Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

A Big Story Fox “News” Won’t Cover

Really good liars never admit they’re lying. From CNN:

Fox News continues to be exposed like never before.

In legal filings made public Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the right-wing channel, a trove of private text messages, emails, and deposition transcripts offered a new look at how the sausage is made behind the scenes at the channel — and it is ugly. 

The filings expose the face of the network, Tucker Carlson, as a fraud. They show that Rupert Murdoch rejected conspiracy theories about Dominion, despite allowing them to be promoted on his network. And they show the contempt that hosts like Sean Hannity have for some of their colleagues who tried to tell the truth about what actually transpired in the 2020 election.

► Carlson “passionately” hates [the former president]: In a number of private text messages, Carlson was harshly critical of T____…. Carlson [wrote] that T____’s post-election behavior was “disgusting”…. In another text message, two days before the January 6 attack, Carlson said, “We are very, very close to being able to ignore T____ most nights. I truly can’t wait.” Carlson added of T____, “I hate him passionately.” The Fox host said of the Trump presidency, “… We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been [the last four years] is too tough to digest. But come on. There isn’t really an upside to T____.”

Murdoch rejected conspiracies: In his January deposition, Murdoch was repeatedly asked about various electronic voting conspiracy theories — and he rejected all of them. “You’ve never believed that Dominion was involved in an effort to delegitimize and destroy votes for D____ T____, correct?” a Dominion lawyer asked at one point. “… No, I’ve never seen it,” Murdoch replied….

► Hannity and Doocy mocked Fox’s journalists: In a series of November 2020 text messages, Hannity and Steve Doocy attacked the reporting from their colleagues on the so-called “straight news” side of the network. “‘News’ destroyed us,” Hannity complained. “Every day,” Doocy replied. “You don’t piss off the base,” Hannity said. “They don’t care. They are JOURNALISTS,” Doocy texted back. Hannity said he has “warned” people at the network “for years” and there is “NOTHING we can do to fix it.”

► Fox D.C. chief decried “existential crisis” at network: More than a month after the 2020 election, then-Fox News DC Managing Editor Bill Sammon decried the network’s coverage of false election claims in private messages to a colleague, fearing it had become an “existential crisis” for the right-wing channel. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” Sammon wrote then-political editor Chris Stirewalt. Stirewalt replied, “It’s a real mess.”

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post comments:

[The] fear that viewers might see telling the truth about D____ T____’s loss as betrayal was widespread inside the network…. [Fox insiders] fumed that candor about 2020 was driving the audience away, prompting viewers to defect to competitors who offered a more comforting cocoon. On the air, some of those personalities kept doling out what they privately admitted were lies.

[This scandal] points to an even bigger story: The right wing media’s long war on the truth. For decades, conservative media outlets have expressly sought to build and capture an audience that would accept only their version of events, and would be cordoned off to place them beyond the reach of mainstream news sources entirely.

“Right wing media have been engaged in a 70-year project to ensure that their audiences only trust conservative news outlets,” Nicole Hemmer, who tells this story in “Messengers of the Right”, her excellent history of conservative media, told me. “They’ve worked to discredit other sources of more-objective information, so that their audiences are unwilling to trust outlets more rooted in reality”….

Hemmer traces the genesis of this broader ideological project to the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the time, she tells me, leading figures on the right made a concerted decision to “create their own media outlets” in the form of periodicals such as Human Events, while spreading “the message that all non-conservative media are deeply biased”.

This intensified during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, who turned Vice President Spiro Agnew loose to make snarling speeches attacking the television networks…. The influence of right-wing media intensified in the late 1980s with the explosion of talk radio. This capture of conservative audiences was aided, Hemmer notes, by the success of Rush Limbaugh and others who made the message about biased mainstream news “entertaining and profitable.”

Enter Fox News, which was founded in the mid-1990s and attained itscommanding heights in the right-wing information ecosystem in the early 2000s. 

But now the audience’s captivity to an alternate version of events is blowing back on Fox News. Over the years Fox News’s audience has rebelled over other things, such as Hannity’s championing of immigration reform, which incited a backlash from his viewers. Nothing, however, has compared to the current scandal. 

Will there be any repercussions? There should be. Democratic politicians shouldn’t appear on their programs. People giving press conferences shouldn’t answer questions from their “reporters”. Cable TV operators should either drop Fox “News” or make people pay a lot to watch. Businesses and government facilities, including military bases, shouldn’t let Fox run in waiting rooms, offices, etc. Fox management should be ostracized. And there should be more defamation lawsuits.

I’ve read that Fox isn’t telling its viewers about any of this (no surprise). But I hope other right-wing outlets are spreading the news. Don’t watch Fox! They don’t really believe the election was stolen! Or that vaccinations are terribly dangerous! Watch us and visit our site instead! We’re on your side! We promise not to upset you by telling you the truth about anything!

A Note to Readers

When I make a serious mistake in something I’ve written here — which happens often — and I notice it — which happens less often — I try to fix the post. But that doesn’t generate a new email for those who get posts that way. So if you see something badly wrong in an emailed post it’s may be corrected on the blog (although, as in most things, there’s no guarantee).

Thus, today, this went out:

Maybe [Biden] actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the 5% or so who actually respect democracy and the rule of law.

It now says:

Maybe he actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the average ones who are lukewarm on democracy and the rule of law.

Please pardon this interruption in your daily affairs.

They Have a Point

Every 20 minutes or so, unless I’m asleep, I wonder why millions of otherwise sane people would give Republicans more power in Congress or make T____ or somebody like him president again. I won’t go down the list of reasons why Republicans don’t deserve to be in charge of our government. At the moment, I’m thinking about why so many people prefer them to be.

I believe the predominant reason is that they don’t like how America has been changing. But the change they’re upset about is not how the rich keep getting richer and the rest of us are treading water or falling behind. Otherwise they wouldn’t vote for politicians whose overriding goal is to lessen the “tax burden” on people and corporations that are already doing fine. The problem they see lies elsewhere.

Most of them fear they’re not on top anymore or soon won’t be.

President Lyndon Johnson, who knew politics backwards and forwards, made a relevant point way back in 1960. Bill Moyers, Johnson’s press secretary, recorded the moment:

We were in Tennessee. During the motorcade, he spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs. Late that night in the hotel, when the local dignitaries had finished the last bottles of bourbon and branch water and departed, he started talking about those signs. “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

It’s not all about race, however.

If you could find the typical American who prefers the Republican Party, he would have characteristics like these. In addition to being male, he’d be white, solidly or loosely Christian, heterosexual and nationalistic. He’d be comfortable making fun of people unlike him. He wouldn’t live in a big city or have a 4-year college degree. He might be financially secure or trying to get by on Social Security, but he would fondly look back on a time when someone with his characteristics would automatically feel pretty damn good about himself and his place in the world relative to “lesser” people and “lesser” countries. 

Obviously, nobody has to meet all those criteria to happily vote Republican, since millions of women vote that way (many of whom believe a man should be “the head of the family”).

The point is that recent trends have made it less important, less praiseworthy, less powerful, to fit those Republican-friendly criteria. That fact — what those of us on the other side call “progress” — bothers millions of Americans a great deal. The feeling that they’re falling behind millions of people unlike themselves means a politician who acts or talks tough and promises to address their concerns about their perceived loss of status — to somehow reverse that progress — is immediately appealing, even if that politician owns a gold toilet and doesn’t resemble Jesus in any way. He may be despicable and a con man, but he claims to be on their side, and occasionally does something that makes them happy while angering their supposed enemies. That’s enough to get their support. 

In light of this, an article at FiveThirtyEight explains “why Democratic appeals to the ‘working class’ are unlikely to work” with Republican voters, even if they’re part of “the working class”:

… The dividing line in the American electorate is not economics; it’s race and culture…. And on this issue, Democrats and Republicans could not be further apart. It’s why Democratic appeals to win back the [white, especially male] working class are unlikely to work…

In the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform, “building a stronger, fairer economy” was the second item listed, after strategies to deal with COVID-19, and it sounded a populist note: that the American economy is tilted toward corporations and the wealthy, and that it’s harder than ever for Americans to move up the economic ladder. “Americans deserve an economy that works for everyone — not just for the wealthy and the well-connected,” their platform reads….

