Thursday, August 24, 2006


"That ink blot looks like the oppressive technocratic regime attempting to enslave our free minds ... or maybe a bunny rabbit."

This is long and winding, so please bear with me. I've posted here several times about the problems with what I call the legacy media. This term comes from "legacy software," a term used for organizations that keep old software around even though it is dated and you have better simply because it is familiar and understood better than the new material. Sometimes a few systems will be kept around with this legacy software to run older applications. The legacy media is the same way, it's old, it's dated, and it's been replaced by newer, superior sources of information, but is still lingering on for now.

Recently two Fox News reporters were kidnapped and for days no one came forward taking credit or making demands. As CBS News reported it:
Masked Palestinian gunmen ambushed a car carrying a Fox News crew in Gaza City on Monday and kidnapped two of the journalists inside, according to witnesses and Fox.
"We can confirm that two of our people were taken against their will in Gaza," Fox News said in a statement.
A Fox employee in Gaza, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to release information about the incident, said the two kidnapped people were reporter Steve Centanni, a U.S. citizen, and cameraman Olaf Wiig who was from New Zealand.
Finally, Reuters News released a statement by the "Holy Jihad Brigades" nine days after the kidnapping. This previously unheard of organization claimed responsibility and demanded the United States release "Muslim prisoners" within 72 hours.
Fox News Channel correspondent Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were shown sitting cross-legged on a blanket on a floor. They sat against a black backdrop with no markings. No militants could be seen.

"We're alive and well, in fairly good health," Centanni said, speaking in a clear and calm voice.

Centanni said they had been treated well.

The video bore many hallmarks of tapes of captives issued by militants in Iraq, and the rhetoric of the group also mirrored the heavily religious language used by Iraqi insurgents.
Fox reportersHamas claims to have never heard of this group, and no one else seems to know who they are either, leading me to suspect they were simply formed after the act, perhaps when their action was rejected by Hamas as bad PR. As sad and upsetting as this news is, especially for the families of these men, there is a deeper problem at play here. The event is a touchstone that is revealing something ugly in our culture in the reaction of some to what has happened.

Sites like Democratic Underground echoed with some commenters calling this justice and even hoping the men had their head cut off. DU Moderators wisely began to sanitize these posts, deleting them. But the posts had been put up, which is a sign that should cause some concern. Is the fact that Fox News commentary tends to be more conservative and they have an American flag in the corner enough reason for this kind of vile hatred?

Apparently so, if you ask TV Critic Bob Laurence (a Howard Dean supporter and donator):
One is that, sadly, they are far from the first to be kidnapped, injured or killed. They are, alas, only the most recent two of many. The kidnapping or targeting of journalists in Iraq isn't the story it once was.

Second, Fox has deliberately set itself apart from other news media. Starting at the top with Roger Ailes, the Fox sales pitch has been to deride other media, to declare itself the one source of the real truth, the sole source of 'fair and accurate' news reporting. As a result, there's not a reservoir of kinship or good will with Fox on the part of the rest of the news media. You can't keep insulting people and then expect friendship when you need it.

They've made it a policy to keep a distance between themselves and the rest of the media, far beyond the usual competitive spirit, so that's where they are: at a distance.

Fox News isn't covering the story very closely - likely out of concern for the lives of the men - and other news organizations are not either. Felix Gillette suggests this is out of a no win situation:
I think the blogger who suggested that reporting on this story is a no-win situatiuon for FNC's competitors made a good point, as far as it goes. "If you don't cover it, you are biased against Fox," the blogger wrote. "If you do cover it and the whole thing goes bad, how long until (there are) accusations that the liberal media killed Fox reporters with their careless coverage ...?"
Bob Laurence's comments above suggest another motivation as well, after all attacking Fox for claiming to be the best source of news is sort of odd, considering every news organization does the same thing - it's called competition. Even these 30 palestinian journalists stood up publicly in opposition to what happened, for whatever reasons. But not the legacy media.

Theo VanGoghOne is reminded of the almost total lack of response from Hollywood to a filmmaker's bloody, brutal murder for speaking out against excesses of religion - because he was Theo Van Gogh and the religion he spoke out against was Islam. Why does that matter? Let's examine what the media's worldview is like.

