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WATCHING FOX NATION 2 GROW! The commenters were irate, but wrong. Are we all ditto-heads now? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2011

Due to his emotional blockage, David Brooks can’t tell the truth: We have a fantasy about David Brooks—a fantasy which is rapidly turning into a social necessity.

In our fantasy, Brooks sits in an ivory tower, ingesting some vapid research. (From today’s column: “Roni Caryn Rabin of The Times recently reported on some research that found that college students would rather receive a compliment than eat their favorite food or have sex.”)

A federal SWAT team enters the room, armaments bristling.

“Stand up, Mr. Books,” a marshal says. “Back slowly away from that research!”

David Brooks is thus saved from himself. He is forced to stop limning this nonsense.

This morning, Brooks is at it again, obsessively citing various studies and “wondering” what they might mean. As before, so again today: Something keeps him from considering obvious explanations for the effects he has seen. One example: Why are people reluctant to bite the bullet concerning deficit reduction? Having pondered some tedious research, Brooks finds himself wondering this:

BROOKS (3/11/11): I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a national project.

It’s always possible! Or could the public’s reluctance stems from a relentlessly well-documented fact: Most people have no earthly idea how the federal budget works! In part due to decades of agitprop, most people have no idea what the government’s money is spent on.

They think it goes to foreign aid—and perhaps to welfare. Meanwhile, please note something Brooks doesn’t wonder. Brooks doesn’t wonder this:

BROOKS REWRITTEN: I wonder if leading journalists are unwilling to support the tax increases that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are tools to power and servants to their own class interest.

Brooks doesn’t find himself wondering that! But today’s column is fairly harmless, as compared to his recent efforts in the public arena.

Will someone please give Brooks a good hug? Monday evening, the analysts caught him on Charlie Rose, where he did the full hour. Brooks was discussing his overwrought new book, The Social Animal.

Before long, Brooks was discussing his own inability to express his feelings. “I’m a middle-aged white guy, not that comfortable talking about emotion,” he said, two minutes in. Eventually, though, it came to this. Brooks seemed a bit pained as he said it:

ROSE (3/7/11): Define yourself as an emotional person.

BROOKS: You want my wife’s definition? It’s similar to the table. [sic]

ROSE: So why is that? And what is— Why?

BROOKS: I’m not the only man in the world who has trouble expressing emotion. Hopefully I’m not too stone-like. But I will say, the process—

ROSE: So what’s the problem with expressing emotion? I don’t—

BROOKS: Well, this is why you are who you are. You’re good at this! But I would say— You know, the book has really spent, I’ve spent years on this, just on the field. It`s really made me see it. I’m aware of things that are still hard to express. And it’s like the things that have been wired in me—for whatever reason, temperamental, for whatever reason— It’s still hard for me to express what I’m feeling. I see it but it’s hard for me to come out. And I don’t think I’m the only guy on earth with this particular—

ROSE: Is it some definition of what it is to be tough?

BROOKS: Or just how guys should be.

ROSE: How guys should be!

Instantly, Brooks fled the topic, talking instead about a study. Subjects were required to sniff gauze pads people had held under their armpits while they watched a movie. The subjects had to guess what kind of movie the gauze-pad holders had seen.

Will someone give this guy a good hug? Is that guy who bangs drums still around?

To his credit, Charlie didn’t tell David to go buy a bright red convertible. But in Tuesday’s column in the Times, Brooks was boo-booing in similar ways, describing his longing for more metis and for more extensive limerence.

David Brooks wants more metis and limerence! We decided to check, and they’re both real words, although we’d say just barely. According to Brooks, limerence “isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God.”

Will someone give this man a hug? Then tell him to stop his incessant blubbering and just tell the public the truth?

Our major concern about Brooks and the truth stems from the start of Tuesday’s column. “We” don’t trust our feelings enough, David said, failing to say who “we” are. As he started the piece, he tried to explain where this feeling drain takes us. Uh-oh! Because “we” don’t trust our emotions enough, “we” create policy failures:

BROOKS (3/8/11): Over the course of my career, I’ve covered a number of policy failures. When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society. While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror.

We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse. For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system—trying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchers—that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society—not only in the policy world, but in many spheres—that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

This has created a distortion in our culture. We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.

“We” are bad at discussing emotion? The analysts offered a quick response: David Brooks is really bad at talking about the truth.

Is David Brooks bad at telling the truth? Just note the way he explained those policy failures:

“When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society?” Maybe. But Naomi Klein says we failed because the oligarchs took control of the process and looted the Russian people.

“While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror?” Maybe. But various people have said that Bush let his cronies loot the system, while insisting on narrow practices driven by crabbed ideology.

