Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 7, 2016 7:30 pm

Jay Rosen on what the media missed, and me on what we need to work hard to miss

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has posted a piece titled “A Miss Bigger Than a Missed Story,” his final reflection before the election on how badly U.S. media have lost the thread of this election. It’s not that long, and its underlying thread is how politics simply doesn’t deal in reality anymore and how unprepared the media  have been for that change. He makes clear that this trend didn’t arise overnight with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real value of the piece, though, is this conclusion:

Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.

“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Trump’s campaign was “openly intended to distort reality” because that is a show of power. Power over his followers. Over the other candidates he humiliated and drove from the race. Over party officials who tried to bring him to heel. And over the journalists who tried to “check” and question him.

That last graf is really what Donald Trump is up to, and it’s the one I want most to commend to the attention of my friends at the Times and the Post and Politico and CQ and The Hill and all the other primary drivers of national political coverage in this country.

I’ve made quite the pest of myself with y’all by emphasizing that this was the campaign that repealed Godwin’s law. That tenet of Internet dialogue holds that the longer a discussion goes on, the greater the likelihood that someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Naziism. A corollary, also itself often referred to as Godwin’s law, is that whoever does so automatically loses the debate.

But in this campaign we have seen a candidate, Donald Trump, who has, in no particular order, advocated torture; advocated massive forced relocations; espoused racism, sexism (including sexual assault), many other forms of bigotry, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualismHe has embraced some of the most virulent anti-Semites currently operating in U.S. media and made them a key part of his campaign. His campaign’s final television ad was one long anti-Semitic dogwhistle. Look, I realize no one wants to look hysterical AND that comparisons to Hitler/Naziism have been overplayed on other subjects in the past. But, kids, at some point, if the jackboot fits, you’ve got to wear it. Trump and his campaign have been functioning in exactly the same way, with largely the same result, as all of the big totalitarian propaganda efforts of the 20th century, from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to China. And while some in the media get this, way too many are still in denial.

But, you say, Trump isn’t going to win tomorrow.

And as I write this, that looks like it’s probably true. My own prediction remains what it was once the two major-party nominees were determined last spring: Clinton wins with at least 310 electoral votes, and the Democrats tie for or retake the Senate. (Fun fact for us North Carolinians: Our polls close at 7:30 p.m. In 2012, the Associated Press called the state for Romney at 10:53 p.m. If North Carolina gets called for Clinton, particularly if that happens a lot earlier than it did in 2012, it’s game over for Trump. Clinton can afford to lose North Carolina. Trump cannot; he simply has no road to 270 electoral votes without us.)

But a huge number of Americans have supported Trump, and in so doing, they’ve demonstrated that they’re OK with the hatred, they’re vulnerable to the propaganda, or both. And those people will still be around and still creating trouble Wednesday and probably for years, perhaps decades, after. This campaign hasn’t just injected massive doses of hate into our political mainstream, as Rosen and Stanley point out, it has tried to make that the new reality.

Even worse, I can guarantee you that right now, this minute, someone both smarter and more disciplined than Trump already is plotting how to build on Trump’s accomplishments to capture those voters in off-year state and local races and in a race for the White House in 2020 and beyond.

That is what our news media will be facing, and denialism could be lethal to the American experiment as well as to nontrivial numbers of individual Americans. I realize that after this longest and ugliest of campaigns, no one wants to hear this — and God knows I’d love to be wrong about it — but I think the media, and all Americans of good faith and good sense, must fight this, starting immediately. I pray to God we’re up to it.

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Monday, October 6, 2014 10:00 am

An open letter to Kathleen Parker re the War on Women

Ms. Parker:

Normally I enjoy your work, but in your column today in the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, you stumbled and fell right out of the gate.

You wrote: “Let’s be clear. The war on women is based on just one thing: abortion rights.”

Clear as mud, ma’am.

I have not needed to work particularly hard to gain any special understanding or insight into the war on women. I only have needed to look at what goes on in my field, the media and communications, and to look at the experiences of my mother, my sister, my wife, and my daughter.

