THE ALMIGHTY

(To any readers who have taken one of my classes, and I think there are a few out there, this is going to sound pretty familiar. Unless you slept through it or skipped class, in which case you should learn it now.)

Why are the media so ruthless in their mockery of Sarah Palin after six solid years of cheerleading the nation into the Iraq War, paving the way for two terms of Bush, and standing around thumb-in-ass as our financial system galloped toward oblivion? We could make a semantic argument about subtle differences in intelligence between Bush and Palin, for example, and concoct some ostensibly legitimate reason that the most recent President deserved to be taken seriously and Palin is a dipshit suspended over a dunk tank. That would be a waste of time. The answer is media bias.

Media bias is a very real phenomenon, but it isn't a political bias. When people hear the phrase they imagine the media having a political agenda and pushing an ideologically slanted product at unsuspecting viewers. That does not happen. Even at FOX. Media bias is commercial bias. The biggest influence on the product you read and see is the desire to make money – and that's why 'product' is the appropriate term.

You're not believing me about Fox News, are you? OK. So why does Fox News offer the most conservative product, stocked with plenty of "family values" talk and appeals to social/religious conservatives, while the Fox networks offer the raunchiest programming? Think about the crap on the F/X network or Fox – it's cartoons fueled by foul language and sex jokes as far as the eye can see. It's Temptation Island and The Littlest Bachelor. It's mindless T&A at every opportunity. They do it because they have a very keen sense of how to make money. They give the news watching public what it wants and they give people who don't care about news what they want. That it happens to be two different products is irrelevant.

What happened to Palin is little more than a cold business decision (while Fox doesn't outright hammer her very often, their preference for Romney, Huckabee, and other potential candidates in 2012 is explicit). And it's not hard to get out the message when they decide it's time to tear someone apart. Remember who the big-network and Important Print Journalists are – as Matt Taibbi points out, they're overwhelmingly sons and daughters of the wealthy, people who went from boarding schools to the Ivy League to unpaid "internships" on mom and pop's dime. Their entire lives have been one extended exercise in either explicitly kissing the asses of or not having the balls to disagree with their social and economic betters. So our media, being entirely controlled by about five corporate entities, make decisions at the top that are rapidly disseminated to legions of journalists eager to please anyone with editorial or financial power over them.

That is why our media flap so helplessly in the wind, going from rabidly pro-war and dismissive of traitor pussy liberal protesters to fawning over Obama and matter-of-factly discussing Iraq as our greatest national mistake. It's just business. They figure out what their consumers want no differently than The Gap tries to figure out what sweaters you'll buy next fall. Is it really so simple? Yes. I believe it is. The media serve a public purpose but they are not public servants. They are out to make money, and they ride bandwagons. In early 2008, establishment mascot Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee and Obama was some inexperienced rookie under the thumb of a racist preacher. When it became impossible to ignore the flaming wreck that was the Clinton campaign they turned on a dime and started the Obama the Anointed One narrative. It happens quickly.

I like Taibbi's conclusion, as it is a far clearer and more succinct version of a point I've tried to make for years: Teabaggers should be taking note of what the treatment of Palin really means. It doesn't mean that a couple of talking heads decided to bash her for cheap laughs and ratings. The entire media are using her as a punching bag. And the Beltway insiders and their corporate bosses in New York don't whack people without getting the blessing of all five families, so to speak. They have received a unanimous signal – from the establishment GOP, Wall Street, campaign donors, and everyone else who matters to big media – that it is open season on the idiot from Alaska. She is poison, and the legions of Beck-Bachmann-Palin acolytes are not to be taken seriously. Like the anti-war left circa 2002, Teabaggers exist only to be mocked and occasionally manipulated for ratings.

Palin would do well to remember the Abe Vigoda's remark to Robert Duvall at the end of The Godfather as the former was about to be executed. It's just business, Sarah, nothing personal.

