Category: Media


fight-truth-decay-man-with-signBetween the alt-fact efforts of new White House communications director Sean Spicer, and the shutdown of public communication from many federal agencies — EPA in particular; science-oriented offices in general — an obvious pattern is developing. The new WH is shutting off dialog, and keeping public eyes off of government agency work.  In some ways this doesn’t surprise me; Republican administrations seem to be less open than Democratic ones. Though the Obama administration was not as transparent as many hoped, it certainly did open the cyber doors to lots of input, as well as real life efforts to communicate with the public.  I expected it to swing back to a more closed system with the incoming administration, but it’s been much more severe than I anticipated.

The key to how this goes from here will hinge on how the press and the social-media-using public decides to get information out.

Social media is strong, and a major part of how the average citizen shares information about what is happening in the public sphere, but it’s still sort of figuring itself out. Thankfully I’m seeing my friends catch fake news more often, challenge poorly researched assertions in articles, and using the strengths of the medium to share what we are all observing.  But it’s not perfect, and we’ll need to up our vigilance in weeding out the bad info from the good if it’s to be effective in a time when gaslighting seems to be the norm coming out of the Trump administration.

And the press has to be vigilant as well, and in this area, huge swaths of the American press have been pretty damn lazy over the last few years.  Fortunately for those of us reading their work, Trump and his minions have both pissed the press off and committed themselves to such such stupid, obvious falsehoods, that many journalists are ready to start digging in, and the ones who already were taking all of this seriously are getting support for doing so.

Trump is engaged in a misinformation campaign. This is partly a strategy to allow the GOP to make sweeping partisan changes, and partly in service to Trump’s massive ego (juxtaposed next to a constantly crumbling sense of self worth). And it wears us out, public and press alike.  Whether its intent is to numb us through a ever-renewing cascade of laughably stupid and/or outrageously offensive statements, or that’s just the convenient natural consequence of all of the tweets and press statements and odd moments at the podium, the effect is the same: silencing us by making us weary of absorbing the blistering stupidity of it all.

But we can’t allow that.  As consumers of journalism, or as the creators of it, we can’t let ourselves be worn down.  And we can’t forget that while the press and us, its audience, is the target of this effort, the war is on objective truth.

It will be tempting for a lot of journalists to buy into the idea that they are the ones who are under assault. But they will do their jobs if/when they recognize that it is the truth that is under attack and the goal is to create the kind of chaos where anything is possible.

LeTourneau asks her fellow journalists to help us all avoid a world where, given that the truth is impossible to ascertain, there no longer remains any avenue, or point to trying to find it.

So, the press has to find footing in a very unsteady stream.  I suspect this will only work if the press divorces itself from, for instance, relying on WH press office statements to determine fact, which have become talking points without basis in subtance. The press will need to look elsewhere. This will be hard, this will be expensive, and it relies on public support, in paying the bills the media incurs just to get the job done, and in demanding careful journalism.

The key is to keep our vigilance going. We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced, nor can we afford to let the press be silenced.

 

jesse-duquette-sean-spicer-sketch-orwell-quote

Andrew Sullivan has been tracking the Ad Wars between the Obama and Romney campaigns.

New research from Kantar Media’s CMAG paints a dramatic picture of the unprecedented amount of ads that voters are being exposed to this cycle – as much as three to twelve times as many as in past elections:

via Ad War Update: The Ad Election – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast.

It occurs to me that this will be the first presidential election in which I won’t be inundated by campaign ads. I won’t even be coming home to robo-calls from Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford, now that I’ve been land-line free for 3 years.  I won’t be completely ad-free, but my main contact with campaign ads would normally be the TV – and in the light of the recession and the fact that I work when most of my fave shows are on, and tune into them on websites, not on cable… well, suffice it to say: it made the best sense to dump all the expensive cable packages, and I won’t be seeing many ads this year unless I intentionally que them up online.

Weird. And somehow comforting!

But I will still miss my celebrity voice mails….

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on a New York state assemblyman’s sexual harassment of his staff, after the accused grudgingly admitted he made a “mistake” – really? You think? Prompting this from my new favorite blogger:

Sexual harassment laws were basically invented for people who think “I’d like it better if you didn’t have a bra on” qualifies as management-speak.

via Why We Have Sexual Harassment Laws – Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.

