Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

Watergate Would Have Been a Bump in the Road

June 17th will be the 50th anniversary of the Watergate burglary, the poorly-executed crime that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in lieu of impeachment. Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post points out Nixon would have easily finished his second term if his “plumbers” had been discovered nowadays:

Thinking about Watergate saddens me these days. The nation that came together to force a corrupt president from office and send many of his co-conspirator aides to prison is a nation that no longer exists.

It’s not just our politics that have changed. It’s also our radically transformed media environment.

“The national newspapers mattered in a way that is unimaginable to us today, and even the regional newspapers were incredibly strong,” Garrett Graff, author of “Watergate: A New History,” told me last week. I have been immersed in his nearly 800-page history . . . that sets out to retell the entire story.

Graff depicts Watergate not as a singular event but as the entire mind-set of the Nixon presidency — “a shaggy umbrella of a dozen distinct scandals,” as he told me. By the time the break-in captured the attention of the most Americans, they were essentially “walking into the second or third act of a play.”

Woodward and Bernstein were almost alone on the story for months. But eventually the leading newspapers of the nation started to cover the hell out of the burgeoning scandal and the percolating questions of what — and when — the president knew about the burglary plot.

Americans read this coverage in their local papers; many cities still had two or more dailies at that point. Later, they were riveted by the proceedings of the Senate Watergate Committee, whose hearings were aired live on the three big television networks during the summer of 1973. Graff reports that the average American household watched 30 hours of the hearings, which were also rebroadcast at night by PBS. (“The best thing that has happened to public television since ‘Sesame Street,’” one Los Angeles Times TV critic noted.)

Still, “we forget how close Nixon came to surviving Watergate,” Graff told me. “Even at the end of the hearings, there was no guarantee that Nixon was out of office.”

What changed that? The increasing public awareness of the president’s wrongdoing and the coverup. “The sheer accumulation of the lies,” he said, “at a time when the idea that a president could lie to America was unthinkable.”

Flash-forward to today. The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will hold hearings beginning early next month, some of which will be televised during prime-time hours. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who is a prominent member, predicts the revelations will “blow the roof off the House” — offering evidence, he promises, of an organized coup attempt involving Trump, his closest allies and the supporters who attacked the Capitol as they tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

I’m willing to believe that the hearings will be dramatic. They might even change some people’s minds. But the amount of public attention they get will be minuscule compared with what happened when the folksy Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina presided over the Senate Watergate Committee.

Our media environment is far more fractured, and news organizations are far less trusted.

And in part, we can blame the rise of a right-wing media system. At its heart is Fox News, which was founded in 1996, nearly a quarter century after the break-in, with a purported mission to provide a “fair and balanced” counterpoint to the mainstream media. Of course, that message often manifested in relentless and damaging criticism of its news rivals. Meanwhile, Fox and company have served as a highly effective laundry service for T____’s lies. With that network’s help, his tens of thousands of false or misleading claims have found fertile ground among his fervent supporters — oblivious to the skillful reporting elsewhere that has called out and debunked those lies.

As Graff sees it, the growth of right-wing media has enabled many Republican members of Congress to turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of Team T____. Not so during the Watergate investigation; after all, it was Sen. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican, who posed the immortal question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Even the stalwart conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was among those who, at the end, managed to convince Nixon that he must resign.

“Republican members of Congress understood that they had a unique and important role as the legislative branch to hold the abuses of the executive branch in check,” Graff said. “That freedom of action was made possible because there was no right-wing media ecosystem.”

Not everything was good about the media world of the 1970s. . . . But it was a time when we had a news media that commanded the trust of the general public, a necessity in helping bring Nixon to justice. That, at least during his presidency, was never possible with D____ T____.

As we remember Watergate, we ought to remember how very unlikely its righteous conclusion would be today.

Richard M. Nixon’s presidency would have survived.

