Sunday, May 01, 2016

Media Rants: Wisconsin Primary Postmortem


Wisconsin Primary Postmortem

Less than a year ago, the dominant corporate media narrative regarding presidential campaign 2016 predicted the inevitable coronation of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton as the nominees of their respective parties. Back then, the major challenger to Jeb was supposed to be our own Scott Walker, and few in the establishment thought that Bernie Sanders would last until the Wisconsin primary (let alone win it).

Because the voters elected not to cooperate with the establishment narrative, Wisconsin’s April 5th primary took on an added significance. The national media gave much attention to our state, and for the first time in months people across the country associated Wisconsin with more than just Making a Murderer, beer and cheese, and the Green Bay Packers.

Here are some takeaways from what will go down as one of Wisconsin’s more memorable primary years.

Reince and Beans: The Chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, is a Wisconsin guy and big Scott Walker fan. Reince and the RNC created a 2016 primary calendar tailor made for Walker: they front-loaded the calendar with deep red states that should have been open to the Wisconsin governor’s brand of conservatism, and they made sure Wisconsin was the only state to vote on April 5th, something blatantly designed to give Walker a national platform six months before the general election. As it turned out, Reince’s maneuvering wasn’t worth a hill of beans. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz outflanked Walker on the right wing, stealing all of the attention and votes in the red states; Walker’s campaign ended barely 70 days in. A primary process designed to pacify the Koch Brothers and other big donors while quelling dissent within the party ends up on a path toward the most fractious nominating convention in GOP history.

Dems Felt The Bern, But Not The Burg: Bernie Sanders’ campaign is rooted in the idea that social change only comes about through the power of grassroots movements. In fact when challenged as to how he will get anything done as president, Sanders insists that millions of people will come to Washington and pressure the congress, whose members will have no choice but to succumb to the “political revolution” staring them in the face. 

Wisconsin gave Sanders a great chance to put the revolutionary strategy into practice. Would he be able to get his energetic supporters to turn out for state Supreme Court candidate Joanne Kloppenburg, the progressive challenger to Rebecca Bradley, the right wing judge appointed to the court by Scott Walker? As it turned out, no. True, Kloppenburg was outspent and was the victim of some nasty special interest advertising, but the disturbing fact remains that thousands of people who voted for Sanders (or Clinton) did not vote in the supreme court race. You’d think that advocates for a political revolution, if they intend to be anything more than human campaign slogans, would be able to educate voters about the consequences of “undervoting.”

Right Wing Talk Radio and Civility: Given his national appeal to alienated, low income white voters with less formal education, Donald Trump should have done well in Wisconsin. At the national level, Trump’s campaign has been boosted among such voters by right wing radio icon Rush Limbaugh and his mini-mees like Sean Hannity. In Wisconsin however, right wing radio turned against Trump (who in their alternative universe is somehow “liberal” compared to other GOP candidates).

Right wing radio in Wisconsin is led by Republican hosts comfortable with the GOP establishment and big donors for whom Trump has displayed mostly contempt. These hosts called out Trump for his lack of civility, the irony and hypocrisy of which was somehow lost on the national media. Trump is an obnoxious bore, it is true, but right wing radio in Wisconsin is about as a civil as a hungry piranha fish. They make their living off of demonizing liberals, union members, and anyone else who opposes their agenda.

Voter ID Will Serve Its Purpose: On the evening of the primary, our own Congressman Glenn Grothman argued that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump could be the first Republican to win Wisconsin in a general election since 1984 because "Hillary Clinton is one of the weakest candidates they ever put up, and now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well." This means that Grothman believes every Democrat who’s won Wisconsin since 1988 benefited from voter fraud; if he does believe that he should be calling for congressional hearings. Or, and more likely, he believes that voter ID will suppress Democratic votes just enough to allow the GOP to prevail in a close election. Some are angry at Rep. Grothman for his comments, but he probably should be thanked for confirming what voter ID opponents have suspected for years: the law is not about fraud (of which there is negligible evidence in Wisconsin), but about helping Republicans maintain power.

