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Eric Boehlert in Focus and Context

I don’t remember when I first started reading the comments and articles by Eric Boehlert. There are many people who write on the internet, even from our side, though it often seems as if we are drowned out by the Far Right noise machine. And so, like so many people, I have tried to find those whom I not only agree with on principles, but who can articulate them effectively. Then there are a very few who actually show me things I did not know. Boehlert did all of that.

His central theme was the way in which the mainstream media consistently frames their narratives and headlines to disfavor or insult or mock Democrats, whether or not the Democrats hold political power. For me, it is has been something that I have kept trying to find transitory reasons for, hoping that it would stop; but it didn’t, it has gotten worse. So much so that most of us almost start to take it for granted, and do not react to it as angrily as we might have before.

Sometimes it was upsetting to read his comments, because they hit home so accurately. And it was not as if he were snide, or gratuitously insulting; he was sincere, fair-minded, and most of all, he cared. I’m sure he could have written about other subjects, rather than go after much of the media, and bring the so-called receipts with him. I know that some of them, as is their wont, were dismissive of him. But he was undeterred.

I do not consider myself politically naive, though I used to be more hopeful about the way we were heading. One of the principal reasons, is that while I knew that the media were owned by corporate millionaires (then; now it is billionaires and counting), many of the reporters were on the liberal side. And we went through Watergate, and the bad guys could not hide the truth (thanks to the tapes, of course). And so it seemed that good journalists would go after the facts, the truth, and tell the people. And that the people, at least many of them, would listen, and react accordingly.

I knew that the media powers favored Reagan, they always wanted Republicans to win, except for when things were so bad, they occasionally would grudgingly be for a brief Democratic interregnum. But in 1988, I was appalled at the way that they treated Michael Dukakis, a bright and caring person who lacked smoothness, but who probably would have done a fine job as president. And I have never forgotten two things about that campaign; the first was when after Dukakis accepted Ted Koppel’s invitation to appear on a special 90-minute version of “Nightline,” (GHW Bush did not accept a similar invitation). Koppel ending up sneering at him, “You just don’t get it, do you Governor?”

What news interviewer, particularly one with the inflated reputation of Koppel, would talk like that to a presidential candidate? I was angry and appalled Put together with the rest of the campaign coverage, it was clear that the media wanted GHW Bush to win, and wasn’t even hiding it. And then, the second part; after the campaign was over, Koppel had another 90-minute show which featured various broadcast and newspaper journalists discussing their campaign coverage, and could they have done anything better?

And most of them said, yes, they didn’t do this or that well enough. And I was naive or wishful enough to feel better after watching that show– until they did it in every other campaign. To use the cliche, it was a feature, not a bug.

And who can then forget the thousands of hours devoted to Whitewater, the biggest red herring in political history, until “her emails” outdid it for misdirection and propaganda. And then Lewinsky: and I remember the fine book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyrons “The Hunting of the President.” But the public was more astute then, and President Clinton left office with about a 62% favorability rating.

And then Gore vs GW Bush; and the media vastly favored Bush. By then it was obvious that they were not acting as fair journalists, but using that as cover to attempt to get their choice elected. And when Gore conceded, the media said it was the greatest speech he had ever given–because he was conceding to them, so of course they were glad of it, and gave him meaningless praise.

I saw a book in the bookstore not long after that, which recounted the ways in which the media constantly disparaged and mocked Gore for ridiculously unimportant things, while they protected the unknowledgeable and incurious Bush. I skimmed the book, and it was too upsetting even to want to buy it, because it was all true, and there was little we could do about it.

And then of course Hillary, who was the media’s chosen punching bag. I guess she was hated for a variety of reasons by them; she was a Clinton, she was a woman, she said things like “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she was smarter than they were; she hadn’t gone to a fashionable prep school, the kind that Sally Quinn favored. So they never let up on her, and it was a horror to behold. Ultimately, they managed to get Trump, a man without any virtue whatsoever, ostensibly elected over her, whereupon he proceeded to be obedient to Putin, let Saudia Arabian princes murder an American journalist; do nothing about a terrible pandemic because he didn’t want it to hurt his election chances; extorted Zelensky by threatening to withhold Congressionally approved military supplies unless he made up a story about investigating Biden.

And so much more. We don’t need to revisit them all. And Eric Boehlert stood out throughout much of this period, trying to show how the media consistently, relentlessly, predictably, would take the side of the Republican candidates and Party. The “both sidesing,” the hallmark of Dean Bacquet’s New York Times. The very skewed headlines which one first thought were just bad choices or attention grabbers, but happened so often that there was no other choice than that this was a deliberate strategy. Sherlock Holmes famously said to Dr. Watson, that when there are various possible solutions, and you have eliminated those that are impossible, “the one that remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

In the midst of this, there was Eric Boehlert, not letting the media get away with pretending they were not doing what they were doing. I would watch him on the news shows when he occasionally got to comment, and I would read his Twitter feed, and then his recent enterprise Press Run, where he would write very perceptive articles tying things together, and often replying to readers’ comments or questions in a completely human and never supercilious or acerbic way. Soledad O’Brien, who knew and admired him, said that he was a real sweetheart, with a wonderful family.

