Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Media Rants: 2112 Recalls The Media

Media Rants

2112 Recalls the Media
From the June 2012 edition of The SCENE
On June 5th Wisconsin voters will make history. Will they recall Scott Walker and restore Wisconsin's lost reputation as a laboratoryfor democracy? Or will the forces of wealth and reactionary politics, dividers and conquerors spending millions propping up their point man Mr. Walker, buy another election? We'll soon see.

What will future historians say about Wisconsin’s corporate media Walker era performance? Transport your mind 100 years from now, to the dystopian world imagined in the rock band Rush’s classic “2112” album. In the epic title track, the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx control all information for a dumbed down populace. The song’s protagonist finds and learns to play an old guitar, but is angrily rejected by the Priests.  “Father Brown” (who I imagine looks a bit like Scott Walker) crushes the instrument.

In my version of 2112, the Priests of the Temple reflect fondly on ancient Wisconsin media of 2012, holding it up as a role model of how to discourage human beings from wondering how or why things happen. “The Media Priests of 2012 in Wisconsin told only enough to keep the rabble in line. They were Masters of Manufacturing Consent,” mused Father Brown.

In 2112 the SCENE exists as an underground communique’ for regime opponents. To avoid Temple Priest persecution, SCENE writers hide their identities by using pseudonyms. The 2112 Media Rants column is authored by “Seldes.” Seldes’ Media Rants column of June 2112 recalls the corporate media coverage of the 2012 Wisconsin recall movement:
By 2012 it had become clear that news media should meet three key responsibilities: establish the CONTEXT for public controversies, CALL OUT undemocratic actions of public officials, and take leadership in building a small-d democratic COMMUNITY. In Wisconsin in 2012 during the reign of Temple Priest hero Scott Walker, the corporate media failed spectacularly at all three.

Governor Scott Walker’s union busting Act 10, passed with limited public testimony, was put forth under the pretext of Wisconsin being “broke.” Instead of treating the core contextual issue of whether Wisconsin was “broke” as a question of fact to be resolved by rigorous journalistic investigation, corporate media treated the question as one that could not be reliably answered. Whether Wisconsin was broke was “in the eye of the beholder.”
The same pattern appeared when it came to calling out the undemocratic actions of public officials. Scott Walker remains the most extreme product of the “pay toplay” politics brought to the Badger State by Republican governor Thompson in the 1990s and then reinforced for many years by Republicans and Democrats alike. While occasionally lamenting the corrupting influence of Wisconsin’s broken campaign finance rules, major media failed to connect the dots and establish as FACT the hijacking of Wisconsin’s government by monied interests. The best reporting came from independent, nonpartisan groups.

Case in point: The Center For Media and Democracy (CMD), building on a foundation laid down earlier by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause, and others, exposed how the hyper corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) exerted excessive public policy influence; ALEC model bills and budget provisions were at the core of the Walker legislative agenda. From 2008-2012 legislative ALEC members received $276,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC corporations, while Walker received $406,000 in the same time period. Corporate media in 2012 insisted on calling themselves government “watchdogs” at the same time leaving it to public interest groups to do meaningful watchdog investigations.
Most disturbing in 2012 concerned the media’s failure to stand up for democratic community values while simultaneously enabling divisive and antidemocratic politics. Governor Walker and his cohorts learned early that no amount of demonizing opponents, hardball politics, or convoluted spin could prod the corporate media bosses into saying “ENOUGH!” Some noteworthy examples:

*UW Madison history professor William Cronon wrote a New York Times opinion piece, “Wisconsin’s Radical Break,” comparing Walker to communist hunter Joe McCarthy (another Temple Priest favorite) in terms of both forgetting good government lessons of neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Then in response to a Cronon blog post about ALEC, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed an open records request seeking access to his emails; a clear attempt to silence a critic.
*After Wisconsin citizens collected nearly a million signatures to launch recalls against the Governor and Lt. Governor, efforts were made to degrade signers in a disgusting display of antagonism toward basic citizenship rights. Not even theGannett Corporation, a behemoth self portrayed as a champion of First Amendment freedoms, could bring itself to stand up to the bullies and defend the basic right of their own employees to sign a petition.

*A video surfaced showing Governor Walker advocating a “divide and conquer” strategy to turn Wisconsin into a red state. And when he didn’t like the reports of job losses occurring on his watch, 3 weeks before the recall election he came out with a “more accurate” way of measuring job creation that could not be verified until 3 weeks after the election!

