to say, some of the most incisive liberal commentary seems to originate with the comedians, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. (A review and assessment of these efforts deserves a separate essay. Watch this space).

The regressive bias of the corporate media is starkly revealed by the coverage, and the non-coverage, of the public demonstrations of last month. When a couple of thousand tea-party or gun-rights enthusiasts show up on the Mall in Washington, or across the Potomac in Virginia, the mainstream media is there to cover them en masse. But when up to ten thousand protesters gather on Wall Street, or fifty thousand jam downtown Los Angeles to protest the Arizona “show your papers” law, these events might just as well have taken place on the far side of the moon.

If the MSM takes any notice of progressive talk radio or cable TV, it is usually to portray a false equivalence with the bloviators on the right, as an implied excuse for the latter’s rhetorical excesses and outright lies. Amazingly, that false equivalence was repeated last week by the President himself, at his University of Michigan commencement address.

There is no equivalence. When Olbermann or Maddow make a trivial errors of pronunciation, attribution, or date of an event, etc. they make on-air corrections as soon as these slip-ups are brought to their attention. But when O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity, et al, tell flat-out demonstrable lies, they do so without fear of consequence and therefore without public correction. And their fearlessness is justified, for no one in the mainstream media is likely to hold them to account. To be sure, Ed Shultz calls them out in his “Psycho Talk,” and Keith Olbermann in his “Worst Persons,” and Rachel Maddow does not hesitate to call a liar a liar, but when they do the regressive talksters and the MSM take little notice, which only further demonstrates the insignificance of progressive media commentary.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, Bill O’Reilly told his audience that a “team of FOX researchers” had determined that, contrary to the accusations on MSNBC, no one at FOX had ever said that those who refused to sign up for health insurance under “Obamacare” would be jailed. Olbermann then promptly collected and strung together more than a half-dozen video clips of FOXers stating precisely that. The final clip was a segment from Bill O’Reilly’s show. A slam-dunk refutation, and by no means the first one. Did this embarrass FOX and O’Reilly? Not in the least.

And so it continues, almost daily: For example, the consensus of thousands of climate scientists and the conclusions of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific publications can not prevail over the well-orchestrated denialism of the oil and coal industries’ public relations campaign, a campaign that utilizes the familiar PR techniques that reassured millions of cigarette smokers that the health effects of smoking was no big deal, thus leading millions to an early demise. (See the Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air – how ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science.”)

No accusation is too absurd to be credited by the right-wing propaganda machine. Last week, Rush Limbaugh suggested that the Gulf oil disaster was the result of a plot by “wacko-environmentalists. Quoting Limbaugh: “What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants than by blowing up a rig?” And on FOX News, Bush’s Press Secretary, Dana Perino, introduced a conspiracy theory by saying: “I’m not trying to introduce a conspiracy theory, but was this deliberate? You have to wonder…if there was sabotage involved.”

Such irresponsible accusations by FOX News and Rush Limbaugh are nothing new. Far more significant was the behavior of the major broadcast media (CBS, NBC and ABC) and the once credible newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, in the months immediately preceding the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2002. As I reported in July, 2005:

On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell presented Bush’s case for war with Iraq to the United Nations Security Council. Subsequent events and exhaustive and unrestricted searches in Iraq proved the speech to be pack of lies. But at the time, US Editorial opinion was completely taken in. A sampling: “Powell lays out convincing evidence of Iraq defiance (USA Today); “[Powell] offered a powerful new case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is cooperating with a branch of the al Qaeda organization that is trying to acquire chemical weapons” (Washington Post); “The Powell evidence will be persuasive to anyone who is still persuadable” (The Wall Street Journal); “Powell laid out the need [for war] ... in step-by-step fashion that cannot be refuted without resorting to fantasy” (Chicago Sun-Times).

The mainstream media blitz had its desired effect:

In April, 2004, the Program on International Policy Attitudes [University of Maryland] reported that “a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).”

When I heard these lies immediately before the outbreak of the war, I was well aware that the UN inspectors had found no weapons of mass destruction and were unlikely to do so. “When the troops go in there and find nothing,” I thought, “there will be hell to pay.” Well, they found nothing and there was no hell to pay. Why? Simply because there was no independent media available to deliver the “hell” to the Bush/Cheney administration, to Colin Powell, or, for that matter, to the establishment corporate media that fed the lies to the public.

