A few thoughts on being wrong and the media

It may surprise you to know, but I have been wrong in the past. Dashingly wrong. Stupefyingly wrong. So wrong that the mistake could have threatened my future. So wrong that an immediate and heartfelt apology was all that would suffice.

I'm sure this has happened to most people. Humans are able to be counted on to, if nothing else, screw up spectacularly, in the most entertaining fashion.

An apology may or may not solve the issue. You may or may not be able to salvage your reputation, your relationships, your life. If you work hard enough, and are blessed with forgiveness, you may be able to do that.

But that's for the real world, the place we proles inhabit. There's another world much more rarified, where we're not allowed, and where being "right" doesn't count for as much as one would think it should.

It's a peculiarity of the American ruling class that people who have been wrong time and again about, well, everything are still taken seriously. They're still invited on "news" shows to give opinions. Various sectors seek their counsel. Rather than fading into penury, they reap the welfare circuit available only to those who muck up magnificently, but have the right connections.

Take Bernie Kerik, for example. You remember him, don't you? He was New York City Police Commissioner during the 9/11 attacks, and somehow he parlayed that into getting on the short list to head the Department of Homeland Security. Until serious ethical and legal lapses surfaced, lapses which, well, were crimes, and turned him into a convicted felon. And yet recently he has been back on the teevee box, spewing opinion. In no civilized society should Mr. Kerik's counsel be sought. Which should tell you my views of our current state.

Or, as another data point, Newt Gingrich, he of the famed 1994 "Gingrich Revolution" and the Contract with America. His revolution lasted four years, when in the 1998 midterms his majority took a shellacking in the polls, and after the sordid affair of impeaching President Clinton. He mucked up the vendetta against Mr. Clinton, and lost seats to Democrats even in a gerrymandered environment. Such failure should have consigned him to obscurity. But, until it was just cancelled, there he was, a co-host on the rebooted "Crossfire" on CNN. He's been even more vile and vicious than during the now moderate-seeming 1994 putsch, but clicks and eyeballs were all that mattered. Don't cry for the loss of his CNN sinecure; I'm sure he'll find another lucrative grift.

Lest you think I'm piling on conservatives, let's examine a putative "liberal". Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball", famously said that President Obama's oratorical skills gave him "tingles" up his leg. The tingles must be gone, because for the past two days he's been lambasting the President on his hour long show, blaming him for the one case of Ebola to be identified in the US, and calling him "intellectually lazy", which for many of us is a not-so-coded dog whistle. Of course, he's wrong now, but he was most famously wrong for his early, vociferous, almost ecstatic support of the Iraq War. His influence led to the firing of the only anti-war voice in the mainstream media with a regular slot, Phil Donahue. Only when the polling began to go south did he turn on former President Bush. Yet he and his like, boosters of the worst US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, are still secure in their positions, suffering no ill effects. This is true both of conservative and liberal hawks.

The list is nigh on endless, but these examples will suffice.

Enough of these incidents can make one think there's something rotten in the state of our media. That our media has degenerated unawares from the heights of Murrow and Cronkite to the banshee wailings of Hannity and O'Reilly.

Yes, it is rotten. But not as unplanned decadence. This was a conscious choice. Once news became a mere adjunct to multinational conglomerates, all with political views which are most likely not in accord with those of whom are reading this essay, the propaganda factor was turned up to 11. American media has always hewed to a narrow range of accepted discourse. But now even that range is the width of a human hair. Facts don't matter; only the accepted narrative does. It's why the "liberal" MSNBC bashes Pres. Obama as heartily as the wingnut Fox News. Pres. Obama threatens the cozy world set up by conglomerates, billionaires, and their political minions. His calls and actions to spread the country's massive wealth, to give everyone a chance to succeed, threaten the base lizard brains in them, the thought that if we get something they must have to give up an equal or greater portion. Of course, Pres. Obama is of the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats, but that's not what they hear. They hear Marxism, socialism, from each according to his ability and so on. The idea of shared prosperity, which was the dominant ideology of mid-20th century America, always grated on a powerful sector. It just waited for the moment to overturn it, and no uppity black man was going to get in their way.

Cable news, which sucks up all the air in the corridors of power, is useless. It's more than useless: it breeds fear and infantilism. The paranoia over the one Ebola case is evidence of that. It serves a viewership which, in its demographic, is afraid of every bump in the night. It contributes nothing to a rational discourse. It cannot be reformed, not until we stop watching it, stop giving it our eyeballs to feed advertisers. News, real news, can be gleaned from a myriad of sources. Fox, MSNBC, and CNN hardly do news, but truck in opinion and punditry. That may be good for entertainment (it's certainly not my thing), but is disastrous for informed decision making.

Turn off the television. Seek out sources of information. Do the work of citizenship. "Citizen" is the most powerful person in the United States.



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