Missed Opportunities: The national media staked out in Wisconsin for two solid weeks before the election. That should have been a great opportunity to get candidates to go on the record about critical issues facing the state. Instead we heard mostly talking points culled from stump speeches, with little Wisconsin focus. What a shame. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Media Rants: Ebony and Avery

Ebony and Avery

Media Rants By Tony Palmeri

From the March 2016 edition of the SCENE

Like large numbers of Netflix subscribers, I binge watched Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ “Making a Murderer.” Before watching the series, my knowledge of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey was similar to most Wisconsinites: I knew that Avery spent 18 years in jail for a crime the Innocence Project proved he did not commit, got released with much fanfare and not too long afterwards was convicted of murdering young photographer Teresa Halbach. The evidence against the hapless Dassey never seemed as strong, but I remember in 2006 being convinced by prosecutor Ken Kratz’s media presentations that he was probably guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

After watching the series I’m not quite ready to say that I think Avery/Dassey are innocent or even that enough reasonable doubt exists to warrant a new trial. But I am troubled by two things. First, in hindsight it is now clear that media coverage (especially television) of the Avery arrest and trial in 2006 and 2007 was awful. Second and more important, outrageous wrongful convictions are something that people of color in American have had to deal with for many generations. Why has there been so little public outrage at that fact?

On the awfulness of the media: some of the most cringe inducing scenes in “Making a Murderer” involve press conferences with prosecutor Ken Kratz. Most of the so-called journalists in the room come off as deer caught in headlights; they seemed unable or unwilling to press the prosecutor to support his statements. The most egregious example occurred on March 2, 2006 when Kratz held a press conference providing lurid details about how Ms. Halbach was brutally raped, stabbed, shot, and burned to death by Avery and Dassey. The press conference, which included charges for which Kratz did not have evidence  and were ultimately not what Avery was convicted of, succeeded in making it next to impossible to impanel a jury that did not already have an impression of the case. Because media outlets across the state chose to report Kratz’s comments, Avery’s attorneys saw no benefit to asking to move the trial out of Manitowoc County.

In fairness to the media, they could not have known in 2006 that Mr. Kratz would turn out to be a major league dirtbag. On the other hand, Journalism 101 should have taught them to be more inquisitive before becoming mouthpieces for the prosecution, especially given what we now know were highly questionable methods used to extract a confession from Dassey.

What about the lack of public outrage over wrongful convictions? Given the massive public outrage as regards Avery’s case (over a half million people signed an online petition asking President Obama to pardon him—something he has no power to do), you would think that wrongful convictions are rare. Not so. Reporting about the National Registry of Exonerations, the New York Times said that, “A record 149 people in the United States were found in 2015 to have been falsely convicted of a crime, and of those, nearly 4 in 10 were exonerated of murder . . . All told, its researchers have recorded 1,733 exonerations since 1989.” Five of the convicts exonerated in 2015 were facing death sentences, which should make even the most ardent pro death penalty advocates pause and reconsider their position. None of the exonerated individuals were the topics of documentaries, media sensationalism, or petition drives, yet the injustice against them was every bit as great as what happened to Avery for 18 years and what some believe is happening to him again.

African-Americans face the most blatant injustices in the system. According to criminal justice reporter Michael McLaughlin: “There's no way to know for sure, of course, but data about wrongful convictions show that blacks who are exonerated after a bogus conviction have served 12.68 years on average before the good news, according to Pamela Perez, professor of biostatistics at Loma Linda University. It takes just 9.4 years for whites and 7.87 for Latinos.”

White Americans sometimes get involved in efforts to raise awareness of the plight of African-American inmates falsely accused. Probably the best historic example was the case of Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer whose quest for freedom took off after a book and a Bob Dylan song raised public awareness. Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur have whites supporting them, but primarily in the activist community.

Would “Making a Murderer,”  and Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, be getting so much open show of support if the parties accused were Black? The painful truth is probably not. Let’s close with a reworking of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony and Ivory.”

Ebony and Avery covered differently on the ‘Net and TV
Google “National Registry of Exonerations” on my laptop keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?

We all know that cable television is the same where ever you go
There is exploitable good and bad in everyone
But when the show’s about a white convict we learn to live, we learn to give each other
What we need to survive together alive

Ebony and Avery covered differently on the ‘Net and TV
Google “National Registry of Exonerations” on my laptop keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?

