Posts Tagged ‘News’

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Orwell or Huxley, Different Sides of the Same Coin

May 22, 2011

While many writers influence society, few if any, impact modern political thinking more than Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.  Born only nine years apart, both men grew up in the pre-World War I British Empire.  Moreover, Huxley, for a short time, taught French at Eaton College to a young Eric Blair who later took the penname George Orwell.  From this point on, their lives moved in cycles of circular motion rather than parallel, at times agreeing, at others times diametrically opposed.

Both men wrote about social injustice of sorts but approached it from differing directions.  In Orwell’s mind, government controls society in a totalitarian fashion.  In fact, the quote “big brother is watching” comes from his novel 1984.  Huxley, on the other hand, sees personal liberties eroded by a society jaded and overwhelmed with excess exposure and stimulation of unimportant issues.  Perhaps, in the end, we will find both are true with the multinational, multicultural society we have today.

It is common today to see comparisons of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World boiled down to Orwell fear of a government that bans books and  Huxley’s fear of  a society that chooses not to read them.  While in a broad sense the comparison is true, it does lend itself to Huxley’s fear of people whom cannot be bothered with knowledge in-depth and satisfy themselves with the cursory.  In truth, both theories are intertwined and simply different parts of a larger perplexity.  That is, we as a society are satisfied with filling our minds with stupidly numbing trivia, all the while our freedoms erode.  It is the modern-day equivalent to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.  We are more interested in who Arnold Schwarzenegger screwed over a decade ago than the very serious issue of our national debt, or the wars we are fighting overseas.

Perhaps we are well on the way to the world Orwell predicted in 1984 and it is with the compliancy Huxley points out in Brave New World used as the roadmap.  For a government to control its citizens, as in 1984, they must be pacified.  Nazi Germany pacified its citizens through fear and intimidation but their primary passivity stems from a post-World War I government that simply degenerated into chaos.  This chaos created apathy and set the stage for a government with totalitarian goals.

With a different set of particulars, are we not on the same road today?  In Orwell’s thinking, such a government keeps the truth from its citizens.  In Huxley’s thinking, there is no need as its citizens are only interested in the superficial.  For instance, when the Cable News Network (CNN) began in 1980, it started the 24-hour, continuous news cycle.  As other broadcasters followed, competition required stations to via for ratings and advertising dollars.  Soon, daily news was more about keeping viewers with entertainment than news itself.  Soon, the line between the two blurred and now a valid news item becomes mixed with trivia and intrigue.  We no longer see the difference and our government freely hides information we need within the background noise we don’t.  We are setting the stage for an apathy that will allow our government to steal our freedom as easily as pickpocket unknowingly steals a wallet.  By the time we figure it out, the wallet of freedom is long gone.

That is not to imply some vast conspiracy on the part of governments or corporations.  No, it is our own unwillingness to seek information in-depth and question what we see that drives us to fulfill this Orwell-Huxley future.  If we watch shows like Jersey Shore instead of 60-Minutes, we will see more shows like the former and even the latter will change its format to include such fluff to remain relevant.  That is not the fault of government or broadcasters.  It is our fault; it is societies fault.

When we wake up and find an Orwellian government in place, it is because we now live in Huxley’s view of society.  We need to step back from our over-stimulated, under-informed lives and demand more from our government and news organizations in the way of valid information.  Otherwise we will go beyond Orwell’s bad dream and enter a Kafkaesque nightmare.

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The Danger of Distractions

August 3, 2010

The other day, President Obama appeared on The View[i], with Barbara Walters and the rest of the ladies.  I was at a friend’s home with a few other people and we stopped to watch.  The show seems to be a popular destination with politicians; I guess that is in recognition of the greater importance politicians place on the female vote and the need to speak to that audience.  Do not get me wrong, I think that is a good thing; they should appear on Sesame Street if that is what it takes to reach the voting public.

As is normal while watching shows with a major elected official, we started talking about current political events when another friend made a comment along the line of “he’s not even a U.S. citizen.”  I bit my tongue.  She said it again but this time adds that he was also Muslim.  Again, I bit my tongue, as these arguments are really beating a dead horse.  After the third comment about his citizenship, I could not take it anymore and had to speak up.  She simply looked shocked that I would dare accept his citizenship as fact and not the stupidity of her argument.