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20 Responses to “THE ALMIGHTY”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    Maybe Al Gore needs to sit her down and explain what it means for one's presidential aspirations when you're constantly walking into a press conference full of people who, before you've said word one, are already rolling their eyes and making wanking motions. "Sarah, I know you really want the job–so did I. But when they've decided they don't like you, you could cure cancer with your farts and they're still gonna play up the fact that you break wind in public."

  2. Dillon Says:

    "It's just business, Sarah, nothing personal."

    I don't think Sarah will be too surprised at getting kicked to the curb by the establishment media. At her core, she's a cynical grifter who is savvy enough to avoid buying in to her own hype.

    To paraphrase another mafia movie quote:

    With Palin, its always the dollars; always the fuckin' dollars.

  3. Hudson Says:

    Back in the mid-80s, I was part of a student delegation to the Soviet Union. (This was pre-glasnost, and we got a full dose of USSR propaganda, agents tailing teenagers in search of more vodka, really crappy food, etc.)

    I'll never forget the candid conversation we had with some Young Pioneers troop leader in Georgia. Being smugly patriotic Westerners, we pressed him about the lack of press freedom in his country. The guy whacked us back with a dose of lower-case-m marxist analysis.

    "The difference between The New York Times and Pravda is simple. Pravda prints lies because its editors are told to. Your press prints lies *without* being told to. Our directors are ordered to produce propaganda films. Your Hollywood produces Rambo voluntarily and unconsciously. Which is worse, really?"

  4. Hudson Says:

    Oops, I forgot to add the kicker:

    "We Russians have developed finely-tuned radar to pick up the subtle clues and codes in our media which signal what is really going on. You gullible Americans actually *believe* what you read is true, taking it all at face value. Again, which is worse?"

  5. Prudence Says:

    It's a pity America doesn't have their version of the BBC, which, while imperfect, bitched out Tony the Poodle over the Iraq war and has been an ardent propagator of international reality-based reporting. I know all about PBS, but it's chronically underfunded and, more recently, has had its upper echelons infested with Bush-felchers.

    And Dillon– I think Sarah believes ALL the hype surrounding her. Which is not to say she's stupid, quite the opposite, but she's lizard-brain smart and seemingly incapable of self-examination.

  6. whb Says:

    I have a question to follow from this–how does it account for someone like Glenn Beck, who is different than a Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh and Beck both know they're entertainers and they are damned good at hooking an audience and getting that audience to parrot. But Beck's style of selling a movement seems different somehow–he's putting himself on the line, attaching his name to protests, etc. Is this just him trying to outsell the others? When the Teabaggers get kicked to the curb, will he be unscathed?
    Is he completely mercenary (as your post suggests) or is there some belief (as with Dobbs for example) in his political power?

  7. ladiesbane Says:

    I think Beck believes his snake oil works, and Limbaugh is an old-school cynic who sincerely endorses the nuttier party principles knowing that emotional manipulation sells cars. The GOP aren't selling ideology for its own sake — only for power it gives them over their army of brain-dead voters. What rational person cherishes being labeled a "dittohead"?

    The news media are in their own rag trade, and anticipating customer demand (while shaping it reactively) is the same vicious cycle we see in mainstream fashion, movies, TV, and books (fiction and non) without the creativity. Hudson's Soviets nailed it, I think — except that we have a two-part system, with a matching liberal or conservative media, which gives us the illusion of meaningful choice. Plain or peanut, it's all candy, flavor without substance.

  8. Da Moose Says:

    Your argument is not as solid as it could be. I can understand why pro-war media bias existed. Real time coverage of the Iraq War, when it kicked off, gave all the networks huge upticks in their ratings. However, I don't understand the bottom line reasoning behind the anointment of Obama. From a financial standpoint, I think it would have benefited the media conglomerates more if McCain had been elected. Liberal media outrage would probably have far outpaced any current right wing outrage. In this instance, News Corp is the primary beneficiary of right wing outrage from a ratings perspective. But, if McCain had been elected, GE-Microsoft-Viacom-AOl/Time Warner would have benefited from left wing outrage. In any case, although I agree with you, your argument is weak because it goes from arguing how ratings were increased due to Iraq War coverage and broadcast of the “Family Guy” to arguing that quasi-corporate political masters essentially choose our elected political leaders. The logical connection between these two points is weak. In one sentence, what exactly was the cold business decision that dictated political isolation for Palin? Without this explanation you have not fully proved your point that “it isn’t a political bias.”

