I believe that the victory of truth over truthiness is the most important result of the elections last week. The victory is beautifully documented in Frank Rich’s latest piece in New York Magazine. In my judgment, the defeat of truthiness is even more important than the victory of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney and the victory of the Democratic Party over the Republicans, important though these are. A sound relationship between truth and politics will provide for the possibility of American governability and progress, informed by both progressive and conservative insights.
To be sure, on the issues, foreign and domestic, and on various public policies, the differences between the two presidential candidates and their two parties were stark, clearly apparent now as the parties position themselves for the fiscal cliff. Yet, these differences pail in comparison to the importance of basing our political life on factual truths, (as I analyzed here) instead of convenient fictions (fictoids), and on careful principled (of the left and the right) judgments and not the magical ideological thinking offered by market and religious fundamentalists (as I also previously examined) and by various xenophobes and racists (who promise to take their country back).
Stephen Colbert, the great political philosopher and public intellectual, the leading expert on truthiness, disguised as a late night comic, has most clearly illuminated the truth challenge in his regular reports. His tour de force, in this regard, was his address to the White House press corps in George W. Bush’s presence. But now it no longer takes a brave comic genius to highlight the problem. Republican and conservative responses to election polling and results provide the evidence, both negative and positive.
Though the polls clearly predicted an Obama victory, it is noteworthy that the Republican leaders and their advisers really didn’t see the defeat coming. They operated in an ideological bubble, which facts did not penetrate. Now they must (more on their alternative courses in our next post by Aron Hsiao on . . .
Read more: Truth Defeats Truthiness: Election 2012
I couldn’t sleep last night, haunted by a world gone crazy.
I dreamt that a purported Israeli, with the support of one hundred rich American Jews, pretended to make a feature length film aggressively mocking the Prophet Mohammed and Muslims in general – Islamophobia and anti-Semitism combined!
The faux film producer uploaded a mock trailer to YouTube. Along with thousands of other clips, it was ignored. But then when the film was dubbed into Arabic, the demagogues of the world all played their roles – the clash of civilizations as mediated performance art.
Radical Islamic clerics worked as film distributors (monstrous monstrators as my Daniel Dayan might put it), bringing the clip to the attention of the mass media and the masses. Islamist and anti-Islamist ideologues worked up their followers, happily supporting each other in their parts. Feckless diplomats in embassies tried to assure the public that hate-speech isn’t official American policy. Analysts identified root causes.
The clash of civilizations was confirmed. All the players needed each other, supported each other, depended on each other. A marvelous demonstration of social construction: W.I. Thomas would be proud of the power of his insight. Social actors defined the clash of civilizations as real, and it is real in its consequences.
A reality confirmed with a jolt when I awoke, knowing full well about the global attacks on American embassies and symbols, and the tragic death of a man who was determined to go beyond clashing clichés, the heroic American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. The American right, including the marvelous Mitt Romney and Fox News talking heads, denounced President Obama’s purported support of the attacks and failure to stand up for American values, including the freedom of speech — this from people who worry about the war on Christmas. It’s a surreal reality this morning.
And this morning, wide-awake, I am savoring Marvelous Mitt’s recent . . .
Read more: The Clash of Civilizations and Class Warfare: The Videos
To skip this introduction and go directly to the full In-Depth Analysis of “Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond,” click here.
In December of 2011, I took part in a very interesting conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. The conference participants were asked to respond to the work of the media theorist, Daniel Dayan (my dear friend and colleague and Deliberately Considered contributor) and to answer a straightforward question – “Is democracy sick of its own media?”
I presented a mixed answer: yes, when in comes to troubling developments in television news; no, when it comes to the effervescence of television satire and the social media. I closed with a proposal to Daniel to co-author a book, linking his ideas about “monstration” with mine about the politics of small things. While a book may or may not be forthcoming, a dialogue here at Deliberately Considered will appear in the near future.
In my paper, which I present here as an “in-depth” post, focused on the American case, I argued that we live in both the best of times and the worst of times concerning the relationship between media and democracy. Fox Cable News is relentlessly confusing fact with fiction with partisan intention, and serves as a model of media success, both financial and political, while responses to Fox including by the TV satirists, the famous “fake news” journalists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, on Comedy Central, who also have interesting imitators around the world, present important challenges to Fox and its influence on common sense.
These media developments, I sought to demonstrate, are connected to significant new American social movements: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. In the case of OWS, and other new “new social movements,” social media is of crucial importance. They are providing new health to democracy globally in many different political contexts.
I maintained in my Sofia paper, that the relationship between social media and OWS is a significant manifestation of the way the politics of small things have become large in our world. I see in this . . .