[But] Republicans mainly think of the working class as a cultural and racial identity, and not an economic one. When Democrats … pitch themselves to working-class voters, [it’s] primarily a populist appeal bent on uniting the working class against corporate greed….

This takes it as a given that the long-term trends in economic outcomes, which have affected many Americans, are what T____’s voters are responding to. This line of thinking, though, ignores other changes in American life and politics, such as an increase in global trade, a shift toward knowledge work instead of blue-collar labor … and a more expansive view of rights and equalities for racial, ethnic and gender minorities….

[A Democratic strategist offers this advice:] “The way we get around [ideological polarization] is by talking a lot about progressive goals that are not ideologically polarizing, goals that we share with self-described conservatives and moderates….Even among nonwhite voters, those tend to be economic issues.” But this assumes that voters will forget about the party alignments that are deeply entrenched.

When Democrats lament a bygone era in which they won the working-class vote, they are primarily talking about the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt— a time when the economy was radically shifted toward worker and labor power. But that was also a time when policies meant to favor the working class were specifically designed to help white men. The relative position of many people in the economy — and society at large — has shifted, and if that’s what Republican voters are responding to, messages of economic justices and leveling the playing field for all workers won’t change that. 

Unquote.

Yes, they have a point. They’re not automatically on top anymore. That they don’t deserve to be automatically on top hasn’t sunken in.

Sexual Morality, Republican Style

If you’ve avoided the fascist sewer that Republican politics has become, you may not have heard they’re now referring to Democrats as the party of pedophiles and groomers. The principal “basis” for this claim is the existence of sex education in public schools. The “idea” is that after learning about sex or hearing that not all healthy people are heterosexuals, it’s only a matter of time before our children become prey to nasty Democrats or turn all gay or something. In similar fashion, Republican senators tried to paint Biden’s new Supreme Court nominee as “soft” on pedophilia. You can read more about this recent shift in right-wing propaganda here, here, here or here.

I wasn’t going to mention this new development in American politics until I read about an online list of Republicans who either are, or have been accused of being, sexual predators. I don’t know who is maintaining the list, how far back the incidents go, or if the list is completely reliable, but, just as our former president loves to project his own illegal or unethical behavior onto other people (“lock her up”), it shouldn’t be a surprise when the “family values”/”moral majority”/”real Americans” crowd accuses their political opponents of sexual bad behavior.

Item 1 on the list is:

Donald Trump is accused of sexual assault by multiple women (and has admitted doing it). He is accused of raping a 13-year-old girl and bragged of walking in on underage girls at pageant. (Wikipedia).

Item 415 (yes, 415) is:

Man linked to Trump transition charged with transporting child pornography (Washington Post).

Item 828 (that’s right, 828) is:

Tesla rich guy Elon Musk, who recently announced he’s a Republican, was accused of exposing himself to a SpaceX  flight attendant (Business Insider).

This proves nothing, of course, but projection is a well-known psychological phenomenon and, as some clever person once said, “where there’s smoke, there’s something else”.

PS:  And wouldn’t you know? The Houston Chronicle reports today:

Bombshell 400-page report finds Southern Baptist leaders routinely silenced sexual abuse survivors.

Maybe We’re Not Headed for Civil War or Dissolving the Union

A Columbia University sociologist, Musa el-Gharbi, says we shouldn’t trust poll results that claim to show millions and millions of Republicans are crazy (although lots are):

According to a number of polls and surveys, significant majorities of Republican-aligned voters seem to believe the big lie that T____ was the rightful winner of the 2020 US presidential election and, consequently, the Biden administration is illegitimate.

Taking these data at face value, a growing chorus insists that we’re living in a “post-truth” era, where members of one political party, the Republican party, can no longer tell facts from falsehood. As a result of the Republican party becoming unmoored from reality, the narratives typically continue, America is drifting headlong into a fascist takeover or a civil war.

Fortunately for all of us, these dire predictions are almost certainly overblown. We are not living in a “post-truth” world. We are not on the brink of a civil war. The perception that we are is almost purely an artifact of people taking poll and survey data at face value despite overwhelming evidence that we probably shouldn’t.

