Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: American media horror stories

We begin today with a somewhat rambling piece from the editorial board of The Kansas City Star about the GOP’s lack of truth and the media’s complicity in broadcasting untruths and disinformation.

…can we note that Donald J. Trump is still besting his Republican competitors in the polls for their party’s presidential nomination next year — and by a mile? Sure, Kansas’ Koch machine has thrown its support behind Nikki Haley, and Fox News keeps trying to prop up Ron DeSantis’ flailing campaign. (Even though Sean Hannity stacked the deck in DeSantis’ favor in Thursday night’s so-called “debate,” cucumber-cool California Gov. Gavin Newsom just made the angry Florida governor come off like a clenched fist in a blue suit.) […]

Way too many serious journalists still haven’t internalized the lesson scholars have long warned us about: Airing would-be autocrats’ lies, even to dispel them, is dangerous.

This is, unfortunately, what the vast conservative alternative news ecosystem has evolved into. The late Fox News Svengali Roger Ailes built the channel into a powerful Republican Party answer to both liberal and mainstream thought in the first 20 years of its existence. He capitalized on human beings’ innate desire to think we’re as smart as the experts, that we can “do our own research” and dig out the truth as well as any reporter or scientist. It’s built into the rugged individualist spirit that created the Declaration of Independence. […]

Donald Trump’s feral genius is that he knows instinctively how to stoke the anger of the millions who don’t think those institutions serve them anymore. In less than eight years, he’s transformed the public face of his party from genteel patrician Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood-esque John McCain into the jeering, ungovernable House now led by a speaker who was a primary architect of the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted government overthrow. Trump’s closest presidential challengers talk of “slitting throats” of federal employees and making widespread, indiscriminate purges in their ranks.

Michael Gold of The New York Times says that Number 45 is engaging in sheer projection when he claims that President Joe Biden is a “destroyer of American democracy.

Mr. Trump’s accusations against Mr. Biden, which he referenced repeatedly throughout his speech, veered toward the conspiratorial. He claimed the president and his allies were seeking to control Americans’ speech, their behavior on social media and their purchases of cars and dishwashers.

Without evidence, he accused Mr. Biden of being behind a nationwide effort to get Mr. Trump removed from the ballot in several states. And, as he has before, he claimed, again without evidence, that Mr. Biden was the mastermind behind the four criminal cases against him.

Here, too, Mr. Trump conjured a nefarious-sounding presidential conspiracy, one with dark ramifications for ordinary Americans, not just for the former president being prosecuted. Mr. Biden and his allies “think they can do whatever they want,” Mr. Trump said — “break any law, tell any lie, ruin any life, trash any norm, and get away with anything they want. Anything they want.”

Democrats suggested that the former president was projecting again.

Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post reports on more Republican disarray as the Freedom Caucus backs down from their budgeting and spending demands.

Four months, two House speakers and two averted government shutdowns later, the Freedom Caucus abruptly announced on Wednesday that the staunch defense of the lower spending cap had evaporated for most members. They now supported the $1.59 trillion level after months of defying their Republican colleagues, who hadbegged them to acknowledge the spending cap as a win — it was still lower than what Democrats set when they controlled the House and the Senate — and help expedite the government funding process.

The turnaround was consequential: It clears the way for the House and Senate to start negotiations in hopes of striking a compromise on how to fund the government with looming deadlines in mid-January and early February. But the far-right flank’s acceptance came far too late for some House Republican colleagues, who expressed shock, anger and dismay over the time wasted on placating the Freedom Caucus.

“It could have saved ourselves some time,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said flatly. The spending debate was a key component in the effort to remove McCarthy as speaker of the House in October, which left the chamber paralyzed and without a leader for three weeks.

Jay Caspian Kang of The New Yorker writes that the mainstream media is already playing catch-up in their attempts to control violent and brutal imagery (warning: the link contains graphic pictures of murder scenes).

In a series of three essays published in 1991, the philosopher Jean Baudrillard argued that the Gulf War, which ended up with more than a hundred thousand dead Iraqis, had not really taken place. In his inimitable fashion, his argument was filled with internal contradictions, annoying trolling (Baudrillard had initially written that the Gulf War would never actually happen, which, of course, it did), and some pockets of real clarity. His ultimate argument was that what had taken place wasn’t so much a war but a one-sided aerial slaughter that was scrubbed clean through intensive media control. What people in the West saw were so-called live feeds of missiles and aerial assaults fuelled by new forms of technology, whether the Patriot missile or the stealth bomber. The war was communicated to us almost like an advertisement for a new car—here are all the new features, and here are the salesmen in the form of generals or foreign-policy experts paraded on cable news. We did not see slain enemy combatants, destroyed civilian homes.

If the Gulf War was a slaughter sold to the American public as a clean military-technology show, the war in Gaza has been a production line of horrifying images. The footage of dead and wounded children, particularly on social media, has traumatized the world and made it clear that nothing—not even the Israeli military tightly controlling media access—can stop ordinary citizens around the world from seeing what happens when a shell hits a hospital or a school or an apartment building where families live. My guess is that this war’s lasting legacy may not be some geopolitical break after years of conflict but the images of the innocents we’ve seen, including children, killed in almost every imaginable way. […]

In an excellent column in the New York Times about a photograph of six dead children in Gaza, Lydia Polgreen writes, “The news media no longer needs to disseminate an image for it to be seen. Social media bludgeons us with a flood of brutal images.” Polgreen points to a discomforting probability: when the world ultimately sees the images of dead children in a school shooting in the United States, it will likely come via social media and be taken by someone who was inside the school, or, perhaps more ghoulishly, the shooters themselves. The dam—which currently is held in place by the standards of news organizations and by law-enforcement organizations who, for understandable reasons, have tightly guarded these crime-scene photos—will inevitably break. At some point, we will see these children, and journalists will then be faced with the question of whether they should offer up a more sanitized version of what the rest of the world has already seen.

There are several murders and other cruelties that have already been broadcast and live-streamed, including the racist murders at a grocery store in Buffalo (although few people—22 to be exact—  saw those murders streamed live). 

Phillips Payson O’Brien of The Atlantic thinks that the United States overestimates its power and influence on other countries and that the United States isn’t the only “great power” to do so.

Ever since a terror attack by Hamas triggered a war in Israel and Gaza in October, many commentators have presumed that the United States can in some way manage the course of the crisis—either by supporting Israel emphatically or by demanding greater restraint from that country’s leaders. Successive American administrations, including Joe Biden’s, have encouraged this belief in American control of events in the Middle East and around the world. Just days before the Hamas attack, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan boasted in an article in a Foreign Affairs article that the Biden administration had “de-escalated crises in Gaza.” The Middle East, he wrote, is “quieter than it has been for decades,” echoing comments he made at tThe Atlantic Festival in late September. (The online version of the article was subsequently edited to omit those statements.) In essence, the United States had mistaken a temporary lull in the Middle East for a more enduring period of relative peace—and ascribed the apparent boon to American influence.

The lesson the United States should be drawing is that it generally cannot enforce its will—however benevolent Americans believe it to be—in every area of the world. In region after region, the United States engages with movements and governments that are powerful actors themselves. Some will at least outwardly genuflect to the U.S., but all of them will pursue their own interests. In overestimating their own power, American presidents risk worse outcomes, both for the United States and for the causes it is trying to promote.

Finally today…well, we all know what happened in the world of college football with the conference championship games…well, some of us do. My final four:

1. Michigan

2. Washington

3. Texas (34-24 has to mean something!)

4. Florida State

That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

Try to have the best possible day everyone!


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