An Expert Says It’s Typical Fascism

Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale University and the author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, analyzes a new piece of fascist propaganda disseminated by Fox News:  

Patriot Purge, Tucker Carlson’s new three-part series, is propaganda built around D____ T____’s Big Lie of a stolen 2020 election and buttressed by a bizarro world, alt-right and alt-reality retelling of the January 6th insurrection. But Carlson’s message being profoundly dishonest doesn’t stop it from being profoundly dangerous: both because it contains kernels of tough truths the country has been scared to face, and because it follows a classic template of propaganda that has brought down democracies before.

The conceit of Patriot Purge is that the real “Americans” — the country’s greatest Patriots — were those who went to Washington on January 6 to join what was to be a peaceful rally protesting the supposed stealing of the 2020 US Presidential Election. They were a multi-racial group of patriotic Americans coming to the capital to voice their concerns. But then Antifa, apparently working in tandem with the FBI, disrupted the peaceful protests with agents provocateurs who urged participants into the capital building. The seditious “deep state” has in this way entrapped the country’s warriors, who are now the subject of government targeting that was honed during the War on Terror.

The message of the series is clear: a great wrong has been done. The government and media have engineered a false narrative directed in the first instance towards discrediting the patriots who seek to address it, and, ultimately, with the goal of hunting down and violently suppressing them. Our media’s complicity is demonstrated by their differential coverages of the BLM protests, which are here portrayed as senseless violent riots, and the events of January 6. The patriots are innocent Americans seeking only to preserve democracy in the face of a fraudulent election. The forces arrayed against them are almost impossibly powerful. It is a repeat of the war on terror, by the same forces who engineered it, but directed against the most representative of our citizens, the “real” Americans.

It is impossible to accept this message in total without taking it to justify violent mass action against the current government, or something like a police and military coup.

Carlson’s Patriot Purge finds a martyr for its movement in Ashli Babbitt, who was shot trying to get past a Capitol Police barrier near the House chamber. Her death, in great and gruesome detail, comprises the final shots of Part I.

Babbitt’s assigned role is familiar to anyone who has seen or studied Twentieth Century fascist propaganda. Martyrs are ideally pure and innocent, and killed in a noble attempt to defeat enemies of the nation. In fascist ideology, these enemies are communists and liberals, who are represented as subverting the will of the “true” people, whose only goal is to install their beloved leader, the true father of the nation. Honoring the memory of the martyr is to worship the leader, and give all in the quest to defeat his enemies and place him as the leader of the nation.

This series is a further contribution to the months long narrative construction of Babbitt as the T____ movement’s Horst Wessel, the Nazi stormtrooper killed in a brawl in 1930, most probably by communists (but for unclear reasons), and elevated to martyrdom status by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In this case, the martyr is an innocent, patriotic white woman. . . .

The unquestioned premise of this series is the “Big lie”, that the election was stolen, and that T____ won. The Big Lie structures the entire narrative here. It is only on this assumption that we should grant a movement that promulgates this lie full political legitimacy, and equal weight in government decisions and media representation. It is only on this assumption that those who promulgate this lie can be represented as innocent victims.

Key to fascist propaganda is an overwhelming sense of danger, one that threatens to make the country’s dominant majority into a powerless and endangered minority. T____ loyalists in this series appear only as targeted victims, at existential peril, without representation in. any branch of government or media. Throughout, law is represented as merely an instrument in the service of power. The series does not discuss what these attitudes have justified – the wave of laws sweeping Republican dominated state governments enabling the mass disenfranchisement of minority voters on the basis of dubious claims of fraud, the stacking of election commissions by T___ loyalists, or the nationwide targeting of educators associated with Critical Race Theory or Black Lives Matter. The series does not mention the mass targeting of democratic institutions, from elections to schools, the curtailing of voting rights and speech, that are the calling card of the T____ist Republican Party in its current fascist phase. And the series does not, of course, discuss the fearsome power of Fox News.

In the inverted world of the series, those who support the authoritarian cult of the leader, his base, are the democratic patriots. Those who seek to preserve fair elections are the fascists. Fascist propaganda is relentless projection, justified by lies. Carlson has proven to be a master in its use. . . .

Throughout, Carlson is correct about several important matters. He is right about the dangers of mass surveillance. He is right about the moral obscenity of the war on terror, which has created an ugly toolkit that can be used to target relatively powerless American citizens. It is past time for these to be shared bipartisan assumptions. Embedding these truths within a larger framework in the service of destabilizing democracy makes it dangerous propaganda indeed. . . .