When Biden became President, after the literal horror of the Trump Administration, there was some hope that the media might treat Biden fairly, give him a chance. They did, for about a month or two, and then they showed their colors. They made the Afghanistan withdrawal, something that Trump had already agreed to, into something like Chamberlain’s capitulation at Munich. Then they went after his domestic agenda, with their now patented framing of every issue in the way that Republican politicos wanted it.

Boehlert’s last essay this week went over how the media managed to trick and lie to the populace, virtually dragging them to the wrong conclusions. Astoundingly, only 28% of those polled thought that there were job gains in the Biden presidency, most thought that the country had lost jobs. Now, we can blame uninformed and incurious voters, but shouldn’t the media be helping to at least give them numerically supported facts?

This article helps to flesh out why Biden’s popularity numbers are so weak. It is because he is being judged on made up facts! People think the economy is terrible, because the Right Wing always says it, and the media goes along with it.

But it is far from true. The economy is not perfect, and worldwide inflation is a problem, but job growth is very high, and unemployment is at record lows. GDP and other metrics all point to a better than very good economy. But by carefully hiding (and yes, I mean that literally) the really good numbers; and trying to emphasize the one not as good one in a list of good ones; and then using their favorite word during any Democratic Administration, “BUT,” they are ineluctably drawing their viewers and readers to the wrong conclusions, but the ones that they want them drawn to.

And then looking around and saying, “What, us?” “If Biden’s numbers are low, it means the voters don’t like what he is doing” (Yeah, because your mix of distorted and hidden facts have drawn them there). “And well, even though the job numbers are good, Biden and the Democrats are going to get crushed in the midterms.” So there is never a story about this economic boom which is even spun moderately favorably for Democrats. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Say that things are bad, and people will believe it. That is the media’s inherent power, and with rare exceptions, its current disgrace.

What Eric Boehlert did, was to shine a light on it, from the NYT’s endless series of biased headlines, to the Sunday talk shows which always feature a variety of Right-wing types pushing their agenda, to the “gotcha” press conferences, where Biden and Psaki are subjected to mostly adversarial and even sneering questions designed to get the questioners on the TV soundbites and enhance their reputation.

Why does the media do this? The most obvious reason, is that the owners have billions and they want trillions, and they know that the Republicans will lower their taxes and those of their corporations down to almost zero. And then even beyond that greed, some of the people who own or run networks are just Far Right (which means a lot more radical than the Far Right, of say, the 1970’s). They use their power to create the vision of America they favor; except of course their wives or children can get an abortion; they can pay for food and medicine; they are not slaves to a minimum wage that never goes up. They are not journalists, they are propagandists. And of course they are drunk with the power of it.

For me, Eric Boehlert was probably the most honest, insightful and powerful voice against what is happening to our media, and its political implications. He never pulled his punches, or diverted into meandering humor. He was serious and dedicated, the epitome of what journalism at its best used to be. In addition to the terrible tragedy for him and his family, his death is a tragedy for America. We can only hope that there will at least be few others to carry his torch; to hold the media to account, while at the same time trying to inform the American people of the actual true facts and numbers which will help them in deciding how to vote. The media, at least most of it, is leading Americans to the edge of a cliff, and desperate efforts are needed to keep them from jumping off it.

Russia is voted out of the UNHRC

The UN general assembly met today and voted Russia out of the UNHRC due to its invasion of Ukraine and alleged war crimes that were discovered in Bucha. From Reuters:

The U.S.-led push garnered 93 votes in favor, while 24 countries voted no and 58 countries abstained. A two-thirds majority of voting members – abstentions do not count – was needed to suspend Russia from the 47-member council.

Russia is muttering it would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling Americans

Other reports, which I don’t have time to link to right now (lunch is over, gotta walk from the cafeteria up the stairs to my office), say that Russia threatened many countries who it currently has partnerships with. That might account for the high number of abstentions. We need to get a list.

Anyway, Russia is out of the UNHRC after serving only a year of its 3 year term. It can’t vote or debate but it will probably make mischief in some other way.

I think this stings a bit for Russia. It lobbied the vote and its blaming us for it getting kicked out. Inclusion meant something to it. It could hide behind its membership to fend off accusations of human rights violations. No one would have believed Russia but remaining on the council, pumping out lies would be a terrific poke in the eye to a global body that needs to be taken seriously.

As for our involvement, well, we didn’t start this war. Ukraine came to us for help and to be honest, we let them down when we pressured them to give up their nukes in exchange for protection. It wasn’t until Biden that we actually took our commitment seriously. For the first time since T**** took office in 2016, I have this feeling that we’re getting our strength back. T**** weakened us significantly on the world stage through his T****/Putin axis.

Now, we’re back.

Shwing!!

More News Analysis

Three news related items appeared lately on various websites that are interesting to review. They give hints on how to demystify the news for the chronic disbelievers.