It seems not even God could satisfy the individuals that still push this issue.  People making comments like “why won’t he show the birth certificate?  Not a copy but his REAL birth certificate.”  In the first place, no one has his or her official birth certificate of record; the state maintains it.  The state provides citizens a certified copy, which is what President Obama has provided repeatedly.  Secondly, the actual document of record has been examine and reported as authentic by President Bush’s Justice Department (Republican leadership), the government of the State of Hawaii (a Republican), the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, and not least of all, state and federal courts.  At some point, the issue becomes a question of what is the real motive of people that will not accept it as true.

Partly, people are misguided; citizens that follow the conservative attack-dogs are fed a constant diet of this crap, it is at least understandable how they are misled.  What about the motives of political organizations and the news media that promotes this issue?  What possible reason is there to keep this issue and others just as stupid, alive?  The answer to both questions is simple; they follow the principles of The Big Lie Theory[ii].

I have written about it before in response to Reverend Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh but it is a tactic the Tea Party movement and the GOP also employ.  Here is how it works, find an item of controversy, and use the media to:

  1. Never allow the public to cool off
  2. Disseminate the lie as widely and quickly as possible
  3. Always be vague and use innuendo
  4. Never admit a fault
  5. Never concede that there may be some good in your target
  6. Never leave room for alternative possibilities
  7. Never accept blame for anything and concentrate that blame on your enemy and blame him for everything that goes wrong

The theory assumes people will readily believe a big lie because as it is easier to accept smaller ones as lies.  The boldness of the statement gives it an air of truth and if repeated frequently enough people will eventually believe it.  This is exactly the tactic employed in President Obama’s birth certificate issue.  It should be noted that Adolph Hitler put forward the theory in his book Mein Kampf [iii] and Joseph Goebbels, his Reich Minister of Propaganda, used it during the Nazi horrors leading up to World War II.  Just to be clear, I am accusing Fox News, the Tea Party movement, and the conservative right-wing of the GOP of using the same propaganda tactics as Nazi Germany.

We face real issues that need addressing.  The time spent on useless pursuits, such as chasing President Obama’s birth certificate, only take away our ability to deal with important issues.  The organizations behind such distractions hope to keep citizens confused and disengaged.  There goal is to keep our focus from the important issues.  Their hope is to undermine the ability of the Democratic Party to make progress at all costs.  This propaganda goes hand in hand with the Republican obstructionism going on in Congress.

Unfortunately, for the average citizen, they will bear the costs for this action.  There is much to question about how the current administration is governing, but by employing obstructionist tactics along with propaganda, we hardly noticed the GOP blocked a bill to take care of the health needs of first responders from the terrorist attacks on 9/11[iv].

We need to focus on that and push aside the thunderous distractions that surround us.  The question for each of us is whether we allow ourselves to be taken in by charlatans selling snake oil or walk past them to important issues of the day.  Only by taking the latter option will we begin to restore the nation to a healthy political discourse.


[i] “Featured | President Obama: “Don’t Bet Against American Workers”” The View.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <http://theview.abc.go.com/blog/president-obama-dont-bet-against-american-workers>.

[ii] Joseph Goebbels, 12 January 1941.  Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.  Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP.  1941, pp. 364-369

[iii] Hitler, Adolph.  “Mein Kampf.”  Project Gutenberg Australia.  Trans. James Murphy.  Sept. 2002.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt>

[iv] Condon, Stephanie.  “Anthony Weiner Erupts at Republicans for Rejecting 9/11 Responders Health Bill – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.”  Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News.  30 June 2010.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20012217-503544.html>.

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Politics, News and Bigots: the Nature of Low Hanging Fruit

June 6, 2010

Hardly a day goes by this election year without some new point of intrigue taking the spotlight.  While most have nothing to do with the performance of a particular candidate, the justification usually used in bringing it up is it speaks to the character of the individual concerned.  Given such news nuggets spread like a virus, they are an effective weapon.  Ironically, their use lacks morality and speaks to the character of the person bringing it up in the first place.

Recently in South Carolina, just such attacks took place against Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley.  First, an unsubstantiated claim of infidelity surfaced.  Will Folks, a former press secretary to Governor Sanford, claimed on his website he had “inappropriate physical relationship” years before.  For the most part, Mr. Folks has received a free pass on this while Ms. Haley faces the distraction of defending herself.  In the end, Folk’s website benefits with increased traffic.

Mr. Folks fires this stink bomb, “The truth in this case is what it is.  Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki[i],” followed by “I will not be discussing the details of that relationship, nor will I be granting any additional interviews about it to members of the media beyond what I have already been compelled to confirm.[ii]”  In other words, he claims to support her bid for Governor then accuses her of cheating on her husband with him, but claims some moral high ground by refusing to comment further.  The only thing Will Folks proves, beyond question, is his lack of moral fiber.  If true, he had an affair with a married woman, if false he is a bold-faced liar.

