Friday, June 18, 2010

New Age Charlatans and the Overton Window

(Disclaimer: There are far too many sources to individually link to, and I frankly don't have the time for the tedious task of hyperlinking every claim made in this note. However, should anything I say here make you scoff, feel free to point me to where you'd like to see sources backing me up, and Id be more than happy to provide you with links.)

The Power of the Media

“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
-Malcolm X

Here's how defines the word "charlatan."

a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.

Pretty harmless, right? That word can describe thousands of people. I imagine some of my more critical readers would probably love to associate that word with me. But I'd like to use this space to focus that word on the cable news demagogues that plague our public discourse with blatant and outright lies and misinformation, and a general poisoning of the public discourse.

Sure, there are the minor-league pundits like Keith Olbermann, Joe Scarborough, Lou Dobbs in his heyday, and the like. But they don't even hold a candle to the voices on right-wing morning talk radio like Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and of course our friends on FOX news like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. The FOXers don't even make an effort to hide their bias. Right-wingers could argue that MSNBC is the liberal equivalent of FOX, but as John Stewart put it in a baseball analogy, MSNBC is like the Toledo Mud Hens to FOX news' New York Yankees. There really is no equivalence between the two.

Maybe a lot of you are sighing or slapping your foreheads, and wondering why I'm dedicating a piece to blasting cable news demagogues instead of researching and tackling more presing issues. But this IS a pressing issue, because our political discourse, since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, has become posionous to a most extreme level. I fully place blame on Glenn Beck/Sean Hannity/Rush Limabugh's hate speech and misinformation campaigns, and how they've skillfully shifted the Overton Window to the far right.

I've always said that the media is the fifth branch of American government (the Federal Reserve has earned the title of the fourth branch after the bailouts, their autonomy and lack of transparency and accountability) and in many ways, has more influence over the public than the other four. We in the media decide what the public talks about. We are in charge of creating the public discourse. What you discuss at parties, in coffee shops with the cute girl sitting at the table next to you, with your parents over the phone, with your friends at the bar after work, all comes largely from what the media puts on the airwaves and in print. We are a force to be reckoned with, although many of us are unaware, as we all complain of being overworked and underpaid. And of course, media folks are in one of the most hated professions in America; we're right there at the bottom with congressmen, seedy car mechanics and lawyers. But our power is prevalent and far-reaching.

Which brings me to this point- when you are a pundit with your own cable TV show watched by millions, and you knowingly mislead the public and propagate extremism, you create an environment where millions suddenly find such hate speech and posionous dialogue as acceptable discourse. Particularly when these pundits parade themselves as legitimate journalists who are "just asking the hard questions."

Look at Glenn Beck, for instance. Here is a man with a primetime cable show on the most-watched cable news network, who-

-has attacked the president's deceased mother and grandmother, calling them "Marxists,"
-has openly endorsed an anti-semitic author,
-has once used his radio talk show to harass a woman who had a miscarriage,
-has called a caller on his show (along with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton) a "bitch,"
-has called Katrina victims "scumbags,"
-has said he openly hates 9/11 victims' families,
-has asserted that the United States is not a Democracy, but that progressives are trying to make it one, and that that's a bad thing. (Which leads to the assertion that we're a Republic, not a Democracy, leading to the unspoken assertion that Republicans are the only true Americans, and that Democrats are un-American and un-patriotic, among other such nonsense)
-has called for his audience to leave their churches if they advocate social justice or economic justice,
-has called the president a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred for White people" and the "White culture,"

He does this through contrived tears, choking up out of a fear that our country's very principles are under attack by an evil, oppressive, liberal agenda by those who want to take your guns, jobs, bibles, and babies. While chastising liberals for poking fun at Bristol Palin's pregnancy despite her mother being an advocate for abstinence-only sex education, he has used airtime on his program to blast Melea and Sasha Obama, the president's two teenage daughters. In spite of so much hatred and hypocrisy, his TV show and radio program garner millions of listeners and viewers every day.

Anyone with an ounce of sanity knows Glenn Beck is a clown. Many of you have scoffed at my calling Beck's hate speech a threat to Democracy, because clearly, there can't be that many people who take him seriously. But the thing is, there are. And they are being woefully lied to and misled every day, being fed a steady diet of hatred and fear and ignorance. It is poisoning our dialogue, and it is shifting the Overton Window to the extreme right. Beck, in and of himself, is harmless. But he is succeeding in a larger goal of manipulating the shift of the Overton Window, which is indeed a very dangerous thing.

The Overton Window

"The most effective propaganda is simple- stick to a few certain points, and repeat them over and over again until they are accepted as fact.
-Joseph Goebbels

So what is the Overton Window? Political gurus describe it as the realm of acceptable public discourse in society. The more extremism, hate speech, and outlandish claims get broadcast to millions upon millions of listeners across the country each day, the less extreme those claims sound. thus, the Overton Window moves steadily to the right. We've heard these guys call liberals, the president, his administration, and his policies Nazi/Communist/Fascist/Anti-American for so long that they don't sound extreme anymore.

Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh have been at the forefront of extreme discourse since the Democrats took control of Congress and the White House. Since the onset of the Obama presidency, we've seen the onset of the corporate-supported Astroturf (fake grassroots) effort, the Tea Party. the Tea Party has managed to get the majority of poor, uneducated, underserved white Americans to vehmently rail against their own self-interests, citing Democratic social welfare policies like Health Care Reform, Wall Street Reform, Immigration Reform and Campaign Finance Reform as "socialism," "communism," "nazism," and the like. The Tea Party, despite being exposed a front group established by the mainstream GOP, despite being funded by Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Insurance, has managed to get away with touting a populist label, and has had its principles extolled 24/7 as virtuous by the FOX news pundit regime.

Now, approximately just 17 months into Obama's presidency, where he has historically accomplished far more than any other president has at that point in their tenure, where he has made good on nearly all of his campaign promises to this point, where taxes are at their lowest since the Truman administration, a paranoid, knee-jerk, reactionary 24-hour news cycle on FOX has managed to convince their viewing public of the exact opposite. Their pundits have insinuated that the president is a secret Muslim who wants to place the United States under Sharia law, that taxes on the poor and middle class are rising far higher and quicker than at any other point and time in history, that he has accomplished nothing since holding office, and that his agenda is succeeding in converting us from a Republic to a Socialist haven.

Such extreme dialogue, when forced down the throats of millions every day, is now not so extreme. The Overton Window has shifted. And the far right has succeeded in their dominance of this country's political discourse once again.

Consequences of a Rightward Overton Window Shift

"Those who control the access to the minds of children will set the agenda for the future of the nation and the future of the western world."
-Rev. James Dobson

We've seen bricks thrown through congressmen and congresswomen's campaign office windows, gas lines cut at the home of a Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA) brother, tea partiers collectively mocking and throwing money at a man with Parkinson's who advocated for universal health care, cheering when being referred to as "Tim McVeigh wannabes," a plane flown into an IRS building in Texas, and a gathering in Washington, DC of tea partiers, all heavily armed, threatening to stage a violent revolt if their right-wing agenda was not adhered to in Washington.

Simultaneously, Democratic successes in passing Health Care Reform and moving on other items in their legislative agenda has invited an onslaught of racial slurs, death threats, threats of armed insurrection, sedition, secession, and other hateful acts by the Tea Party activists. These acts have been encouraged and spurred on by right-wing talk radio and FOX news pundits. For example, Ann Coulter said the man who crashed his plane into the IRS building should have flown it into the New York Times building instead. This is the same woman who has openly called for liberals to be shot in the streets. A former pastor and armed serviceman has talked about grabbing his guns and "doing what has to be done" if Washington continues to move forward with a progressive agenda.

With a right-wing media and blogosphere cheering on such extremism, and with a mainstream Republican establishment in Congress and the Senate who has refused to denounce hateful extremist acts, America has fostered a climate where violent extremism is encouraged. And until something is done to regulate such hate speech, it will only get worse from here.

What Can Be Done to Fight Extremism

"For the first time ever, everything is in place for the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ."
-Ronald Reagan

Currently, it is not against the law to lie to the public in the news media. This was the ruling of the Florida appellate court, when two investigative reporters sued their former employer, a FOX affiliate, for manipulating a scathing report they had done about BGH in milk products to make it more corporate-friendly. Journalists have a responsibility to uphold the truth, and to tell the story as accurately as possible. However, so many are parading as journalists while simultaneously lying to and deceiving millions of Americans on a daily basis. They use their influence on the networks to spread misinformation and obstruct necessary progress and reforms in Washington. They are waging a war on both the truth and on our Democracy, but nothing is currently stopping them from from spreading lies, fear and hate and masking it as journalism.

Our president and speaker of the house are too timid to support a reinstatement of the "Fairness Doctrine," which would require broadcasting outlets to equally air differing points of view on their stations. Thanks to the right-wing talk radio monopoly, millions of people are privy to hate radio for several hours each morning, with nothing on the other side to balance it out. As controversial as it is for me to say, I believe the Fariness Doctrine is a necessary first step to combat the charlatans' manipulation of the Overton Window and extreme right-wing dominance of our political discourse. And of course, nobody will pay attention to it unless you, the reader, take the time right now to take two minutes and call the Washington switchboard (202-224-3121), ask for your congressmen and senators, and urge them to sign on their support of the Fairness Doctrine. It's a long shot, but a crucial first step in restoring our political discourse back to an acceptable level.

What about you? Do you care enough about American discourse to help save it from the far right?


  1. What an Idiot you are. Can you not see what is happening to our country?

    What an Idiot. Free chicken and beer, and YOU "care enough about American discourse to help save it from the far right?"


  2. Why yes, anonymous, I do care. That's why I wrote this.

    Again, explain to me where you feel what I'm saying is incorrect, and I'd be happy to provide you with sources and links that back up every single claim I make.

    Peace and blessings,