1.) This recent set of surveys appeared yesterday in WaPo in a Phillip Bump column. The post, titled “The very different media universes where Americans live, visualized” shows where Americans in different demographics are getting the news. The results are probably not that surprising. The younger you are, the more likely you are to get your news from a variety of sources including social media, YouTube and various media outlets but not cable news. They same pattern holds for Democrats. These two groups also found their news more trustworthy.

But for the demographic of people over 65 who trust the news the least, the overwhelming primary source of their news is Fox News. Take a look at vaccination status depending on media sources:

It looks like the more sources of news you get, the more likely you are to get vaccinated. This concurs with my previous hypothesis that accurate news converges from many sources while it is possible for a single news source to confuse its audience with multiple conflicting messages.

In other words, if you only get your news from one source and you still are confused or can’t trust any news, it’s either because the news source is producing a crappy news product where it is not doing its primary function of delivering information with accuracy and quality control standards are lax, OR it is deliberately delivery multiple and conflicting versions of the news and not helping the viewer determine which version is accurate.

If you’re one of those people who get a huge chunk of your news from Fox, consider upgrading your news. Even a little bit of an upgrade may help your brain fog.

2.) To reinforce that last point, there is a new study that describes an experiment where a group of Fox News viewers were paid to watch CNN exclusively and not Fox for 30 days. Here’s the abstract from the study:

Short take: After 30 days, the researchers found that the subjects were more skeptical of their news, more likely to ask questions and their attitudes about current events had changed. They were more interested in policy. That surprised me. Did you ever notice that it is impossible to have a conversation on policy with a Fox News viewer? After about 5 minutes, you end up screaming at each other. “No, YOU leave the country if you don’t like it!!”

That being said, we may not have enough money to pay people we know to stop watching Fox. And I’m not sure that CNN is the best source we could substitute. I stopped watching CNN back in 2016 because it tended to “both sides” a bit too much regardless of the weight of the evidence on one side over the other. “Sun rises in the east, Democrats say, but Republicans disagree. Who’s right?” Also, the guests of the both sides panels just ended up screaming at each other and I didn’t need the noise. We’ll see if that changes once Steven Colbert’s former news guy starts running CNN.

Read the study yourself and ask yourselves if you think the researchers proved their case.

3.) This morning’s DW News segment fact-checks the rumors that the war crimes documented in Bucha were staged. DW’s opening plays a clip from some Russian officials at a meeting where they insist that the bodies strewn on the streets weren’t there until the Russians left. It looks like a broadcast to the Russian audience, which makes me think that the actual truth is seeping in through those VPN subscriptions and is starting to disturb the Russian public. They were sold a narrative of the glorious Russian soldier sent to poverty stricken and developmentally backward Ukraine to liberate it from the neo-Nazis. But what some of them are seeing from foreign news sources and reports from the front by their own relatives in intercepted phone calls are completely opposite of what they are being told by official news sources.

DW deftly and methodically debunks each claim of staging the bodies using visual investigation, video examination and satellite imagery. If you still think the bodies are staged after this 6 minute segment, you’ve got a problem with your news source.

All three of the above instances reinforce the observation that some of us are getting low quality news product and that by diversifying news intake from alternate news sources with high production values, the accuracy of the news we get and our trust in that news improves.

Updates:

I wrote the post above at about 4:00am this morning, as one does when one can’t sleep and there’s nothing good on TV, and already, we have more evidence to add to the war crimes investigations in Bucha. According to the Washington Post, communications between Russian soldiers were intercepted when they discussed the killing of civilians:

Germany’s foreign intelligence service claims to have intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discuss indiscriminate killings in Ukraine. In two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians, and proceed to shoot them, according to an intelligence official familiar with the findings who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The findings, confirmed to The Washington Post by three people briefed on the information, undermine claims by Russia that atrocities — including in Bucha — are being carried out only after its soldiers leave occupied areas. The Washington Post saw beheaded and mutilated corpses in Bucha, bringing the scope of devastation into grim focus.

Germans underwent real de-nazification after WWII, they hosted the first war crimes trials where the term “crimes against humanity” was coined, and they know more than we do about war crimes. We’ll get the translated, sanitized versions of those calls so they won’t have quite the same punch. It must have been sickening to hear those interceptions in the original Russian.

Finally, there’s this. Yesterday, while the House was debating whether to cite two former T**** WH officials for contempt of Congress, Rep. Greene from the great state of Georgia took it upon herself to heckle Rep. Jamie Raskin, from the great state of Maryland. To those of you lurkers who weren’t paying attention last February 2021, Raskin lost his son to suicide and buried him the day before the insurrection. Then he took up his post as the House Manager to lead the second Impeachment trial of D. T****, which may explain his “I don’t have to take this s{}#” attitude

Here was Raskin’s come back:

If the shoe fits…

But wait. He’s not done. Here were his comments defending the legitimacy of the January 6 Select Committee against the critical remarks from Kevin McCarthy: