'The Freep Fornicate with Sheep'|
stirling s newberry email@example.com
The internet is a rough and tumble place for arguments. There are no rules and no laws, and often the "moderator" is really an interested party who is hoping to get others to say what is on his mind. As a long time combatant, I have issued more than my share of flames and attacks, and taken more than my share in return. This is particularly true of the "forums" run by various media outlets: Salon.com, FT.com, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly all have their forums.
It is in such forums that an important lesson is to be learned. One is that mainstream America needs to wake up to. A crucial part of our current crisis of confidence is that the right wing has recruited, trained and continues to support, a large body of angry, mentally unstable individuals - who willingly go forth and poison the public discourse with constant repetition of the day's talking points from the various right wing billionaire outlets. That many of these outlets are run by unstable people is not a surprise. There is no sane reason to be a billionaire, hence, many of the people driven enough to become billionaires, aren't really sane. And some are willing to put their money where there mental illness is.
The pretension of the "clean" press is that they can allow this kind of discourse poisoning to go on without being touched by it. That they are really comparable to the great writers and thinkers of old, because they demand civility and manners. This argument is roughly the same as saying that Don Gotti never had to shout. Or as CS Lewis eloquently stated, while great evil's final result is in death camps and war - it is done in clean, well-lit offices, seconded and minuted, by people with clean fingernails, who never need raise their voices.
It is for this reason that I bring up the Michael Kelly Fan Club.
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On the surface Michael Kelly is miles away from the dregs of the FreeRepublic.com - he is erudite, writes in correctly formatted paragraphs, delivers speeches in a reasoned tone, with those oh so careful, standard east coast pauses for the irony to sink in. In every way he seems to be a perfect figure of the intellectual classes - a fine resume, a calm tone, and praise from peers to prove it.
But then one reads the forums his magazine has. One notes something about his supporters - the people who sing his praises. They are all, to a person, among the most grotesque of shills for the right wing. Their diction starts out as faux-erudite, but rapidly descends to accusations that everyone to the left of Ayn Rand is a Nazi plotting to kill Jews and that everyone agrees that everything is Clinton's fault. I am not joking, the accusations are direct quotes. And yet, they take time out to sing the praises of what Michael Kelly has done in moving The Atlantic Monthly to the right.
And they are not wrong. Michael Kelly has relentlessly shilled for the executive branch. He has tried to soft sell stripping America of legal protections in the constitution as a "rebirth of liberalism". It is Orwellian at its peak. After all, in Orwell's Air Strip one - different grades of propaganda are produced for different classes. There is nothing more Orwellian than the attempt by the higher grades of those propaganda rags to create an artificial distinction which is based no more than on the grain of the words and the paper. He has brought on board right wing hatchet man PJ O'Rourke, and is pushing an article that is attempting to turn the World Trade Center into a new Gettysburg battleground - rather than what it is, a monument to, at least, gross incompetence - a pit dug by an executive branch not doing its duty.
He is proud of his work.
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How times have changed. Some three years ago I was kicked off of the Atlantic Monthly's forum. My sin? Praising Phillip Roth's American Pastorale as being a consummate example of Roth's control of time and irony. At the time the Atlantic Monthly had published a sneering self-congratulatory pile of paragraphs by one Ralph Lombreglia that took a dismissive tone to the work, without ever really examining it. Instead he talked about how he, and his jazz collection, represented the finest in contemporary thought. My own essay was grounds for exile. Roth's novel, deservedly I still feel, was the most acclaimed of his in years, and won acclaim from a variety of critics, many of whom were not generally receptive to his work. That was then. Censorship had the narrow purpose of pushing one writer and his editor friend.
Now however, it is impossible for those who push right wing ideology to keep their hands clean. They are protected by a growing fear among the scribbling classes of being "freeped". Several writers I have spoken with describe the same experience - their email box is locked for weeks. Friends and coworkers cannot send them mail. Sources get frustrated, superiors wonder why urgent requests go unheeded. And still the flow of hate mail continues. The difference between the Michael Kelly's of this world and the Matt Drudges can be reduced to two specifics: diction and pretension.
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I pick this specific example - but, honestly, we can all list many others. Lawrence Kudlow of the Wall Street Journal and CNBC is virtually screaming for war, and has been an apologist for every single corporate scandal. He has his own show. Andrew Sullivan was once editor of the New Republic; he has become a self-parody of screaming hate, as if Clinton personally infected him with HIV. And yet, he is still referred to as if he were an objective journalist.
More and more often people refer to "the mainstream" press with the words in quotes - whether real or verbal abuses that show that while the word is wrong, it is the word we have used to refer to them. Now, it is empty of its meaning, and is merely a label. Thucydides warned of what happened when "words have lost their meaning". We would be better to call it the "money stream" press; at least, that describes what drives it.
This is not an unusual situation. Periodically the holders of privilege - not money or wealth per se, but the ability to flout, because of their connections, the normal laws of economics, ethics and law that the rest of us must subscribe to - realize that they cannot hold that privilege without the cooperation of everyone else. They then go out to enforce that cooperation as their "right". The most glaring example was, of course, the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dredd Scot decision - there was no such thing as having ones hands clean of slavery, everyone had to enforce slavery, whether they believed in it or not. Until that moment, many who hated slavery - but felt bound to uphold it as the law - thought they could wash their hands of the sin. The day that illusion crumbled, was the day that abolition became a reality. The pretense that one could argue for a clean "States' Rights" and not be preaching whips and chains for human beings crumbled with it.
We have had other moments. A generation ago the American people realized that segregation was not something that a few backward Southern counties indulged in. It was in the urban centers of New York, Chicago and Boston - and if segregation was to remain anywhere, it would have to be condoned everywhere. Slowly, it grew socially unacceptable to be an overt bigot. The N word - once condoned or tolerated, became the mark of the pariah.
The same has become true now, the delusion that what thousands of Freep (their own word for themselves) do can be ignored, or that those who are on the "clean" right wing can pretend to have their hands clean of it is passing quickly. It is the terror that the Freep produce that helps clamp down on criticism, it creates a pervasive dishonesty. All unethical regimes depend on this hypocrisy - they demand that their thugs - whatever the shirt color - be given free reign, and then pretend that their own words, spoken in this poisoned environment, are accepted solely based on their merits.
"The Freep Fornicate with Sheep" - I wrote this prhase to describe how there would not be the raving lunatic right wing, without the implicit protection of the more acceptably clad press. It is this press that refuses to tell mainstream American what, exactly, the executive branch believes in, and how, exactly, it manages to get its way. It looks away from the occasional ugly roadside accident, and so, protects this vital prop to the right wing. Each time an announcer ignores the obvious screaming lunatic undercurrent to the words pouring into the public discourse, it is an example of someone opening up and saying "baaa!"
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Years ago Molly Ivins lampooned Bush's Harken deal. JH Hatfield's book was burned, and then buried by the press. And yet, Krugman's account of Bush's Harken involvement contains only one fact - revealed since - that was not in Hatfield's "The Fortunate Son," and Hatfield mentioned the document that fact was found in as being suspiciously withheld from the public. The truth is that the accusations about George Bush Jr's misdeeds were reported by players who were relegated to the fringe, because they refused to smile at the Michael Kelly's, Andrew Sullivan's and Lawrence Kudlow's of this world and smile. They had the courage to see that the anti-government bigotry of the libertarians, the anti-secular bigotry of the theocratic right, and the anti-law bigotry of those who were intent on raiding the public coffers - were just that - forms of bigotry. No different than hatred of African Americans, Jews, Irish, "potential communists", German-Americans, Japanese Americans, Roman Catholics or divorced women were at other moments in our nation's history.
The truth is that for America to heal, there must be not "reform" but "Restoration". For there to be Restoration, the bigotry that has been so successfully deployed by the right wing must be made socially unacceptable. It will take a generation to turn the tables. It has always taken at least a generation to finally make clear that some supposed points of view, are really rationalizations for hatred. And mindless hatred is a cancer in a free and democratic society. Mindless hatred causes people feel it is right to fly jet planes into cities, it causes people to feel it is right to riot to stop votes from being counted, it causes people to feel that it is necessary to write that Americans do not have the right to vote.
Until now, many of us who have been against the current status quo have acted as if protest would change matters. But protest only works if there is a system capable stopping in its tracks when one man, one asks "have you no shame?" It only works when there are people willing to take on a president who is at 75% in the polls, and ask "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" This cannot happen as long as we have a discourse which is infected by the cancer of hate politics from the right. It cannot happen as long as those who push the crypto-euphemisms of it are smiled upon and treated as if they are acceptable.
Let us face the truth - if the standards that GW Bush Jr. demanded in his Wall Street speech had been in place in 1990, he would be in jail now, and he would have been forced to return his profits from an inside sale that he ought to have known was illegal. He would be just another broken swindler in a Texas prison, turning big rocks into little rocks, as punishment for turning a big fortune into a very small one. A nation that can permit this has no shame, and already knows what the President lied about and when he lied about it.
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Those of us on the outside, the one time fringe, must realize that people cannot trust what they read in the once "mainstream" press. And they are voting with their dollars. Those of us on the outside must now hold ourselves to a higher standard - the standard of truth that was once expected of CBS News or The New York Times. That is not to say that bringing forward as yet unexplained facts is to cease - far from it, these unexplained facts will often prove to be the telling detail that unravels the carefully constructed fictions that are passed off as news. But the example I would give is the work by writers like the late Mr. Hatfield, who put every rumor on the table, and yet, were able to distinguish those which were speculation and hearsay, versus those which were credible and substantive.
It is easy to look at the other side and enumerate their sins and failings. That is not enough, this is not a case of reminding good people who have gone astray, but replacing people who are irrevocably compromised. The urgent necessity we must place upon our own burden, is to rise to the occasion, and become the press that we once took for granted. Because if we do not become that press, no one else will do it.