MEDIA & THE WHITE HOUSE
for American Politics Journal
JANUUARY. 27th 2017 (FIRST PUBLISH DATE – HACKED TWICE)
February 9, 2017
Michael Grynbaum of the New Times wrote an interesting piece last week about former Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon who is now Chief Strategist for President Donald Trump which in and of itself raised eyebrows of the most familiar media Americans.
Bannon suggested that the ‘Media should keep its mouth shut’ because it either seemed to misunderstand their role, or just could not explain the nature of President Trump’s win on election day in November.
What Bannon alleged is true, but another salient question might be whether Stephen Bannon in fact despises most media because they have, I argue, followed Roger Ailes’ method of running their own national news organizations. Take Fox News that, instead of delivering straight facts about actions of interest to viewers, brings what I call “cable chatter” in the guise of “entertainment” posing as news that after almost two decades has noticeably and quickly became propaganda for the things that Mr. Aisles appropriated shortly after leaving the Reagan White House – That the use of propaganda aimed at a spinning but not-yet-unified group of Americans was essential to attract a large enough viewership to commercially support a large cable television news network now owned by Rupert Murdoch of Britain and others.
Murdoch seemed to do very well in Europe with a slapstick style of what some called yellow electronic and print journalism akin to America’s National Inquirer which attracted much of the same Jane and John Doe American who were the factual spine of the Nation although not the best educated nor prime breadwinners in the country which, in this case, is made from a slim majority of citizens living in numerous states that do not sit on the East or West Coasts of the United States.
Rodger Ailes could have continued a more relaxed and homey style news channel that Fox first displayed to the nation, but as former political actor he misguidedly, to my mind, turned Fox News into a 24-7 cheerleading army for conservative and neo-conservative folks and philosophies in an ingenious, though oftentimes spiteful theatrical routine of heavy political and war news rather than news which is important to people who view themselves as part of a nation rather than just part of a city or region where facts/truth are more meaningful – such as the weather, local crime, local politics, and all kinds of need-to-know actualities that real life men, women and children need to know. Unlike CNN, which preceded Fox’s credibility and reported national and world news on a continual contemporary basis.
Fox was interested in a CNN’s audience as well, but Ailes knew that to break off the Joe and Jane portion of the CNN audience for itself would require a choosing or inventing a different style which he did – using talking heads that chatted merrily with each other, or agonized about some appalling happening that impacted the country – and quite especially – the right-leaning mind.
Fox also hired several emcee-opinion makers like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity to bring a sort of down and dirty approach to policy that Rush Limbaugh brought nationally to talk-radio over many years, along with several facsimiles of himself popping up all around the country to titillate the listening audience with stories of outrageous crime with a racist bent, horrible tragedies, and little by little almost a total focus on national politics from the viewpoint of the more right-wing thinkers than on the left.
Yet was Aisles and Fox’ targets the right, or was it also the ill-educated, needier, white viewers who muddled far too much “the News” with Fox own brand of Reality.
I recall having dinner with a Federal Circuit Justice at his home in Los Angeles who is a well-known middle-of-the-road and brilliant legal mind. Unquestionably, the eight or ten of us at the table that evening talked about little more than politics and law. I brought up my regrets about Fox News becoming stronger and, to my mind, more of a more of a propaganda machine for the Republican Party that flaunted the loss of equal time laws that had disappeared over time, and before that, had assured that candidates for elective office would be afforded the same time on radio and television, etc. as their opposition.
This Judge, who must remain nameless, was interested in this problem since it impacted on state, regional and local law often born in communities, not universities or think tanks. Just after dinner he retired with his wife to his home office and watched Fox News, for perhaps an hour or less and then came into the dining room quite upset at what he had seen. He realized that should this kind of pontification disguised as news could end in the collapse of Democracy or any free society in a relatively short period.
This “equal time” rule came about to better balance news and advertising to keep it from becoming just what was dreaded – a potential 24-hour advertisement posing as a news program selling a specific ideological point of view as the view that is based in fact, whereas any other point of view is either completely false or begging. The rule came from the Supreme Court which labeled the equal time requirement unconstitutional as an abridgement of free speech but also told us that when unfair media treatment via programming or advertising became a threat to Democracy, the Court would “know it when they saw it.” As it turned out decades later the Court decided in a close decision that money, in fact, was free speech which many today believe is a senseless opinion also linked to the finding that corporations were individuals – the same as a person which I find far more amusing. In fact, the corporation is a construct to protect the individual – ergo how could it also be an individual.
In fact, for more than twenty years I and a partner, Gene Gaudette of New York and Washington, were the first organization, though small, to publish a daily look at politics from a moderate to left opinion, but still sensitive to argument from the right. I started writing about politics on the net in the late 1980s and later the Web because I had studied politics and communications for over seven years, and additionally attended law school. We made no claims we were fair and balanced as does Fox News maintains to this day – but it did so, I believe, to make certain it was not violating local, regional, of national ethics regarding gross monetary expenditures on behalf of political parties and candidates. Even today this looms a large issue although recent five-four decision in the Supreme Court have clearly opened the gates toward an ability to purchase a government and a country without anyone knowing who, in fact, bought it.