Ebony, Avery covered differently on the ‘Net and TV

Ebony, Avery, oh

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Media Rants: Censored in 2015

Censored in 2015

From the February 2016 edition of the SCENE 

Since 1976 Sonoma State University’s Project Censored has challenged the news media to meet their First Amendment responsibilities. Annually the Project compiles a volume of news stories "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States.” Walter Cronkite said that “Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.”  Bestselling author and activist Naomi Wolf asserts that, “Project Censored is a lifeline to the world’s most urgent and significant stories.” 

Project Censored is famous for its nontraditional definition of censorship, referring to it as “anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to have a free press.” They argue that censorship includes not just stories that were never published, but also “those that get such restricted distribution that few in the public are likely to know about them.”

Censored 2016: Media Freedom on the Line (Seven Stories Press) continues the Project’s annual exploration of what a panel of judges determines to be the top 25 most censored stories of the year. The top three are (1) “Half of global wealth owned by the 1 percent,” (2) “Oil industry illegally dumps fracking wastewater,” and (3) “89 percent of Pakistani drone victims not identifiable as militants.” I’d say that #3 is a good answer to the question “why do they hate us?” In fact, just about every story covered by Project Censored is an answer to the question of why there is so much despair and tension in the world. If mainstream media met its responsibility to give the stories proper treatment, we would of course not see an end to despair and tension. But we WOULD see less ignorance and confusion about the causes of trouble in the world, and less ignorance always leads to more positive action on behalf of reform.

Over the years when I have written about Project Censored, some readers have responded by saying that the organization’s approach to censorship seems too conspiratorial. Such readers argue that news media can only cover so much given time and space constraints, and to favor some stories over others probably has more to do with commercial pressures and “giving the audience what it wants” rather than actively “censoring” certain stories. I think there is some legitimacy to that critique; the northeast Wisconsin corporate media wall to wall Packer coverage for 20 to 30 weeks out of the year probably has more to do with a ratings calculation as opposed to news directors willingly dumbing down the audience’s knowledge of critical labor, political, environmental and other challenges facing regional communities.

Sometimes censorship is the simply result of journalistic laziness. My spouse Lori and I recently experienced the consequences of journalistic laziness when she decided to take out nomination papers to run in the April election for Oshkosh Common Council. When she took out the papers in December, she was told by the Oshkosh City Clerk’s office that she needed to obtain 200-400 signatures by January 5th. When I asked my friend and former Oshkosh Mayor Paul Esslinger if he could get some signatures, he pointed out that the requirement was actually 100-200 signatures. Republican Senator Rick Gudex and Republican Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt were able to get the law changed so as to promote the entry of more candidates in city council races. When Lori showed up to get her 120 signatures certified on January 4th, she was told by the Clerk’s office that the requirement for Oshkosh was still 200-400 signatures; for some unclear reason they believed the law did not apply in a place represented by one of its chief sponsors (Senator Gudex).  Even the members of the Oshkosh Common Council we contacted about the signature requirement were not aware of the law. On the morning of January 5th, the Clerk’s office contacted Lori to say that they called the Government Accountability Board in Madison and that in fact the requirement was 100-200 signatures. Lori will be on the ballot in April. We will never know if potential candidates were deterred from running because they were given inaccurate information.

Sure, the Clerk’s office should know the law. But the real problem in my judgement was that the Gannett press, local television and local radio simply did an awful job of reporting on the impending campaign season and the requirements for running. These are the same media who regularly lament the shortage of candidates.

I would argue that the mass media minimization of the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was the most censored national story of 2015. Sanders has spoken to record crowds, raised huge amounts of money from mostly small donations, and completely shifted the Democratic Party primary debate to the left. He also polls well against any Republican nominee. All that, and yet for the New York Times and other establishment media, Sanders is virtually invisible.

OneNew York Times article quoted a senior citizen Trump supporter who said that “This election is the first in my life where we can change what it means to be a Republican.”  Memo to the Times: the same is true for the Democrats this year—your readers would know that if you would stop censoring Bernie’s campaign!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The 2015 Tony Awards


The 2015 TONY Awards

By Tony Palmeri

From the January 2016 edition of The SCENE

Every year the Media Rants column awards a “Tony” to media acts worthy of merit. Award criteria are simple: whatever I personally found to be provocative during the year. Don’t like my choices? Write up your own “best of 2015” and post them on a blog or on social media. You can even submit an old fashioned letter to your local newspaper.