  9. karen marie Says:

    This is not to say — I hope — that Palin does not deserve the mocking and criticism that has been directed at her. She is a dangerously uneducated person with a dangerously radical agenda and is backed by fundamentalists who want to rewrite the Constitution and use the federal government as a weapon in their "Christian" war against non-believers.

    I think the point of this post and Taibbi's is a good one, I'm just not sure that using Palin as an example helps the argument. She is in fact an anomaly in that her dismissal as a "serious candidate" is correct.

  10. Da Moose Says:

    Absolutely. I think Palin is very dangerous. But, the likes of her will not be finally put behind us until we, the rational, can forumulate 100% sold arguments.

  11. OneMadClown Says:

    But, the likes of her will not be finally put behind us until we, the rational, can forumulate 100% sold arguments.

    200,000 years of human history would seem to disagree with the notion that having rational 100% solid arguments will keep dangerous cretins out of power.

  12. Desargues Says:

    Moose, you sound as terrified of the Elk Pie Lady as only, well, um, a moose would have reason to. ;-)

    I must join Da Moose in objecting to some weakness in your inference, Ed. I'm not sure what exactly you claim drives the media-industrial complex. If it's just a thirst for ratings-gold, then why kick the Queen of White Rage to the curb? She's guaranteed to keep everybody watching, whether with delight or in horror. Plus, either they know she has no real chance of winning elections, so why not keep covering her freak show anyway? Or she has a chance in hell, but then why alienate her followers from the only news channel they think they can 'trust'? Bashing her openly also risks losing the 23% or so who would never consider voting for Multiple Choice Mitt, Wall Street's candidate of choice.

    But you also seem to imply that the five media families really have an ideology, beside (or instead of?) a non-partisan desire for ratings. To over-simplify, it's the political platform of business Republicans — low corporate taxes, extra-lean regulatory policies, free trade and free capital transfer. (These types used to be socially somewhat liberal, at least re: abortion and gay sex. It seems that, in the Bush Era, they have come to accept dark alliances with the Wackos for the sake of political gains.) But, if that is their political agenda, the Palin situation is a case in which their ideology and commercial interests are at odds. Bashing Palin in order to make room for The Mitt and the Huckster involves taking a hit in the ratings. Also, it risks (P)alienating a lot of mouth-breathers, with the fatal consequence of either (1) driving them to form a third party, hence making the GOP a permanent minority, or (2) having them stay home on the next Nov 4, thus again ensuring defeat for the Republican candidate.

    Plus, instead of bashing her openly, they can always wait for her shtick to fizz out, then offer her a slot on the evening line-up. She'd probably draw bigger crowds than Hannity or the van Susteren woman. It just doesn't make any good sense to kick the Hockey Mom to the curb.

  13. Da Moose Says:

    I should add as a footnote that I appreciate the site a lot. It's a good site. I like it's GUI simplicity. I am sorry I didn't find it sooner–friend of mine up in NYC keyed me into it after the release of the Palin book review. When I used to live out in Portland OR, I started a blog site called ganjah.com-one of the first blog sites on the web. (now it's porn I think) Had google incorporated into the site back in 2000 when google used to give you money for people doing searches from the google bot implanted in your site. Well, it never fully took off cause my writers were too lazy but it was fun at the time. In that vein, discipline is 80% of writing. The rest is a mixtue of education, skill and a good bottle of scotch. Keep the content coming. Somewhere along the way, we'll derive a path for Republic 2.0 USA. Happy T-Giving.