And part of what I love is that the writer is a man.  20 years ago, I would have been truly amazed to read this coming from most male writers, certainly the ones writing for magazines like The Atlantic. Now, I am pleasantly surprised to find a succinct line of criticism, which could have just as easily come from a female perspective.

Things do change!

I often want to write to beloved authors, or admired politicians, or otherwise famous people. I rarely do. Sometimes, but mostly to my current reps in local government, or maybe my state or national representatives. But artists? Orators? Activists? I always figure my message is but one of a gazillion or two, a drop in a bucket, a large bucket for some. What could it matter, my measly words on paper or in an email, praise from some who doesn’t figure into anything big or important?

Still, the urge to write remains. Sometimes it works itself into something written, yet never sent. Sometimes the sentiments seep into a blog post, or a reply in a comment section online. Mostly that kind of stuff floats around in my head, thoughts structured as words, but never committed to voice, paper, or bits and bytes.

But the essence of my desire to communicate remains.  What is it? what is this thing that asks to be spoken, written.

I think in it’s simplest form, that desire to write a thank you letter comes down to this: “without knowing me personally, you affected me personally.”

That is indeed a magical thing. Worth acknowledging. Worth thanking someone for.

I saw a quote from Carl Sagan today that kind of hits the same spot:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

What a weird, special relationship to have with someone you’ve never met, and probably or certainly will never meet. And it seems so strange when their work – a gift to strangers that they, for the most part, will never meet – can have such deep and lasting impacts on me.

Ursula K. LeGuin. Frank Herbert. J.R.R. Tolkien. Louisa May Alcott. Emma Goldman. Malcolm X. Those are just the first names that pop up when I think, late at night, tired, two Tanqueray & tonics in my system. I’m sure I missed many, and some perhaps more important.

But still, the essence remains: individuals who, unknowingly, pushed me to think or act or reflect differently, always from the past, sometimes a very distant past. Sometimes from a life story, other times from an imagined place, a story, a tale, a snippet from life.

A weird twisting, mutable kind of human communication, of cause and effect.

Magic.

I was watching Rachel Maddow run down the latest on the current (and dwindling) Republican presidential field. This is my screen capture from the segment:

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It struck me all of a sudden: every face on that screen – except Newt – was the face of a “healthy-weight” person. Longer and thinner, and more angular because of that.

Not Newt. Newt is a kind of stocky guy, in the parlance of my childhood. He’s a heavier man. I don’t really care, figuring it to be his own business. But it does occur to me that any female candidate bigger than “pleasantly plump” (also in the parlance of my childhood*) would surely be the target of fat jokes just like any celebrity, of questions as to her ability to maintain control over things (she can’t even control her weight!), of some unspecified derision.

Such are the lives of fat women – criticized by unthinking people who have no clue whether it is a choice or not, and even if choice is involved, who are we to say?

So the absence of critique of Newt’s round face, or pudgy belly, or whatever fruit might be ripe for comedic pickings, is actually the way things should  be: attention on the person’s policy beliefs, ability to get things done, to attempt to prove their worth as a leader. Which Newt will not, at least not to enough people.

But for all his bluster, I think Newt at least thinks of himself seriously, at least some of the time.  I think he lives in a dream world, but within his framework, he at least attempts to make sense. And those are the things the voters focus on, for good or bad, when considering Newt.  Not his weight. His ideas, his record, his potential. Hate him, love him, it’s not about his physique, it’s about what’s going on in that crackpot li’l head of his.

Which, as I noted above, is the way things should be. For everyone, male or female.

 

* I think from descriptions of“Bess” in the Nancy Drew books.

Why I read Jason Linkins’ “Sunday Talking Heads” blog nearly every week (except when he has the audacity to take a weekend off, the heel!): he brings the balance to the boredom of the mediocre Sunday line up, adding a little spice to the mix. In this particular excerpt, he takes aim at bad metaphors.

Oh, remember, Michele Bachmann has been “on the tip of the spear” fighting Obamacare, and just needs voters to grab the shaft. And then more mixed metaphors! She’s the “proven candidate who’s been tested by fire in the lion’s den of Washington, DC.” Seems to me that the key feature of lions’ dens are the lions, and not fire. I’d call that the “fire room,” or something, and I’d be like, “Lions! Get up on out of there!” And the lions would be all, “Sweet Lion God! We were just in our den, denning it up, when some raving woman came in with all this fire, yelling about Obamacare.” And I’d be like, “Damn, lions! That sounds awful traumatic!” And then I’d take the lions to the Rodeo Drive of Washington and tell them to “TREAT YO SELF.” Then the lions would devour a bunch of lobbyists, and I’d probably be prosecuted for aiding and abetting that.