The Tony’s for 2015 are divided into subcategories. Drum roll please:

Broken Clock Award: Donald Trump. As is true of most demagogues, Mr. Trump is like a broken clock in that he’s right twice a day. He earns a Tony for two tweets that told the truth about Scott Walker. The first was on July 25: “Scott Walker is a nice guy, but not presidential material. Wisconsin is in turmoil, borrowing to the hilt, and doing poorly in jobs, etc.” The second was on July 27: “When people find out how bad a job Scott Walker has done in WI, they won’t be voting for him. Massive deficit, bad jobs forecast, a mess.”

In less than 300 characters, Trump was able to do what the recall Walker movement, hundreds of thousands of protesters, and the Democratic Party establishment could not: convince the Republican voter base that Walker really has been bad for Wisconsin.
Political Candor Award: Wendy Davis. This Tony goes to former Texas Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis, the Democrats’ unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2014. While running for governor, Ms. Davis supported open-carry of firearms, a position that disappointed her base but took the issue off the table during most of the election season. Recently she wrote an essay for Politico entitled “Why I caved on guns when I ran for governor of Texas” in which she admitted that her posturing probably didn’t get her any votes and ended up wasting a golden opportunity to use her campaign as a bully pulpit to educate citizens on the reality of gun violence.

Wendy Davis should be applauded for her candor. Will other Democrats have the courage to learn from her example? Maybe. Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, is certainly not hiding from her gun control position.

(Above) During her campaign for Texas governor, Wendy Davis posed with a shotgun belonging to the late Democratic governor Ann Richards. 

Best Twitter Shaming: Igor Volsky. Mr. Volsky is Director of Video and Contributing Editor at the political blog ThinkProgress.Org. After a “pro-life” terrorist murdered three people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, Mr. Volsky noticed that the most common response of Republicans in Congress was to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. Volsky then “twitter shamed” 36 thought and prayer offering politicians by exposing how much money they had received from the National Rifle Association. He found that all 36 of them had “A” ratings from the NRA and had received more than $2.3 million in contributions. “The NRA pays them to only think and pray about gun violence, and not to do anything else about it,” Volsky told MSNBC.

Sensationalism On A Mission: The New York Daily News. For many years, the New York Daily News has been synonymous with tabloid sensationalism, especially with some of its over the top front page headlines and photos. In 2015 the sensationalism went on a mission; a front page cartoon of Donald Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty became an instant classic. More powerfully, the paper called out the CEOs of the four largest gun manufacturers in the US, finally giving citizens a look at the people who profit directly from the nation’s gun carnage.

Editorial of the Year: The Washington Post. The fifth Republican presidential debate, held in December in Las Vegas, featured several hours worth of doom and gloom and fear mongering, leading many to wonder what happened to the Reaganite sense of optimism in the modern GOP. In a powerful editorial, the Washington Post opined that “for Republicans, bigotry is the new normal.”  Telling a sad truth, the editorialists wrote this: “Fear-mongering and raw xenophobia were once the hallmarks of fringe candidates. Today the fringe candidates have stormed center stage, brandishing their zeal and hyperbole and, disturbingly, dragging the mainstream along with them.”

Letter of the Year: In 2009 the city of Oshkosh bought out the city’s lone Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to make room for a roundabout. Since then Oshkosh’s KFC status has become somewhat of an obsession with Gannett’s Oshkosh Northwestern. In February of 2015 the paper published a front page history of KFC in Oshkosh. Citizen Paula Steger’s letter in response gets a Tony for letter of the year:

Seriously, the lack of a KFC in Oshkosh is the front page news on a Sunday. Furthermore, if people are looking for a chicken dinner in Oshkosh, they have plenty of choices and the dinners are better and cheaper than anything KFC has to offer.

Let me see: Mike's Place on Jackson; Jansen's on Bowen; Mahoney's on Wisconsin; Parnell's on the southside, just to offer a few.

Those more familiar with Oshkosh than I may be able to offer more opportunities. To my knowledge the restaurants offer eat-in dining as well as take-out.

