Thursday, October 01, 2015

Media Rants: Short Takes

Media Rants 

Short Takes from the October 2015 edition of The SCENE

For October let’s have a few short takes on a bunch of important media action that didn’t seem to get much play in the northeast Wisconsin press.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board Comes to Life:  If you read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, you know that their editorials can usually be placed somewhere between hollow and horrific on the awfulness scale. That’s why it was such a shocking and pleasant surprise to see the editorialists call out Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ (R-Rochester) attempt to gut the open records law in the strongest possible terms: “This brazen, cynical move had nothing to do with protecting constituents and everything to do with protecting ambitious career politicians — and the lobbyists, donors and special interests they make deals with behind the scenes.” The paper even called on the Assembly to elect a new Speaker, and for the voters in Vos’ district to begin the search for “a more trustworthy representative.”

LAPD gets a cartoonist fired: Ted Rall is one of the edgiest, provocative editorial cartoonists working today. In May of this year Rall, who since 2009 had been a paid freelancer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a blog post in which he recounted an event in which he had personally been roughed up by the LAPD in 2001. After the blog appeared, the LAPD actually sent the Times an audio of the 14 year old encounter between Rall and the police, along with Rall’s complaint at the time. Even though any reasonable person could conclude that Rall’s version of events was plausible, the paper fired him. That Rall has a long history of producing cartoons critical of the LAPD, meaning that the cops-in-charge would take advantage of any opportunity to get him removed from his editorial position, does not seem to matter to the management of the Times. As I noted in a previous Media Rants column, cartoonists over here don’t suffer the same fate as the late Charlie Hebdo satirists. Instead, we “kill” our cartoonists in softer ways; like caving in to pressure from a police department that doesn’t like criticism. 

(below:John Mellencamp's "Authority Song." When it comes to cartoonist Ted Rall's battle with the LAPD, the LA Times want to make sure that authority wins again.). 

 Why We Should Fear University, Inc.: There have been lots of good books released over the years about the corporate takeover of academia. Larry Soley’s Leasing the Ivory Tower and Jennifer Washburn’s University,Inc. are my two favorites in the genre. In September an opinion piece appeared in the New York Times that I hope author Fredrik deBoer turns into a full length book. His “Why We ShouldFear University, Inc.” should be read by anyone concerned with the way the modern university is managed; a kind of Stalinist-lite nightmare that often puts idealistic campus activists in the position of thinking that university administrators obsessed with the public image of the campus can somehow be allies in a quest for social justice. As noted by deBoer:

“I wish that committed student activists would recognize that the administrators who run their universities, no matter how convenient a recipient of their appeals, are not their friends. I want these bright, passionate students to remember that the best legacy of student activism lies in shaking up administrators, not in making appeals to them. At its worst, this tendency results in something like collusion between activists and administrators.” 

The Democrats’ “Exclusivity” Clause: Spokespeople for the Democratic National Committee get extremely defensive whenever a suggestion is made that they have rigged the Party nomination process to ensure Hillary Clinton gets the nod. You would think that the best way to defy that suggestion would be to have many debates, right? Wrong. The Party will sanction only six debates, an absurdly low number when considering the fact that only one candidate (i.e. Clinton) has anything close to universal name recognition. Worse and bizarre for a Party that calls itself “Democratic,” the DNC created an “exclusivity clause” saying that “The candidates will be uninvited from subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to anything outside of the six sanctioned debates.”  So that would mean, for example, that if BernieSanders or Martin O’Malley this month accepted an invitation to debate the Green Party’s Jill Stein, they would not be invited to participate in the DNC’s “official” debates. And the Democratic Party wonders why it has been abandoned by so many progressives? 

(below: Phil Och's "Love Me I'm a Liberal." You can bet that it is the Democratic Party "Liberals" who are trying to deny Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, and other candidates a fair shot winning the party's nomination for President.)

God Save Corbyn . . . from the Corporate Media: Britain’s Labour Party recently elected a full-fledged Socialist to lead them, a stunning rebuke of the moderate “New Labour” platform of George W. Bush’s poodle and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Turns out that Britain’s mainstream media is every bit as hostile to the genuine Left as the USA’s. Corbyn’s election generated hysterical reactions from some quarters about what could happen to the United Kingdom if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, and even the major British newspapers spent days covering the “issue” of whether or not Corbyn sang “God Save the Queen” at a WW II commemorative event. 
(below. The Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." Seems like the British and American press only like British politicians who serve as the USA's poodle. Here's hoping the Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn continues to stand up to the oligarchs.)