To be sure, liberal commentators like Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, et al, along with numerous progressive websites were complaining to high heaven. But who pays any attention to them? They are all outside the bounds of “respectable” opinion. And who determines what “opinion” is or is not “respectable?” That same mainstream media, of course.

The oligarchy that owns and runs our government and controls our mass media has learned Goebbels's lesson well: A lie unanswered is a lie believed – more so if the lie is repeated, over and over again.

Accordingly, a successful propaganda campaign must accomplish two essential and coordinated tasks: (a) tell the lies, and (b) see to it that they are not effectively refuted. The six media conglomerates that now control most of the US media accomplished both tasks supremely well.

And what an impressive roster of lies it is! Here’s a sample:

In 2000: Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet. Gore also claimed to have “discovered” the Love Canal toxic site. Bush won the election fair and square. The Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore, was legally sound and, in any case, did not affect the outcome of the election. There was no reason to believe that the unverifiable touch-screen voting machines were not accurate. Lt. George Bush completed his required service with the Texas Air National Guard.

2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” (Dick Cheney).

2004. John Kerry’s alleged heroic war record in Viet Nam was a fake.

Etcetera, etcetera – a list of lies much too long to enumerate here. But if you can bear to read about them again, see Joe Conason’s Big Lies (St Martins, 2003) and Jerry Barrett’s anthology, Big Bush Lies (Riverview, 2004). (My contributions to this anthology on Political Propaganda and The Environment are available online at The Crisis Papers).

Three pages into this piece, I doubt that I have said anything that most of you don’t know and agree with. And those who are not persuaded are urged to read Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media, and visit the website of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Media and Media Matters For America.

What Remedies?

What is to be done?

The GOP and the regressive right have pointed the way; in particular, in Lewis Powell’s notorious 1971 memo to the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While there is considerable dispute as to the actual influence of this memo, this much is clear; whether by design or by mere coincidence, the Powell Memo accurately describes how the regressive right has achieved its current dominance in American politics. The left would do well to study that memo and, when appropriate, adopt its proposals. In particular:

Establish “think tanks:” progressive counterparts to The Heritage Foundation, The American Enterprise Institute, The Cato Institute, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, etc., then promote the publications of its resident scholars and their appearance on the mainstream media. There are, of course, progressive think tanks such as The Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America and their work is commendable. But the funding for these organizations is minuscule in comparison with financial support of their ideological opposites.

Endow academic professorships and establish scholarships and fellowships. Encourage progressives to participate in the governance of educations institutions, from local school boards to university boards of trustees.

Underwrite the writing, publication and promotion of progressive books, journals and websites. Establish publishing houses, like the regressives' Regnery, devoted exclusively to progressive ideas and policy proposals.

Gain editorial control of mass media outlets: newspapers, cable networks, radio, etc. Once in control, do not make them mere purveyors of left propaganda designed to “balance” the right. Instead, progressive media must restore the practice of responsible journalism: “just the facts” combined with aggressive investigative reporting.

When Lewis Powell wrote his memo in 1971, there was no internet. It has now become a major factor in the political/media equation, especially so today as the traditional print media are in severe decline.

Progressives have adopted this new medium with enthusiasm, and in some cases with noteworthy success. A few websites, such as Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Truthdig, Salon, Alternet and The Huffington Post, staffed by savvy professionals, appear to be thriving (although, I could personally well do without the HuffPosts’s clutter of celebrity gossip). Most progressive websites, however, carry on solely due to the dedicated toil of their meagerly compensated webmeisters and its uncompensated contributors. They deserve better. In general, the internet is undeveloped and underutilized resource that the progressive establishment (such as it is) will continue to neglect at its peril.

Also neglected is the advice of the liberal “brain trust” of social psychologists, cognitive scientists, and public relations gurus – the left counterparts of Frank Luntz and Newt Gingrich. Brilliant scholars such as Drew Westen, George Lakoff, Geoffrey Nunberg, write insightful books and papers, which are largely ignored by the Democratic Party establishment, which appears to prefer the counsel of such losers as Bob (Zero for Eight) Shrum and James (Mr. Matalin) Carvill.