Read more: Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond (Introduction)
Last week, while observing the nationwide strike on May Day, and also the performance of a sociology student from The New School on Fox News a couple of days later, I wondered about the possibilities and obstacles of reinventing political culture. I was impressed that there was a significant attempt to bring May Day home, and also impressed by powerful media resistance to significant change in our political life.
May Day is celebrated around the world as Labor Day, everywhere, that is, except where it all began, the United States. The holiday commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago and the struggle for decent working conditions and the eight-hour workday. It is an official holiday in over eighty countries, recognized in even more. Yet, until this year, it has been all but ignored in the U.S., except by those far to the left of the political mainstream. Thus, the calls by people associated with Occupy Wall Street for a nationwide general strike was notable, and it was quite striking that there were nationwide demonstrations including many in New York, capped by a large a mass demonstration at Union Square Park, right near my office. Not only leftists were there. Mainstream labor unions were as well. In many ways, I found the gathering to be as impressive as the ones I saw in Zuccotti Park last fall. Yet, it did not attract serious mass media attention.
The New York Times was typical. It had a careful article on May Day in Moscow, but reported the American actions as a local story, focused on minor violence, arrests and traffic disruptions.
The events’ significance did not reach beyond those who immediately were involved or who were already committed to its purpose through social media. Where OWS broke through to a broad public in its initial demonstrations downtown in the Fall, it failed to do so on May Day in demonstrations that were both large and inventive. Beyond the violence of the fringe of those involved in the movement and the . . .
Read more: Media Conspiracy? May Day, The New York Times and Fox
Cynicism is a key cultural characteristic of the political right today. It’s aggressive, different from cynicisms past, much more than the enervating political orientation and questionable political tactic that I studied in the Reagan era. It is central to the “conservative” brand, first clearly presented at “fair and balanced” Fox News. It was shockingly revealed in the speech Mitt Romney gave to the Associated Press editors on Wednesday. I fear that this cynicism has also invaded the Supreme Court and think it is quite apparent in the response to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.
Romney’s speech pivoted around the open mic exchange between Presidents Obama and Medevev of Russia. Romney sees in this the key that can unlock the mystery that is the Obama presidency:
“Barack Obama’s exchange with the Russian President raises all kinds of serious questions: What exactly does President Obama intend to do differently once he is no longer accountable to the voters? Why does “flexibility” with foreign leaders require less accountability to the American people? And, on what other issues will he state his true position only after the election is over? …
He wants us to re-elect him so we can find out what he will actually do…
With all the challenges the nation faces, this is not the time for President Obama’s hide and seek campaign…
Unlike President Obama, you don’t have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in – or what my plans are. I have a pro-growth agenda that will get our economy back on track – and get Americans back to work.”
Given the unsteadiness of Romney’s political commitments, this is an odd attack, as was noted by the talking heads on cable after the speech, but I think much more troubling is the way that Romney used a relativity trivial informal exchange between two presidents to provide a cynical account of Obama’s “hide and seek” politics.” This explains the basic pattern of criticism of Obama that Romney, his Republican rivals . . .
Read more: The Aggressive Cynicism of Mitt Romney and His Party: A Cynical Society Update Part 2
When I describe Barack Obama as a principled centrist working to move the center left, I confess, I am seeing in the President’s political orientation my own primary commitments. As a professor, as a participant observer of the opposition to previously existing socialism around the old Soviet bloc, and as an engaged American, this kind of center-left position makes the most sense to me.
I oppose true believers, of the left and the right, and am confused by those who see only their own position as intelligent and insightful, viewing their opposition as, at best, mistaken, and, more likely, as fundamentally mendacious. Working in the academic world, in my daily life, I mostly see this in my leftist colleagues who are certain about the superiority of their own political commitments. On the larger political stage, the fallacy of political certainty seems to be primarily a right-wing disorder, vividly epitomized in the Republican debates and on Fox News. The new direction of MSNBC, I should also note, has become a mirror image of Fox. I find it almost as hard to watch for more than a few minutes.
I look for alternatives to this, and I believe that this is not only a matter of personal taste or my specific political commitments. Hannah Arendt’s essay on truth and politics highlights the depth of the problem, as I have already reflected on here and here. Confusing political opinion with political truth and empowering that truth is a primary cultural characteristic of modern tyranny, and basing politics on factual lies, avoiding factual truth, is another definitive cultural characteristic of the tyranny of our times and of the recent past. For this reason, I am self critical about my own convictions and quite critical of many of my friends on the left, and also for this reason, I am on the look out for opponents on the right worthy of respect, from whom I can learn. Thus, my posts looking for . . .