Why the Media Love Trump: Is it not ridiculous that the lone billionaire running for President gets the most free media advertising? What more evidence do we need to prove that the American media bias is not liberal or conservative as much as it is corporate? As long as Trump drives ratings, he’ll continue to get the free coverage. That’s pathetic. 

(below: John Fogerty's "Mr. Greed."  The USA corporate media throw Trump in our face for sheer ratings points.  Greed and media don't mix very well, as the round-the-clock Trumpathon is demonstrating all too well.).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fox's Frankenstein and the Sandman

Fox’s Frankenstein and the Sandman 

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri 

from the September 2015 edition of the SCENE
I’ve been following presidential elections closely since 1976 when I was a high school sophomore. As the first post-Watergate national election, the 1976 contest sparked our still intense infatuation with “outsider” candidates ready to “clean up Washington.” Affable peanut farmer and former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter cultivated the outsider persona perfectly against incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford was a 13-term congressman, was the only man ever to serve as Vice-President and President without receiving any popular or Electoral College votes, and pardoned Richard Nixon; Ford was about as “insider” as a candidate could get.  

The outsider/insider dialectic has framed every presidential election since, especially in the primary and caucus season. Today, every Republican seeking the White House is running as a Washington outsider charged up to take on Hillary “the ultimate insider” Clinton. Even the Democratic challengers to the former first lady tout themselves as outsiders.

For most of the summer, the presidential political scene’s been dominated by two self-described outsiders: billionaire Donald Trump on the Republican side and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democrats. In different ways, both campaigns have exposed the moral bankruptcy of the mainstream media.

The Donald’s Trumpapalooza campaign tour is like legendary American Idol contestant William Hung’s music: so awful that it actually becomes entertaining in its awfulness. Or for those old enough to remember the generous and kind kid Richie Rich comic book character, Trump is like what would happen if that kid grew up and became a total asshole. Often he’s like an unfiltered Nixon, as in his conversation with Maureen Dowd: “The nice thing about Twitter, in the old days when I got attacked it would take me years to get even with somebody, now when I’m attacked I can do it instantaneously, and it has a lot of power.” How’s that for a great role model for the youth of America?

 Trump’s been in the mainstream media spotlight for a long time, but the fact that he can be taken seriously as a political candidate is unquestionably because of Fox News. His brand of highly personalized, black or white babbling, delivered in a slash and burn rhetorical style, generates great ratings for a “news” network that prides itself on being a platform for over the top wingnut characters. And that’s why Trump’s public spat with Fox after Megyn Kelly’s reasonable question to him about his history of misogyny and sexism was so amusing: without such a vulgar history, would Trump even be in the media spotlight to begin with? Not surprisingly, Fox’s viewership largely sided with Trump in the spat.

Donald Trump is Fox’s Frankenstein. Yes, Fox has historically served as a forum for many monsters, but usually they are content to go after single mothers, African-American teens, liberal Democrats, and undocumented immigrants. The Trumpenstein monster, on the other hand, appears poised to wreck the entire Republican establishment. Sure, it is hilarious to watch Trumpenstein smack down Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and others in the GOP’s motley candidate crew of  empty suits, lame brains, and lightweights; but as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi argues, the end result is that “candidates have had to resort to increasingly bizarre tactics in order to win press attention.” It’s not pretty, yet there’s not one network news anchor with the moral authority to call out the nonsense.

So what about the Democrats? When Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren declined to run, and with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley failing to spark enthusiasm, it looked like Hillary Clinton might make it through the caucus and primary season unscathed except for the predictable GOP trolling about Benghazi, emails, etc. But then . . . Enter Sandman. Bernie Sanders, the 73-year-old Senator from Vermont who represents the democratic wing of the Democratic Party and articulates a vision of an America of, by and for the people instead of the one-percent, met record crowds in city after city. Rocker Neil Young threatened to sue Trump for using “Rockin’ in the Free World” at rallies, but had no problem lending the tune to Bernie

Actually, I’d like to see Sanders come to the stage with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as the intro music. The song’s theme of childhood nightmares works well with Sanders’ harsh wake up call for the 99 percent, many of whom accept our economic nightmare as normal. 