Of course, the program sketched above, requires an enormous amount of money in this new environment where, as never before, “money is speech.” After all, the regressive juggernaut owes its success to the generous contributions (better “investments”) of the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors and the Koch Brothers, whose fortunes have funded the aforementioned “conservative” think-tanks.

However, adequate financial resources are available to fund a progressive response to the right-wing propaganda machine. The progressives have their fat-cats too: George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Sr. (And who knows, maybe Junior as well). In addition, the “Hollywood liberals” such as Spielberg, Cameron, Beatty, and Streisand, so much derided by regressives, have both deep pockets, in addition to their talents and public celebrity.

Still other wealthy individuals and institutions may have to be persuaded to help fund the progressive media counter-revolution. However, that may not be difficult once it is made clear that “The Democratic Mainstream” is today somewhat to the right of what used to be called “Moderate Republicanism,” that the success of the U.S. economy depends on a productive manufacturing base, an educated work force and a robust physical infrastructure, and that the present economy, as celebrated and promoted by The American Enterprise Institute, et al, is leading the country in a direction that no informed citizen, whatever his income status, would want to follow.

The scope and power of regressive propaganda now at work is enormous and profoundly discouraging to those who would oppose it. But, in the final analysis, the progressives have a formidable and invincible ally: reality. Facts, as John Adams observed, “are stubborn things.” And the scientists will continue to discover and validate stubborn facts, regardless of what the right would prefer them to disclose regarding evolution, global climate, or whatever. In addition, the majority of Americans are facing each day the brutal reality of regressive economic policies as they lose their jobs, their homes, adequate health care, and the prospect of sending their children to college and on to rewarding careers. No amount of high-volume propaganda and media dominance can obscure these hard facts.

Even so, this much remains compellingly clear: unless and until the progressive left develops an effective media voice, there can be no restoration of American democracy, no return to political sanity, and no establishment of economic justice.

Copyright 2010 by Ernest Partridge

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Day March for Immigration Rights in San Francisco

All photos taken by Chuleenan on May 1, 2010 in San Francisco


On saturday afternoon May 1, 2010 Chuleenan and I joined a huge crowd of thousands in San Francisco on a march for immigration reform and in determined opposition to the new heinous and oppressive law sanctioning racial profiling of Latin0 American citizens in the state of Arizona. As the photos above clearly demonstrate a massive and well organized multicultural and multiracial throng of American citizens led by the Mexican American/Chicano Mission District community in San Francisco marched from the the heart of the Mission--one of the largest and oldest Latino American communities in this country-- to the downtown Civic Center where the march became a huge rally in front of San Francisco's City Hall. It was a wonderful expression of mass democracy in action and the boisterous and disciplined crowd gave voice to the paramount need and demand for real progressive federal government regulated immigration reform that doesn't oppress, harass, and exploit Latino American citizens and their labor as Arizona's new and clearly unconstitutional law does and as many other states are now trying to do following Arizona's ugly, racist example. This national struggle is a major one for all people truly concerned about justice, freedom, and equality under the law in this country and the coordinated immigration reform/anti racial profiling marches all across the nation on MayDay 2010 (like in Los Angeles where over 60,000 marched!) is a very clear signal that the Obama Administration and Congress will have to decisively act soon to seriously address these crucial national issues because they are most decidely not going away...



What we really need in this country at this point are onerous laws and regulations that racially profile and systematically harass white Americans for being....white. Seriously. It's the only thing that MIGHT make these venomously racist assholes actually see, feel, and suffer the consequences of being unjustly and oppressively singled out for punishment and scorn because of who THEY are and what THEY look like...But I'm dreaming aren't I? In a rabidly white supremacist nation like this one that will never happen...


Poll Shows Most in U.S. Want Overhaul of Immigration Laws

New York Times

LOS ANGELES — The overwhelming majority of Americans think the country’s immigration policies need to be seriously overhauled. And despite protests against Arizona’s stringent new immigration enforcement law, a majority of Americans support it, even though they say it may lead to racial profiling.
With the signing of the Arizona law on April 23 and reports of renewed efforts in Washington to rethink immigration, there has been an uptick in the number of Americans who describe illegal immigration as a serious problem.

