G&M: Fox News and the poisoning of American political debate

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Old 01-11-2011, 11:15 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default G&M: Fox News and the poisoning of American political debate

Based on the recent occurrences in Arizona, I thought this was a fitting article. I'm going to break the rules here and post the entire article.

Here it is:

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Almost lost in the cacophony of voices over the last few days was U.S. president Barack Obama’s call for a moment of silence: “I call on Americans to observe a moment of silence to honour the innocent victims of the senseless tragedy in Tucson, Arizona, including those still fighting for their lives.”

Now there’s an idea – silence. It’s one of those times when blunt meaning can be extrapolated from a politician’s bland statement. In this case, maybe, it’s “Everybody just shut up.”

The disinclination of American politicians, pundits and all the wannabe politicians and pundits to actually shut up is, of course, the core issue in the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Arizona. The world is now awash in talk about “a climate of hate” and “inflammatory right-wing rhetoric” being either tangentially or directly responsible for the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of six others at a public political event in Tucson. All that talk is about the danger of talk. Much of it is nonsense, but some if it has the sting of rightful blame.

For some time now, the very core of the U.S. culture has been located at that place where politics and media meet. And where they meet is the all-news cable TV channel. As the news of the shootings sank in on Saturday, there was a numbness to the TV coverage – the reporting of the plain facts of what happened. Then the story evolved into something else. That happened as soon MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann took to the air to allege that Sarah Palin played a significant role in raising the volume of vitriol in the U.S. and to blame Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck of Fox News for the level of extremism in partisan political argument. As a result, this story is about television and its impact.

It’s easy to suggest that the current situation – all that incessant hate and inflammatory finger-pointing – is what the Fox New Channel has wrought. It is easy because it is true. The fact that it is easily done doesn’t make it any less true. What Fox News has sown is now being reaped.

The Fox New Channel arrived in the U.S. in 1996 and instantly ramped up the vitriol. It accused almost all other media of left-wing bias and presented its own clearly partisan coverage and punditry as “fair and balanced.” It was mocked by liberals, but it succeeded in changing the media landscape in the U.S. All the other all-news channels reacted to the presence and ratings success of Fox.

Bill O’Reilly became its star pundit and the most influential fear-monger in the U.S. His blithe disregard for facts and casual use of insults set the standard. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that when O’Reilly can reduce the most complex of political issue to what he calls a matter of “pinheads and patriots,” as he does almost daily, the template for political coverage is set. And there are consequences. O'Reilly and his pinheads and patriots sloganeering style of TV news empowers every mildly mad, seriously mad or merely inarticulate, bitter American to spew unthinking rage in the most caustic terms. And thus, this is where the political debate and culture in the U.S. is now.

Here, by the way, is the opening of O’Reilly’s recent book, called Pinheads and Patriots: “Hey, you! You, the American! You who believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This book is about you. No spin. In this age of Obama, all that you take for granted is changing, yet many Americans have no clue.”

At the same time as blame can be laid at the door of Fox News, it is essential to recognize that the style of Fox News is a hit. The channel easily beats CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. So many American TV viewers get exactly what they want and enjoy on Fox News. So while blaming Fox we have to admit that the Fox News channel’s success is rooted in Fox’s intuitive recognition of the inherent aggressiveness of the American political culture, an aggressiveness that is itself anchored in a public that’s fearful of change and hostile to opposing viewpoints.

A few years ago, when I wrote mockingly about Fox News and O’Reilly, I felt the full, Fox-style backlash. O’Reilly called me names on the air, several times, and referred to The Globe and Mail as a “far-left” newspaper. In a matter of days I received thousands of abusive e-mails from Fox News viewers. The language of insult was extraordinarily intense. This being Canada, and Fox News being unavailable here, nobody outside my readership was paying much attention. But The New York Times was, and it lavished a feature story on the battle. What I remember, apart from the white-hot hatred expressed by Fox viewers, was a New York Times editor telling me how important this story was – because it suggested that the Fox News viewers represented America itself to the world outside the U.S. It was just that, in this case, the world outside was me.

