I'll be darned, I'm right again!

maddowclownYou know, I really hate to say I told you so–oh, but who am I kidding.  I love to say it!  I TOLD YOU SO.  Rachel Maddow–so full of promise, so smart on Air America, and such a total sellout on MSNBC–and Historiann saw it coming all along.  Say it:  you were right, Historiann!

Bob Somerby has been on fire this summer, stamping his feet and screaming about the mal-, and nonfeasance of the so-called “progressive media” on TV, that is, Keith Olbermann’s and Rachel Maddow’s shows on MSNBC.  Most people say, and apparently believe, that this year is the Dems main chance to do something about health care reform–if they don’t do it now, 2010 will be all about the midterms and then 2011 will be all about the 2012 Presidential election.  Why isn’t there any reasonably informed coverage of the facts and issues at stake in health care reform in our so-called “progressive media” (that is, on single-payer systems, of which there are many varieties to study and learn from around the world)?  Sing it with me children:  As Somerby says, “other nations are spending half as much,” and are getting better results than we get!  We wouldn’t accept this kind of low-quality for high prices when it comes to trivial consumer goods–why do we permit this when the consequences are life or death for many Americans?

So now, back to Maddow.  How did she spend her precious hour of network news time Thursday night?  The first thirty minutes were spent on John Ensign’s extramarital affair.  (And Somerby reminds us that Maddow actually spent time the previous night reading his love letters on the air!  Good God.)  This might be justified if Maddow had a local news program in Reno or Las Vegas, but really–that’s your top news story, Rachel?  Says Somerby: 

Corporate interests will win again—because, in place of real information, they keep handing you distractions. Sex toys.

When people like Maddow keep handing you sex, her corporate owners have won. In the past, it was known as “bread and circuses;” today, it takes a somewhat sillier form. But whatever! Serial distractions keep the public from understanding the facts of their lives.

How dumb are the public debates which operate inside this framework?

In the mid-1990s, the press corps clowned its way through a two-year pseudo-debate about Medicare. Among name players, only Al Franken was smart enough to explain the basic facts of that thoroughly bungled discussion. (In Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot.) The GOP really was proposing cuts—but no one in the press could quite explain it. They even began to call Clinton a liar—although Clinton was telling the truth. (This debate played a large role in creating the notion that Clinton, then Gore, were big liars.)

Today, the corps is clowning its way through a similar oddball debate. Very few journos are willing to explain the absurdity of current health care arrangements. Maddow could be explaining these things. Instead, she keeps handing you sex.

I’m so glad he brought up all of that ancient Clinton history from 1998 and 1999.  How’d that work out for the American people?  How much have we learned since then?  (Not much, apparently.)  Ensign’s and Mark Sanford’s problems are good for a little tee-hee-hee about Republican “family values” hypocrisy and of course they’re of compelling interest to their political opponents, but they are totally irrelevant to the major and urgent policy questions faced by the Obama administration and congress right now.  Why on earth is Maddow wasting the nation’s time on yet another pointless distraction from issues that acutually matter to the lives of most Americans?

We’ll take a guess about motive:

Maddow is woefully clueless about domestic politics—and a bit immature to boot. In all honesty, she belongs at the helm of a nightly news program in much the way your next-door neighbor should be running the space shuttle program. For that reason, we’ll assume that most of her nonsense is done in good faith—although her corporate owners (GE) are surely thrilled with the circus she pimps to us rubes.

But make no mistake: The absence of knowledge about health care has been produced in just this way over the past several decades. There is always some distraction at play—some useful circus with which to redirect the public’s attention and focus. And highly-paid journalists—or “career liberal” strivers—have always been willing to walk that walk. They’ve always been willing to play the fool, to play along with the mainstream consensus. Their pay-days, current or future, depend on such acts of consent.

Young career liberals didn’t oppose those wars against Clinton and Gore. They aren’t rebelling against this crap now.

Might we explain how our politics works? The public tends to favor progressive positions, to the extent that they understand the real shape of our debates. For that reason, the corporate interest will almost always be served by a thrilling distraction. In this case, the public would be angry and deeply unimpressed—if they understood the nature of our bloated health spending. If they understood what that disparity in spending means—that massive amounts of “health care” dollars are being drained into corporate pockets.

The public would be upset about that. Maddow refuses to tell them.

0 thoughts on “I'll be darned, I'm right again!

  1. I just think that healthcare activists haven’t framed the issues in a way that Our Progressive Scholar can use.

    When I started reading the blogs, I was appalled to encounter the Wonkette culture, where politics was treated as a sexy playground, not as a place where human fates are decided.

    Much as Obama demographically projects as a liberal — and therefore gets a free ride on his disgust for liberals — Maddow demographically projects as a solution to sleazy, vapid “journalism,” and exploits that to somehow actually lower the bar of cable news at times. And, natch, the original Wonkette is a fixture on her show.

    Thus it is when tribalism trumps truth.


  2. Maddow doesn’t do a news show, she does a commentary show. And she gets obsessed. It tends to be a “gotcha”, personalized approach, not a policy driven one; and she loves when she can be clever. Sigh. Being out of the country, I haven’t watched her this summer, but that’s depressing.


  3. The other night she was digging up some old Jeff Sessions video from the 1980s (and made sure to give his full name, Jefferson Beauragard Sessions, as if [wink, wink] the Southern-ness of it all was discrediting enough) when he was calling the NAACP a “commie organization.” She then tried to relate this to the Sotomayor hearings.

    And I’m thinkin’, who the hell cares? That’s like saying Chappaquiddick relates to the Kennedy health care bill.


