I’ve always liked Bill O’Reilly–which is weird, because I don’t agree with the majority of his political views at all.  His bombastic style is definitely not “real journalism”, but I’ve always found it entertaining–a lot like John McLaughlin.  People say he’s a bully, and I can’t really disagree, but his manner reminds me of my Irish family members–they’ll yell and swear and browbeat somebody in an argument, and then afterwards shake hands and say “great to see you”.

Yeah, I guess I’m probably in a tiny minority as a liberal who likes O’Reilly and can’t stand Olbermann.  I like to be different.  I once read that Robert Frost said “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

Anyway, so O’Reilly has been caught misrepresenting his role in various events–saying he was present in “a war zone” during the Falklands conflict, when in fact he was not; saying he was knocking at George de Mohrenschildt‘s door as de Mohrenschildt committed suicide, when O’Reilly was not even in the state at the time.  Coming so soon on the heels of the Brian Williams scandal, people are calling on Fox News to suspend him, just as NBC suspended Williams. Of course, Fox has not done that.

The reason for this discrepancy is that O’Reilly is an entertainer, whereas Brian Williams is a news reporter.  People who watched Williams expected to get factual information, and when he didn’t deliver, they got mad.  People who watch O’Reilly just want to be entertained.  Some love him, some hate him, but they all just want to see what he’s going to do next.  Whether any of it resembles truth is not relevant. This was proven quite conclusively when O’Reilly totally screwed up the history of the Malmedy massacre, saying the Americans committed the atrocity against the German SS prisoners, when actually it was the Germans committing it against the Americans. That’s a pretty pathetic error to  make.

But who cares if O’Reilly doesn’t know history?  He’s an entertainer.  Hence the comparison to McLaughlin–no one knows what he’s talking about half the time, even the other panelists, but it’s fun to watch, by golly!

That’s why NBC had to punish Williams, but Fox doesn’t need to punish O’Reilly: they’re not really in the same business.  In NBC’s business, credibility matters.

John Nichols at The Nation writes of how Fox News dealt with Obama echoing Theodore Roosevelt in a speech. In brief, some Fox pundits asserted that Roosevelt was a socialist. Nichols writes in rebuttal:

“Roosevelt, in his ‘New Nationalism’ speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, did outline an agenda that supported the establishment of programs like Social Security and Medicare, protections against discrimination, union rights and expanded democracy. In effect, he was arguing for what, under his fifth cousin, Franklin, would come to be known as “the New Deal.”

Some of those proposals were promoted by the Socialist Party in the early years of the twentieth century, which certainly made arguments in its platforms for safety-net programs. But so, too, did moderate Republicans and Democrats. After the ‘Gilded Age’ of robber barons and corporate monopolies, there was mainstream support for tempering the excesses of laissez faire capitalism.”

The people who have been called “socialists” have many different ideas, and the major commonality I can see is a belief that something ought to be done to alleviate poverty. If this is the definition, then Roosevelt was a socialist. If, on the other hand, socialism means wanting the workers to seize the factors of production then Roosevelt was not a socialist. And if socialism is believing that the government should reallocate resources–as many Conservatives seem to think it is these days–then Roosevelt, along with virtually every other person in history who ever ran a country, was definitely a socialist.

Still, it is significant that Roosevelt’s policies were similar to those of socialists at the time. Maybe he was merely a pragmatist, and found that the easiest way to thwart radical socialism was to allow for moderate socialism. Does that make him a socialist? I don’t know; I think it makes him a practical politician.

To my mind, T.R. was something of a market socialist, though I think before anything else he just wanted a powerful United States, and was just willing to do what it took to make that happen. I don’t think he was really invested in socialism. But I will admit that, on the face of it, the “New Nationalism” agenda seems like it have made the country closer to being Socialist than it had been previously.

You may decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 

I see that Sean Hannity had a special show last night documenting the alleged “history of the liberal media”. This is a key element in the Republican story of recent history. In fact, I think it is something of a deus ex machina in that story.

Television news–excluding Fox News, obviously–is dominated by liberals. I’m willing to admit that, actually. But note that I say “dominated by”, not “biased in favor of”. This may seem somewhat strange, but I think that while most individual journalists lean towards liberalism, particularly social liberalism, they try to keep their biases in check. (I suspect that that’s the first thing they teach you in journalism school.)

It is my belief that, rather than creating a liberal bias in the media, this concentration of liberalism has the effect of making a conservatives a type of entity which the media covers with uncomprehending interest. If “familiarity breeds contempt”, as the old line goes, then unfamiliarity has bred a kind of fascination.