It should be noted, Mr. Folks did not keep his word regarding details.  He has posted copies of phone records with late night calls to Ms. Haley[iii].  Of course, given that he worked for her campaign at the time that, in itself, is not unusual.   Another point of interest is his refusal to name the individuals that approached him in the first place.  If he looks for credibility, that is an obvious, first step.

While it would not be hard to call Mr. Folks a doddering jackass, his claims (true or not) bring to light a larger problem American voters face – we are fed intrigue over substance by the media.  Reporting of this nature is the normal course of business for news organizations.  For example, the New York Times ran an article that sources Mr. Folks’ website but provides no independent sources[iv].  In their defense, sources for such intrigue are hardly ever available beyond the person making the claim, but that is the point, without confirmation it is intrigue and not news and belongs in the gossip columns.

There was a time when bringing the news to the citizens was a public service; now, news is a profit center.  No longer are politicians, or anyone else for that matter, forced to provide proof of a claim, the news organizations simply report it as a statement and source each other’s reports rather than conduct true investigative reporting.  News today is a bottom-line function of business.  As Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor on The Nation, put it “Reporting–real, gritty, hands-on journalism–costs serious money[v].”  That is a problem for news organizations with a profit motive.

The obvious result being news feeds us a constant stream of five-second sound bites sandwiched between commercials.  Rather than a comprehensive study of candidate positions, we have scandal, scandal that exists because news organizations report innuendo as fact.  The news media becomes the unwitting, giving them the benefit of doubt, accomplices of people with self-serving motives that lead to an ever-expanding release of useless tripe.

Tripe is not too strong a word either.  Not to be out done, South Carolina Senator Jake Knott put his two-cents into the fray by calling his colleague Representative Haley, along with President Obama, “ragheads” on a live radio broadcast.  In one quote broadcast during the June 02, 2010 broadcast of the show Pub Politics[vi], Senator Knott stated, “She’s a fucking raghead,” and later “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons.”  The show decided not to post the interview on its website. Senator Knott apologized for his use of the “F-word.”

On a personal note, it would not surprise me to learn that children who have nightmares about pedophiles see Senator Jake Knott’s image.  It would not surprise me to see photographs of Senator Jake Knott attending illegal dogfights or Ku Klux Klan rallies.  It would not surprise me to learn he beats his wife.  Of course, I am not saying he is a pedophile or participates in these activities but they do make good sound bites.  Perhaps it’s best to think of the comments as having just as much credibility as his “raghead” comment and give the good Senator the opportunity to deny them.

As Senator Knott’s comments illustrate, the more outlandish the statement – the more press coverage resulting in less and less coverage about the issues the next group of elected officials face.  While his comments are certainly news, taken in context with the other items of intrigue it seems the news outlets have little room for meaningful reporting that has any use in the current election cycle.

With news coverage reduced to the low hanging fruit that fits nicely between advertising, citizens cannot be blamed for failing to understand larger issues that remain hidden from view.  We need serious journalism that investigates claims.  While that may prevent the scoop, it does give the whole story and that is something we desperately need today.  I do not plan to vote for Ms. Haley but I do not accept painting her with the brush of innuendo from unscrupulous and bigoted sources.  She is a serious candidate with well thought-out positions and deserves to be addressed on her positions rather than the stupidity of the current news cycle.


[i] Folks, Will. “Will Folks: Letting The Chips Fall.” FITSNews. 24 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.fitsnews.com/2010/05/24/will-folks-letting-the-chips-fall/>.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] ““Haley-gate:” Night Calls.” FITSNews. 28 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.fitsnews.com/2010/05/28/haley-gate-night-calls/>.

[iv] Dewan, Shaila. “Sex Scandal Claim Rattles South Carolina Politics Again – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 25 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/us/politics/26haley.html?scp=1&sq=scandal&st=cse>.

[v] “Investigative Reporting Costs Money.” The Nation. Ed. Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.thenation.com/blog/investigative-reporting-costs-money>.

[vi] http://www.pubpoliticslive.com)

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Valueless Communication

February 5, 2010

It seems today, we have condensed communication beyond the point of brevity.  As a result, we live in a state of constant misunderstanding.  Regardless of form, our communication reduces to the shortest sound bite possible with only a five-second shelf life.  While this does allow for more sound bites, true knowledge is the price we pay.