  4. Maddow is an effect. I guess last week Ensign was a serious issue because everyone else was reporting on Michael Jackson. I watched a Spanish-language news show this morning in which Jorge Ramos claimed that bilingual viewers are going to Spanish-lang. television for serious news because everyone else is talking mostly about Michael Jackson. It’s not just Larry King live. Anderson Cooper is a joke. I have watched MAddow only once so I don’t know whether she pretends to be serious. I tend to think of her as Samantha B. with her own show.


  5. I say it loudly and clearly: You were right, Historiann, and we were . . . momentarily blinded by our hopes and desires for She Whom We Named Butch PhD.

    The thing is, progressives have been getting their a$$es kicked in the media ever since Reagan, and they finally seem to have found a niche in the marketplace of infotainment, which is where a lot of voters are. What’s disappointing — and perhaps even dangerous — is that they aren’t changing the game in any way at all. They are playing in the same shallow pit of toxic sludge that all the others are playing in, so anyone with half a brain tunes out, goes elsewhere. Wish I spoke Spanish so that I could watch Spanish-language TV along w/ Rad Readr! We swore off Olbermann after he implied that the only way to get Hillary Clinton out of the presidential race would be to murder her, and Maddow has been a deep disappointment. She could have a serious show — she is actually very smart — but she is clearly being discouraged from doing that. Alas.


  6. Unfortunately there is little real news out there anymore. It’s all info/edu/docu/exploit/tainment. I’m sorry, the tv ratings of Michael Jackson’s funeral are not news (except in the sense that it is being presented as news). If I wanted that kind of information, I’d watch E! or Entertainment Tonight. Even National Public Radio has lately foisted crap onto the airwaves disguised as news, and they’re generally pretty good.

    “But it’s what the people want!” they’ll cry. “People want bread and circuses! We give them smoke and mirrors in the colors and configurations they want, and they watch us! And the more they watch us, the more advertisers we get! And the more advertisers we get, the more money we get!” If an informed electorate ever becomes profitable, we will be informed. In the mean time, don’t complain to the stations, complain to the advertisers. They are the weak link.


  7. Wow, it’s good to be back on this side tha’ water where you can actually get the whole blog, and not just the cached version, without the pictures or access to the comments page! I didn’t see a whole lot of media in the U.K., and very little of the telly kind, but Our English Cousins seem to be a) very freaked out about Afghanistan right now, b) transfixed and/or outraged by their own political scandals, which are far more about fiscal venality than about sex, and c) paying lots of attention to summer sports, such as cricket and golf. Also lots of attention to Obama as the world traveler, but not so much on the family side. And almost nothing, that I saw anyway, about Michael Jackson.

    Now, that I’m back, I’m not leaving kansas for a good long while. Well, except for going down to Jersey tomorrow, but that doesn’t count!


  8. As a current expat, I watch msnbc clips online these days. I spent all day today with clips playing in the background as I worked: US politics, Olberman, Maddow, US general news, etc. 7 hours straight. I think 1 clip was on healthcare. And may I add: I’m loving being in a country with socialized medicine — even though I’m not eligible, I benefit greatly from overall lower and sane cost structures!


  9. I’m always freshly appalled by American “news” cycles after seeing BBC news, or basically any European coverage. (I remember with great nostalgia the year I was in Spain during the build-up to the Iraq war, and the Spanish news media was like, um, there are NO WMD in Iraq, there just *aren’t*. It was very disturbing to return to the US.) Is it really impossible that Americans could watch and enjoy a literate news program that provides information, not entertainment? I refuse to believe it.

    I join the general loathing and disdain for Maddow and Olberman. I especially loathe that people assume because I am a liberal that I watch and enjoy these shows, that I take them seriously and think of them as legitimate news sources.


  10. PS The thing that upset me the most after returning to the US from Europe during the war was that everybody in the US – once the lack of WMD was revealed – went around (and still go around) going: Oh, we had bad intelligence! Nobody could have known better! Except *everybody* knew better, just not here.


  11. Hi everyone–thanks for minding the store while I’ve been out.

    The lesson libs seem to have learned from the 90s and 2000s is that turnabout is fair play, rather than doing it right is the right thing to do. We’re all Faux News, now!

    I will differ only slightly with anon. The Beeb is much, much better than most American TV news of course, but I listen to the World Service on the radio, and have been disturbed for several years by its emphasis on business news. I thought maybe the world economic meltdown brought to us all by the banks and corporations they report on so breathlessly and uncritically might change the emphasis, but no such luck. I guess finance is still the real lingua franca now.

    Eduardo: good point about the “Beaureguard” issue. Excuse me, but someone whose middle name happens to be “Hussein” was the subject of that kind of childishness last year (and still is, sometimes, I gather.)

    You’ll all be pleased to hear I haven’t given up on my idea to run for the U.S. Senate seat that’s up for re-election in 2010, currently warmed by the lackluster preppie born-on-third-base-thinks-he-hit-a-triple Michael Bennett. My new campaign slogan? “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” But I hear someone already used that before. I’m also thinking of changing my name to Kennedy, or Cincinnatus, but I hear that’s been done already too.


  12. I have long held the same views as Digger above.

    Journalism is effectively dead. There are a few places, here and there, where it still happens …almost by accident.

    It’s all about ratings now. And obfuscation.

    I also think more people need to read Noam Chomsky’s books Manufacturing consent and Media Control.

    But thinking about such things hurt people’s brains. Especially dainty undergrads who think Communication courses are all about watching films and chatting about how much they love Disney movies.


  13. Oh, lord.

    We don’t have cable (beyond basic access to our local network channels), so I only see CNN or MSNBC when I’m in hotel rooms. I’m constantly amazed by how little information they pack into their 24 hours a day of broadcast time.

    Wev. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now is good, and I think it’s on TV as well as some public radio stations.


  14. Pingback: No American history at Cal universities? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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