Anyway, Michele Bachmann has faced the fire of the lions den, the slings and arrows of the racetrack, the guillotines of the Library of Congress, and the poisoned ping pong balls of that Starbucks that just opened on K Street, the Rodeo Drive of Washington.

via TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads.

*sigh*

back to normal life, now.

Two really interesting articles, both harkening back to things I’ve been thinking about for the last thirty+ years:

Emily Nussbaum, in New York magazine,
The Rebirth of the Feminist Manifesto:
Come for the Lady Gaga, stay for the empowerment.

Oh the memories… still a feminist, and proud to count myself among the ranks of same.  But there’s always something new stirring, and every generation brings a new spin on things, sometimes bumping hard up against our older feminist convictions, but always pushing things forward, and generally in good ways.

 

Conor Friedeersdorf, in The Atlantic:
Stop Forcing Journalists to Conceal Their Views From the Public

Strangely related to my own interests in feminist writing, the publishing of feminist writing.  Back in the 1980s, I worked on “Matrix,” a ‘zine before any of us were calling them ‘zines.  Our editorial policy weighed in heavy on keeping the voice, the cadence, the vernacular of our writers, and journalistic standards be damned.  We preferred our articles to be ones where the author stated her experience, background and biases up front or perhaps throughout her article, and then go forward in as “objective” a manner as she preferred.  Having stated her perspective up front, the reader was then able to form their own ideas about where the author was being objective, and where her biases were (consciously or unconsciously) influencing her work.

In the article I link to, a coherent and clear argument for this kind of upfront statement of bias really spoke to me.  And, as they advocate, it is not in conflict with the ethics of journalism, but rather, preserves it.

The Fourth Estate rules.  Or could.

Just a note:  I love it that Rachel Maddow regularly uses the word “grok” in her show.

Wow.

The woman is 28 years old, and uses – on a nationally aired show with a huge audience – an obscure, made-up term borrowed from a 1961 sci-fi cult classic, a book published when I was merely six, and she was still a dozen years from being born.

Lord love a nerd.

Not that it’s a scandal.  I don’t really care if the president says “ass” once in a while.  Still, the attention on it (from the right and Obama’s detractors), and the reaction to the attention (by the media) has been pretty interesting to watch.  I haven’t even watched the actual interview by Matt Lauer (NBC’s Today Show, June 8, 2010).  Still… the story was every where for a few days.  It’ll probably crop up here and there for a while.

One thing I’ve only seen mentioned once, though, is the question that led to Obama’s infamous “We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick” statement.  That singular mention was in this Steve Benen post, from Washington Monthly:

But it’s probably worth noting the context of the exchange, because the president’s choice of words was a direct reflection of the question. Here’s the Q&A:

LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I’ve heard that in a long time. They’re saying here is a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn’t the time for cool, calm and collected. This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers; this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and — I never thought I’d say this to a president — but kick some butt. And I don’t mean it to be funny.

OBAMA: No, and I understand. And here’s what — I’m going to push back hard on this. Because I think that this is a — just an idea that got in folks heads, and the media’s run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.

The “whose ass to kick” line wasn’t just some scripted attempt to sound tough. Lauer pushed the notion that the president shouldn’t meet with experts; he should “kick some butt.” Obama responded that he meets with people who know what they’re talking about so he’d know “whose ass to kick.”

It’s probably not true in every circle of society, but at least in several, “ass” and “butt” are pretty interchangeable words, and Lauer did set a tone, which the President matched.  Appropriately, I think.  But there are the folks getting hot under the collar about this stuff, and mainly because they aren’t bothering to find out what sparked Obama’s choice of words.  To my mind, it makes a difference.

And, ironically, I might add, many of the hot-under-the-collar-President’s-don’t-talk-that-way folks are the same ones who seemed to want more emotion from the Prez.  Weird.  Sometimes… well, most of the time, I just don’t understand these people.

So, enough on that.  Till it comes up again.  And it will.

* sigh *

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