You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

May 18, 2005

We've Got To Pray To God They're Lying

I'd thought America's public life couldn't get any dumber, because if it did our autonomic nervous systems would stop functioning and we'd all die. But the Newsweek Korans-in-toilets affair has proven me wrong. At our new, lower level of intelligence, we couldn't win a battle of wits with a sea cucumber. Yet somehow we're still breathing.

Probably no first world country has a media as right wing and cowardly as the US. Most of it is garbage—as you'd expect, since it only exists to fill up the space between the ads. While there are many journalists who'd love to do a good job, the pressures on them make this almost impossible.

So every day the media is filled with 20 million mistakes, from misspelled names to garbled quotes to the uncritical transmission of lies that kill thousands of people. And the Newsweek thing WAS a mistake, even if the general story turns out to be be true; you really shouldn't publish something with such weak sourcing.

But of the 20 million daily mistakes, there are only consequences when the media steps on powerful toes. Journalists are free to create stories that are 99% crap and 1% truth, as long as its about Official Enemies or people without money. But write something that's 99% true and arguably 1% mistaken about a billionaire or US foreign policy, and you're going to media jail.

This is so obvious it might as well be written in letters of fire on Dick Cheney's forehead. So, the only thing that's interesting to me in the Newsweek blathering is whether or not the gleeful right wing reaction is sincere. For instance, here's Patrick Ruffini, the former webmaster for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign:

Newsweek has now retracted its anonymously-sourced story about U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay desecrating the Koran... The damage that's been done is irreversible.

What kind of subculture generates these kinds of mistakes -- mistakes that conveniently tend always to fall in one direction? The same news media that was willing to believe this about U.S. troops was also willing to believe that they were deliberately targeting journalists. Had these reporters spent even one day in their formative years around the active-duty military, would we be seeing the slanted coverage we do today?

Apparently, this subculture is content to live and breed in a handful of closed-minded Eastern company towns, never interacting with the military they must cover so closely.

I assume this isn't sincere; I assume it's just politics to Ruffini. And if so, that's something I can respect. I might not agree with the Bush administration project of blood-soaked lies, but I admire hard work and competence in any field.

But... we have to consider the possibility that Ruffini actually believes what he's saying. It's one thing when the people in charge just spray everyone else with bullshit every day, but it's really something else when they start enthusiastically consuming the bullshit themselves. And it's possible that's what we're seeing here. America's right wing has built itself an entire self-enclosed fantasy world, and the people inside may be getting squirrelly.

Life in the United States now is like being trapped on a jet piloted by people who keep claiming there's a huge secret tunnel through the Rockies—and they're going to use it to fly us all through to the other side. You just have to pray to god they know they're lying.

ALSO: I'm sure Ruffini is NOT aware that the standard right-wing take on the media is classic anti-Semitism, just with "Jew" replaced by "liberal." I always enjoy Ann Coulter talking about the elite rootless cosmopolitans, with their insufficient allegiance to the Fatherland.

Still, while I'm certain Ruffini's heart is in the right place, it's somewhat weird to read about a "subculture" that's "content to live and breed in a handful of close-minded Eastern company towns." Well, at least he hasn't called for sterilization of the vermin so they can no longer reproduce.

PLUS, ANOTHER CONVENIENT MEDIA MISTAKE: Just when you think the radical left New York Times couldn't sink any lower, they come out with a story like today's "When You Wish Upon an Atom: The Songs of Science." Get this: they claim "They Might Be Giants produced 'Particle Man' and 'The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas.'"

Well, GUESS WHAT? There IS no song called "The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas." The song is actually called "Why Does the Sun Shine?"

Now, elite rootless cosmopolitans will claim this is just an honest mistake. Thank goodness we have Patrick Ruffini here to explain how these mistakes always "conveniently tend always to fall in one direction"—THE DIRECTION OF TEARING DOWN AMERICA BY GETTING SONG TITLES WRONG.

Posted at May 18, 2005 11:43 AM | TrackBack

A lot of folks argue that there is a right-wing plan to de-legitimize all mainstream media. But it seems to me that there is some optimal level of de-legitimacy (!), past which the lack of authoritative voices could be dangerous to the administraton itself. At some point, taking down media that are already acting as propaganda outlets seems like an own goal.

Yeah, that 'rootless' quote is telling: that focus on 'of the earth' 'authenticity' that has been a mainstay of anti-semitism and a recurrent theme in American populism.

Also, you never win a battle of wits with a sea cucumber: they just expel their guts and swim away.

Posted by: pulaski at May 18, 2005 03:33 PM

Thanks for the information on the sea cucumbers. Up until now I'd apparently been letting them play me like a sucker.

Sadly, though, I'm not sure there's any way for the right wing to lose by pushing in this direction. Despite appearances, the main technique they use is NOT bad information—it's total silence and lack of information. Almost everything important is covered minimally if at all. It's only when some information gets out that they're forced to start putting out *bad* information.

For instance, with Iraq they'd far prefer just to have no news from there at all. It's only when there starts to be horrible news that they have to start jabbering about the overlooked schools being painted, etc.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 18, 2005 03:53 PM

If the Founding Fathers knew that within the developed world you would come to this, I think they should have decided to wait for the Crown to allow self-rule in the colonies...then maybe now you and Canada can be one big bloc...Greater British North America...

Posted by: En Ming Hee at May 18, 2005 10:21 PM

Ah, yes, this is alway a mystery for me too, this question is bothering me all the time: are these people cynical opportunists or messianic megalomaniacs?

More and more I'm inclined to believe that "messianic megalomaniacs" is the right answer in most cases.

Posted by: abb1 at May 19, 2005 05:51 AM

They are people for whom life must be full of stories that illustrate simple moral lessons. The simple moral lessons explain how they came to have money and power. The Great Truth of the lessons must be defended at all costs or the world will collapse and undeserving people -- people who are not like them -- will get rich and have power. Some of them are paranoid enough to really and truly believe that that power would be used to warp their sexuality. Others among are very nervous about the possibility that people will realize they've nothing to deserve all the money -- the self-made government contractors with exclusive contracts.

All of them would be laughingstocks if they didn't have:
a) The passive cooperation of most of the population
b) Enough guns to make cooperation a good idea.

Posted by: Harry at May 19, 2005 06:54 AM

"Probably no first world country has a media as right wing and cowardly as the US." -- Feel free to visit Australia whenever you want. Its amazing how bad things can be when 3 families and 2 publicly listed companies run an entire nations media.

Posted by: at May 19, 2005 11:16 AM