This morning I took some bread over to my 90-year-old neighbor, Margaret. After thanking me, she took my arm and made a very serious request.
"Will you please take my dog when the cops come to take me to prison?" she pleaded. "There's no way in hell I'm signing up for that damn Obamacare."
My close observations of conservative hate media and the conclusions I've drawn are below the squiggly.
Back in 2008 I decided to start monitoring Fox and other conservative media outlets. I had torn a rotator cuff and I was forced to retire temporarily from my work as a professional musician, so I had some time to spare. My new brother-in-law and three other friends were spouting inflammatory rhetoric about candidate Obama and about random entities like the EPA and unions. They all lived in different states, yet they used nearly identical rhetoric when I engaged them separately in verbal and email debates. This seemed weird to me, and obviously the place to start my investigation of this peculiar phenomenon was with Fox "News."
I began recording and watching "Fox & Friends" and the Hannity and O'Reilly shows. Sure enough, the pundits and guests recirculated over and over again political and economic "stories" that usually were misrepresentations and outright lies. These outlandish tales were mixed in with a smattering of realistic news stories about plane crashes, Somali pirates, Bernie Madoff victims and the two wars we were fighting. There were just enough viable news items to make the made-up ones look real. Still, patterns of thought and rhetoric emerged that I recognized from conversations with my aforementioned conservative pals.
One morning in 2009 I heard on my local news that Justice David Souter had announced his resignation from the Supreme Court. Mildly curious what the Fox nutjobs were saying about President Obama's first potential appointment to the Court, I tuned in to "Fox & Friends." They didn't mention Souter's resignation.
I watched for an hour as one guest after another excoriated the President for delivering an address to the yearly Boy Scout national Jamboree by - stop the presses - pre-recorded video. "How un-American!" they screamed. I watched their footage of thousands of Boy Scout kids and their leaders and parents, some loudly booing and cursing the President of the United States as he spoke on a large screen. "How completely devoid of understanding of what it means to be a real American, for Obama to not show up in person!" The Fox comrades were practically falling over each other as they shrieked their condemnation of the socialist-fist-bumping-with-his-terrorist-wife-Muslim-fraudulent President.
Later that night, I watched as Jon Stewart compared Fox's "Boy Scout Jamboree" footage to video of the 43rd President delivering a pre-recorded video address to the same Boy Scout gala two years earlier. Stewart's point, of course, was that President Bush had done the exact same thing and this fact was curiously omitted from Fox's rabid report.
Here's the problem: Stewart's coverage of the conservative hate machine is intermittent. There's only so much one person can do. But Fox is the dog wagging the Republican media tail, and that tail wags the Republican party. Stewart poking fun at their inconsistencies and overall inanity is fun to watch, but how many people directly equate Fox's underhanded drivel with present day Republican hypocritical governance? And it's not just hypocrisy, it's their ability to control the debate and the language in such a manner that their ineptitude appears patriotic. Is anyone besides me sick of Republicans' claims that entitlement programs are responsible for bankrupting the country?!?
Watching the debates in the Republican primary for President in 2011-12, I recall being genuinely surprised at the candidates' regurgitation of simplistic Fox talking points. Each candidate attempted to out-Foxify the other candidates. Meanwhile, the Fox pundits and guests would grab tidbits from the Democratic debates and embellish them with their own newly fabricated "facts." Gretchen Carlson of "Fox & Friends" was the worst. This circle of jerks went on and on, a steady airwave of lies traveling from tv, to radio, to websites. Then they'd all interview each other again....
A lightbulb moment occurred for me in 2012 shortly after David Korn publicized Romney's insidious 47% comment. My brother-in-law had been spouting the exact same 47% phrase for two years and I'd seen guests and pundits on Fox say the same thing. I could NOT understand how the liberal pundits on MSNBC and their counterparts in print and on the web (and even here on Kos) could be so totally unaware of such a standard meme in the conservative media bubble. Suddenly, I realized that conservatives aren't the only ones who depend too much on their own media bubble.
Please don't get me wrong, I love Kos - it is my daily sanity - and I wouldn't change a thing about it. However, I think the reason why Current TV failed, and why MSNBC keeps dicking around with its lineup and weakening it, is because they weren't/aren't bold enough. MSNBC, in particular, needs to provide a steady ongoing knockdown of Fox's incompetence and unethical behavoir. Fox is really, really bold, and also really in your face in terms of self-protection.
You probably recall that Wonkblog quickly published the perfect rebuttal to the 47% comment, pointing out that the 47% was made up of seniors, soldiers, veterans and the working poor, and that the majority of these Americans pay many types of taxes. This theme carried over into outlets such as NBC's Nightly News and the PBS NewsHour, and here in Florida was also the highlight of innumerable political ads.
The damage that Romney brought upon himself by spouting that inane 47% Fox talking point is a perfect example of using Fox's own propaganda against them and their party. Romney and his friends were baffled by the reaction to it because they had convinced themselves of its truthiness two years earlier. I believe that just enough of those weary Americans who don't pay much attention to politics, but who still vote, heard that 47% comment, understood its context, and made up their minds that Romney was a horse's ass.
I am convinced that if more of Fox's lies and nutjob propaganda were exposed and widely distributed in a manner that only television and new media can affect, i.e. widely disturbing the consciousness of millions, we would have a better chance of combating the "What's The Matter With Kansas?" effect.