The press in general tends to display their liberalism not, as you might expect, by always deriding or marginalizing conservatives, but by treating them as if they are some exotic type of creature they have never seen before. They react, not with outrage, but with surprise and curiosity when they hear a conservative spout some standard talking point.

For example, last year then-Senate Candidate Rand Paul said that he liked the 1964 Civil Rights Act insofar as it desegregated public places, but was uncomfortable with it desegregating private ones. This is a fairly typical libertarian position, but the press reacted like they’d never heard it. They did not smear Paul as a racist, however, despite what some people might say.

They reacted with a general lack of understanding and a realization that this was controversial. They knew this wasn’t what they all believed about the Civil Rights Act, and so they were just sort of puzzled.

This process repeats itself on issue after issue. Liberal journalists simply do not know that much about Conservatives, and so always cover them with a curiosity and, oftentimes, interest. In fact, while their coverage is not always glowing, I believe it may provide the Conservatives with an advantage in terms of getting their issues covered.

Incidentally, Eric Alterman wrote a very interesting book called What Liberal Media? that examined some of these issues. The book has a lot of flaws, particularly in just how broadly Alterman is willing to define “bias”, and obviously he’s a liberal himself; but it’s still one of the better books I’ve read on the topic.

Having apparently gotten bored of attacking Woodrow Wilson–or perhaps surprised by Wilson’s unresponsiveness–Glenn Beck has decided to turn his attention to George Soros, a wealthy businessman who funds various left-leaning activism groups.

Beck’s much-hyped two-part report supposedly “reveals” that Soros has a five-step plan for destroying countries. It is as follows, in Beck’s own words with my comments in [brackets]:

  1. “Form a shadow government using humanitarian aid as cover.”
  2. “Control the airwaves. Fund existing radio and TV outlets and take control over them or start your own outlets.” [Beck apparently believes that funding Media Matters, NPR and Huffington Post constitutes “controlling the airwaves”.]
  3. “Destabilize the state, weaken the government and build an anti-government kind of feeling in this country. You exploit an economic crisis or take advantage of existing crisis — pressure from the top and the bottom. This will allow you to weaken the government and build anti- government public sentiment.” [An old saying about pots and kettles occurs to me.]
  4. “You provoke an election crisis. You wait for an election. And during the election, you cry voter fraud.”
  5. “Take power. You stage massive demonstrations, civil disobedience, sit-ins, general strike, you encourage activism. You promote voter fraud and tell followers what to do through your radio and television stations.”

The first thing one can do with this is to ask just how much of it describes what the Conservatives do, but apart from that there is also the fact that all the other governments Soros has taken on in the past have been communist governments. That Beck, the man who fears that President Obama is a Marxist, conveniently  fails to mention that reveals–as if there were any revealing to be done–the dishonest nature of his whole operation.

Most of the criticism of Beck’s piece, however, has revolved around allegations that it is anti-semitic. Beck’s use of words such as “puppet-master” and  “blood sucker” to describe Soros, they say, call to mind Nazi propaganda.

The terminology is similar, there’s no doubt, as is the unbelievable and convoluted conspiracy theory. Still, it must be admitted that Beck never said Soros did the things Beck alleges because he is Jewish. Beck’s story is one of a supposedly evil man who happens to be Jewish, and I never felt like Beck was trying to insinuate anything else.

As Beck himself pointed out at the outset of his show, he [Beck] is a more hard-line supporter of Israel than is George Soros himself. For once, I think he’s not lying; this does indeed seem to me to argue against the charge that Beck is anti-semitic. Indeed, the vast majority of Conservatives/Republicans are fervent supporters of Israel, and more to the point, hard-line opponents of the Palestinians. There are exceptions, such as Pat Buchanan, but for the most part this is the case. So, why would Beck even want to encourage anti-Jewish feeling among his Conservative viewers? It appears to be inconsistent with practically everything else that goes on on Fox.

(One possible explanation is that Beck really is as insane as he acts. However, I doubt this because it’s hard to imagine he would even show up at the studio reliably were that the case.)

Frankly, I think that Beck’s problem with Soros isn’t that he’s Jewish, it’s that he funds Democratic-leaning stuff, and Democrats, of whatever religion, ethnicity, sex, and so forth, are viewed by Beck and most of the Fox news crowd as illegitimate, evil and generally undeserving of representation.