Rodger Ailes, who was as big a spy as he was a professional television genius, almost immediately hired a private investigator to study and badger me personally and people I knew. Roger Ailes made me very aware of his underhandedness even as I continued to mock him for ignoring any ethical conduct toward me or his viewers. In short email exchanges, he threatened me to use whatever “dirt” he could find on me in the mid-1990s when I began to approach the Federal Election Commission alleging that Aisles and Fox News were engaged in knowingly advertising – not educating or entertaining -people about political issues and candidates, but to make certain that Republicans would prevail in elections or in their legislation efforts.
This was more of a War than I anticipated as Aisles – now exposed as misogynist sex pervert, earlier contacted me – again in writing – to inform he that he found a court order that I was to pay for my son’s expenses after my divorce. That was another fake news story of his – Of course, I was funding my son’s expenses in partnership with my working wife– his mother – and I had not only supported him by court order re the dissolution of marriage, but also enthused him to private schools and into my home where I raised him as best I could. I am proud how he turned out, but still feel I could have done even better, like most fathers.
I was angry with Ailes and decided to publish what Ailes had done to me, and indirectly to my family through his vicious personal and business campaign to publicly call me senseless and a poor father. I also knew he was spewing lies about me around the news business although I thought most people in the communications business would know that what I was concerned about was true – Eventually, over time not only was Fox engaged in unsettling propaganda, including vicious lies about politicians and elites, but NBC and CNN had now joined the Fox genre as well – but from the Left to attempt, I suppose, to offset Fox’s unbalanced presentation of what it claimed was news, entertainment, with hours of right wing lectures from Bill O’Reilly and dozens of on air visitors and spokespeople with no balance at all. By the time Fox, NBC, and other radio and television news sources were “in” –the right then began claiming preposterously that the Left – or Socialists run the entire radio and television business, and that it was they who were ‘Hitlerian’ propaganda artists while also claiming Hitler was a Socialist not the madman, racist, and fascist and murderer that he was in truth.
On the Web the growth of hard right “news” sources grew exponentially and certain groups like Politico and Breitbart and dozens, maybe hundreds of so-called news services sprung up – also taking shots from either the right or the left – but in fact earning money from business, contributions, and advertising. We, at American Politics never took a dime for ads in three decades nor did we engage our audience in phony fund-raising practices so common today.
All this continues today in a massive battle between the two prevailing interests in America – the Right and the Left. Or the haves versus the have nots. Or the super-literate vs the illiterate. It is, I guarantee – the Wild West of the business of capturing your mind and pocketbook!
Thus, while I and Steve Bannon complain about the media today, we both were spawned from different flanks but share the truth that no-one today – even the New York Times and the Washington Post, God Bless them – are much more than lying and telling half-truths. They also have many writers in the back pockets of businesses they were raised at, or one or another political persuasion- including religion, gender-based, and who knows what profiteers that demand their viewpoints be adopted by the very news that average citizens rely on.
You see – neither Steve Bannon or I have ever pretended to be fair and balanced – We tell it like we see from our point of view.
Fox News does the opposite – and seems to think it must trumpet its malarkey for financial interest only, and to pull the wool over your eyes.
There are few reliable news sources any longer – and I must add that it results from the mega-magnitude of this war of words coupled with Internet communication that make everyone a potential commentator and even publisher – but a publisher of what – News or propaganda?
I’d say heavy on the propaganda side for all newspapers and television media from both left and right – but never “News” – and instead a mishmash of lies varied with rudiments of truth mixed with who-knows-what to gain control of your opinions – not to help you make up your mind by independently showing you all sides of and issue or candidate seriously.
So, the current situation is this: Except for relatively small groups of academia, intellectuals, and straight honest citizens we are now drowning in a quagmire that is so complex and confusing that it shakes the very rock of our minds.
This situation is far more dangerous than we can imagine. Certainly, I know this condition can and has resulted in the news media’s reputation falling into the latrine of public perception, along with the credibility of almost all politicians and all levels of government. Even supporters of “small government” are now worried that state and local government is just as, or more, corrupted by this dance with the media than the national government and political parties.
I wonder though if Steve Bannon, or Bill Maher, or Bill O’Reilly and the colossal and self-same condensed ownership of media worldwide realize what a hellish atmosphere we have all fashioned?
For what we are now, is a world closely built to conform to communication many varieties yet dominated by a very few people who appear at least to say almost anything for money and or power, but never not erudition.
In a way, this has been the mounting case for human civilization since the invention of the drum. That drum tells us whether to go to war, run from war, or celebrate either.
The evidence of this came much earlier than I thought as I look back over 100 years of history. The evidence or “symptoms” of these massive changes that are truly a societal virus came upon us in a relatively brief period — perhaps 25 years or less– and the most palpable symptom of that disease is the dawn of the NeoCon – who now is considered almost a moderate right of center conservative. The NeoCon was the warning of what was happening but the general public ignored it and became almost violent against those who wrote cautions about it.