“We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse?” Maybe. Or was our financial regime based on the idea that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe should be free to loot everyone else?

“For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system…that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student?” Concerning that, we’ll only say this—Brooks has no real idea what he’s talking about. He’s simply reciting the latest script from the usual (billionaire-funded) suspects. (When it comes to public schools, almost all columnists do.)

Does David Brooks ever tell you the truth? Or is he too bottled up? Here goes an obvious part of the truth: The public is currently being looted, as has been true for the past thirty years. Instead of saying such a thing, Brooks pores over tedious research, as his unconscious mind “hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away.” When we read that silly piffle this week, we had an immediate thought of our own: Our mind hungers for op-ed columns which tell us the actual truth! We hunger for pundits who have more metis. As defined by the overwrought Brooks, metis is “the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.”

Here’s an obvious bit of gist: The powerful are looting everyone else! But Brooks will never see that pattern. Or at least, his tortured soul will never quite let him express it.

As we read Brooks’ Tuesday column, a question popped into our mind. How well does Brooks speak truth to power? How well does he capture the gist of the way power works?

We can’t recall why we saw a connection, but we decided to research a question. Has this high-minded fellow ever pushed back against the people who are undermining our discourse? Today’s he wonders about the rise in partisanship. Where the heck is that coming from? Brooks is very puzzled, of course. Why won’t he just start with the truth?

We ran a Nexis check, and this is what we found:

As best we can tell, Brooks has never written a column whacking those people who say Obama was born in Kenya. This is going on all around us, but it’s left to ginormous hacks like Chris Matthews to push back against these claims.

David Brooks is very concerned about the way our debates go wrong. But he has never spoken out against this. Maybe he simply can’t get in touch with his feelings on the subject. We would offer this advice:

Go ahead—just tell the truth for one damn time! You may feel the log jam crack.

Brooks boo-hooed to Charlie Rose, then spoke of the need for heightened limerence. We asked the analysts to work up a brief. But we stopped them cold when they started:

There once was a New York Times columnist
Who seemed to think he was the solemnest…

Incomparably, we cut them off. Although we’ll admit it—we wondered what their final rhyme might have been.

He told Charlie Rose
His whole life is a pose…

David Brooks is thinking hard, poring over reams of research. People think they’re reading deep thoughts.

Could it be that they’re just getting conned? Why won’t this overwrought thought machine stand up and tell us the truth?

WATCHING FOX NATION 2 GROW (permalink): Wow. That’s all we could say after reading the comments to this post by Digby.

Digby’s post was perfectly sensible; it was a profile of a man who is losing out as the economy keeps getting looted. It was when the commenters swung into action that we saw Fox Nation 2 grow.

For years, we liberals laughed at Fox and Rush—at all the other side’s ditto-heads. But are we becoming a Fox Nation 2? Just consider the comment thread to Digby’s perfectly sensible post.

It’s one of the most remarkable documents we’ve seen in thirteen years. Here’s what happened:

Early on, a semi-troll named Jose Chung made a fairly innocuous comment. Here’s the part of his comment which set off a general fury:

“The math in Wisconsin does not add up! Can we at least agree on that?”

Well no, we couldn’t agree on that! Quickly, the hounds of hell appeared. Commenters insisted that Wisconsin’s budget shortfall was caused by Governor Walker's tax cuts; rather hotly, they told Chung to get his effing facts together before coming to such an intelligent site. At one point, Chung linked to Politifact’s fact-check of Rachel Maddow’s report on this topic. This was greeted with scorn, though no one tried to explain what was wrong with the things Politifact said.

Inevitably, one of the commenters had seen Maddow’s “correction” segment—the 12-minute segment in which Maddow pretended to respond to the things Politifact said. Inevitably, this commenter still seemed to believe that Maddow said the tax cuts caused the shortfall.

Here’s a brief review of the relevant facts before we look at the comments:

Walker passed some tax cuts when he took office this year. But these tax cuts don’t take effect till the new fiscal year, which starts in July. They’ve had no effect on Wisconsin’s current budget shortfall; they represent about three percent of the $3.6 billion shortfall projected for the next two years. In two e-mails to Politifact, Maddow’s boss (Bill Wolff) insisted that Maddow never said or meant to imply that Walker’s tax cuts caused the shortfalls. Maddow has never believed that, Wolff rather huffily said.

Jose Chung’s statements were basically accurate. But the other commenters were flatly wrong when they insisted that Walker’s tax cuts had caused the budget problem. It’s very instructive to see the way these commenters ridiculed Chung for his manifest dumbness. These commenters behaved exactly like the other side’s famous old ditto-heads.

Are liberals forming a Fox Nation 2? Let’s look at what happened when someone said, “The math doesn’t add up in Wisconsin.”

Commenter 1 popped up within minutes. This is what he or she said:

COMMENTER 1: The math in Wisconsin added up just fine until Walker decided to give some of his campaign contributors a big tax break. Then there was a hole in the budget.

A hole which, by the way, is unaffected by whether or not unions have collective bargaining rights. The only "math" involved is trying to reduce the amount unions can spend on political campaigns so that Walker's corporate masters don't have to spend as much to elect more puppets.

I assume you're just being a troll as usual, but if not, you might want to educate yourself a bit before posting. Because it makes you look like an idiot.

Oops! Commenter 1 was flatly wrong when he said that Walker created the hole in the budget. Chung offered an incredulous reply, asking if the commenter “really believes that.” Commenter 2 said this:

COMMENTER 2: Chung, you twat...........

There was no financial problem in Wisconsin until Walker deliberately broke the bank.......... to break the unions.

It's not hard. 1+1=2

Commenter 2 was flatly wrong too. But for him or her, it was as easy as one plus one!

Once again, Chung rolled his eyes at this comment. Commenter 3 then jumped on Chung for his “do you really believe that” riposte to Commenter 1:

COMMENTER 3: He doesn't "believe" that. "Beliefs" are what cons have—they live in fairytale land where there is no climate change and dinosaurs walked the earth with human beings.

What he posted is simply a fact borne out by the actual numbers you professional whore.

I guess you think that by acting all incredulous anyone who just reads and doesn't post will have doubts in their minds. Is that what you get paid to do whore? Raise doubts about known facts?

Go suck Koch someplace else.

Commenter 3 was wrong, but irate. (In a later comment, this commenter said, “Drop the incredulous act you fucking whore and go suck Koch someplace else.”) But before long, Commenter 4 arrived. He too had advice for Chung:

COMMENTER 4: jeebus jose. At least do a little research before you open your yap here. Everything you've said in this thread is wrong.

Sorry. That was wrong.

Before long, Commenter 2 returned, having fact-checked the Wisconsin budget shortfall. She gave a capsule account of the mess—but her “facts” were totally wrong:

COMMENTER 2: Here are the facts for anyone who just cruises this place and is somehow infected by a paid Koch whore's propaganda:

Walker's invented "budget shortfall" came less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau—the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office—concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.

Those are the facts, and only Koch whores claim that either the CBO or the state fiscal bureau are partisan. It is well known, and historically accepted that in fact, they simply are not.

Don't get distracted by Koch whore propaganda.

Sorry. That’s totally wrong.

By now, Chung had linked to a report about Politifact’s fact-check of Maddow. Commenter 5 now appeared, assuring Chung that Maddow would beat him blue in any battle about the facts. “You are out of your league here,” he wrote. “You should go back to Yahoo comments.”

Soon, this commenter returned, with the day’s most revealing post. As he too misstated the facts, note the way he repeated Maddow’s favorite talking-point:

COMMENTER 5: Jose, that mistake was already covered on her show several weeks ago. Rachel is known for quickly citing any broadcast errors on air with a serious and good-natured mea culpa—that is irrefutable. Also irrefutable is the fact that corporate tax breaks are what capsized the budget in Wisconsin. That is part of the shock and awe we are witnessing across America. You must not be familiar with "The Shock Doctrine." You will be. Perhaps you should consider watching the Maddow Show instead of googling. You might learn something that will help you in the future. You're going to need it. You don't mean a thing to your masters. You are a used Kotex pad to them when they no longer find you useful. Tossed aside.

Please note what has happened here:

It seems that this person may have watched Maddow’s alleged self-correction—the program in which she actually avoided correcting her mistakes. Perhaps for that reason, this person still thinks that “corporate tax breaks are what capsized the budget in Wisconsin.” That is flatly untrue, and Maddow’s boss renounced the idea two weeks ago. But this apparent Maddow-watcher still thinks it’s “irrefutable”—and he seems to think that’s what Maddow herself has said.

Completing the hat trick, he recites Maddow’s favorite talking-point: Rachel always corrects her mistakes!

He thinks that’s “irrefutable” too. Commenter 5 has been conned.

These comments were posted on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, Commenter 6 jumped in:

COMMENTER 6: I think my favorite "contribution" of Jose's so far has been the one-word "Winning!" There's nothing quite like watching some asshole crown himself King and declare himself Teh Winnah after having his ass kicked on the facts by everyone all around.

I'm beginning to agreee with Daisy's assessment that Jose is a paid whore propagandist, albeit a minor one. The only question is: Whose payroll is he on? The GOP's or the Democrats'?

In truth, everyone else had been wrong on the facts. But Commenter 6 didn’t know this. Like all the others, he was sure that Chung had had “his ass kicked on the facts.”

Let’s repeat what we said at the start: None of this was created by Digby, whose post was perfectly sensible. Nor do we recall seeing Digby misstate the facts about Walker’s tax cuts. But those tax cuts didn’t cause the current shortfall. Beyond that, they represent only three percent of the shortfall which is projected over the next two years. But everyone in this long thread was convinced of the opposite. They were extremely abusive of the person who wasn’t wrong.

This is exactly the way Fox News has worked down through these long gruesome years. This is the way Rush Limbaugh has worked. This is the conduct of those we call “ditto-heads.”

And now, that conduct is ours.

Below, we’ll recommend another thread, from Salon, where you can see this same pattern. Before that, let’s note one person who is at fault in this matter:

Quite a few liberals bungled these facts in the first week of the Wisconsin fight. Some of these liberals self-corrected. Others did not.

Maddow took the worst approach. She pretended to self-correct.

On February 24, Maddow went on the air for more than twelve minutes, pretending to address the things she had said on this topic. She could have reviewed the facts for her viewers, helping them understand this part of the whole situation.

Instead, she chose to deceive her viewers—even as she burned up time telling them that she always corrects her mistakes, even though other folk don’t.

Because of episodes like this, Maddow has often struck us as unusually, weirdly dishonest. Last night, to some extent, she was spreading confusion again. In what follows, she pretends to address Walker:

MADDOW (3/10/11): I think you guys just want it to seem like a crisis. Otherwise, you wouldn’t in your first actions as governor, Scott Walker, have made the state’s future budget deficit $140 million worse with business tax giveaways. But wait, but wait, it’s a crisis, it’s a crisis, the unions are sucking us dry! The unions are very, very bad for the budget!

No, you want it to seem like it’s a crisis. But when the unions made every financial concession you demanded of them, you turned those concessions down.

In fact, Walker hasn’t “turned those concessions down.” But note the way Maddow tickles the string of those tax cuts again. Watching that presentation, many viewers will think she said that Walker’s tax cuts caused the shortfall. In part, that’s because there are several basic things Maddow has never said:

As best we can tell, Maddow has ever explained that Walker’s tax cuts didn’t cause the current shortfall.

As best we can tell, Maddow has never explained that they represent just three percent of the forthcoming, two-year shortfall.

As best we can tell, Maddow has never told viewers the size of that future shortfall, which is projected at $3.6 billion over two years.

She does toss that $140 million figure around—and it sounds like a whole lot of dough when it’s offered out of any context.

If you read comment threads, you’ve seen the truth: Many Maddow fans still think the tax cuts caused the shortfall. They still think that’s what Maddow has said. They don’t know that she has renounced that claim. Some of them watched her twelve-minute “self-correction” and they still don’t understand!

It’s always been done this way on Fox—but Maddow’s approach has been very much like that. Due to dishonesty or imbalance, she is plainly helping to build an addled new Fox Nation 2.

How well can our democracy work in the future? Are we all ditto-heads now?

You can see the pattern here too: On February 26, Salon’s Peter Finocchairo posted some footage from the previous night’s O’Reilly Factor. Mr. O had made a claim which was gaining traction on Fox. He said Obama was having a hard time supporting the Wisconsin workers because federal workers don’t enjoy collective bargaining rights either.

Last night, the claim finally made it to MSNBC. Lawrence O’Donnell cited the claim, attributing it to Walker:

O’DONNELL (3/10/11): Mike Tate, the governor says that the bargaining rights for the state workers is not a matter of fundamental fairness—fundamental fairness has not been violated because federal government workers do not have the rights that Wisconsin government workers have. And so, if all of the federal government workers working under President Obama are working happily without these rights, nothing has been lost in Wisconsin.

Tate is Wisconsin’s Democratic Party chairman. In his reply, he didn’t challenge the factual accuracy of the claim O’Donnell cited.

What kinds of collective bargaining rights do federal workers enjoy? Frankly, we’re not sure. If you watch Fox, you hear that they don’t have many such rights; you hear that said all the time. If you watch MSNBC, you pretty much never hear this claim mentioned at all. Based on what we have seen and heard, we would guess that the O’Reilly/Walker claim is more right than wrong. But given the way our tribalized discourse works, it’s hard to learn the truth.

That said, read the comment thread to that post on Salon. A stream of liberals responded by calling O’Reilly every name in the book. Few of these people showed any sign of knowing if his claim was correct. But it doesn’t work that way any more. We’re all ditto-heads now.

That post at Salon is two weeks old. We thought its comments were very revealing. Fox Nation 2 is growing quite fast.

Fox Nation 2 is growing fast. And we still don’t know the truth about the rights of federal workers.