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Maddow's guest described smart, savvy players. They get little trouble from us
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SAVVY PLAYERS AND US! Maddow’s guest described smart, savvy players. They get little trouble from us: // link // print // previous // next //

What program was our side watching: We had planned to discuss this fascinating piece about the causes of health care over-spending. But we were stunned by Alex Koppelman’s short review, in this morning’s Salon, of Sarah Palin’s Fox special last night.

Koppelman’s review is only six paragraphs long. Having read it, we have no idea what program Koppelman watched. Salon readers will be vastly mis- or disinformed by this puzzling passage:

KOPPELMAN (4/2/10): Palin came in for some embarrassment even before the show aired, when one of the marquee guests Fox announced, rapper LL Cool J, objected to his inclusion as the interview had been conducted by someone else back in 2008. Fox pulled the segment, but Thursday's broadcast made clear that it wasn't an isolated problem.

The show reduces the former governor to mediocre talk show host. Her role was merely to provide poorly done narration for recycled material and—clad in heels that seemed impossibly high—have awkward post-segment conversations with people tangentially related to the stories for which she'd provided a voice over.

Whoever made the decision to have the show work this way didn’t just do a disservice to Fox and to Palin as host. They also hurt her as a politician. A format like this one only contributes to the image Palin has earned for herself as lightweight, uninterested in the hard work.

If Palin and Fox want to keep this show going, they need to get her out interviewing people. Or maybe she should be sitting on a couch with them for an Oprah-style heart-to-heart. The current format does no one any favors.

That’s four paragraphs, from a six-graf review—and it’s stunningly inaccurate. For ourselves, we didn’t notice the height of Palin’s heels—but then, we aren’t a pure liberal. But we did see Palin her present a fascinating, deeply moving pair of segments about Cole Massey, an eleven-year-old child who was born with cerebral palsy—and about his parents, and about his deeply-loved service dog. The first, pre-taped segment was thoroughly winning; Palin then conducted a second full segment in which she interviewed all three Masseys, and showcased the skills of Cole Massey’s dog. This was brilliant, moving work. Palin’s full-segment conversation was conducted with all the principal parties; it was anything but “awkward.” Although Cole Massey uses a wheelchair, Palin was pretty much “sitting on a couch with [the Masseys] for an Oprah-style heart-to-heart.”

We have no idea what program Koppelman watched. But isn’t life in our liberal world grand?

We didn’t watch the full program; there were strengths and weaknesses to some of the segments we watched. (Don’t worry—Fox’s production values will only get better.) But reading through the transcript today, we see that the program was very minority-friendly, a bit of clever political work. And Palin interviewed key players in three different stories, including the long segment with all four Masseys.

Koppelman’s review is simply astounding. Ain’t life in our “liberal” world grand?

SAVVY PLAYERS AND US (permalink): On Wednesday evening’s Maddow program, Rachel Maddow conducted a fascinating interview with James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Are we liberals the Truly Bright Smart Ones? We thought Hoggan presented fascinating testimony about the way progressive interests get mauled by savvy corporate players and their “conservative” messaging.

Maddow spoke with Hoggan about Koch Industries, a giant funder of conservative causes and disinformation. Maddow asked about Koch’s role in climate change/energy issues. This was the start of Hoggan’s answer, although he would soon introduce a second topic:

MADDOW (3/31/10): How much influence does Koch Industries really have in this—in the debate over climate change legislation in general and drilling specifically?

HOGGAN: Well, back to 1997, 50—close to $50 million came from Koch Foundation, the Koch Foundation, to 40 different organizations that are part of a network that we call an echo chamber of climate change denial.

MADDOW: So, over 13 years, they spent $50 million trying to convince people that climate change isn`t real.

HOGGAN: $50 million. That’s right, through these different organizations. And the fact that there’s 40 of them creates this unique situation where people hear this message about, you know, doubt about climate science from so many different organizations, that it becomes believable.

In this statement, Hoggan describes highly effective disinformation-marketing. Average people hear “this message about doubt about climate science” from a wide variety of sources. Because they hear the message in so many places, the message becomes believable. In this first part of Hoggan’s answer, Hoggan describes a highly savvy disinformation machine—a machine that is simply smarter, and more determined, than any entity on the progressive side. But as he continued, Hoggan expanded his description of the way Koch Industries works. He went way back to the early 1990s—and he brought big tobacco in:

HOGGAN (continuing directly): And people in my business and the public relations business have known this for a long time, back to the days of Philip Morris, which is actually where some of these organizations and the techniques that they use began in the early 1990s. Philip Morris started a group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition. And it was very, very carefully thought-out public relations tactics that were used to shift the issues around tobacco off of health issue and onto sound-science issues. And Philip Morris knew they couldn’t do it by themselves, so they invited people like, or organizations like Exxon and other fossil fuel companies to join them. And they—it basically became the beginning of a campaign that a lot of these 40 different organizations that I was talking about earlier drew on to. You know, then it was tobacco, today it’s greenhouse gases.

Hoggan described “very, very carefully thought-out public relations tactics that were used to shift the issues around tobacco off of health issue and onto sound-science issues.” These tactics involved more than one large company, working in more than one policy area. For our money, the larger thrust of Hoggan’s point got lost in the ensuing conversation. But in this next Q-and-A, he stated his point most clearly:

MADDOW (continuing directly): But you’re—but you’re saying it’s the same tactic in two ways. One, that you use a lot of different organizations so you can’t just dismiss the one industry-funded group that’s trying to shoot down what everybody else thinks is true. But it’s also taking on not only the policy issues about what the implications are of the science, but attacking the science, saying there’s no real problem here, trying to make that a money issue.

HOGGAN: That’s right. It basically undermines, it poisons public conversations. And it undermines public confidence in science, and it makes it difficult for even well-intended political leaders to actually do the right thing on these issues.

In that exchange, Maddow slightly misstated the point, to the extent that we can parse what she said. The point is not that this sort of activity undermines confidence in the science (of some particular issue). As Hoggan stated, this tactic “undermines public confidence in science” itself. In effect, Hoggan was describing a decades-long push in which science itself is being turned into a suspect in the public’s mind—in which citizens are led to view professional scientists in general as a politicized interest group. We have seen this approach in recent months, in the determined demonizing of climate scientists in a few minor, but highly-flogged, flaps.

The target here is science itself, not the particular science of some particular issue.

According to Hoggan, he is describing “very, very carefully thought-out public relations tactics.” Over time, these tactics undermine the public’s confidence in science itself. Average voters hear science and scientists demonized when it comes to tobacco; they hear science and scientists demonized again when it comes to climate. They hear these assaults again and again, from many directions, concerning more than one issue. Soon, scientists become the latest incarnation of those “pointy-headed intellectuals” George Wallace used to denounce.

Adapting Hoggan’s language: People hear this kind of messaging from so many different organizations that it becomes believable.

Hoggan describes highly skilled messaging on the part of The Big Interests—messaging that affects the views of the public at large. What is our reaction in the progressive world? Simple! We go on our web sites and tell each other how stupid those voters must be! Their limbic brains must not work right! They’re just a gang redneck racists! Meanwhile, we do next to nothing to generate message machines which might help voters see past such deceptions. Instead, we send our millionaire broadcasters onto Tv to aim dick jokes at the average voters who get conned by these sophisticated industry players. Our leaders go on Hardball and lick the boots of a man who busted his keister, for years, to put us all in this stew.

Question: Who are the dumb ones in that syndrome? The Interests, or us progressives?

Was Hoggan right on all points? We don’t know. But let’s consider two recent events in our evolving political wars:

First point to ponder: Consider one result in a Gallup survey about last week’s post-health care unpleasantness. Gallup’s Lydia Saad summarizes the survey’s finding:

SAAD/GALLUP (4/1/10): Americans hold all sides of the healthcare reform battle responsible for the rash of threatening e-mails, phone calls, and vandalism that erupted last week after the healthcare bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This is just one (slightly unconventional) survey question; the question was asked in only one survey. And any single survey result can of course be “wrong” or misleading. But by a small measure, Gallup’s respondents were slightly more inclined to blame Democrats for last week’s unpleasantness, as opposed to conservative talkers or Republican pols. Digby reviews the finding here; she and her many commenters are surprised, and upset, by this result. Many of her commenters insist the survey must be no good, that the survey result must be wrong.

We’re not sure why. That said, our side is constantly surprised and dismayed by survey/poll results of this type. We’re endlessly amazed at the views of the American electorate. When this pattern occurs again and again, we must ask an obvious question: Just how smart are we about politics? Who are the real dumb bunnies in these familiar transactions?

Second point to ponder: In this post, Digby discusses Pam Stout’s appearance on the Letterman show. (She also posts tape of the full interview.) Again, we think Stout’s interview is well worth watching, although it’s obviously of limited use in understanding the Tea Party movement. (It’s a very limited interview, and Stout is only one person.) Digby’s reactions are worth considering too—although here too, she seems amazed by what she sees on the tape:

DIGBY (4/1/10): I was blown away by this interview and frankly, a little bit chilled. She's mild-mannered, reasonable, utterly sincere, decent and true. Yet, she watches Beck because he "makes her think" and she reveres Jim DeMint, the most radical of all the rightwing Senators. This lovely woman believes in the raw, violent politics of the Hobbesian jungle in which it's every man for himself. I'm sure she doesn't see it that way. Her politics aren't grounded in real life but in abstract concepts. She certainly doesn't seem defensive or even aware that her political heroes are considered radical extremists. But then if you only watch Fox news, listen to talk radio and live in the town known for its proximity to Ruby Ridge and the Aryan Nations compound you probably don't realize that your views are not held by the majority of Americans.

Digby is amazed by Stout; in turn, we’re amazed by Digby. Plainly, Beck has made a lot of people think; if you watch his town hall sessions, it is perfectly clear that these people aren’t all knuckle-dragging lunatics. We have a very different reaction to Beck around here, but many people have reacted to Beck in the way Stout describes. It speaks poorly of our own sophistication when we’re still blown away by this fact—when we’re endlessly stunned and amazed by the reactions of Americans voters. And by the way—Digby goes directly to condescension, and misstatement, in her assessment of Stout. Does Stout “live in the town known for its proximity to Ruby Ridge and the Aryan Nations compound?” If you want to frame it that way, that’s where Stout lives—now. But as the interview and the earlier New York Times profile noted, Stout seems to have lived in California for much of her life. (She lived in England until age 11.) In the opening paragraph of David Barstow’s profile of the Tea Party movement, this is the way he described some of what Stout apparently did in the Golden State:

BARSTOW (2/16/10): Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.

Listening to what Stout told Letterman, we got the impression that she may have drawn some “conservative” lessons from her years of work with “struggling families.” Some people who work with struggling families come away with the view that some such families aren’t struggling as hard as they ought to. Other people come away with sympathy for the hurdles these families face. There are elements of truth in both reactions; in our society’s bumper-sticker politics, people who tilt in the second direction are “liberals,” while “conservatives” tilt in the first direction. We would have liked to hear Letterman ask Stout more about these experiences, and about the lessons she drew from them. But Digby goes straight to condescension and misstatement, as we liberals love to do when confronted with people who don’t see things in the unerring way we do. In our view, Stout said some fairly dumb things to Letterman—about letting GM go under, for instance. But when liberals are shocked and amazed by the views of the Stouts—when we insist on misstating their background, on building cartoons—then we are the dumb bunnies here.

In this later post, Digby has moved to full-tilt derision. Stout is now described as “our sweet little teabagger lady,” and all is right again with the world. All except those Gallup results—results which follow our insults and condescension much as day follows night.

For better or worse, this country is full of people like Stout—and such people vote. Often, these people aren’t all that sharp—but then, we aren’t all that sharp either. And yes, these people do get conned by the “very, very carefully thought-out public relations tactics” described by Hoggan.

Hoggan described some very savvy players in our political warfare. On our side, those players are met by some very dumb bunnies—dumb bunnies who look much like us.

Final note on our side’s consummate dumbness, on the way we practice to lose:

Last night, Sean Hannity played this tape of Rep. Charlie Rangel. In fact, he played it several times:

RANGEL: I was involved in the civil rights marches in the '60s. And I've been badgered and cursed at and spat at by groups in the south. And I want you to know, and your viewing audience to know, that the group that were in Washington fighting again the health bill and fighting against the president, looked just like and sounded just like those groups that attacked the civil rights movement in the south.

That sounds like odd rhetoric coming from Rangel, a sensible, savvy man. Given his current troubles with the Ethics Committee, it may be that Rangel is trying to stoke his standing with the black community. But do you know how monumentally dumb it is to make such statements about the way a large group of mostly-white demonstrators “looked?” Guess what, losers? When people like Rangel make statements like that, many people who aren’t Tea Party-inclined feel he has just described them.

Hannity got major mileage from that tape last night; most likely, he’ll use it again. In a nation which isn’t made up of liberal bloggers, do you know how dumb it is, as a matter of politics, to offer statements like that? How dumb it is on the merits?

Obviously not! On our side, we are constantly amazed by the reactions of the electorate. This leads us to a final question:

Tell the truth. Let’s be real. When it comes to the simplest political judgments, is anyone dumber than we are? Those savvy Big Interests cheer and applaud when we liberals say things like that. Their tasks become much, much easier.

Do you doubt that? After our week of cavorting and playing with race, just take a look at that Gallup result—which of course is phony and wrong and can’t be true, as Digby’s sage comnmenters said.