I share his view that ordinary fellow citizens who fall under the sway of propaganda should not be demonized. Our opprobrium should instead be directed at those leading the assault, billionaires . . . [like Rupert Murdoch], elite Ivy League-trained [politicians] like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and, of course, wealthy and powerful mainstream media propagandists like Tucker Carlson.

Unquote.

Unlike Professor Stanley, however, I think the “ordinary” citizens who are so open to right-wing propaganda deserve plenty of opprobrium too. But our leaders aren’t comfortable saying that.

It’s Right/Left But Also Fantasy/Reality

This is a somewhat edited Twitter thread from Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who used to work for Republicans. His comments were precipitated by a CNN podcast (referenced at the bottom of this post):

The debate is around how to think and talk about Fox News. What is it? [CNN journalist] Brian Stelter thinks about this directionally and ideologically: describing Fox as moving further right. He is correct, as is [journalism professor] Jay Rosen, who evaluates Fox News along a different axis. For him, it is the drift into fantasy and the unreal.

The authoritarian movement in America is real, powerful and present. All authoritarian movements are nourished by an ecosystem that includes three powerful components:

A. The Financiers. “No Bucks, no Buck Rogers” said the PR man to the disdainful test pilots who were to become America’s Mercury astronauts in one of the all time great movies “The Right Stuff”. There is no autocratic movement without money and they have a lot.

B. CYNICAL ELITES.  Rep. Elise Stefanik, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Mitch McConnell are but a few examples of people who have tried to manage the toxic reverberations from [the former president’s] cult by manipulating it for power, self interest and vanity. They have aligned with the fringe and venomous ideas.

C. PROPAGANDISTS. All authoritarian movements rely on propaganda sustained by a particular type of lie. THE LIE OF AUTHORITY requires the abandonment of belief, truth, ethics, values and intellectual agency. It demands submission to the lies of the Leader/Party.

. . . Right-Left, in the tradition of American politics, has long been explicable with a two dimensional rendering, specifically, a horizontal line. It doesn’t work any more. When [Brian Stelter] talks about Fox and moving “Right”, it is important to pause and look at the [system of measurement].

Trying to explain the metastasized conservative media by marking a point on a line [that could be] used to measure ideological distance between [Republican moderate] Christie Whitman and [Republican conservative] Orrin Hatch [fails to capture reality].

The “Right” we are talking about here is a very specific variant, that no matter how easily identifiable, seems to induce a blindness in people who should see it clearly and an allergy towards confronting it by the people who have the most at stake in the fight.

We are talking, of course, about an authoritarian Right that is steeped in fantasy, delusion, hate, scapegoating, scientific racial theory, menace, violence and coercion.

This American Right is cousin to the noxious movements that have long been built on a fetid marsh of lies, grievance, scapegoating, hate, menace, fear and fantasy nostalgia for a world once pure. That fallen world, is the nucleus of a powerful and evil fantasy at the core of a terrible and dangerous mythology. The mythology is fear-based and architected around the imagined birthright of one group to feel superior to others.

It always leads to subjugation under the power and boot of the state for the purpose of preserving the power of the few and the fabulously corrupt over the common good of the great many.

Fox News is moving in a new direction and has been for some time. . . It is getting worse and more extreme every day. . . . The [metastasizing] ideological drift and the demand for submission to fantasies is at the core of understanding what all of this is. I hope enough people can see the totality of it all before we lose it all.

Unquote.

The CNN podcast is called Reliable Sources. From the description of this episode:

Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU and authors the PressThink blog, discusses the devolution of Fox News; the difficulty of describing a “shifted political universe” in the United States; and the need for news outlets to be “much more explicitly and aggressively pro-democracy.”

He says “Fox is becoming in some way more demand-driven” because “its audience is in the driver’s seat in a way that’s more extreme than when Roger Ailes ran the network.” For example, Rosen comments, “Do you want January 6 to be the fault of Antifa? You can have that. Do you want [somebody else] to have won the 2020 election? You can have that.”

Rosen explains that “these kinds of maneuvers are attempting to sever people from reality so that you can do what you want with them… to just sort of de-anchor people from anything that they have in common with their fellow citizens so that they can be manipulated further. And that’s why it’s so insidious.” 

Cable TV vs. Truth: A Case Study

Tucker Carlson is a bow tie-wearing creep who peddles right-wing nonsense to his Fox News followers five nights a week. This is from Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter:

Tucker Carlson has lost virtually all of his advertisers. A typical broadcast includes no national brand advertisers, a few direct response ads from companies like MyPillow, and house ads promoting other Fox News shows. 

Why have advertisers abandoned Carlson? In addition to the conduct described above, Carlson has:

Said that Black Lives Matter protests are “definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you.”

Asserted that immigrants are making the country “poorer and dirtier

Called the Derek Chauvin verdict “an attack on civilization” and falsely claimed George Floyd died of a drug overdose.

Spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

Carlson has the right to say whatever loathsome things he wishes. And Fox News can choose to broadcast those views on television. But Carlson and the Murdochs do not have a right to have those views subsidized by millions of Americans who never watch Fox News. But that’s exactly what is happening. And those dynamics have allowed Fox News and Carlson to weather a near-universal advertiser boycott. 

Here’s how it works. Cable companies pay “carriage fees” to networks for the right to carry their channel. These fees are then passed on to users in their monthly bills. In 2020, Fox News made more money from carriage fees ($1.6 billion) than advertisements ($1.2 billion). 

Other channels, of course, also receive carriage fees for their content. But the Murdochs have negotiated exorbitant fees for Fox News that are far greater than any other non-sports programming. 

According to a survey conducted late last year, about 14% of cable TV subscribers watch Fox News regularly. But every cable TV subscriber pays an average of $1.72 a month to receive Fox News. In contrast, 31% of cable TV subscribers regularly watch FX (owned by Disney) but the channel adds just $0.81 to an average cable bill.

https___bucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com_public_images_c4dfce0c-eb70-4916-aa61-efa2d4f1a0f5_951x358

This means, for every actual viewer, Fox News receives a $7.75 subsidy from people who never watch Fox News. This is a higher subsidy than other non-sports channels, like FX ($1.79), CNN ($3.18), and TBS ($2.79), receive. And none of those channels regularly spreads white nationalist talking points to millions of viewers. 

So how can Americans who don’t watch Fox News and find Carlson’s conduct repugnant stop subsidizing his $10 million salary? One option would be for major cable operators like Comcast, Spectrum, and AT&T to offer cable TV packages that exclude Fox News. This would allow people the choice of whether to pay for Fox News, just as people choose whether to pay for HBO. 

But, for the moment, corporate America seems loathe to take on the Murdochs or alienate Fox News’ passionate fan base. So the only way to stop sending cash to the Murdochs is to “cut the cord” and find a combination of streaming services that doesn’t include Fox News.

Unquote.

If you want to stop paying for cable TV but still want your local stations (which include ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and even Fox, but not Fox News), there’s a not-for-profit streaming service called Locast. It’s now available in 31 major TV markets around the country (plus Puerto Rico):

Get the local channels you love [note: or hate] without a monthly bill. Locast is a not for profit service offering users access to broadcast television stations over the internet. It’s time to shred those cable bills and contracts!

If you’re part of the international elite who rub shoulders with the odious, 90-year-old Rupert Murdoch and his evil spawn Lachlan, you can treat them with the disrespect they deserve. You might tell them to stop the propaganda and then spit in their soup.

Hazardous to Public Health and National Security

Margaret Sullivan, former public editor of The New York Times, now writes about the media for The Washington Post. Today, she unloads on Fox News and suggests a corporate boycott. Her column is called “Fox News is a hazard to our democracy. It’s time to take the fight to the Murdochs”: 

I happened to be watching Fox News on election night when the network startled the political world by calling Arizona for Joe Biden.

It was a weird moment, without the fanfare that usually accompanied the announcement that a state was being put in one column or another. A few hours later, the Associated Press made the same call.