My mother runs a management consulting firm with clients on three continents, and that running is very much hands-on despite the fact that she will turn 80 in December. She has a long list of anecdotes about sexism in the workplace ranging from hiring and pay discrimination to the constant little patronizing, condescending comments men make to and about women, often without even realizing how offensive they’re being.

My sister works in the technical end of music and theatrical productions, a male-dominated field, and has had to work twice as hard to be paid half as well.

My wife, before changing careers recently, worked in information technology, which was, as you can imagine, even more of a testosterone sink than my sister’s field. And that was in higher education. I can only imagine what she would have had to put up with in the for-profit sector.

And my daughter is 16, and you and I both know what 16-year-old boys are like … as well as the condescending male adults in teens’ worlds. Just a few weeks ago, she had to sit and listen to teachers at her high school tell girls they couldn’t wear Nike shorts to school because doing so would be a distraction to the boys — as if the boys are somehow not responsible for their own actions.

The war on women takes many forms and is fought on many fronts, from hiring and pay equity to rape culture, particularly but not exclusively on college campuses.

You misleadingly argue, in effect, that because the Saudis mistreat women, the U.S. does not. Such an argument not only is untrue, it also seems to be implying that Americans have just as much control over Saudi law and culture as our own. That’s patently absurd. You’re desperately hoping that we won’t notice that one major political party in this country is doing everything it can both to cut back women’s rights and to discredit anyone who argues in favor of them, and that the other major political party is doing the opposite.

One particularly insidious aspect of this war is the inevitable blowback that any woman will receive when she attempts to speak out against the war on women — blowback from what anyone can see is a mixture of uninformed bigots and well-paid trolls, such as you with this very column. I hope the money helps you sleep at night.

You’ve made the classic mistake of argumentation, asking me which I’m going to believe, you or my lyin’ eyes. Lady, given that choice, I go with my eyes every single time.

Get bent,

Lex Alexander
http://www.lexalexander.net

Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:52 pm

Incoming, or, War on women? WHAT war on women?

I’ve been beyond swamped lately. I worked for 40 hours straight this past weekend on a research paper (yes, “straight” means “without sleeping”), slammed through a boatload of reading and video-watching for school and am leading discussion this week in one of my classes. And that doesn’t even get into the day job and kids.

But I did a little Twittering over meals, during which I was battened onto by some troll claiming to have served someplace where women are second-class citizens and insisting that because the Taliban are stoning women and setting them on fire and whatnot, American women have no right to suggest that there’s a war on women going on in this country. I pointed out that he had the awareness and grasp of metaphor of your average cinder block and then blocked him because I’m too old for that crap.

But there’s a lot of that going around, as Angry Black Lady at Balloon Juice points out with this jaw-droppingly stupid rant from some woman named Cathy McMorris-Rogers. Her thesis: There is no Republican war on women; there is only a Democratic Party trying to scare women for political gain.

No, really:

Because I’m still swamped, I’m outsourcing my response to ABL, who can add a uterocentric perspective that I cannot. her language is a little coarse, which, in light of all the circumstances she describes, I ascribe to her being in good cerebrovascular health:

This woman is out of her f—— skull.  How DARE she? Democrats are scaring women to drum up votes?  Is she serious?  Let’s take a little walk down GOP F—ery Lane, shall we?

  • Republicans want to tax us if we choose to get an abortion.
  • Republicans are forcing doctors to flat-out lie to us about abortions increasing the risk of breast cancer.
  • Republicans are trying to force us to get permission from the man (Father? Rapist? Who cares!) before getting an abortion.
  • Republicans think we’re sluts for wanting insurance coverage for contraception—whether for birth control or otherwise—all the while demonstrating how utterly devoid of brain activity they are by suggesting that the doctor-recommended use for birth control is “a-pill-per-screw,” and that maybe we could pay for our ovarian cyst treatment if we’d just stop drinking so many f—— soy lattes.

(She left out one other one: Tennessee was until just recently considering a bill that would make public details about every abortion in the state, along with information on the doctor who performed it. Because, the sacred notion of medical privacy aside, there’s no way anything bad could come of that. But don’t take my word for it — we can just ask David Gunn, John Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, Barnett Slepian or George Tiller. Oh, wait, no, we can’t.)