Sylvester Stallone has made a new movie called The Expendables, which apparently is a throwback to the old 1980s-era action films. A guy named Steven Zeitchik criticized the film’s “hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world.” Which triggered this response from Stallone on The O’Reilly Factor:

Now, I have not seen this film. But I will say that I think O’Reilly and Stallone are misinterpreting Zeitchik’s criticism. They seem to be thinking his problem with the movie is that it’s some sort of American propaganda for people in other countries. Zeitchik was in fact complaining that the film was reinforcing American patriotism for Americans themselves. (I’m still surprised that Stallone even claimed Zeitchik was “reading in metaphors”. I would have thought he and O’Reilly would be openly patriotic.)

The really key exchange, though, is this:

O’Reilly: “[The movie] is macho guys like you, alright, killing bad guys.”

Stallone: “That’s right.”

Later, Stallone says: “It’s simple: You’re bad, you gotta go.”

With a few exceptions, movies in general rely on the simple formula of “the good guys” vs. “the bad guys”. The only thing that remains to be seen is: who are “the bad guys”? The writer’s choice of who to cast as “the bad guys” is what determines the political, social, religious etc. theories (if any) of the film.

For example, in James Cameron’s movie Avatar, the Native-American-like indigenous creatures are portrayed as “the good guys”, whereas the human, English-speaking, white male military contractors are portrayed as “the bad guys”. This offers some insight into the political thesis of the movie.

Which brings me to the point: are the “good guys” in Stallone’s movie Americans and the bad guys not Americans? That would seem to be the key question here.

(Hat Tip to Big Hollywood)

“We are dealing with people who think they should rebel until they get their little kingdom like Satan did. You know what? Thanks, Mr. President, but I think we’re going to keep the Internet the way it is right now. You know — or at least until people who are worshipping Satan, you know, aren’t in office.” 

So said Glenn Beck last week, in a discussion of “net neutrality”. Charles Johnson writes “Once you’ve exhausted the Hitler analogies, this is all that remains.”

I’ve wondered in the past if all the Nazi comparisons are just the secular equivalent of yelling “This is the work of Satan!” (Or “She’s a Witch!”) I guess since Beck realized he’s not secular, he could go ahead and use it.

BTW, if the Devil thing doesn’t stick, I have three words for you, Beck: Great Old Ones.

This video has been getting a lot of attention today. Since I’ve been discussing the reasons for the Tea Party a lot lately, I thought I’d address it.

Much is made of the fact that the Tea Party members shown here are apparently unaware of the fact that their taxes are at present slightly lower.

Well, the obvious response must first point out that if anybody at this event did give a reasonable discourse on, for example, Ricardian Equivalence, it wouldn’t make this video, because of its makers’ stated agenda. Secondly, it must be pointed out he interviewed so few people that it’s hard to call it a significant sample. Lastly, most people become flustered when asked to speak on camera, and tend to babble a little. So, the bias of the piece makes it rather difficult to have any faith that we are getting a real representation of the Tea Party.

That isn’t to say that the video is worthless–the search for completely unbiased reporting is in any case, I think, quixotic. The bits that document the rehearsed performances and speeches are pretty effective in showing them to be rather silly. (As are similar things at Left-wing rallies, I’ll bet.) I found Lord Monckton’s little rallying cry about Fox News anchors to be fairly Orwellian.

Overall, I’d say it’s a useful piece of footage to some extent, but by no means should people go judging the Tea Party by it.

    Generation Zero is a new documentary about the financial crisis. Apparently, it claims that the baby boomers caused the stock market crash in some way that I can’t figure out yet. I haven’t seen it, but it’s stocked with so many mainstream Republican/neo-con types that it makes me suspicious of just how much new information is in it. Based on the trailer, it looks a lot like Zeitgeist for Republicans.

    Today the Supreme Court ruled that businesses and unions can spend their own money on political ads endorsing or opposing a candidate. This raises a question I have long wondered about: how effective are political ads?

    Do you really base who you are going to vote for on what ads on TV say? If  there are a lot of people who are that gullible, the Nation is doomed no matter what the Supreme Court rules on this issue. Seriously, I can barely remember any ads from the last Presidential campaign. And I’m fairly confident that my decision was not swayed by them one way or another.

    I can’t speak for most people on this issue. And let’s face it; if you’ve brainwashed someone correctly, they’ll swear up and down they were not brainwashed. So I can’t be sure the ads didn’t affect me. 

    A friend of mine was telling me that the real danger here is that corporations will disguise the ads to look like authentic news broadcasts–like is sometimes done in infomercials. This will confuse people into believing they’re watching a unbiased newscast that’s saying “Candidate X eats babies.”

    I don’t buy it. The only people stupid enough to fall for that are probably already watching their favorite propaganda network (Fox news or MSNBC) anyway. Their votes are locked in. The swing voters aren’t, for the most part, dumb enough to be tricked like that.