Since the reporting on these atrocities upset partisans on all sides, the corporate press concluded they must be doing something right. With 100 years of perspective, we now know conclusively that they did everything wrong, and paved the way for the stupefying Temple Priest Press we are now subject to in 2112.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Media Rants: A Presidential Debate Alternative

A Presidential Debate Alternative                                             

Media Rants by

from the May 2012 issue of The SCENE 

As a public speaking teacher, I appreciate televised presidential debates. Showing my students just 30 minutes from any one of the current campaign season’s panoply of Republican primary gabfests is a great lesson for them on what NOT to do: don’t pander to your audience, don’t show up unprepared, don’t respond to every question with tired talking points, don’t exaggerate your accomplishments, don’t pathetically pass off your partisan opinions as facts, don’t cheap shot your opponents, and don’t lie with statistics. Even better, don’t lie at all. 

As an American citizen, I despise televised presidential debates. Mainstream journalists don’t even pretend anymore that these tightly scripted affairs offer meaningful public policy clashes. Instead, the events provide opportunities for corporate media anointed “frontrunners” and “serious challengers” to lose that status, generally by getting flustered and/or losing the post-debate spin war. When a serious public policy clash does emerge, the result can be frightening.  Last September’s CNN/Tea Party Republican party debate featured audience members actually cheering the suggestion that an uninsured 30 year old accident victim should just be left to die. Not only was that excruciating to listen to, but it may have been the lowest point ever reached in the history of cable television. 
How to account for the decline of debate? The late media critic Marshall McLuhan famously argued that platform style political debating doesn’t work in the “cool” television medium. Others posit that major political party control of the debates restricts the participation of lesser known candidates who might challenge the stale arguments of the Democrats and Republicans. Add to that the fact that establishment candidates come ready to do nothing but spew poll driven blather and the result is a bizarre state of affairs in which we seem to know less about candidates after the debate. The debates provide few clues as to how a candidate might govern if elected. 
Even if modern debates were more substantive (like Lincoln v. Douglas), the candidate skills showcased really have little to do with the leadership qualities necessary for the 21st century presidency. Debating is rooted in the idea of the president as a policy leader; an eloquent and wise advocate who artfully sways the Congress to support legislation that might benefit the people.  

The 21st century president can and should be a policy leader, but that responsibility is dwarfed by the day to day demands of running a massive federal bureaucracy and managing daily crises. A video of George W. Bush being briefed by federal disaster officials shortly before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina revealed how utterly unprepared the president was to manage the crisis. His questions were minimal, and he seemed to think the officials were fishing for a pep talk instead of help in solving the problem of how to coordinate the local, state, and national disaster response teams. 
TV debates give us a slight sense of how a candidate might handle Katrina. But we could construct a televised small group leadership exercise  that would be much more instructive. Here’s my proposal: 

First, the candidate would be placed on a stage with trained actors role playing various cabinet officers. 

Second, the candidate would be presented with a hypothetical scenario. For example: “Tea Party and Occupy Wall St. factions are planning October 3rd ‘Unite To Take Our Country Back’ rallies in hundreds of US cities. The FBI and Homeland Security have evidence the rallies might lead to mass violence between the factions and against local law enforcement. The FBI and Homeland Security want to formulate strategy with the White House, including the development of clear instructions for law enforcement at the local and state levels.” 

Third, the candidate would run a 60 minute meeting with the cabinet officers he or she thinks most crucial to dealing with such situations. The candidate could raise questions, ask for information, give direction, or anything else he or she might conceivably do if this were a real event. By the end of 60 minutes, the audience should have a good idea of the management style the candidate might bring to the White House. So as to minimize one upmanship, each meeting should be taped outside the presence of other candidates and broadcast at a later date. 

I can imagine many objections to my proposal, including how to ensure candor and whether it’s appropriate to simulate in public what would be private meetings if the candidate were elected president. Those objections are outweighed by the 21st century requirement of knowing more about potential presidents than their exaggerated resumes and ability to mouth platitudes. 

Herman Cain’s interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, in which he reveals a total inability to hold a coherent conversation about Libya, I think is a good example of what the debate alternative is aiming for. I’d simply replace the journalists with actors. If you consider the “journalists” that typically host the debates, having them replaced by actors really isn’t that much of a leap. 

Televised presidential debates have degenerated to the point where they should be called “Dancing with the Demagogues.” My alternative is not perfect, but at least it tries to develop a way of determining if a candidate can be trusted to manage the massive power of the modern presidency.