Today’s NeoCon sprang from disillusioned liberals about 25 years after World War II. These men and women were becoming right-minded, literally, as they saw many of their dreams, held tightly when younger, later turn to mist. That seen, many former liberals knew that the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, even anti-racism movements were nearing failure or had completely failed already.
What did these old liberals do – They turned back toward an earlier time that appeared less jarring to the soul on a national basis: a time before our own civil war where men really did do almost anything they felt like doing; In relationships, love, family, slavery, business practices, destruction knowingly or unknowingly of the environment – yet keeping the American peace for needed periods of rest.
The NeoCon of today thought that this past era, and “the founders” of American civilization and law thereupon was the apex of society as democracy. In many ways, this was true but made wholly ludicrous by our continued embrace of slavery and ensuing horrors until the late 1960s when power realized it was time to at least appear to give in more than a little to the outbursts from the neediest in our society.
Although greed still played the largest role in societies around the globe after the 16th Century, communications –through newspapers. pamphlets and other propaganda materials supported by business and personal advertising made things seem somehow better than before.
So many people at the time could not read. Our nation was run, in fact, by European intellectuals somewhat tired of monarchs and tyrants as much of the world was. Yet year by year, development of information and communication grew quickly via telegraph, radio, television, print over wire, and the computer, now so small it has become a thin small device in your pocket or bag. Suddenly kings, queens, and dictators became interesting – almost charming – even with their worst actions trumped.
Truly, the neoconservative did not discover the power of communications as did the better educated progressives for a quite long while. Just as the Vietnam war was starting and then ending in defeat on all sides conservatives like Irving Krystol, or William Buckley began to recognize the influence which could be gained from comparatively simple communication to a broad and multitudinous audience who did not talk back – Not yet.
The World Wide Web changed that – and around the end of the 1980’s we, at the top of the pyramid and closer to the bottom, could talk back, at first only a little, but over time even sassier than any radio or television network could have dreamed.
I think that Stephen Bannon and the too-early deceased Mr. Breitbart learned how to utilize this communicative supremacy a bit earlier than some.
I think that Mr. Stone of Black, Mannafort & Stone realized earlier than even Mark Penn of Penn & Schoen, while still at Harvard with Doug Schoen in New York and with their knowledge paved an early path for Ed Koch to become “Mayor for Life” of New York City. Mark and Doug knew the power of information, and how to get it by the megaton and more-so how to comprehend it to provide the outlines for change and to manipulate public opinion through polling and advertising, through push polling and phone banks, through film and public perception expertise.
Like Bannon, I too, never miss reading the New York Times and doing the crossword puzzles every day as they grow more difficult from Monday through Saturday.
Yet Bannon, who I once would have considered an enemy of rational thought is truthful today.
He is telling what he misses and why.
The ‘news’ media to which he generally calls “the media” since other forms of media also have large impact to air and deliver respectable propaganda about everything from what baby cereal your infant eats, to what drugs you must take toward the end of life.
The Media is ill. Bannon is right. It is confused and the academic or knowledgeable media is not as well funded as it once was because of a resistance to condense. This is especially true for large urban newspapers and magazines some of which have a million subscribers or more, but are searching for a locked-in place on the internet before people stop reading on paper but only on screens of one size or another. This is wrong. What big time media needs today is to condense to provide truth – not guesswork to people relying on it.
The Internet today is akin to a huge “Billboard” where you can become at least conversational in almost any subject and even an expert in many.
What Bannon isn’t saying, is a well-advised codicil that should be added to his enjoinder this week to the news media, “Keep Your Mouth Shut” is that the New York Times and other sources cannot match his expertise or his budgets for getting just one thing done, Elect Donald Trump as president of the United States and not Hillary Clinton. The media has a heavier burden of truth than Bannon or Trump. It must bring truth to us on so many things.
The New York Times is still the best newspaper on earth in my opinion, but it and its brothers and sisters around the world still “don’t get it” – Stephen Bannon gets it, and you know what – I cannot tell you why yet, because I don’t know how better to explain it. What I did know is that Trump would win – and I treated him, therefore as the winner in my work this past year, without saying it, without cheering him on – but by knocking out his GOP opponents because they were horrible or worse, but by at least trying to understand him and how he could be viewed. That is still no clear, but will be as the months pass.
I am certain that neither Steve Bannon nor President Trump know me, but I know why they were victorious since I am a curious fellow.
Here is a clue and my mantra:
“Not only must you employ people who can find the truth and tell it and nothing less as journalists, but you must also make certain that society knows that and relies on it without having to ask.”
I commend Stephen Bannon and Donald Trump for their first-rate game of political chess, and continue to ask them to think about constructing a cabinet-level division, titled The United States Department of Joy, which would bring delight to the American people and the world- just now and then, but as a reliable amazement, and that Donald Trump might agree to be its official dad.