Particularly revealing is the description of the "conservative media" by Marvin Kalb at a Washington DC forum, via the Rush Limbaugh show yesterday (link now in subscriber side only):
It used to be that we really felt that we were trying as best we could to cover it objectively, to cover both sides, to be fair to both sides, to explain the policy of both sides.
Today, the media appears to be broken down into camps where Fox prides itself on being pro-America, pro-democracy, pro-freedom. It turns out that very conservative newspapers are pretty much the same way. The New York Times, the Washington Post, other of the mainstream media today, again, try to do it down the middle.
The contrast Mr Kalb - who works for Fox News - draws here is very disturbing to me. He is contrasting being pro-freedom and pro-democracy with objective coverage. That's a deep problem with understanding the world, one need not be ambivalent toward liberty and democracy to offer objective coverage of the events. In fact, rejecting liberty will tend to bias you in your coverage, as Mr Kalb goes on to admit:
People today turn on the news not to find out what happened, but to get confirmation of what it is that they already believe. And in the Middle East, we are involved in a battle of biases, with everybody believing that he has discovered the truth.
He's admitting here that the supposed "down the middle, objective" side is biased as well, it's simply not biased toward liberty and democracy. Which is inevitable, there is no 100% objective coverage. If you treat evil as equivalent to good or as a meaningless factor, you've just positioned yourself to treating that evil as neutral. In a battle of terrorists vs their victims, to take a "neutral, objective" position is to actually take the side of the terrorist. Because if you do not note evil as it is, you're taking their side and covering them as if they are not doing evil. You're treating them as if they are a disinterested party in an equal struggle with their victims.

That kind of moral equivalence is not objective coverage - objective coverage would cover evil as evil and good as good without taking a personal stance. It is only a fool's version of objectivity to say "we'll take no stand no matter what!" Objectivity and neutrality does not personally invest it's self in one side or the other but it does not have difficulty recognizing right from wrong. And this is where the modern media is getting its self into so much trouble. Thinking that they are being objective, they are instead being moral equivlators, treating evil as ethically equivalent to neutrality.

This mentality goes beyond simple efforts at neutrality, however. There is a real anger and bitterness directed at Fox News and other less "neutral and objective" news sources and pundits. Consider the words of Kevin Drum in response to a call for the left to criticize the evil repressive regime of Iran:
On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It’s a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration’s determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can’t be trusted to act wisely.

So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there’s a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he’s also wrong, because like it or not, my words — and those of other liberals — would end up being used to advance George Bush’s distinctly illiberal ends. And I’m simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration’s latest marketing campaign.
For a long time now, people like me have been asking where the criticism of the Islamic extremists is, why feminists are quiet about the brutality and oppression toward women in places like Iran, why homosexual activists do not decry the evils of radical Islam toward gays, etc. We've suspected why, and here's the overt answer: because to do so might help President Bush.

There's a serious problem with this approach. Liberalism means what the word looks like, not what it's been twisted in to. A few classical liberals like Christopher Hitchens and Frank Warner understand this, they know that liberalism is about liberty, and President Bush's attempts to end these evil regimes is fighting for liberty and thus true, classical liberalism.

But Kevin Drum is a modern liberal, and he sees what president Bush is doing as "illiberal." Liberating millions of Afghanis and Iraqis? Illiberal. Fighting the evil of terrorism, working to bring democracy and liberty to the Middle East? Illiberal. Backing democracy Israel in its defense against the terrorist organization Hezbollah? Illiberal.

Bush as TalibanHow can this be? Because for Kevin Drum and so many others, President Bush represents all that they are willing to define as evil. He and his kind are dangerous, sinister. He openly admits praying and reading the Bible, he openly states he wants to do God's will! Why is this so bad? Well on the surface, it's not, President Clinton said much the same thing, and used the word "God" many times in his speeches. The difference is to Kevin Drum and those like him that President Bush means what he says.

When President Clinton said these kind of things, it was winked at because people knew that didn't mean he would actually try to live his life in a Biblical manner and govern according to what orthodox Christianity considered proper. They knew President Clinton didn't mean by these statements that his worldview was essentially Christian. They understood him to mean he was "spiritual" in a vague, general sense, and thus safely non-evangelical.

But President Bush is very open about his faith guiding his actions, and follows through on this with the most socially conservative agenda and actions ever taken by a modern president. His policies and statements are coherent, they match each other. And for the modern liberal, the leftist of today, this is the most frightening thing possible.

Hate-filled cartoonI ran this political cartoon yesterday, just to make a point about how things are perceived by some. Take a look at what conservative Christians are considered like by at least this cartoonist. It's not the stance against activist judges that's the problem to this artist, it is the stance by a conservative Christian who is a hair's breadth from screaming for bloody jihad and opening the death camps for all who dare to disagree.

Now while there might be a small radical minority of people who claim to be Christians that might do such a thing - such as registered Democrat and anti-war activist Fred Phelps - I can personally assure you as a Christian that this isn't even joked about by conservative Christians in private.

But that fact doesn't change the fear felt by those who are so out of touch and unfamiliar with conservative Christian ideology and aspirations as the modern leftist is. Almost always these people are insulated by masses of common thinkers, agreeing with and feeding this fear without bothering to visit with actual conservative Christians to find out the truth.

This kind of isolation is easier with the internet, allowing even leftists who are living in heavily conservative areas to stay away from those they fear and hate and feed themselves on websites and chat boards of like-minded individuals. The danger is that conservative Christians do the same and form equally wild, hateful views of leftists.

UnabomberBut what we have today is a situation that makes me examine past events. Consider this, for example. Theodore Kaczynski from the late 1970s til he was finally caught in 1995 sent letter bombs to various locations and individuals. His manifesto and writings revealed that he was a radical leftist who believed that industrialization and the corporations were dooming this country and that someone had to take action. His 35,000 word manifesto entitled Industrial Society and It's Future examined life and called for revolution to reverse the industrial revolution and return humanity to a simpler life that pollutes less and does not harm the environment - thus resulting in happier, more healthy people. Criticism of the modern left in this document characterizes the movement as frightened and ineffective, not wrong.

This man was code named UNABOM because of his tendency to send bombs to Universities and Airports, and Unabomber became the man's nickname in the press. When he was caught, Mr Kaczynski was universally mocked and derided, the crazy man in a shed writing his lunatic manifesto. The fact that he was a radical leftist was brushed under the rug, the fact that his calls for destruction of industry echoed and equaled calls by radical environmentalists was ignored.

Unabomber CartoonHe was condemned and no one sided with him or defended him. Even radical leftist alternative newspapers carried cartoons mocking him and his theories, he had no friends, no defenders, and no supporters in public.

But... what if he was active today, what if he sent bombs to the evil Bush administration for it's thralldom to big business, as many leftists claim? What if he saw the War on Terror as a war for oil and American empire like almost all leftists claim today? Would he be castigated by late night hosts, would he be mocked by comedians and internet writers? Would he be called unbalanced by the media?

Or would his manifesto, which is much more lucid than you'd think, be an underground internet smash hit? Would it be quoted and lauded on Democratic Underground and Daily Kos? Would his actions be considered improper but not unreasonable given the "great evil" of President Bush?

Would the media cover his poor living conditions, his bravery and intelligence, his sickly childhood, his great intellect, and would they - like his lawyers - claim it was stress tests he underwent in Harvard that caused him to go around the bend? Would they praise his desire for a simpler life, or at least consider his goals to be not so very awful?

Would the Unabomber, in short, be considered a bad guy today? I suspect he'd be embraced as an underground hero, a freedom fighter, a revolutionary against the evil Bush administration.

How far we've come.

Thanks to Ace of Spades, Michelle Malkin, Poynter Insitute, and Rush Limbaugh for the quotes and information used here.
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Luke G. said...

Excellent essay.

Serious George said...

Plenty of conservatives were liberals once, leading me to think that self-reflection and memory might help to explain what animates the starkly telling words of Kevin Drum. And they were stark and disturbing. Maybe I was and remain a fool, but I recall that the style of being a liberal often trumped the ideas, and was always easier to defend with the logic of a bumper sticker – pithy and winking and hip. A stylist (not to be confused with your uncle’s cigar-smoking barber) shapes his identity largely by the stuff he doesn’t like, a list of aversions that when shared delineates Us from Them. And if Bush is the arch-Them, it only stands to reason that if he’s for it, I must be against for aesthetic effect if nothing else. It’s about fashioning a posture, a style, a fundamentally narcissistic enterprise, as opposed to acknowledging that the events around us demand decisive concerted movement, even if that means we sometimes move like the folks we don’t particularly like.