Republicans want us to lie back and take it.  They want us to just “close our eyes” while they shame us and guilt us and emotionally traumatize us and out us to the public for making a choice about our bodies that has absolutely f—-all to do with them.  And they’re doing this under the guise of “education” and “life-affirmation”; attaching quaint and pithy names to horrific bills which violate our rights as humans.  Names like “Ultrasound Opportunity” or “Right to Know and See.”  Don’t worry.  It’s all about knowledge.

Knowledge is power, you see, and frankly ladies, you don’t know what the f— you’re doing.  You think you’re incubating baby iguanas in your wombs while storks slingshot babies through open windows in the dead of night.  No, no, silly one.  This here probe will give you all the knowledge about the birds and the bees that you need, and conveniently, since you’re pregnant in the first place, you’ve already consented to be vaginally probed by our metal knowledge stick. Hooray!

Oh yeah—and let’s not forget that we’re getting f—— FIREBOMBED for daring to believe that a woman’s uterus is hers.  Not her husband’s.  Not her boyfriend’s. Not her father’s or uncle’s or brother’s. And certainly not some f—— politician who does not now nor has he ever owned a uterus, or the feckless Republican women who fall in line behind these misogynist [asses].

And you can f— right off with that “oh, the firebomber was just a crazy homeless dude” crap.  As Melissa MacEwan at Shakesville so eloquently put it:

Guess who else is “crazy”? Anyone who sees a pattern of anti-progressive violence—and, very specifically, misogynist and/or homophobic and/or racist violence—and has the unmitigated temerity to suggest that, hey, maybe this [stuff] isn’t happening in a void.

All of this is to say the following—

Cathy McMorris-Rodgers? Jump up your own uterus, lady. You don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for thousands of women who don’t have the distinct privilege of standing on the Capitol steps spewing bullshit in order to protect the misogynist necks of the Republican men to whom you’ve sold your soul, your dignity, your humanity, your personal freedom, and, indeed your life; all the while knowing that should you or your daughter Grace require birth control or an abortion or any of the women’s health services that you and your ilk are viciously stripping from us, you will be able to get them.  After all, as a member of Congress, you have some of the best health insurance in the country!  And we all know that the rules which you seek to apply to millions of women—many of them poor women of color—don’t apply to the daughters of deluded state politicians from the Pacific Northwest. (Dontcha know.)

So, Cathy, you want to give up your reproductive rights? Or the reproductive rights of your daughter? Fine. Go right ahead.

But back the f— up off of mine.

And the notion that Democrats are scaring women by shining a light on the horrific human rights injustices that you Republicans seek to impose on us is patently absurd.  Democrats aren’t scaring women, Cathy. Republicans are scaring women.

I’ll go one better than that: Republicans aren’t just scaring women, they’re terrorizing women.

And I’ll borrow from another of Melissa’s Shakesville tweets to summarize:

There are a lot of things that don’t get called terrorism in this country, but chief among them is the anti-choice movement, which is the most brazen, unapologetic terrorist campaign in the US, its co-ordination and orchestration done right out in the open, where no one in the media or politics will call it what it is. It is an inherently violent ideology, backed by a decades-long campaign of intimidation, harassment and violence directed at abortion providers and abortion seekers, that is ignored by one party and mainstreamed as a central plank of its party platform by the other.

Now, Republicans will deny that they’re involved with such a thing, or that they even could benefit from it, let alone consciously try to cash in. To which I say, with all due respect: Bullshit.

It’s terrorism. The perps need to be locked up in SuperMax for the rest of their miserable, bitter, un-American little lives, and all their privileged enablers (and I’m looking at you, Cathy) need to be held legally and publicly accountable as well, because if there’s a war on terror, then that war, like charity, needs to start at home.

It’s the 21st century folks, and I’m damned tired of coddling criminals.

Sunday, March 4, 2012 10:04 pm

Hitting Rush where it hurts, cont.: local stations, local advertisers

In the past 72 hours, while I’ve struggled with work, school, my kids’ schedules and a migraine, a great exodus has taken place among Rush Limbaugh’s national advertisers after his abuse of law student Sandra Fluke for trying to stand up for basic health-care rights for women. I won’t rehash the merits of the issue, which by now are pretty well settled among those with ears to hear. (I’ve tweeted about it a bit if you want to go look.)

The question now is: What else can we do to put pressure on Rush and his parent corporations? One thing we can do is pressure the local advertisers on the stations that carry his show. Commenter “Jager” at Balloon Juice provides instructions on how to go about this [I’ve added a few clarifications in brackets], and as a former radio guy I can say he’s more or less on the money:

Go after the local advertisers on his show. There are very few local advertising [slots] on Rush’s show and they sell at a premium. Monitor the Rush station, make a list of the local advertisers and do the following:

1. Call the advertiser; be polite.
2. Write a letter to the advertiser; be polite.
3. Copy the station and the Federal Communications Commission with the advertiser letter.
4. Politely call the General Manager of the station, tell the GM what you are doing and why, tell them you have contacted the advertiser and copied the FCC.
5. If the local advertiser uses an agency, contact the agency, as well. Just ask the local business [whether] they use an agency.

[It’s not clear to me why the commenter thinks calling the agency will help, unless you’re also threatening to boycott any of the agency’s other advertisers, or any other stations with which the agency places advertising, or in some other way putting pressure on the agency’s revenue stream. — Lex]

It won’t take many letters and phone calls to get their attention and remind the station that the letters need to be placed in the station’s public file. (the public file is an FCC requirement)

Local stations don’t get many local [advertising slots] in Rush’s show and many [stations] pay a huge fee to Premiere [Radio Networks, the Bain Capital/Clear Channel Communications subsidiary that syndicates the show] to run the show. If they start losing business because of that [expletive], they will raise hell with Premiere.

Although I don’t think there’s any guarantee of that because I think 27% of Americans would be happy if Rush killed infants and ate their entrails live from noon to 3 weekdays, I do think the commenter’s suggestions are about the likeliest approach of any to get results. So if you want to apply financial pressure to Rush to at least start behaving like a civilized member of society, target the local advertisers on your local Rush station. I’ll update this post when I’ve had the time to even figure out who that is in this market — that’s how out of it I’ve been lately.

UPDATE: Well, duh, it’s Rush Radio — WPTI (94.5 FM).

Mailing Address
2-B PAI Park
Greensboro, NC 27409

Phone number – 336-822-2000
Program Director – Angie Vuyst – angievuyst@rushradio945.com
Sales Manager – Tom Hennessey – tomhennessey2@clearchannel.co

Monday, April 26, 2010 10:25 pm

“I went to your concert and I didn’t feel anything”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 10:25 pm
Tags: ,

As powerful, formative and in many ways enjoyable as my time, such as it was, in the music bidness was as a musician, I would have to think long and hard before doing it again.

One of the reasons why is the heinous, toxic levels of sexism in the scene: It was taken as a given among most of the (male) musicians I knew, even in the late 1970s, that women just couldn’t rock, the contemporary examples of the Runaways (and the even earlier example of, say, Janis Joplin) notwithstanding.

In fact there was this weird paradox: Most everyone likes rock ‘n’ roll, but the guys who went to the trouble of actually forming or finding a band, rehearsing, getting themselves booked to perform in public and then actually performing in public did so at least as much to get girls as for any other reason — and yet they had no respect whatever for girls in bands, even when those girls clearly merited respect. Perhaps my perspective on this is skewed because my second band contained not one but two girls who rocked just as hard as any of the guys, onstage and off. (Wait, “skewed” isn’t the right word: My perspective, although not “normal,” although not even “common,” was the objectively correct one.) But not only were women who rocked not respected, if a guy respected them, he immediately became suspect in the eyes of other guys.

Thirty years on, after Belly and the Slits and 7 Year Bitch and Hole and the Donnas and Sleater-Kinney and God knows who-all else (even Pink — “U + Ur Hand” is a GREAT rock song), you’d like to think things have changed.

And you would be disappointed:

The number one thing I learned from being in a band and hanging out with a lot of guys who were Very Serious about music is that basically the worst thing that can happen to the music you love is for too many women to like it, or for one woman that you know to like it real hard. Music that is good is not music that women go crazy for. If women go crazy for it, it must suck, because women have terrible taste and like all that chick [stuff] and like shave their legs and stuff but oh my god it’s disgusting when they don’t. Did you get that? You are a [bad] music-lover because you do not like all the same music that they do. But if you start liking it, then the music is [bad] and they stop.

Sigh.

Guys, no matter what else that is, it ain’t rock ‘n’ roll.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:18 pm

Why James wears panties

I know that in many ways, large and small, it’s still a man’s world.

So does James:

I was still having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten, for reasons I couldn’t put a finger on.

My pay rate had hit a plateau, too. I knew I should be earning more. Others were, and I soaked up everything they could teach me, but still, there was something strange about it . . .

It wasn’t my skills, it wasn’t my work. So what were those others doing that I wasn’t?

One day, I tossed out a pen name, because I didn’t want to be associated with my current business, the one that was still struggling to grow. I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.

My life changed that day

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.

And I was thankful. I finally stopped worrying about how I would feed my girls. We were warm. Well-fed. Safe. No one at school would ever tease my kids about being poor.

* * *

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything was the same.

Except for the name.

The answer was plain. Without really thinking much about it, I tried an experiment when I chose my new pseudonym:

I became a man (in name only)

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

Maybe I’m overly cynical, but the first thing that came to my mind when I read this was, “Surely you had telephone conversations with clients. Did they not pick up on the fact that you were, like, female?”

But whether this particular story really happened is immaterial, because I saw this happen to some pretty talented women in my years in the newspaper bidness. I’m sure a lot more of it went on that I simply wasn’t perceptive enough to notice, particularly at first.

I saw enough that when I got in a position to do something about it, I did: I pushed the women who worked for me just as hard as I pushed the men who worked for me. And when I say “push,” I mean two things: “motivate/train/hold high expectations for” and “promote” (in the sense of talking them and their work up to my fellow editors when their work merited it).

I’m under no illusions that I did this as well and thoroughly as I should have. But at least I knew going into management that this was a significant blind spot in management, even at a company that worked as hard as ours did at “embracing diversity.”

I didn’t do this because I’m a saint, or even because I’m a particularly nice guy. I did it because my mother, my wife, my sister, my sisters-in-law, my daughter and my nieces are all bright, talented women who deserve to reap whatever benefits their skills, energy and persistence would otherwise entitle them to, without the market distortion of an estrogen discount.

Go read the whole thing.

Friday, November 20, 2009 9:33 pm

Odds and ends for 11/20

Huge win for the good guys, by which I mean taxpayers: House Finance Committee overwhelmingly and with true bipartisan support votes to audit the Fed. Barney Frank, previously a supporter, voted against. He’s going to need a damn good explanation.

Welcome to the 21st century, beehortches: Muslims want an anti-blasphemy law? Well, I want a jet pack and I ain’t getting that, either.

Come for the counsel, stay for the funny anecdotes (or vice versa): The NYT asks a shrink to tackle the fraught topic of holiday family get-togethers.

Transact this: Economist Dean Baker on the case for a financial-transaction tax. Short version: Yes, it would raise (microscopically) the cost of capital, but like booze and cigarette taxes, it would discourage something harmful: in this case, the kind of high-frequency, high-volume, low-value trading currently dominating the stock market. (Let’s face it, when the market can go up significantly on a day when more than a third of all trading involves the stock of just four companies — four basically insolvent companies — does the economy really benefit?)

Show some respect: A large majority of Americans, and 53% of Republicans, think it’s OK for the president of the United States to bow to the leader of a foreign country he’s visiting when it’s custom to bow in that country, according to a poll from that hotbed of pro-Obama liberalism, Fox News (question 18).

Shorter Amanda Hess, for the win: Why is sexism only a problem when it affects Sarah Palin?

Funding priorities: Can we please all agree that whatever else goes into health-care reform legislation, it ought not contain a dime for stuff that doesn’t work? Or has Teh Stoopid rendered even that common-sense position untenable?

Consumer advocacy: Elizabeth Warren sez, “We need a new model: If you can’t explain it, you can’t sell it.”

Once-a-century confluence?; or, Who are you and what have you done with the senator?: When Sen. James Inhofe and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer agree that it’s time SecTreas Tim Geithner resigned, maybe it really is time Tim Geithner resigned.

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