But many other news organizations, including The Washington Post, took days to reach that daring conclusion. For them, Arizona’s vote count simply remained far too close. . . .

And Txxxxworld was enraged. Losing the traditionally red state would make it that much harder to proclaim that the election was so close that it must in fact have been stolen by the Democrats. It would disrupt the Big Lie narrative. Former president Donald Txxxx’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, even called Fox honcho Rupert Murdoch to complain. But Fox News stood behind the call, which turned out to be correct.

But a lot has changed since then. Last week, two key members of Fox News’s decision desk abruptly departed the network. One was laid off, the other has retired, and some insiders are calling it a “purge.”

Apparently, at a network that specializes in spreading lies, there was a price to pay for getting it right. (“Fox News isn’t a newsgathering organization,” surmised press critic Eric Boehlert, arguing in response to the purge that its White House credentials should be revoked.)

In recent days, Fox has taken a sharp turn toward a more extreme approach as it confronts a post-Txxxx ratings dip — the result of some of its farthest-right viewers moving to outlets such as Newsmax and One America News and some middle-of-the-roaders apparently finding CNN or MSNBC more to their liking.

With profit as the one true religion at Fox, something had to change. Ninety-year-old Rupert Murdoch, according to a number of reports, has stepped in to call the shots directly. Most notably, the network has decided to add an hour of opinion programming to its prime-time offerings. The 7 p.m. hour will no longer be nominally news but straight-up outrage production.

Why? Because that’s where the ratings are.

And in a move that should be shocking but isn’t, one of those who will rotate through the tryouts for that coveted spot will be Maria Bartiromo, whose Txxxx sycophancy during the campaign may well have been unparalleled. She was among those . . . recently forced under threat of a lawsuit to air a video that debunked repeated false claims on her show that corrupt voting software had given millions of Txxxx votes to Biden.

At the same time, Sean Hannity, who likes to blast Biden as “cognitively struggling,” and Tucker Carlson, who tries to sow doubt about the prevalence of White supremacy, have become even more outlandish as they try to gin up anti-Biden rage within their audiences.

Even James Murdoch, while not naming names, blasted the harm that his family’s media empire has done. “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very much so,” he told the Financial Times. “Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”

But it’s his father and his brother, Lachlan, who run Fox, not James.

How to get the Fox News monster under control? I do not believe the government should have any role in regulating what can and can’t be said on the air, although I often hear that proposed. That would be a cure worse than the disease. But let’s not count on the hope that the Fox-controlling Murdochs will develop a conscience.

No, the only answer is to speak the language that the bigwigs at Fox will understand: Ratings. Advertising dollars. Profit.

Corporations that advertise on Fox News [such as Procter & Gamble, Amazon, Kraft Heinz and Verizon] should walk away, and citizens who care about the truth should demand that they do so (in addition to trying to steer their friends and relatives away from the network).

Big companies would never do that, you say? Don’t be so sure.

The Post reported last week that the 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers. General Electric, AT&T, Comcast, Honeywell, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Verizon all said they would suspend donations to members of Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden as president.

This shows, at the very least, that there is a growing understanding that lying to the public matters, that it’s harmful — or “insidious,” in the words of James Murdoch. And that some corporations don’t want to be a part of that.

When you think about Fox News’s role in the 400,000 lives lost to the pandemic and in the disastrous attack of Jan. 6, it’s even fair to call it deadly.

So if reality-based America wants to communicate clearly with Fox News leadership, they’ll have to do it in a language they understand. The language of money.

Unquote.

Sullivan later called attention to an additional point of attack:

Your cable/satellite TV provider pays subscriber fee to carry @foxnews. That cost is passed directly to YOU. Typical household pays #FoxNews $2 per monthh = $20 per year via their cable satellite provider, regardless whether they watch it. DEMAND @comcast @Xfinity #UNFOXMYCABLEBOX.

It wouldn’t hurt if the rich and famous who appear on the Fox Network or rub elbows with the Murdoch clan or serve on their boards of directors began to exert pressure too. Unfortunately, for the most part, such people consistently ignore my suggestions. 

%d bloggers like this: