Posted on 21-12-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Continuing on a theme of giving credit where it is due we come to Jon Stewart.  After the Republicans filibustered a bill to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders because of cost (while gifting a far larger giveaway to millionaires) , Stewart responded with a take down of the GOP and the media that some have termed operatic.  The targets were some of his usual foils – the news networks who responded to yet another filibuster with silence, Fox “News” whose 9/11 outrage machine seems to have taken an early vacation and the GOP.  Videos below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

The second video is much more sober.  Stewart sits down with some 9/11 responders needing help to pay for their bills while taking some shots at John Kyl for asserting that working on Christmas was somehow sacrilegious and Mitch McConnell’s teary farewell to Judd Gregg.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

The third video is an interview with former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate (also a Fox “News” host) Mike Huckabee who urges Republicans to vote for the bill.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mike Huckabee
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Stewart’s rage from the bully pulpit seems to have woken up the media and shamed some Republicans.  Below is an unusual video of a Fox anchor breaking the party line and calling out Republicans for their obstruction (other Fox personalities generally blame Congress and not Republicans in the Senate) – well maybe not that unusual since it is one of their rare fair and balanced journalists Shep Smith.

Yet the grinches are still around.  Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn objects to funding the bill by closing a tax loophole and is seeking further review on a bill that has been floating around Congress for most of the year.  He has vowed to block the bill adding to conservative unease on the wisdom of continuing to block the bill.  It also hands Democrats a political softball epitomized by their new video below:

It begs the question whether all this public shaming is sufficient to force Senate Republicans to act rather than merely provide their usual vocal support for 9/11 first responders.

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Posted on 22-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Lib Dem surge I blogged about earlier in the week as brought in its wake the hysterical counteroffensive of the Tory media barons who feel victory slipping away.  It is a type of full scale media assault in the news pages rather than the editorial pages that Americans do not typically see outside of the tabloids and the non-Murdoch owned media (the Murdoch owned Sun has been up to tricks familiar to critics of its American affiliate).  The effectiveness of the broadside remains to be seen.  For one thing, the political affiliation of British newspapers is not secret which distinguishes Fleet Street from its American brethren in the last few decades.  The overreaction is spawning a backlash on the web with the twitter hash tag “nickcleggsfault” soaring in popularity with mocking tweets blaming Clegg for all of the world’s problems.

The second of the two prime ministerial debates held earlier today is unlikely to help the Tories or Labour quell the upstart Lib Dems.  While Conservative David Cameron performed better, Clegg appears to have held his own on foreign policy and is further entrenching his brand as something different.  Whether that brand can survive the inevitable back room deals that will follow the now likely hung parliament remains to be seen.

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I will let the video below speak for itself.  Brings out the absurdity of the media’s hand wringing tendency.  Would like to see more of this Obama around.

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Posted on 31-01-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

CBS has been drawing some deserved fire in the past week over how it selects “advocacy” advertisements for the Superbowl after agreeing to run the advertisement with Florida QB Tim Tebow and his mother on the hot button topic of abortion.  See link.  Count me in among the crowd who thinks the Superbowl should be a 3 hour respite from politics (and I did not approve of the government’s heavy handed logically flawed anti-drug advertisements in past Superbowls either).  Also if CBS in its dash for cash is willing to accept advocacy advertisements, its censorship board should be far more fair and balanced.  CBS has previously rejected the United Church of Life for an advertisement announcing that they welcomed gays and lesbians and (for this Superbowl) an advertisement for a gay dating site that showed two men kissing.  See link.

The Tebow advertisement has also drawn criticism (independent of his anti-abortion views which he is obviously entitled to state) for seeming to encourage expectant mothers to ignore medical advice and play Russian roulette by relying on God to keep them from harm.  See link.

Tebow has never been shy about his faith.  However, for all the articles about how he is risking his financial future one must note that he practices the majority faith of the country in a region and a sport populated by fellow believers.  Similar public displays of religiosity do not seem to have cost the now retired Kurt Warner.  Likewise, for all the ire CBS has drawn for airing this advertisement it is still catering to the beliefs of the dominant religion in this country.  If CBS seeks to run advocacy advertisements during sporting events it should have the gumption to also run advertisements that could cause some discomfort to the same group, something freedom of speech is all about.  If it cannot live up to its obligations as a media entity, it should keep sporting events free of such advocacy advertisements involving politics and religion.

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It often comes down to what gets through the filter of the American media. To be fair, the United States is hardly unique in this.  Few countries engage in serious introspection about their actions.  However, there often seems to be a major disconnect between American self-image and the image as seen abroad.

To some extent it is understandable.  Self-criticism is too hard to take and certain groups can often go too overboard on the critiques of America without acknowledging the good.  But too often the American media goes to the other extreme by embracing the Pollyannaish version of American exceptionalism (like the ridiculous George W. Bush assertion “they hate us for our freedoms“) in which all American foreign policy actions are undertaken for noble reasons.  As many Latin Americans would tell you, that has unfortunately not always been the case.

A column by Juan Cole brought this issue up for me recently.  The column deals with the continuing human catastrophe in Gaza.  Israel’s apologists in the United States often attribute any criticism of Israel to an undercurrent of anti-semitism and are only too willing to grant it unquestioned support.  However, it is stories like the one linked above that have undercut the sympathy Israel attracts (including among some progressives in the United States) in many parts of the world.

Israel is no longer the plucky underdog of the Six Days War or the Yom Kippur War threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds.  While the threat to Israel is real, the armies of its Arab neighbors have atrophied since the fall of the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile the Israeli army built up with a steady diet of American aid is the 800 lb gorilla in the Middle East.  Add to that the (not publicly acknowledged, but understood) second strike nuclear capability delivered to Israel by the United States and Israel has the ability to pulverize any of its neighbors (as Lebanon and the Gaza strip found out in the last two years).

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  American media coverage generally fails  to acknowledge this change in status for Israel or the extremely disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in the last decade.  American media has also not really delved into the details of the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza in the past year.  When the destruction is covered, it is generally framed solely in the context of a response to terrorist attacks with little discussion of whether a hammer is being used to swat a fly.  As a result, the United States remains one of the few countries where public opinion and elected officials generally uncritically support Israel.

In contrast, the rest of the world’s media has covered this issue extensively.  So now a furious and sometimes bewildered Israel finds much of world opinion treating it as a bully for actions it feels are justified self-defense.  Israel is also painfully learning the lesson the United States learned in Vietnam.  Civilian suffering transmitted to the living rooms makes for awful public relations for a democracy, unless of course the media chooses not to cover it.  It is unfair, but countries are generally held to higher standards than terrorist groups.

A critique I have had for the Cheneyian vision of the world is that it often seeks to lower American actions to the standards of the thugs they oppose while encouraging charges of hypocrisy by maintaining the high minded rhetoric that plays so well domestically.  Israel does have a point that it should not have to take too many pious bromides from human rights “paragons” Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. who are only too willing to use the Palestinians as props while doing nothing to ameliorate their lot.  However, the question does arise whether Israel really wants to lump itself on the issue of human rights with these countries?

Juan Cole’s column also brought about a sense of deja vu.  The stories about Gaza sound distressingly similar to the stories about the sufferings of Iraqi civilians during the sanctions in the 1990s.  These stories were circulated by human rights groups, dismissed by the Clinton and Bush administrations as solely Saddam Hussein’s fault and were largely ignored by the media.  While nobody should discount Saddam’s brutality, hiding behind indifference of a tyrant to the suffering of his people is an odd way to absolve yourself of any responsibility.  And ultimately all that suffering made not a whit of difference to toppling his regime.  As the Iranian people are finding out and as the Chinese found in 1989, public outrage by itself cannot topple men with the guns who have no qualms about shedding blood.  It is also very easy, as in the case of Iraq, for governments used to manipulating public opinion to transfer the blame to the people implementing the sanctions.

The result is a propaganda coup for the regime (another example would be Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba that blames the yanquis for the failures of its socialist revolution) and a recruiting boon for fanatics like Al Qaeda who tap into the resentment caused by the suffering that is transmitted into living rooms across the Middle East.

However, as little of this is transmitted to American living rooms the perspective of the American public is shaped very differently than the rest of the world.

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This emerging battle should be fun to watch.  Rupert Murdoch’s son in law Matthew Freud launched an on the record  broadside against Roger Ailes and Fox News for the “horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”  See link.  As the article notes, this follows reports (which were denied) over the summer that Murdoch Sr. was himself sometimes embarrassed by the content of Fox News.

Similar questions regarding the journalistic standards of Fox News have been raised by many commentators, the Obama administration and this blog.  See here, here and here.  But the ugly reality is that Mammon is king.  The market wants the tabloid-like opinion driven “news” peddled by Fox which financially is comfortably beating all its other rivals.  Mr. Alies is safe on his perch as the propaganda arm for anti-Democratic Party and anti-Obama political forces for the foreseeable future.  See another opinion on the matter here.

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Posted on 03-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • Obama donors are feeling left out as they lose some of the traditional access perks of fund raisers.  Fits with a populist theme of the campaign, but am not sure why giving freebies to donors that soothe their ego as opposed to rewriting legislation to suit their needs is all that bad.  A string of unhappy donors could bite the Obama campaign fund raising machine in the butt in 2012.
  • Yglesias highlights the continuing struggles and hypocrisy of main stream media in dealing with Internet based rivals. It is bad enough that Rupert Murdoch whines that Google and blogs like this one (well maybe not this one) who link to his sites are parasites, but now they complain when the sites do the actual journalistic legwork.  While complaining about the websites being ideologically slanted, the same main stream media rallied around Fox as a legitimate news operation.  This Jon Stewart video link in a  previous blog post is worth watching.
  • Daniel Gross thinks the markets overreacted to the Dubai debt crisis last week.  Maybe someone can recommend an expert from the Chicago school to explain to him how our efficient markets are composed of rational actors instead of a bunch of traumatized lemmings.
  • China tries to rescue the story of Mulan from the Disney interpretation.  Must be galling to see the “definitive” interpretation of a historic/legendary icon be a foreign version with the Disney formula of communicative animals and a klutzy dragon. Reminds me of the controversy in India about Peter Brook’s version of the Mahābhārat.

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    Posted on 02-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, History) by Rashtrakut
    • Christopher Hitchens complains about how the saga of the party crashers overshadowed the visit of Manmohan Singh to the United States and vents about the state of media coverage.  This is hardly a new phenomenon, though it seems to have got worse in the last 20 years.  From my viewpoint the O. J. Simpson circus, I mean trial, was the start of this nonsense.  It showed when the media cut away from Clinton’s state of the union address to announce the civil verdict against OJ.
    • The Economist’s Banyan on how North Korea in the finest traditions of bankrupt regimes “revalued” its currency and robbed its citizens.
    • More Afghan perceptions on Obama’s speech.
    • A depressing read on how the Taliban is wrecking the rich Buddhist heritage of the region and threatening museums in Pakistan.
    • The Economist cites a Stephen Walt column on how German unifier Otto von Bismarck’s realism may be a guide on a realistic foreign policy to ease tensions in the world and tackle Iran.  It is an interesting theory, but historical analogies don’t always fit.  Bismarck’s concert of powers was ultimately doomed because Russia and Austria-Hungary’s ambitions (along with their proxies Serbia and Bulgaria) clashed in the Balkans and an over-powerful Germany clashed with the traditional British agenda since the Spanish Armada of preventing any one power from dominating the European continent.  These tensions were already evident by the time of Bismarck’s unceremonious dismissal.
    • How far will Dubai’s woes rein in Sheikh Makhtoum’s ambitious agenda?  It gives conservative Abu Dhabi a lot more leverage.

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      Posted on 13-11-2009
      Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

      A cautionary tale about Ashleigh Banfield, one of the few reporters who did not peddle the Bush administrations spin and actually did her job, journalism and questioning war coverage.  The speech in question is linked here.  For that she lost her job.  Its another example of why cable news in the United States is generally unwatchable and why it is probably a good idea in the Internet age to diversify news sources to include other countries.  Al Jazeera is often dismissed as propaganda here, but they sometimes cover issues and trample over sacred cows in a manner the so called free American media does not always do.  If anything, it provides perspective for why everybody abroad does not always attribute the noblest motives to American actions.

      When Walter Cronkite died recently the talking heads on TV and in print gushed about his editorial report on Vietnam on February 27, 1968.  Sadly with the corporatization of main stream media where the profit motive trumps the duty of the Fourth Estate to report the news accurately, Cronkite today would have been drummed out of a job as quickly as Banfield.

      It is probably summed by by the otherwise respected David Gregory’s defensive burden shifting last year when he essentially said that the media’s job is to mindlessly report what the administration is saying and not to challenge them when they peddle bullshit.  Quoted from the link above:

      From the May 28 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews:

      CHRIS MATTHEWS (host): Let’s take a look at what McClellan had to say here about the media.

      Here he is, faulting the press. He wrote, quote, “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war should never have come as such a surprise. In this case, the,” quote, “liberal media,” close quote, “didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

      David?

      GREGORY: I think he’s wrong. He makes the same kind of argument a lot of people on the left have made. I tried not to be defensive about it. I’ve thought a lot about this over a number of years, and I disagree with that assessment.

      I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that.

      If there wasn’t a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the prewar intelligence? He agreed that — in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD.

      The right questions were asked. I think there’s a lot of critics — and I guess we can count Scott McClellan as one — who thinks that if we did not debate the president, debate the policy in our role as journalists, if we did not stand up and say, “This is bogus,” and “You’re a liar,” and “Why are you doing this?” that we didn’t do our job. And I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role.

      This attitude also sums up why traditional media outlets are faltering before blogs and internet based journalists who do show the same deference to power and why John Stewart of Comedy Central may be one of the most trusted newsmen in America (cautionary disclosure, it was an unscientific online poll).

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      Jon Stewart catches Sean Hannity using footage of another rally to make the Bachmann intimidation rally seem bigger.

      The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
      Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck’s Protest Footage
      www.thedailyshow.com
      Daily Show
      Full Episodes
      Political Humor Health Care Crisis

      Of course this is not the first time Stewart has had fun at the expense of Fox News. See here.  This is also not the first time Fox has spliced video feeds, though they did apologize in that instance.

      To be fair to the employees of Fox News, not everybody parrots the company line.  From earlier this summer watch as the Fox News anchor (who does not appear to be one of their opinion talking heads), desperately tries to bring Liz Trotta back on the liberal media bashing meme he was trying to create.  Instead she eviscerates Sarah Palin’s credentials and gets rapidly cut off as she mentions this Vanity Fair article.

      Then an honorable mention to Shepard Smith who does try to live up to the Fox news motto.

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      Posted on 10-11-2009
      Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

      Rupert Murdoch is continuing to fire away at Google.  So far it is all talk and no action.  The media baron is stymied by the change brought about by the internet that had upended journalism’s traditional revenue model.  It is hard to see him actually take Fox News off search engine sites that drive traffic to his websites.  Others like Mark Cuban think he may be on to something.  The problem is that many newspapers like the New York times have tried and failed to get subscribers to pay for content.  The Wall Street Journal with its unique business following is one of the only “old media” outlets to succeed with this model.  I tend to agree with Matt Ingram, a link to a site that requires subscription or worse payment is likely to send me scurrying in search of alternative news sources.

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