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THE LATEST FROM COLUMNIST FEELGOOD! Mimicking Beck and playing the fool, Rich keeps us barefoot and clueless: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2009

John Harwood stumbles and falls: Cable news is getting more partisan, John Harwood says in today’s New York Times. More specifically, he reports that the audiences watching cable news channels have gotten more partisan over the years.

Forget about those changing audiences—let’s consider the actual work done by the cable news channels. Is there a potential problem when cable news channels become more “partisan”—less “objective”—in their presentations of news? Early on, Harwood quotes someone offering a clueless dismissal of this silly idea:

HARWOOD (11/2/09): Press critics worry that the rise of media polarization threatens the foundation of credible, common information that American politics needs to thrive. Will Feltus, a Republican specialist in voter targeting, does not.

If it complicates the choices facing leaders in Washington, Mr. Feltus argues, it also decentralizes political communication in a way that is both inevitable and healthy in the information age. “I feel no hand-wringing about it,” Mr. Feltus said. ''People are smart enough to understand what color filter is over the lens.”

What, Feltus and Harwood worry? In effect, Feltus says voters “are smart enough” to adjust for the slant of some cable channels. This is an utterly silly analysis. But Harwood simply proceeds ahead, offering no questions or comments about it.

When voters watch a cable channel, are they “smart enough to understand what color filter is over the lens?” Maybe, maybe not. But what if that channel feeds them fake facts? Are they “smart enough” to understand that? Presumably, no: After all, if everyone already knew all the facts, there would be little need for news orgs at all. News consumers can also be burned when they are handed accurate facts—accurate facts which are highly selective and thereby misleading. Or when they are handed absurd “analyses” built upon accurate facts.

These things happen on Fox all the time—or when you’re watching Rachel Maddow. You can decide for yourself where it happens more. (For ourselves, we think this is a losing—and anti-democratic—strategy for liberals to adopt.)

In the past few weeks, pols and pundits have often fumbled in explaining what’s the matter with Fox. Sorry: There are basic problems with partisan “news.” At the very least, we ought to learn how to explain what those problems are. Just for starters, we ought to know this:

People who know that Broadcaster X is a [liberal/conservative] can still get misled by his or her work. Viewers can even get misled when every statement by Broadcaster X is accurate. Blithely, Feltus waves this problem away. But so did Maddow, when she offered her absurdly limited “analysis” of what’s the matter with Fox.

THE LATEST FROM COLUMNIST FEELGOOD: We’ll have to admit, it was Frank Rich’s column which most stuck in our mind this weekend.

Mainly, the piece was Rich’s latest name-calling venture, aimed at conservatives and therefore designed to make us liberals feel good. But frankly, can anyone dumb us liberals down quite the way Rich does?

RICH (11/1/09): The right still may want to believe, as Palin said during the campaign, that Alaska, with its small black and Hispanic populations, is a ''microcosm of America.'' (New York's 23rd also has few blacks or Hispanics.) But most Americans like their country's 21st-century profile.

That changing complexion is part of why the McCain-Palin ticket lost every demographic group by large margins in 2008 except white senior citizens and the dwindling fifth of America that's still rural. It's also why the G.O.P. has been in a nosedive since the inauguration, whatever Obama's ups and downs. In the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, only 17 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans (as opposed to 30 percent for the Democrats, and 44 for independents).

“The McCain-Palin ticket lost every demographic group by large margins in 2008 except white senior citizens and the dwindling fifth of America that's still rural?” We’re not entirely sure what that triumphalist statement means, and Rich makes no attempt to explain it. But in fact, McCain-Palin won the “demographic group” known as “white voters” by a roughly 56-43 percent margin. (That has been a fairly typical margin among white voters in recent presidential elections. ) Meanwhile, McCain-Palin lost the “demographic group” known as “men” by the “large margin” of about 49-48.

In past columns, Rich has enjoyed noting “the inexorable transformation of America into a white-minority country...by 2042 in the latest Census Bureau estimate”—failing to note that Obama was trying to pass health reform this year. Rich seems to think that this demographic transformation inevitably dooms the conservative movement. But don’t worry! If liberals keep listening to dummies like Rich, conservative leaders will find many ways, long before that magical year, to turn growing minority populations against progressive interests.