We no longer devote time to understand the subjects that confront us.  Rather, we seek out information that supports a predetermined point of view, the result being a nation of people, compartmentalizing themselves from one another by their own unwillingness to engage differing opinions.  In other words, preaching to the choir.  It makes us smug and confrontational, allowing others to manipulate us for their own designs.

Part of the problem is the twenty-four hour news cycle.  It creates large spaces to fill.  One would think this lends itself to exploring knowledge in-depth; unfortunately, the opposite is true.  With news options always available, the noise level of rhetoric a particular stations uses must remain very high or the viewer simply does not engage.  Rather than go with quality in-depth reporting, we see flash without substance and news outlets only interested in self-preservation.

Fox News is the obvious example of media working to this end; they are by no means the only one.  Of course, according to Fox, they offer differing opinions.  The problem is the offer only extends to the point of ridicule with the objective of humiliating the presenter.  The best that can one can say for them – you know what you are getting when you watch.  MSNBC is the liberal opposite of conservative Fox.  With other news organizations, the manipulation is subtle but in there nonetheless.

While CNN follows this same basic format, they dress it up to be less bold and upfront and claim the middle ground.  Still, in the end, news organizations simply present headlines with no substance or true follow-up.  The goal is the same for all of them, hold market share regardless of its effect on the general population.  News organizations have staked out a claim and focus on only the portion of society within that claim.  They tailor the news to suit the audience.  News has become entertainment, nothing more.  It is no longer objective in nature, but merely opinion supported by facts “cherry-picked” from the whole of information available.  Edward R. Murrow must be turning in his grave.

In the end, news organizations are simply responding to the tastes of a public that cannot bother with details.  We seek out only the information that supports our opinions.  It is no wonder the nation is polarized more than ever before.  When we apply idioms like “family values,” and “true American” to a small scope of belief, the result will always end in belligerence, as this pits one group against another.  You do not gain understanding of geometry ending your education with adding and subtracting and claiming understanding of all forms of mathematics.  Nor will you understand complex issues only paying attention to headlines and shutting out in-depth knowledge, especially if it is dissenting.

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Has Response Really Been Slow?

January 17, 2010

In reading and watching various news agencies cover the disaster in Haiti, the inevitable criticism is shifting into high gear.  After any response, a review needs to take place as there is always something to learn and room for improvement, but that is not what is going on now.  What we see are news agencies stirring up trouble for their own ends.

We live in an age with twenty-four hour news.  Never again will one news anchor, like Walter Cronkite, have a dominating voice in reporting the day’s events.  Moreover, continual broadcasting requires content, and organizations compete for every scrap.  Criticism is low hanging fruit they use to fill the hours.

The adequacy of response really depends on your point of view.  To a Haitian who has lost everything, showing up ten minutes after the first quake would not have been fast enough.  In a disaster, a minute seems like an hour, there is no telling how many people died in the first hours after the quake, undoubtedly the number is high.  Any compassionate person wants to do more and do it quicker.

Standing in the way is the problem of logistics.  Just how do you get aid to the disaster area?  Moreover, what needed aid comes first?  Haiti has one airport that is large enough for cargo planes.  Safety of arriving and departing flights is paramount; a single “mishap” on the tarmac could shutdown the airport and the relief effort completely.  Ships have to be loaded with everything from food to earth moving equipment.  While there are emergency centers that stockpile these sorts of things, it takes time to arrange for its movement.  To compound matters, it takes days to sail ships from where they happen to be, load them, and then reach the disaster area.  Contrary to what may be thought, we do not have ships, loaded with disaster supplies, sitting around waiting.

Restoration of local services must happen in a safe manner.  Opening a compromised gas main would simply add to the gravity of the problem.  The same goes for the water supply and electricity.  As hard as it is to accept, stabilization just takes time and no one is happy with that.  We have to remember, it defeats the purpose of a humanitarian relief effort if you kill the people you intend to help in the process.  More lives are lost with wrong decisions than the time it takes to make the right ones.  This is one of the hard decisions of triage in a disaster’s aftermath.

Given the monumental failures after Hurricane Katrina, scrutiny is called for in any disaster in which we respond.  What we don’t need is news organizations going into a feeding frenzy and diverting attention away from solving problems.  The world is responding and doing it as quickly as possible.  People are donating the funds required along with governmental help.  For all the reporting going on, even the positive aspects, I get the feeling news agencies are seeking to gain advantage from it rather than simply report events as they occur.  Could it be they see disasters with a profit motive?

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