The mainstream media response (or more accurately non-response) to Sanders is really a prime example of how bogus is the claim that there is some kind of “liberal bias” in political news coverage. If 500 people show up at a Tea Party rally, it is treated as the birth of a new American revolution and often gets space on the network evening news. Sanders in contrast can pack sports arenas with a message of redistributing wealth to Main St. instead of Wall St., yet the events barely register a blip on the media radar. Does this mean there’s a conservative bias in media? No. The bias is toward the corporate, which means Trumpapalooza clown shows that drive ratings will get 24/7 attention.

I hope there’s a high school sophomore following the campaigns. In 40 years people will want to know what it was like to watch corporate media obsess over Fox’s Frankenstein while the Sandman filled the stadiums. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Media Rants: Divided We Stand, United We Fall

Divided We Stand, United We Fall

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

From the August 2015 edition of the SCENE 

The night Scott Walker officially announced his presidential candidacy, I had a dream (nightmare?) I was watching his inaugural address on Fox News in January of 2017. In the dream Walker became the first incoming president to ride a Harley in the inaugural parade. Below are his remarks as they were spoken in my dream:

Chief Justice Roberts, all Real Americans, and others: today we continue an inaugural tradition as old as the Republic itself. What we do today is possible only because our Founders had the wisdom and courage to articulate and fight for Big and Bold ideas.

I thank President Obama for his service. I also thank him for resisting calls from so called environmentalists that he boycott this inauguration due to my pledge to make good on my campaign promise to issue as my first Executive order the removal of solar panels from the White House. Thank you President Obama.

Wisdom in our time requires recognizing that our 21st century challenges are not significantly different from what our Founders faced in the 18th.  Political courage in our time requires the audacity to assert and fight for 18th century solutions to 21st century problems.

You see our Founders did not bother with climate change, but they did change the political climate from hot tyranny to cool liberty. So much did they love liberty that they were willing to legally define nonwhite southern workers as 3/5 of a person to get it. That controversial 3/5 compromise was what I call 18th century cool; a Big and Bold idea proving that our Founders respected the sovereignty of each of the 13 original states more than they did any dictates from Washington.

Big and Bold ideas like the 3/5 compromise, or the Manifest Destiny resettlement of natives to make room for our Real American ancestors, or the expansion of American power and influence abroad, or President Reagan’s refusal to back down in his confrontation with arrogant striking air traffic controllers, or my own state’s abridgement of the tyranny of collective bargaining, have been lambasted by critics as divisive. Such critics do not understand the profound role division plays in accelerating the progress of the states. 
Indeed, our Founders and all Real American leaders since are often pictured as standing for some kind of vague principle of national unity. You don’t needa college degree to know what’s wrong with that picture: vague unity is undependable, puts mushy cooperation ahead of vigorous competition, and ultimately makes us weak.

Division is dependable. Division works. It creates a critical mass of US always wary of and willing to fight the attempts of THEM to transform our traditional American values.

Our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, is a remarkable example of a decisively divisive leader frequently miscast as obsessed with unity. Two years before becoming president, Lincoln said “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.” Yet he then went on to become the most divisive chief executive in history, presiding over a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Real Americans over an issue that deeply divided the nation for many generations.
What the Civil War could not kill was the 18th century idea of state sovereignty. That is why today I say ask not what your country can do for you, ask what your country can do for your state.

Does your state want to define what marriage is and who can participate in that most sacred of unions? You now have a well-wisher in Washington.

Does your state want to be freed from onerous federal regulations of air and water quality that degrade the desire of job creators to compete in the global economy? You now have a well-wisher in Washington.

Does your state want complete control over voting rights, including the power to pass the strictest possible voter identification laws? You now have a well-wisher in Washington.

Does your state want to expand gun ownership rights to any and all people the state sees fit? You now have a well-wisher in Washington. 

As regards foreign policy, there too we call on the 18th century for guidance. In the Declaration of Independence Jefferson condemns King George III for not protecting the colonists against what he called “the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Today’s merciless Indian Savages are ISIS and their sympathizers. Our administration will reject any attempts to rationalize ISIS as somehow a product of the actions of American behavior in the Middle East or some other alleged injustice that creates terrorism. Our administration will stand for the principle that terrorism is caused by terrorists. Period.  We will wage a liberty crusade ready and able to pit our well-armed 18th century principles against ISIS’s twisted dreams of a 7th century style caliphate. We will win. They will lose.

Will the liberty crusade be divisive? Yes, as will our Big and Bold domestic reforms. But fear not, because following in the tradition of our most noble ancestors, we draw inspiration from the knowledge that Divided We Stand, United We Fall.

