Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finding Fodder

In the sixth grade, my teacher gave us a lesson about propaganda. He described an automotive test that supposedly (who knows?) happened: a comparison between a Soviet and an American automobile. The American car won. After the test, my teacher said, headlines in Pravda cheered "In international competition, Russian car comes in second, while US car finishes next to last."

It's one of the few things I remember from grade school (that, and the fact that the principal, an American Olympic runner in the infamous 1936 games in Berlin, who stood six-foot-two, promised me a ride in his VW bug convertible if I got taller than him before I graduated eighth grade. It was a fun spin we took.) As a sixth-grader, I came to understand and be aware of the powerful manipulations that are possible when language is meant to deceive. So how come viewers of Fox "news," many of whom likely made it through sixth grade, can't see how they're being played? Can it really be as simple as declaring oneself "fair and balanced" and proceeding to lie with abandon? Are Fox viewers really so stupid as to believe it just because it's written on their screens?

The genius of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch is their realization of how gullible people are, especially when you scare them over and over. Far be it from me to resort to the hackneyed Hitler comparisons, but in this case, it just sort of leaps out, just writes itself...

Anyhow, it's not that this is anything new. It's just that there's a pretty thorough article in Rolling Stone about the Ailement that's infecting our country and rotting it from within.

...[In a meeting at Fox headquarters, with a slide show] a third slide appeared, with a telling twist. In place of the logo for Fox News was a beneficent visage: the face of the network’s founder. The man known to his fiercest loyalists simply as "the Chairman" – Roger Ailes.

“It was as though we were looking at Mao,” recalls Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer. The Foxistas went wild. They let the dogs out. Woof! Woof! Woof! Even those who disliked the way Ailes runs his network joined in the display of fealty, given the culture of intimidation at Fox News. “It’s like the Soviet Union or China: People are always looking over their shoulders,” says a former executive with the network’s parent, News Corp. “There are people who turn people in.”...


Fear, in fact, is precisely what Ailes is selling: His network has relentlessly hyped phantom menaces like the planned “terror mosque” near Ground Zero, inspiring Florida pastor Terry Jones to torch the Koran. Privately, Murdoch is as impressed by Ailes’ business savvy as he is dismissive of his extremist politics. "You know Roger is crazy," Murdoch recently told a colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. "He really believes that stuff."

To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that’s held to the same standard of evidence as a late- October attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party.


Take it from Rush Limbaugh, a "dear friend" of Ailes. "One man has established a culture for 1,700 people who believe in it, who follow it, who execute it," Limbaugh once declared. "Roger Ailes is not on the air. Roger Ailes does not ever show up on camera. And yet everybody who does is a reflection of him."

But Ailes’ most important contribution to the covert campaign involved his new specialty: right-wing media. The tobacco giants hired Ailes, in part, because he had just brought Rush Limbaugh to the small screen, serving as executive producer of Rush’s syndicated, late-night TV show. Now they wanted Ailes to get Limbaugh onboard to crush health care reform. “RJR has trained 200 people to call in to shows,” a March 1993 memo revealed. “A packet has gone to Limbaugh. We need to brief Ailes."
Ailes then embarked on a purge of existing staffers at Fox News. “There was a litmus test,” recalled Joe Peyronnin, whom Ailes displaced as head of the network. “He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.”
But it was the election of George W. Bush in 2000 that revealed the true power of Fox News as a political machine. According to a study of voting patterns by the University of California, Fox News shifted roughly 200,000 ballots to Bush in areas where voters had access to the network. But Ailes, ever the political operative, didn’t leave the outcome to anything as dicey as the popular vote. The man he tapped to head the network’s “decision desk” on election night – the consultant responsible for calling states for either Gore or Bush – was none other than John Prescott Ellis, Bush’s first cousin. As a columnist at The Boston Globe, Ellis had recused himself from covering the campaign. “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign,” he told his readers, “because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.”

Oh, the article just goes on and on. It's long, too long for a teabagger; not that they'd consider reading it. And, were they to, like global climate change and taxes, they'd reject it as too damn factual...

(The difference, by the way, between Pravda's propaganda in the above story, and what Fox "news" does every hour of every day is that what Pravda said was factually correct.)

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