It has come to pass: Fox News does indeed define the U.S. political culture and the manner of debate inside that culture. It is to blame, but blame must be tempered by our understanding that Fox News is America and America is Fox News. There will be neither silence nor a change of tone until the Fox News Channel changes, or shuts up. That’s not going to happen. Look at the ratings. The ratings don’t lie.
Fox News and the poisoning of American political debate - The Globe and Mail
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Old 01-11-2011, 12:41 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Excellent article, C! Thanks for posting.
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Old 01-11-2011, 12:52 PM   #3 (permalink)
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i think this book goes hand in hand with this issue. i haven't read it yet, but have heard good things:

The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney
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Old 01-11-2011, 12:55 PM   #4 (permalink)
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i think this book goes hand in hand with this issue. i haven't read it yet, but have heard good things:

The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney
I have this book and it is a really good read. Mooney released another one last (??) year, "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future" which I want to pick up (after all the mommy books are read and memorised).
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Old 01-11-2011, 12:55 PM   #5 (permalink)
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i bought mooney's second book for my bro for xmas. haven't read it yet either.
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Old 01-11-2011, 12:59 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Let me know how it is if and when you get to it. I'm trying to get some more reading done in this year.
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Old 01-11-2011, 01:02 PM   #7 (permalink)
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good luck finding the time taz!
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Old 01-11-2011, 01:04 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Yeeeeah. I know. It's all this optimism that I have right now. Let me enjoy it for another few weeks.
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Old 01-11-2011, 02:04 PM   #9 (permalink)
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"Republican War on Science" is good but (as the title suggests), Mooney has ignored the Democratic War on Science which is also a serious problem.

I did not like "Unscientific America."
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Old 01-11-2011, 02:17 PM   #10 (permalink)
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America has pretty much lost it's way as a democracy for some time now, and it's hard to see how they find their way back. FOX news should not have ever been allowed to exist. Money was used to circumnavigate regulations concerning foreign ownership. Money is so much more important than anyone's vote it isn't even funny. When it isn't used to create the laws by buying up politicians, it is used to create fearful, militant messages that have the effect of making the mob a reliably relevant force and the informed citizen powerless.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:06 PM   #11 (permalink)
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The US is slowly turning into Nazi Germany/Soviet Russia, but nobody wants to admit it. History always repeats itself and every empire gets corrupt and falls, it's just a matter of time now. It sucks we're located right next to them. I hope we can get Harper out before he turns us into the 49th state with the SPP/North American Union or w.e it's called.

BTW we have Fox news coming to Canada next year under the name suntv news.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:24 PM   #12 (permalink)
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"Republican War on Science" is good but (as the title suggests), Mooney has ignored the Democratic War on Science which is also a serious problem.

I did not like "Unscientific America."
Circle jerk time!

I'm not sure if this is what you had in mind, but your comment reminded me of a YT video I watched shortly after Obama was elected. I was also reminded of this clip when Jeffb was going on and on about Republicans being cult members and Benzo asked him to stop generalizing. Sometimes there is more going on than what's at the surface.

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Old 01-11-2011, 03:30 PM   #13 (permalink)
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I did not like "Unscientific America."
How come? (I want to read that at some point this year.)
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:33 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I'm going to have to look for this book next time I'm at Chapters.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:33 PM   #15 (permalink)
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order it online. i'll bet it's a lot cheaper and you get the laziness bonus as well...
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:34 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Aw, but there's nothing like browsing through a book store.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:38 PM   #17 (permalink)
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How come? (I want to read that at some point this year.)
Hardly any substantive discussion on how to resolve the problem. Very shallow. The portion of it that is good (a discussion of what the problem is) is extremely redundant for any person who is already a science booster.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:39 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Hah. Okay, good to know. So, basically, don't waste any time on it?
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:41 PM   #19 (permalink)
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order it online. i'll bet it's a lot cheaper and you get the laziness bonus as well...
I have no intention of paying for it. I frequently "gut" books while at Chapters. I find the book and sit down and read for 3-4 hours. To understand certain books, you don't need to read them word for word. That's another reason why I hate fiction: you usually have to read them word for word to follow it.
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Old 01-11-2011, 03:44 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Circle jerk time!

I'm not sure if this is what you had in mind, but your comment reminded me of a YT video I watched shortly after Obama was elected. I was also reminded of this clip when Jeffb was going on and on about Republicans being cult members and Benzo asked him to stop generalizing. Sometimes there is more going on than what's at the surface.

Tyson on Science funding
It's not simply a matter of funding, either. The Democrats are full of anti-science: 9/11 conspiracy theories, woo-woo alt-med, against GMOs, etc.

The simple fact of the matter is that an unfortunately small portion of the population, from almost any background you can think of, actually: 1) Cares about science, 2) Understands the basics of scientific reasoning, 3) Knows a few basic scientific facts that inform your understanding of the world (20% of the US population doesn't know that the Earth orbits the sun).
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