I give Fox complete credit for masterminding the Republican takeover of the House and the Republican takeover of the majority of state Houses and Governors in 2010. The only time I've seen Fox's own propaganda directly boomerang back on them was with the 47% meme in 2012. And this doesn't make sense to me, because Fox consistently promotes hatred of workers, non-whites, immigrants, the poor, the environment, science, statistics, university degrees, unions, lawyers, voting rights, young people, old people, women and, oh yeah, Democrats.
There were a couple of wackos who lost elections last year because of their rape memes, but I didn't see those originating from Fox. Those are more hardcore evangelical media memes. Although, I must say that Fox has set a tone in conservative media that encourages wackos to join the party.
I found out what does not work with Fox true believers. I spent hundreds of hours learning their memes and spent more hundreds of hours writing factual emails, making logical arguments, and even appealing with Christian concepts; in other words, I used every available avenue of written and verbal persuasion with my brother-in-law and my three friends. None of this could pierce their fact-challenged conservative bubble. So I don't think that they can ever be reached; fortunately they are growing older and hopefully their numbers will dwindle. However, I think that the weary Americans are very reachable.
One event that briefly consoled me was when my sister, out of the clear blue sky one day in 2010, announced that she had forbidden my brother-in-law to watch any more Fox shows in front of her or her two young sons. "Fox was fine back when Bush was President," she said. "But when Obama was elected they became so awful that I couldn't take it anymore."
My sister, you see, is one of those typical weary Americans who spends every minute of her time working and taking care of her children. She is influenced by political ads. She voted for Obama in 2012, but not in 2008. And she is finally divorcing my RWNJ brother-in-law, who proved to be about as compassionate as Romney.
My steady intake of Fox propaganda, those horrifying audience reactions at the Republican debates, and my never-ending research to disprove their constant lies eventually combined with my realization that fanatics can't be persuaded of anything. I finally quit monitoring them, and I don't even bother to respond to RWNJ trolls on Twitter because I am no longer interested in pointless disagreements with the uninformed. But there is that group of weary Americans, people like my sister and the majority of my friends, who do not understand that Fox's forced anxiety has been the compulsion behind the GOP insanity of the last 5 years.
Jon Stewart used to do quite a bit of Fox-based satire, but he has let up on that lately. We hardly see any rejection of Fox's ethics-challenged journalism in either the liberal media or the mainstream media. Sure, we have Media Matters, but they are a lonely outpost in our media universe. We have a couple of good books to read about Fox. We don't really have a liberal cable news channel anymore, and my local PBS station recently expanded to three channels and hid Bill Moyers on a satellite channel. I've done what I can, objecting to Fox being on in public places, writing to MSNBC and publishing a song about Fox on Youtube (The Modern Hate Machine), but I always want to do more.
Hey MSNBC, we need a show that consistently exposes the hypocrisy of Fox "News" and their associates within the conservative media bubble. We need to understand how their stance has compelled the false equivalence we see in other more timid media outlets. I have some ideas on the format for such a show.
For example, I would lead off with the video of Fox pundits saying things like "Obama uses the EPA to destroy American jobs," from Brett Baier's "Special Report on Obama's Green Agenda." Then I would put up several clips of Republican Representatives making the same claims on the House floor and in constituent meetings. Then I would show an interview with the EPA director who was slandered by Baier and his interviewees in his very special report, with a clip from the oversight hearing wherein a Senator asked her how much the EPA was paying radical environmental groups to sue the EPA. I would show the clip of this this fatuous claim originating from Mark Levin, the conservative radio host and brain of the Tea Party, who was interviewed by Baier for his shifty, er, special report. Then I would interview the professor from the University of Maryland whose class syllabus was twisted into knots and obviously slimed, contrasting his reaction to clips from that report with a discussion of the conservative memes on the environment. Then I would hopefully have Bill Moyers do a guest interview with an expert from Media Matters. His first question would be, "What do you think of Mark Levin, writer and radio host, who played such a prominent role in that bunk we just just watched?"
It would be great fun to watch. Rachel Maddow occasionally does something like this on her lead-in stories. She's great at putting news into context and exposing Republican hypocrisy, although she doesn't do nearly enough of really digging down into the conservative media memes that Repubs love to repeat. But I think that Rachel's tenaciousness has had an influence on other reporters, some of whom are beginning to pointedly confront politicians about their inconsistencies when they interview them. We don't see it often enough, because there are too many Chuck Todd-like reporters who would rather preserve their friendly relationships with politicians than confront them on their hypocrisy.
And that's the issue. Comcast-owned MSNBC, you are trying too hard to walk the ratings tightrope. Scarborough is your bone for conservatives. Rachel, Hayes, Matthews, Sharpton, Schultz and O'Donnell all discuss the same political stories every night. If I watch one, I don't need to watch another one take their shots. If you want to improve your ratings, give me a new evening show that smacks the conservative media upside the head.
This morning, I leaned over to my neighbor Margaret and replied to her in a conspiratorial tone, "Did you see Hannity last night?" She shook her head no, which saved me for the lie I was about to tell her. "Hannity said that those evil Democrats exempted everyone on Medicare from Obamacare, because that's the only way they could pay for it. He said that Obama, who can't tell the truth, is hiding this from the American people. I believe him, so don't worry, the police won't come for you as long as you make sure you stay on your Medicare plan."
Margaret looked very relieved and thanked me profusely. I knew she would get it only if it was framed as a liberal conspiracy exposed by her beloved hate machine.