For instance, in the wake of the 2016 election, T____ claimed to have had higher turnout at his inauguration than Barack Obama did. Subsequent polls and surveys presented people with pictures of Obama and T____’s inauguration crowds and asked which was bigger. Republicans consistently identified the visibly smaller (T____) crowd as being larger than the other. A narrative quickly emerged that T____ supporters literally couldn’t identify the correct answer; they were so brainwashed that they actually believed that the obviously smaller crowd was, in fact, larger.

Of course, a far more obvious and empirically plausible explanation is that respondents knew perfectly well what the correct answer was. However, they also had a sense of how that answer would be used in the media (“Even T____’s supporters don’t believe his nonsense!”), so they simply declined to give pollsters the response they seemed to be looking for.

As a matter of fact, respondents regularly troll researchers in polling and surveys – especially when they are asked whether or not they subscribe to absurd or fringe beliefs . . . [“well, the world is flat, isn’t it?”].

However, many academics and pundits do not seem to be in on the joke. Instead, post-2016, a consensus quickly emerged from credulous readings of polls and surveys that America is facing an epidemic of “fake news”, which was leading people to believe things that were obviously false, and to vote for unsavory political candidates. Some of the initial studies on this topic were blatantly prejudicial in their design; other widely shared studies were ultimately retracted.

As more reliable data began to emerge, it turned out that, contrary to the initial hysteria, “fake news” stories were viewed by a relatively small number of voters, and infrequently at that. Most of those served pro-T____ or anti-Clinton “fake news” by social media sites already seemed firmly committed to voting for T____, or intractably resolved against voting for Clinton (which is why the algorithms served them this niche content to begin with). That is, “fake news” is unlikely to have changed many, if any, votes. It is not a plausible explanation for the 2016 electoral outcome nor T____’s support more broadly.

Even people who share “fake news” stories typically never read (or even click on) them. That is, people are not sharing the content because they read the stories, grew convinced of their factual accuracy, and are genuinely trying to inform others. Instead, people typically share these stories based on their headlines, for a whole host of social reasons, while recognizing them to be of questionable accuracy see herehereherehere and here for more on this).

It should not be surprising, then, that correcting misinformation seems to have virtually no effect on political preferences or voting behavior; misperceptions are generally not driving political alignments to begin with – nor are they driving political polarization.

Contrary to narratives that have grown especially ubiquitous in recent years, Americans are actually not very far apart in terms of most empirical facts. We do not live in separate realities. Instead, people begin to polarize on their public positions on factual matters only after those issues have become politicized. And even then, polarized answers on polls and surveys often fail to reflect participants’ genuine views. Indeed, when respondents are provided with incentives to answer questions accurately (instead of engaging in partisan cheerleading), the difference between Democrats and Republicans on factual matters often collapses.

In other cases, apparent disagreements about factual matters often turn out to be, at bottom, debates about how various facts are framed and interpreted, or disputes about the policies that are held to flow from the facts. That is, even in cases of genuine disagreement, there is typically less dispute about the facts themselves than about what the facts mean – morally or practically speaking.

All said, measuring misperceptions is a fraught enterprise – even when it comes to banal and politically uncontested facts. Attempting to draw inferences about “incorrect” views on matters tied political, moral and/or identity struggles is a far more complicated endeavor. These are not data that lend themselves to being taken at face value.

Similar realities hold for the data that purportedly show we’re on the brink of a new civil war.

There is strong evidence that many of the surveys and polls indicating support for, or openness towards, political violence hugely overstate actual levels of support in the American public. Likewise, data that purport to show high levels of partisan vitriol may be misleading.

In general, behaviors are often a stronger indicator than attitudinal data for understanding how sincere or committed people are to a cause or idea. The number of people who are willing to rhetorically endorse some extraordinary belief tends to be much, much higher than the subset who meaningfully behave as if that claim is true. The number of people who profess commitment to some cause tends to be much, much higher than the share who are willing to make sacrifices or life adjustments in order to advance that cause.

The big lie is no exception. Both the low levels of turnout and the relatively low levels of violence are extraordinary if we take the polls and surveys at face value.