Thank you and God Bless America.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Media Rants: Educating for the Public Sphere

Educating for the Public Sphere

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

From the July 2015 edition of the SCENE
A majority of American adults avoid participation in public discussion of issues. Given that so much of what passes for public discourse is infected with the twin poisons of prepackaged partisan talking points and mindless put downs of opposing views, avoidance behavior should not be surprising.

Unfortunately, citizen withdrawal from the public sphere has real consequences. When uncontested bad ideas dominate, policy makers feel empowered to make them into law.The fact that the 400 wealthiest individuals on the Forbes 400 list have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined is a testament to the power of narrow monied interests to get “reverse Robin Hood” economic policy ideas taken seriously.

How can people become more engaged in solving the problems caused by an unhealthy public sphere? Clearly education has to be part of the solution. As a teacher in a Department of Communication at UW Oshkosh that states as its mission helping students to “find their voice,” I am always looking for ways to encourage public engagement. The rest of this rant describes a Seminar I taught in the spring of this year designed to provide students with some tools necessary to analyze and evaluate discourse in the public sphere, and hopefully “raise the bar” for such discourse when choosing to enter that sphere themselves.
The Seminar was called “Rhetoric in Action.” At the most basic level, rhetoric is the “art of persuasion.” The goal in the course was to expose students to writers in the public sphere for whom persuasion is the major purpose for writing. Newspaper op-ed writers represent probably the best example of the kind of persuaders I had in mind, so I assigned each of the 22 enrolled students a writer that they followed all semester. The assigned writers were Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, FrankBruni, Gail Collins, and Ross Douthat of the New York Times; Leonard Pitts, Jr. of the Miami Herald; Dana Milbank, Eugene Robinson, Kathleen Parker, Katrina vandenHeuvel, Jennifer Rubin, Richard Cohen, E.J.Dionne, Jr., GeorgeWill, and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post; Meghan Daum and Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times; Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias of; and John Nichols of the Madison Capital Times.

My main criteria in selecting the writers were: (1) the writer needed to be engaged consistently in writing about major public policy issues, (2) the writer needed to write for a mainstream source, and (3) the writer needed to have a substantial following. Obviously many writers meet those criteria, so I tried to arrive at a balance of liberal, moderate, and conservative voices. My own familiarity with the 22 writers was also a consideration; knowing about the writers in advance made it easier for me to determine if students were representing them accurately in their assigned papers for the course. 
The course textbook was The Rhetorical Act:Thinking, Speaking, and Writing Critically by professors Karlyn Campbell, Susan Huxman, and Thomas Burkholder. The writers conceptualize a successful rhetorical act as one that employs the resources of evidence, argument, organization, and language to overcome challenges making persuasion difficult. Those challenges arise from audience (they often misinterpret messages and are resistant to change), subject and purpose (subjects can be complex and saying yes to the purpose might cost too much), and the rhetor him or herself (a writer’s prior reputation might get in the way of accepting his or her current argument).

Students wrote many short papers analyzing how their assigned writer tried to overcome specific rhetorical challenges, leading to wonderful classroom discussions about public issues and the manner in which mainstream writers frame them. As the semester went on most seemed to be disturbed by how little the writers address issues of concern to young people; debt, lack of enough good paying jobs, and the environment to name just three examples. I found myself reminding them frequently that the answer was simple: write and speak about the issues you care about. Make a commitment to the public sphere. 

The final assignment was a lengthy paper requiring the student to evaluate his or her assigned writer based on artistic quality, effectiveness, accuracy, and/or ethics. These were some of the most intelligent and enjoyable papers I’ve read in a while. A good number of students were drawn to the ethical standard, which looks favorably on rhetoric that promotes social harmony and unfavorably on that which promotes discord. One student told me that a website would be more valuable than politiFact. I told her she should start it.

As a result of this course, one student was motivated to publish his own op-ed (on the topic of student debt) for the student Advance Titan newspaper. Another submitted her final paper (arguing that the NYT’s Frank Bruni weds a sense of comic, tragic, and history like a modern Shakespeare) to the Oshkosh Scholar journal of student scholarship.

Like the majority of liberal arts courses offered at the UW, “Rhetoric in Action” provided students with a meaningful opportunity to think critically about civic responsibility. Such opportunities make it more likely that graduates will pay critical attention to what is going on in Madison and Washington. Perhaps that is why so many politicians want to reduce the UW mission to mere concern with job skills.