In other words, great essay, Mr. Taylor.

Muslihoon said...

Excellent post, Christopher Taylor!

And thank you for explaining what "legacy media" means and where it came from. This had puzzled me for quite some time now.

I can't begin to say how nice it feels to be an American and see the Old Glory flying in the left-hand corner of the screen when one turns on the TV to watch the news when one is abroad. Fox News, contrary to what others say, is actually the most balanced of all the news networks: they always bring on people from both sides of issues, and they let each side have its say. Debate even becomes considerably heated, indicating that each side is freely expressing its views rather than presenting some nonconfrontational PC garbage. Other news networks never do any of this. Or if they do, it's very one-sided and unfair. I could go on and on singing the praises of Fox News. I'd take blatantly pro-American Fox News rather than pretend-objective anti-American networks any day.

You rock!

Edward Hyde said...

You are absolutely right when you say that Unabomber's manifesto is one of the more intelligent critics of our society, but you're deeply wrong when you call Unabomber a leftist. If you read his manifesto you can find that he - and I agree - considers leftist as psycologically sick, bearers of a inferiority complex and for that they need a group to solve their problems. Because they don`t trust their own ability. Nothing farthest from Unabomber behavior. A lone fighter.

Christopher Taylor said...

While he attacks the left, he attacks them for not being sufficiently leftist and thus not as enlightened as him. His attacks are that they are not willing to do what they must, that they've been infected by society.

Anonymous said...

The Unabomber is no liberal or leftist. In fact, if you actually read the manifesto, its 35K words that could have come from Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, or more likely, David Koresh. Teddy would not have complained page after page about leftism if he was left of leftism, otherwise he would have called it rightism. Nowhere in the entire manifesto does Teddy complain that liberals are too right wing, in fact it does the opposite. Teddy goes on to complain about scientists, about leftists being depressed defeatists, but he forgot to cite the plethora of right wing commentators who said they same thing before Kascinsky even thought about writing his rants. If Teddy had a radio, you can bet all of your tea that he listened to Rush Limbaugh while verbally exclaiming DITTO RUSH DITTO! So, for those of you ostriches who claim Teddy is a liberal, try doing something rarely done by the teaparty peasantry, read his manifesto, and use at least a shred of objectivity, and if you do, you will find a teaparty commrade in Kascinsky. Teddy is just another right wing terrorist who murdered to demonstrate his superior family values in the vane of McVeigh, the Antrhax terrorist, and indeed, Osama Bin Laden could have wrote that manifesto if only Allah were added profusely throughout the essay. So, instead of trampling on the teabaggers biggest friend, the Unabomber, embrace him as the proud right wing terrorist that he exclaims he is in every sentence. Anne Coulter should be proud, very proud, that the Unabomber attacks the left with more than words. If you disagree, and insist on perpetuating the myth that Teddy is a leftist, please post proof instead of wishful thinking. I can't understand why you are not embracing Teddy as your own since he obviously hates liberalism as much as any FOX News fan. Post the proof from his manifesto to prove your point. It takes more than will to make something reality, so try using facts, possibly for the first time in your lives. I know I know, its like asking a toad to get rid of his warts, but you can at least make an attempt at objective human intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I think actually explained that pretty well above. Maybe the words confused you, they weren't leftist enough.

Christopher Taylor said...

The man's manifesto plainly lays out that the modern left isn't acting sufficiently progressive and is destroying the world because of its insufficient commitment to the cause. He continualy harrangued the nation's leaders because they embraced capitalism, material progress, and greed. He continually complained that the world was being destroyed by big corporations.

If you think that's right wing, I wonder exactly what planet you live on.

But then, you probably think the guy that crashed an airplane into a texas federal building was a right winger too because he hated taxes, despite quoting Marx, attacking Bush, and complaining about capitalism being evil.

Christopher Taylor said...

Actually, come to think of it, the best refutation to your absurdist claim is the patently obvious fact that you're a leftist and yet consider him to be some kind of brilliant hero - something you'd never do if he was a right wing nut as you claim.