Event organizers were expecting, “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” to take part in the January 6 uprising. This would be reasonable to expect in a world where tens of millions of Americans literally believed that an apparently high-stakes election was stolen out from under them. Even if just 1% of those who purportedly believe in the big lie had bothered to show up, the demonstrations would have been hundreds of thousands strong. Instead, they only mustered 2,500 participants . . . 

The lack of casualties was also striking, even when one considers injuries and indirect fatalities. After all, the former president also enjoyed strong support among people who are armed and formally trained in combat, such as active duty and veteran military and law enforcement. A large number of other T____ supporters participate in militias, or are private gun owners.

Yet most January 6 participants did not bring firearms, and those who were armed did not discharge their weapons – not even in the heat of the violence that broke out. . . . 

In a world where 74 million voted for T____, and more than two-thirds of these (i.e. more than 50 million people, roughly one out of every five adults in the US) actually believed that the other party had illegally seized power and now plan to use that power to harm people like themselves, the events of January 6 would likely have played out much, much differently.

Indeed, had even the 2,500 people who assembled on the Capitol arrived armed to the hilt, with a plan to seize power by force, committed to violence as “needed” to achieve their goals – things would have gone much, much differently.

Instead, most participants showed up expecting T____ would provide them with definitive evidence for his claims of electoral malfeasance, and then unveil some master plan to take the country back. This didn’t happen. . . . 

There was an even small number . . . who showed up to the Capitol with a clear intent to forcibly overturn the election – who equipped themselves for violence, researched the congressional proceedings and the layout of the building, developed and executed a plan, etc. These are behaviors consistent with a sincere belief in the big lie, and a strong commitment to doing something “about” it. . . . 

Of course, even tiny numbers of genuine extremists like these can be extremely destabilizing under the right circumstances. Had Oath Keepers breached the Capitol instead of being repelled (even as Q-Shaman, Confederate Flag Guy et al wandered the building aimlessly) … January 6 could have played out much differently.

Nonetheless, there is a huge difference in talking about identifying and disrupting small numbers of highly committed individuals willing to engage in revolutionary political violence versus tens of millions of Americans genuinely believing the election was fraudulent and being open to violence as a means of rectifying the situation. Those are very different problems. Orders of magnitude different.

The good news is that the second problem, the tens-of-millions-of-Americans problem, is not real. It is an artifact of politicized polling design and survey responses, followed by overly credulous interpretations of those results by academics and pundits who are committed to a narrative that half the electorate is evil, ignorant, stupid, deranged and otherwise dangerous [well, they did vote for a person who has no redeeming qualities and are poised to do it again — that doesn’t imply being smart or well-informed].

In fact, rather than January 6 serving as a prelude to a civil war, the US saw lower levels of death from political violence in 2021 than in any other year since the turn of the century. . . . This is not an outcome that seems consistent with large and growing shares of the population supposedly leaning towards settling the culture wars with bullets instead of ballots. This turn of events does not seem consistent with the notion that tens of millions of Americans – including large numbers of military, law enforcement and militia members – literally believe the presidency was stolen, elections can no longer be trusted, and the fate of the country is on the line. . . . 

In truth, most Republican voters likely don’t believe in the big lie. But many would nonetheless profess to believe it in polls and surveys – just as they’d support politicians who make similar professions (according to one estimate, Republican candidates who embrace the big lie enjoy a 6 percentage point electoral boost as compared to Republicans who publicly affirm the 2020 electoral results).

Within contemporary rightwing circles, a rhetorical embrace of the big lie is perceived as an act of defiance against prevailing elites. It is recognized as a surefire means to “trigger” people on the other team. A demonstrated willingness to endure blowback (from Democrats, media, academics, social media companies, et al.) for publicly striking this “defiant” position is interpreted as evidence of solidarity with, and commitment to, “the people” instead of special interests; it’s taken as a sign that one is not beholden to “the Establishment” and its rules. That is, the big lie seems to be more about social posturing than making sincere truth claims.

For many reasons, this situation is also far from ideal. But it’s a very different (and much smaller) problem than partisans actually inhabiting different epistemic worlds and lurching towards a civil war. Glass half full.

Unquote.

This view is consistent with one of mine: if millions and millions truly believed abortion is murder, there would be a lot more resistance, including armed resistance, to abortion (despite the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision). Talk is often cheap.

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