For a newspaper that likes to pat itself on the back as a community cheerleader, you did a great disservice to the local restaurant community by giving free front page advertising to a giant nationwide fast food restaurant.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Media Rants: A TV Debate in 1860

A Television Debate in 1860

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri 

from the December 2015 edition of The SCENE 

So far the Republicans have had four nationally televised presidential primary debates, and the Democrats two. Republican debates become competitions to see who can make the wackiest comment of the evening, while Democrats recite a litany of progressive ideas everyone knows they will never really fight for.
Moderators play a prominent role; CNBC’s probing questions at GOP debate #3 prompted the “tough” candidates to act like crybabies and demand “fairer” treatment from less “biased” panelists. As self-serving as the Republican criticism might be, I do wonder if these “debates” are pointless. 

Yes we are probably better off with them than without, but the overemphasis on generating “clash” seems modeled on WWE Smackdown rather than the PBS Newshour.

Imagine Abe Lincoln in these debates. In 1860 there were eight Republicans seeking the party’s nomination: three United States Senators (William Seward, Simon Cameron, Benjamin Wade), one former Senator (William Dayton), one governor (Salmon P. Chase), two former congressmen (Lincoln and Edward Bates), and one Supreme Court Justice (John McLean).

Imagine a televised debate in Chicago, site of that year’s Republican convention. The moderators are three prominent newsmen of the time: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Henry Raymond of the New York Times, and James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald.

Greeley:  Thanks to all the candidates for being here. If your answers go past 30 seconds, the nonstop sound of a cowbell will drown out your remarks until you cease. Mr. Lincoln we will start with you with a question from Henry Raymond.

Raymond: Mr. Lincoln, your critics point out that in 1840 as an Illinois state legislator you jumped out of the first floor window of the state Capitol to prevent the Democrats from obtaining the quorum necessary to pass a bank bill you didn’t like. Sir, how can the public be certain you won’t flee the White House when Democrats attempt to obstruct your agenda?
Lincoln: Mr. Raymond, I think my actions in the Illinois legislature are not relevant to today. Our Southern states are threatening to secede from the federal union. I suggest that we spend our limited time debating who has the best plan to avert that tragic possibility.

Raymond: Senator Seward, you are the front runner for the Republican nomination going into the Chicago convention. Do you agree with Mr. Lincoln that his past actions are not relevant? 

Seward: Well I’ve never tried to prevent a quorum when I couldn’t win an argument, but let me say directly to Mr. Lincoln: I don’t give a damn about your jumping ability. (APPLAUSE) You simply have not come out strongly enough against the scourge of slavery. 

Lincoln: I am on record as saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half-slave and half-free.

Bennett: Mr. Lincoln, please only speak when you are asked a question. Governor Chase, you have a reputation for working with Democrats, which angers the radical wing of the Republican Party. Why should Republicans support someone perceived as a collaborator?

Chase:  In my time in government I have done more to oppose slavery than any man on this stage. I work with Democrats because I see them as mistaken, not evil. Seeing them as evil will land us in a Civil War. If we nominate Lincoln or Seward, we are saying we want Civil War because no Democrats in the border or southern states, and even many in the north, can even stand being in the same room with them. 

McLean: May I get in this debate?

Greeley: Do you want to say something Justice McLean?

McLean:  Yes. I can work with the other side better than anyone. I’ve worked with Jacksonian Democrats, Whigs, anti-Whigs, Free Soilers, and now Republicans. I’m one of  two judges to dissent in the atrocious Dred Scott v. Sanford case, the decision that sparked talk of Civil War more than anything in our history. We need a judicious mind to see us through these quite injudicious times.

Greeley: Mr. Dayton, as a former Senator what critique to you have of the sitting Senators on this stage?

Dayton: Please remember that I was also, just four short years ago, the first Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. The sitting Senators are doing their best under trying circumstances. I do know that any one of them would be better than the Democratic nominee. (APPLAUSE).

Raymond: Senator Cameron, rumors are swirling around Chicago that your campaign is negotiating a deal with the Lincoln forces to make you Secretary of War in return for your endorsement. Would you like to respond to those rumors?

Cameron: You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. (APPLAUSE)  

This is not a cage match. Look at the questions : "Abe Lincoln, will you flee the White House?" "William Seward, do you care what Lincoln did twenty years ago?" "William Dayton, would you like to insult the sitting Senators over here?” "Simon Cameron, are you corrupt?”

