Eric Alterman on Roger Ailes’ destruction of the news media

voltaire

Voltaire

I blogged recently concerning the attack from the Right on the media.  See Freedom of the Press, where I wrote:

“Mainstream media is also under attack… from a coordinated campaign financed by right-wing moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, funding media news centers to disseminate disinformation.  Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing radio talk shows, among others, have created and disseminated ‘news’ from an alternate reality – one divorced from science, or responsible reporting, where concocted conspiracies concerning Obama’s birth certificate, and treasonous wrongdoing  at Benghazi,  and undocumented felonies relating to emails of  a Democratic candidate for President dominate the agenda….  Obviously wide-spread disinformation – slanted for political purposes – undermines the goal of an intelligent and informed electorate every bit as much as does direct information suppression.”

Now Eric Alterman, in an opinion piece in June 19/26, The Nation, “The Witch is Dead“, reviews that attack from a different perspective, reviewing the impact of Roger Ailes, the recently deceased “media mastermind” at Fox News.  Alterman’s piece is important because the devil, in this case Ailes, is in the details and because policy and context cannot be divorced from those involved.

Here’s Alterman:  “By creating a propaganda channel under the guise of ‘fair and balanced’ news, and then using it to undermine the very idea of truth—all in the service of racism and sexism—Ailes, with Rupert Murdoch’s backing, paved a path for a whole host of faux ‘journalists’ and right-wing demagogues to do the same. Inside the headquarters of Fox News, he fostered a culture of sexual intimidation and racial animosity, one that was reflected on the air as well. Had Ailes not spent two decades tearing down the journalistic safeguards that were supposed to defend our country against just such demagoguery, it is impossible to imagine that a pathologically dishonest, egomaniacal, racist, sexually predatory huckster like Donald Trump could ever have been elected president of the United States.”

And Alterman further on :  “But Ailes didn’t do it alone: He was empowered by everyone he worked with at Fox. Nobody who stayed there long enough to realize what was going on without quitting deserves to call himself or herself a ‘journalist.’ Ailes certainly received his share of criticism in the wake of his comeuppance and recent death. But what about all the people who made excuses for him before the wave of sexual-harassment lawsuits and reports of secret payoffs turned him radioactive? What about the Fox executives, past and present, who enabled his sexual terrorism? What about the liars who did his bidding on the air? What about the so-called ‘mainstream media’ members who adopted Ailes’s lies as truth and even defended Fox when others tried to expose it—and him?”

Clearly nothing is more toxic to real news than the ratings success enjoyed by Ailes and Fox,  success that totally undermined a straight media concerned about journalistic standards, ethics, and content.  Alterman again, “All the more alarming, then, that Ailes was the most powerful and influential person in American politics and media. Former NBC News president Neal Shapiro reflected after Ailes’s death that, whenever some piece of breaking news came up, ‘Other newsrooms always wondered: How will Fox play this?’ Sure, Fox’s ratings are in the toilet now, but the rest of cable news looks like an army of Ailes’s monsters. CNN is constantly imitating Fox, while MSNBC is hiring away its ‘talent.'”

Alterman does not address the problem of how to remedy the damages Ailes created.  I note in my blog. Freedom of the Press, that Ailes enabler Rupert Murdoch and the bent media were unleashed when the Federal Communications Commission eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine, and when rules restricting the consolidation of media ownership were removed.  Finding the right rules is a balancing act – protecting investigative journalism and public interest debate while skirting the ever-present danger of censorship or propaganda by the government and the media oligarchs.  What we do know, from recent events, is that the appropriate balance has been lost and that it is time for reform.

(Please note that the Alterman article is presented under a different title online.)

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David Corn sets out the case against Trump – The Fat Lady Sings

fat-lady-sings-2With James Comey’s testimony that the President is a liar, Mr. Trump, this morning, lost the media deference that has protected Republican efforts to normalize.  Under that Republican view, there is no “there” there – no evidence of collusion or wrongdoing.  It’s all the usual politics.  Just stay calm, the investigations will show nothing.  Or as Paul Ryan indicated this morning, Trump is “new” at this, no real problem.

But it isn’t so.  The forest fire is raging and Republicans are saying “smoke? what smoke?”  I enjoyed David Corn’s article in Mother Jones, “We already know Trump betrayed America“, which summarizes much of the information in public view showing Trump’s enabling of the Russian cyber assault on the 2016 election.

As Corn notes: “Explicit collusion may yet be proved by the FBI investigation overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller or by other ongoing probes. But even if it is not, a harsh verdict can be pronounced: Trump actively and enthusiastically aided and abetted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plot against America. This is the scandal. It already exists—in plain sight.

As soon as the news broke a year ago that the Russians had penetrated the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems, Trump launched a campaign of denial and distraction. For months, he refused to acknowledge the Kremlin’s role. He questioned expert and government findings that pinned the blame on Moscow. He refused to condemn Putin. Far from treating these acts of information warfare seriously, he attempted to politicize and delegitimize the evidence. Meanwhile, he and his supporters encouraged more Russian hacking. All told, Trump provided cover for a foreign government’s attempt to undermine American democracy. Through a propaganda campaign of his own, he helped Russia get away with it. As James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testified to Congress this spring, Trump ‘helps the Russians by obfuscating who was actually responsible’.”

Corn reviews Trump’s call out to the Russian’s to find the 30,000 emails and the numerous efforts to deflect, or deny, or to contradict intelligence findings of Russian culpability.   Corn again:

“Indeed, in August, during his first intelligence briefing as the Republican presidential nominee, Trump was reportedly told that there were direct links between the hacks and the Russian government.

Still, he didn’t change his tune. During a September 8 interview with RT, the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster that has been accused of disseminating fake news and propaganda, Trump discounted the Russian connection: ‘I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows, but I think it’s pretty unlikely.’ (Yes, he did this on RT.) He repeated a similar line at the first presidential debate at the end of that month, with his famous reference to how the DNC hacker ‘could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?’”

And this: “Trump’s response, at the second presidential debate: ‘I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say ‘the Russians.’ Well, [Hillary Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.’ The next day at a campaign rally, Trump, citing some of the Podesta emails, exclaimed, ‘I love WikiLeaks!’”

And, after the election: “[Trump] still showed no signs of confronting Putin. At the Russian leader’s request, he jovially hosted the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office—and then disclosed top-secret information to them. Moreover, he did this the day after brazenly ousting Comey, who was overseeing the bureau’s probe of Moscow’s meddling and links between Trump associates and Russia.”

By any objective standard, Trump’s violations – of the emoluments clause, of apparent money laundering, of attacks on the Judiciary, of unconstitutional bias against Muslims – far exceed those of any previous President.  The indications are overwhelming that he and his aides, Bannon, Kushner, Flynn, Manafort, and others, colluded with Russians to hack the election.  Laying out those cases against Trump properly requires further investigation.  But the case for Trump enabling the Russian hacking and cyber attacks is right out in public – the enabling comes right from Trump’s mouth.  And it’s not smoke, it’s fire.