But the poll — conducted April 28 through May 2 with 1,079 adults, and with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points — suggests that Americans remain deeply divided about what to do.

The public broadly agrees, across party lines, that the United States could be doing more along its border to keep illegal immigrants out. The view was shared by 78 percent of the respondents.

That unity, however, fractures on the question of what to do with illegal immigrants who are already here and the role of states in enforcing immigration law, normally a federal responsibility.

A majority of the people polled, 57 percent, said the federal government should determine the laws addressing illegal immigration. But 51 percent said the Arizona law was “about right” in its approach to the problem. Thirty-six percent said it went too far and 9 percent said it did not go far enough.

The law has recharged the national debate over securing the border and what to do about the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The Arizona law gives local police officers broad power to detain people they suspect are in the country illegally and check their legal status. Lawsuits have already been filed on several grounds, including the argument that it will lead to the racial profiling of legal residents and that the state has unconstitutionally intruded on federal authority.

Under a torrent of criticism, the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer made changes to the law on Friday that they say explicitly ban the police from racial profiling and allow officers to inquire about immigration status only of people they stop, detain or arrest in enforcing existing state law. But the new immigration law also now includes civil violations of municipal codes as grounds to check papers, and opponents were not mollified by the changes.

In follow-up interviews, poll respondents who embraced the thrust of the Arizona law still called for a national solution.

“The Arizona law is fine, but the federal government has to step in and come up with something — and they’re not doing it,” said Pat Turkos, 64, a library worker and Republican from Baltimore.

She said: “I don’t think they should be stopped just walking down the street, only if they’re stopped for speeding, for example. I believe everybody has the right to come here, but I think they have to be made legal citizens.”

Although the respondents broadly agreed that the Arizona law would result in racial profiling, overburden local and state law enforcement agencies and decrease the willingness of illegal immigrants to report crimes for fear of deportation, large majorities said it would reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the state, deter illegal border crossings and, to a lesser extent, reduce crime.

Some attitudes about immigration have remained stable among the public. Most still say illegal immigrants weaken the nation’s economy rather than strengthen it, and public opinion remains divided over how the United States should handle illegal immigrants currently in the country.

But American attitudes toward the law and whether illegal immigrants already here should have a path to citizenship differed markedly across regions and parties. Westerners and Northeasterners, for example, are significantly more likely than those in other regions to say the recent law in Arizona goes too far. And Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country.

Just 8 percent of Americans said the immigration system needed only minor changes. The vast majority said it needed reworking, including 44 percent who said it needed to be completely rebuilt and 45 percent who said it needed fundamental changes.

Three quarters said that, over all, illegal immigrants were a drain on the economy because they did not all pay taxes but used public services like hospitals and schools. Nearly 2 in 10 said the immigrants strengthened the economy by providing low-cost labor and buying goods and services, a chief argument among many of their advocates.

“I do think the federal government should deal with it, because illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes and don’t contribute to our government,” said Deborah Adams, 53, a Democrat from Ephrata, Pa., and a paramedic who called the Arizona law a “necessary evil.”

“They take jobs from American citizens who need to work and pay into Social Security,” Ms. Adams said.

In fact, many illegal immigrants do pay taxes into the Social Security system, but never see a return on their contributions.

At immigration rallies in several cities on Saturday, demonstrators pressed the case for overhauling immigration law.

So far no bill has been introduced in Congress. President Obama, while supportive of the idea of immigration reform, has questioned whether lawmakers have the appetite for a divisive battle over it after a year of other political fights and in the middle of a campaign.

A delegation of Arizonans opposed to the law, including Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix, plans to meet with Justice Department officials on Tuesday to urge them to step into the brewing legal battle over the law.

On Monday, one of the law’s staunchest advocates, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in the Phoenix area, announced that after toying with the idea, he would not run for governor.

Randal C. Archibold reported from Los Angeles, and Megan Thee-Brennan from New York. Marina Stefan contributed reporting from New York