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Unfair and unbalanced

I just added Fritz Wenzel to my list of “Birthers From A – Z,” based on an article at Media Matters for America. They wrote:

Wenzel is a birther who has called President Obama an “imposter,” and teamed up with conspiracy site WND to push dubious polling about the president’s birth certificate.

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Gabriel Sherman’s book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. The book documented what I empirically observed, Fox News is intentionally propaganda and entertainment, not news. Their trademarked “fair and balanced” means that they will go as far as they can to the right to balance what they perceive as a media bias to the left. I also learned from that book that Media Matters for America was created largely as a response to Fox News.

As a general rule I don’t watch Fox News or read Media Matters. While I find useful material at the MMA web site, I am also troubled by their readiness to label someone a birther, and in this case it’s Fritz Wenzel. It is not without some hesitation that I added Wenzel to the “Birthers from A to Z” list. I followed the MMA article to a source at RightWingWatch a site belonging to People for the American Way, and from there to two WorldNetDaily articles questioning President Obama’s eligibility (2009) and his legitimacy (2010). Those WND articles left me wondering whether Wenzel was a birther or simply a propagandist, and I am also wary of any claims that someone is a birther today based on what they said before April of 2011 when President Obama released his long form, and the number of birthers in polls tumbled. I’ll go with the preponderance of evidence in the case of Wenzel and leave him on my birther list, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not there in my mind. (I have a similar pause with the non-rigorous use of the “racist” label.)

The Ailes biography has certainly spawned much thought on my part about propaganda. I have a long-standing aversion to any attempt to mislead others with tricky words, and misrepresented facts. I personally believe that the best way to fight fire is not with fire, but with water; or un-metaphorically, the best way to fight bias is with non-bias, not more bias in the opposite direction. This is why when I want news, I go to NPR and PBS, not MSNBC.

The State of the Union

The President will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. My interest was piqued by a line from pre-address coverage at The Hill saying:

President Obama hopes to push the reset button on his second term Tuesday when he delivers the State of the Union address to Congress and a primetime television audience.

If there were to be a birther rebuttal to the State of the Union, it might well have the theme of pushing the reset button on Obama’s first term. But that’s not going to happen and as far as I am concerned, whatever birther relevance there was ended with the re-election of Barack Obama last year. A news article mentioning “birther” today is more likely to be about Ted Cruz or someone else, than about Barack Obama.

While the state of the birthers today is abysmal, irrational right-wing beliefs about Barack Obama, and world affairs in general, are strong, and this should be no surprise. The most successful news organization in the country is the Fox News Channel, and it is run by a man who believes that Barack Obama is a socialist and that climate change is a hoax spread by foreign countries to try to get an advantage over the United States. Roger Ailes1, President of Fox News Channel, was instrumental in the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. His message of fear and division is not only on home television screens, but in many restaurants and medical waiting rooms in this area. The Colbert Report this week had a piece on a recent court decision about “net neutrality” and gave three clips from three news organizations, highlighting by comparison Fox News fear mongering:

CBS: The way we use the Internet could change after a federal appeals court struck down “net neutrality” rules.

PBS: The fallout over a big decision may change now the web works and the future of so-called “net neutrality”

Fox News: We could be witnessing the end of the Internet as we know it.

Some furor has arisen after a recent series remarks by a Republican House candidate Joshua Black from Florida who said on Twitter of Barack Obama:

I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.

and

He should be executed for treason. I think the appropriate punishment is death. They killed Benedict Arnold.2 (Obama) shouldn’t be allowed to kill Americans without a trial.

The liberal web site Politicus USA wrote of this incident:

The real issue isn’t the mental health issues of Joshua Black, but the fact that so many Republicans agree with him.

But look at right-wing news coverage that leads to this kind of thinking:

  • Obama Care Exemption – None Dare Call it Treason (Washington Times)
  • Treason Season at the State Department (Fox News)
  • Cheney: Obama Giving ‘Aid and Comfort to the Enemy’ (Fox News)
  • ‘Fast and Furious’ an Act of Treason? (Fox News)
  • Romney supporters mock Obama, Call Him Treasonous (Newsmax)

If one wonders why so many people believe something as crazy as Barack Obama being a socialist doing everything he can to destroy the country, it is because they belong to a community where this belief is the norm, lead by a powerful persuader who actually believes it. Folks like me do not understand the seeming insanity of extreme conservatives because we do not live in the world as it is portrayed to them by Fox News and its kindred.

A nation only survives when it shares some basic level consensus and good will, so I conclude that the State of the Union is precarious so long as divisive voices have such professional skill and reach. Only time will tell. I will leave you with this quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.


1There’s a lot on the Internet this month about Roger Ailes due to the publication of a new biography of him: The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country by Gabriel Sherman.

2Actually Benedict Arnold went to England where he eventually died of natural causes.