How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?

(At this point Bates and Wade interrupt):  Here Here!!!  Here Here!!!

The crowd goes wild while Greeley feverishly rings the cowbell. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Media Rants: The Pope Mystifies Mr. Jones

The Pope Mystifies Mr. Jones 

Media Rants 

from the November 2015 edition of the SCENE

Pope Francis’ late September whirlwind tour of the United States put him in the Papal Rock Star category that had been the exclusive domain of Pope John Paul II. Corporate media, conditioned to think of Popes as merely Presidents in groovy outfits, seemed ill equipped to handle Francis’ Jesus-like musings. Surely the media knew what was coming; in his remarkable 2013 apostolic exhortation  EvangeliiGaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) Francis stated a belief in economic principles not endorsed by the Boards of Directors of our media elite:

*No to an economy of exclusion.
*No to the new idolatry of money.
*No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.
*No to the inequality which spawns violence.

According to Millennial, an online journal for young Catholics, Evangelii Gaudium employs the word "love" 154 times, "joy" 109 times, "the poor" 91 times, "peace" 58 times, "justice" 37 times,” dignity” 23 times,  and "common good" 15 times.

Francis’ June of 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’” (“Praise be to you”), subtitled “On Care For Our Common Home” issued similar challenges to the elites: “To claim economic freedom . . . while real conditions bar many people from real access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practice a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” He describes a planet that is the victim of “relentless exploitation”  that is in part the result of “the reckless pursuit of profits.”

In rock and roll terms, those are Woodstock Era platitudes. I found myself thinking of two classic rock era songs every time the Pope appeared on American television: “After Forever” by Black Sabbath and Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Whenever right wing pundits pontificated about the Pope and dismissed his call for reigning in capitalist excesses as somehow nothing more than communist polemics, these lines from “After Forever” came to mind:
“Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope - do you think he's a fool?” and “I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ.”

National Public Radio’s Bob Garfield, cohost of “On the Media,” perfectly summed up the wingnut reaction to the Pope in  a rant called “The Pope is not a Politician.” After citing hysterical reactions to Francis from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Stuart Varney, Garfield argued cogently that “The problem is that in our hyperpoliticized media culture, nothing in the world is immune from partisanship and polemic.  Not atmospheric crisis.  Not evolution.  Not vaccination. Not economic history.  Not even hunger. What should the leader of the Church talk about then? Deflategate?”

We shouldn’t get too upset about wingnut commentators because they only exist to entertain. Only “true believers” take them seriously. Of much more concern are the mainstream, “moderate” journalists and commentators. These journalistas may or may not be Catholic, but they do belong to what New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has long called the “Church of the Savvy.” According to Rosen:

“Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, ‘with it,’ and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it.”

It’s those “savvy” journalists Bob Dylan probably had in mind when he wrote this in “Ballad of a Thin Man”: 

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
In the 1980s the “thin men” running Pravda and other Soviet media viewed Pope John Paul II through a Cold War “evil capitalist/benevolent communist “ frame that had little relevance to anyone outside Western and Soviet elites. State controlled journalists refused to see that the “something happening here” was a grassroots rebellion of millions standing up against a totalitarian state that had spent years squashing basic freedoms and squandering wealth on a pointless arms race. Pope John Paul II, originally from Poland, no doubt inspired resistance to Communist authorities, but like any “great leader” the most he could be was a symbol of what was going on at the street level.

Today, the thin men and women running mainstream USA journalism insist on viewing Francis through a partisan Left/Right lens that is meaningless pretty much everywhere on earth except in USA mainstream media. The subtext of almost all the Pope coverage is that Francis is a moderate Republican on social issues (he upholds traditional Catholic dogma on most issues but is less mean spirited about it) and a liberal Democrat on economics. Like their Soviet counterparts a generation ago, these government lapdog media will not or cannot see that the “something happening here” is a global, grassroots resistance to the “New World Order” that emerged in 1989 with the promise of democracy for all and a “peace dividend” but ended up giving the world more inequality, more environmental destruction, and more elite control of the centers of power.

Francis came to America and preached the old fashioned Golden Rule to politicians and a media establishment that are the chief enablers of the new golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.