  14. Mario Greymist Says:

    The open ridicule of Sarah Palin is not contrary to Ed's point. First, one must understand the geist of her appeal: populism. Populists live at almost all points on the right-left political divide (unlike the authoritarian/libertarian divide). The corporate interests are authoritarian. They would have us all act, think and believe like everyone else. After all, it's easier to make money on crap if we all buy the same crap. If we know there is other crap which we may like better, it is usually easier to convince us the other crap is crappier than the shit we've been eating since nixon.

    This is also why Ron Paul's early power fizzled – the media informed us that he had no chance at the GOP nomination so the fiscal and classic (goldwater style) conservatives found other candidates to support rather than throwing in with the libertarians. Palin's populism is a genuine reproduction of what George W Bush faked so well. Where Bush was an obedient ass-kisser when push came to shove, Palin is genuinely unpredictable. So while the business interests love her ideas about drilling and what not, they have no interest in seeing her be president, as she would be far too likely to do the "right" (to her way of thinking) thing as opposed to what Wall Street wants her to do.

    Faux populism (the down-home talk of a Yale educated Maine boy gone Texas transplant) is fine. Real populism (someone who would rather resign the governorship than fight partisan political battles on the public teat) is not. In short, she won't get on her knees and kiss their ring. And that's the only way to be a made man. (also true in the democratic party)

  15. Desargues Says:

    That helps a bit, MG — putting it in terms of expected product reliability or something analogous. But only a bit, I'm afraid. It still leaves unanswered my original puzzle, and veils it instead with terms like 'authoritarianism' and a misty (if I may be allowed the pun) 'they.' When I hear that, I feel like I'm reading the postings at the Stiftung Leo Strauss. You gotta make the 'they' more empirical to make me happy.

    Either 'they' are a shadowy group of corporate titans (I wonder where they reside) alarmed by populism of all extractions — but then the media barons must really be understood to be their ideological lackeys, or providers of propaganda channels. Ergo, this is really about what "Wall Street" wants, not the media conglomerates.

    Or 'they' are the five or so media families, whose primary worry is sustaining a (probably moribund) business model for their product: "news." For the last decade or so, they seem to have settled on ginning-up political horse races ad selling manufactured outrage as a way of moving their product, as it were. In that case, why wouldn't they be covering La Palin all the time? She sure know how to keep people watching, don't she? So what is "Wall Street" is made nervous by her unpredictability? 'They' can milk her carny show for all it's worth. Once she stops generating viewership, they'll move on to other shit. Hey, have you heard that Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress at a state reception? Also, I saw that B-Rock bowed to the emperor of Japan. What gives?

  16. Da Moose Says:

    I think Mario's key point which is a great point is the "unpredictable" point which is that the reason that Palin has been portrayed by the main stream political media as an outlier is because they fear her unpredictable behavior if she got elected. Getting back to Ed's original essay for today, this is why I think his final point fails. He doesn't make the connection between Palin the unpredictable political candidate and Palin the product. The connection can be made and is there to be made. Ed's next essay should incorporate this in order to strengthen the present weak link in his current essay between Iraq war corporatism and political corporatism. The current liberal media establishment are attempting to politically ostrocize her not because they necessarily disllike her politically but because she is creating a market for her product of unpredictability which they, the current media, cannot control for profit. So, having said all of that, who is Palin's publisher? Harper Collins, a subsidiary of News Corp. This is a battle between News Corp and Viacom-GE-AOL Time Warner. Look who's trying to buy NBC right now from GE. It's Comcast–a rival to News Corp. This story begins and ends with the media elites. Ed, keep honing that essay.

  17. doxastic Says:

    This soothes my materialist soul. Accusations of media bias that conflate late capitalist ideology with political platforms gives me a case of the infinite sads. A for-profit media has explicit incentive to give a platform to high-profile voices that most reliably support corporate interest and consumption-oriented values. If Democrats and Republicans underwent a freaky-friday switch one night, NewsCorp et al would immediately exchange their red ties for blue.

  18. Badger3k Says:

    Considering the amount of porn that the fundies and other conservatives consume, I don't think that the two sides of Fox are mutually exclusive. There is a lot of hypocrisy from the "Family Values" (ie Fundamentalist Christian) crowd.