Rich will keep us liberals fiddling. The other side will be hard at work inventing frameworks designed to keep us voting for corporate and big money interests.

In that odd highlighted statement, Rich was performing as Columnist Feelgood again, telling us liberal readers the silly things we presumably long to hear. From know-nothing pseudos like Rich, this piffle substitutes for the kind of work which might build winning progressive frameworks, understandings and ideas. How can health reform be in the pitiful state it’s in, given the utterly ludicrous state of American health care? Simple. “Intellectual leaders” like Rich have kept liberal readers barefoot and clueless. Yesterday’s ridiculous column was the latest in a long, sorry line.

Frankly, Rich is the pits.

Rich’s odd statement about demographic groups came fairly late in a gruesome column. The column’s real feature was its endless name-calling—the very sort of brainless name-calling we liberals have been decried, for very good reasons, in the past year. The name-calling started in the headline, and continued onward from there.

How fatuous is this big bloated dope? Here—watch him dumb us all down.

“The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York,” said Rich in his headline, seeming to channel the cuckoo Glenn Beck, while almost pushing a bit of a Halloween line. Indeed, Rich’s column almost reads like parody, so persistently does it dress its targets in silly historical costumes. The clowning started in paragraph 2—but it continued from there:

RICH: The governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia were once billed as the marquee events of Election Day 2009—a referendum on presidency and a possible Republican ''comeback.'' But preposterous as it sounds, the real action migrated to New York's 23rd, a rural Congressional district abutting Canada. That this pastoral setting could become a G.O.P. killing field, attracting an all-star cast of combatants led by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, William Kristol and Newt Gingrich, is a premise out of a Depression-era screwball comedy. But such farces have become the norm for the conservative movement—whether the participants are dressing up in full ''tea party'' drag or not.

The battle for upstate New York confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama. The movement's undisputed leaders, Palin and Beck, neither of whom have what Palin once called the ''actual responsibilities'' of public office, would gladly see the Republican Party die on the cross of right-wing ideological purity. Over the short term, at least, their wish could come true.

The New York fracas was ignited by the routine decision of 11 local Republican county chairmen to anoint an assemblywoman, Dede Scozzafava, as their party's nominee for the vacant seat. The 23rd is in safe Republican territory that hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress in decades. And Scozzafava is a mainstream conservative by New York standards; one statistical measure found her voting record slightly to the right of her fellow Republicans in the Assembly. But she has occasionally strayed from orthodoxy on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) and endorsed the stimulus package. To the right's Jacobins, that's cause to send her to the guillotine.

“The right” is a “wacky, paranoid cult.” They’re “Jacobins” creating a “GOP killing field.” This silly clowning continues throughout, with Rich’s targets described as a “wrecking crew” who have now staged “a putsch.” They are “re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.” They are “the Stalinists of the right.” This being a column by Rich, they are also racists, of course. Presumably, this explains why “the McCain-Palin ticket lost every demographic group by large margins in 2008 except white senior citizens and the dwindling fifth of America that's still rural.”

As Rich executes this familiar old strain, his Feelgood work is done. That said:
All hail the language and “thinking” of Beck! So we cried as we watched this, our own bloated dope, assail The Others for being such Stalinists. And by the way: What exactly have Rich’s targets done to merit being name-called these ways? Here’s what:

In a meaningless House race in upstate New York, they have supported a candidate with whom they agree more, as opposed to a candidate with whom they agree less. To an idiot like Rich, this means they are “Stalinists” staging a “putsch,” creating a “GOP killing field.”

Let’s remember this column the next time we moan about Beck’s inane, mindless ranting. (By the way: Scozzafava has now endorsed the Democrat, thus making Rich look even dumber. Why should a conservative Republican feel obliged to support her?)

Columns like this help explain a key fact—the lack of anything resembling a progressive politics in this country. All over the country, your team-mates thought they were reading a fiery liberal when they read this silly column. They may not have realized that they were actually reading the work of a know-nothing dope.

Your country has no progressive politics because people like Rich have sat in the saddle, defining the parameters of the liberal/progressive outlook. Rich has been dumb for a very long time. At this point, in columns like this, he seems to be trying to prove it.