Read more: In Review: Between Left and Right
I unofficially joined the Occupy Wall Street movement on August 2nd of 2011, not because I wanted to demand anything from the government, but because I wanted to use what I had learned over the past several years as a data analyst at a global advertising agency to somehow attack the system. I had, and still have I suppose, an agenda to somehow turn corporations upon one another, make them divide and conquer themselves so that we (I) can stop working for them and so that they’ll start working for us. Many of my comrades abhorred my ideas and proposals, like the one I had discussed in a private email to Micah White about having corporations actually fund us while we camped out. However, no one told me I was unwelcome, and I actually have met other individuals who found my ideas appealing. I, furthermore, have yet to be told that I am unwelcome at camp in spite of the fact that the same email thread was publicly leaked, and I have since been accused of being a corporate stooge by several conspiracy theorists with blogs. The movement is tolerant of diverse and extreme opinions, which is its strength as well as the reason why there isn’t a coherent message. Or is there?
I’ll confess that I never really imagined that Occupy Wall Street would actually happen. I knew the turn out wouldn’t be anywhere near the 20,000 that Adbusters had called for. There had been 200 at most at the New York City General Assembly meetings leading up to the 17th, and the occupywallst.org website didn’t even begin receiving more than a few thousand visitors until the 17th. I didn’t bring my sleeping bag to Wall Street. I ran home and returned to the park with it. Waking up in Liberty Plaza on the morning of Sunday, September 18th, was surreal. I thought the cause was lost on the morning of September 20th while in my office cubicle I typed out an unanswered email for help from the New School community as . . .
Read more: The View From Zuccotti Park: On the Post-Political Thrust of OWS
I have been on the road much of the past month. This weekend I was involved with my son’s wedding. Sam and Lili Lu were married on Sunday, now off to Oslo and points north for their honeymoon. I have been in deep family mode. It has been hard to fit in a week in review post, but now I can offer some thoughts about the past few weeks at Deliberately Considered and in the world.
Oslo. I was in Wroclaw at the time of Anders Behring Breivikis’s atrocious act, ironically, the city where he may have bought chemicals for his bombing. A Polish visitor to the Institute, an alum, had worked in Norway. His first concern was to confirm that a friend, who called and left a message on his cell phone the day of the massacre, was ok. Upon speaking to his friend, our Polish colleague reported that “everyone” in Norway is relieved that the despicable act wasn’t the work of an Islamic radical. In my class on media and crisis, we discussed this judgment. A majority thought this relief was based on an understandable desire to not have Norway drawn into the conflict of civilizations narrative, but then a student from Albania (an historically Muslim nation) spoke. For her, the early reports of the fanatical anti-Muslim commitments of Breivik were deeply troubling, part of a larger civilizational whole.
When I came home, I discovered that the talking heads on conservative talk radio and Fox News were denouncing the idea that Breivik was a Christian xenophobe, representative of a deep cultural problem. I also heard about the new project to build the “ground zero Mosque.” The absurd side of our academic discussion was revealed.
Economic Crisis. Trying to explain the American debt ceiling crisis to Europeans is next to impossible. In the Euro zone, the economic crisis is the result of a fundamental problem. One currency is being used in a diverse set of nation states, each with independent . . .
Read more: DC Week in Review: Democracy in Crisis
I did not have the time to prepare a post while teaching with Daniel Dayan “Media and News in a Time of Crisis” in Wroclaw, Poland. This was unfortunate because there were news events during the period of the course that seemed to be a series of case studies on our topic. As we were examining theoretical material, which illuminates the roles media play in such cases, media were playing important roles, from the Murdoch scandal, to the terrorist attack in Oslo. Today, I will reflect on Murdoch and, more broadly, the tasks of making distinctions and coming to actionable judgments in the media. Oslo will wait for another day. I draw on the ideas of Eviatar Zerubavel, a distinguished sociologist of cognition and student of Erving Goffman, to make sense of our ongoing seminar discussion and the debate between Daniel and me.
The Murdoch presence in America has long concerned me, particularly Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. While Fox is a strange mix of opinionated journalism and political mobilization instrument, as I have already examined here in an earlier post, the Journal has been a distinguished business newspaper with a conservative slant on the news, with the slant increasingly prevailing over the news in recent years with Murdoch’s ownership. I was struck by Joe Nocerra’s analysis in The New York Times. Concern with factual reality has diminished. Editors went beyond improving reporter’s copy from the stylistic point of view to ideological “improvement.” Political and business news reported was re-worked to confirm the political positions promoted on the editorial page. Note the problem in these cases is that strong distinctions between journalism as a vocation and other vocations are ignored became fuzzy, in the terms of Zerubavel.
Such willful ignorance is also present in The New York Post, another Murdoch enterprise that I see in my daily life. I read it only late at night, picking up a discarded copy on the train when I . . .
Read more: Making Distinctions: Murdoch, WikiLeaks, and DSK