With A Little Help From His (Media) Friends

December 10, 2010

From Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class:

Truth and news are not the same, as James W. Carey wrote. News is a signal that something is happening. It provides, in Carey’s words, “degenerate photographs or a pseudo-reality of stereotypes. News can approximate truth only when reality is reducible to a statistical table: sports scores, stock exchange reports, births, deaths, marriages, accidents, court decisions, elections, transactions such as foreign trade and balance of payments,”

“The divorce of truth from discourse and action – the instrumentalization of communication – has not merely increased the incidence of propaganda”…[It has also] “disrupted the very notion of truth, and therefore the sense by which we take our bearings in the world is destroyed.”

A minor case in point with Canoe Live’s coverage of yesterday’s executive committee meeting, and perhaps a window into how Sun Media’s going to deliver news programming to us when they get up and going on in the spring.

Ford and committee steamroll opposition

(You have to click the above link and then click again on the video feed to watch. My apologies. Couldn’t figure out how to just embed video. Yes, I am an idiot. Go ahead. Click away and watch. I’ll go and get another cup of tea and come back when you’re finished. No rush.)

OK. Done? Let’s go.

Straight off, five seconds in and the first face shown asking a tough question of the mayor is Councillor and Executive Committee member, Michael Thompson. See? The mayor’s executive committee are no patsies, viewers. No ‘yes’ men, they. They’re not going to simply roll over and do whatever the mayor wants. (Although, I believe, everything on the agenda passed unanimously.) The man is getting grilled! His EC is going to hold him accountable, don’t you worry. Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, facing some strong opposition today during the first executive committee meeting held under his leadership.

Councillors were not giving him any breaks, though, [shot of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday], hammering away at Ford to give specifics on promises he made throughout his campaign. Cut to the mayor giving the councillors specifics. I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your questions. Exactly! Although we didn’t hear the mayor give any specifics he made it perfectly clear that he answered the questions as clear as he could. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Oh, look. There’s Councillor Vaughan, stating he’s going to make sure the mayor keeps his campaign promises and fulfills his mandate. Blah, blah, blah.

Intro over, now discussion time between Canoe Live’s on air personality and Don Peat, Sun Media reporter, calling in live from City Hall.

Bingo Caller: So Don, this was a meeting [giggle, giggle] of the Executive Committee but unfortunately for Rob Ford, he also had to deal with some hecklers.

Boom! Just like that, Adam Vaughan is not a city councillor. He’s a heckler. While Peat points out to whatever her name is that, no, no, no. Adam Vaughan is a councillor, he has every right to attend executive committee meetings, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, it’s out there. In just one minute and twenty seconds, Sun Media elevates the mayor to the status of reasonable and accommodating politician (I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your question) and de-legitimizes his critics as nothing more than lowly hecklers.

The rest of the segment is really just filler, to give the appearance of delivering news and information. The mayor seems willing to forgo over $30 million in savings to pander to voters’ hatred of the Vehicle Registration Tax but, hey, he’s offered to cut his office budget by $70 000! So that’s, you know, actually no savings at all. In fact, it’s quite a significant loss of revenue.

But.. but, Mr. Peat points out, it is a 20% cut to the mayor’s office budget. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Put together with the 40% cut that the executive committee is proposing for councillors’s budget and you got yourself some significant savings. Nowhere the amount to make up for the shortfall in eliminating the VRT in January instead of September, still.. you gotta start somewhere, right?

Bingo Caller: But wait a second though, why is his [the mayor] budget only being cut by 20, 25% and theirs [giggle, giggle] being cut by 40? Good question, Bingo Caller. Don? Don Peat: His budget’s a lot bigger! You know, when we talk about the mayor’s office budget, we’re talking about the millions. When we talk about councillors’ office budgets, we’re talking about $50,000…

Right. So what you’re saying, Don Peat, is that because the mayor’s office budget is bigger than individual councillor budgets, you can cut a smaller percentage of his to have the same amount of savings in absolute dollars. Sounds reasonable enough although, a little semantic-y for a mayor who was elected to cut deep and cut often.

Yet, Mr. Peat doesn’t bother to explain that. Choosing instead to take the remaining time of the segment for one last dig at council, wondering if they are up to voting for the mayor’s proposed cuts, a second such reference in about 20 seconds. Or maybe, Mr. Peat wasn’t at all sure why the mayor was cutting only 20% from his budget but 40% from councillors’ budgets. The question was just posed to give the appearance of objectivity and offer up one last opportunity to tee up on the mayor’s opposition on council.

Why do I bring all this up? In the aftermath of Rob Ford’s election as mayor and his attack on such initiatives as Transit City, much as been made of the downtown elites’ inability and/or refusal to reach out to their fellow city dwellers in the inner suburbs and explain things to them. But as this segment from Sun Media shows, it’s not as easy as all that. When you’re contending with misinformation and outright propaganda that passes itself off as news, how does the truth or actual facts overcome it? As long as a significant portion of the electorate believe that they’re watching the news when they see something like this, it is going to be a long, uphill battle to ever convince them of anything.

deconstructively submitted by Cityslikr


Chris Hedges’ Bleak House

November 9, 2010

A commenter to a post from last week accused me of being “optimistic”. Downright Pollyannish compared to the likes of one Chris Hedges. Well, I never. Of all the nerve. I dwell in the darkness. No glass is full enough that I can’t see as half empty. Optimistic? How dare you, madam commenter!

Now, I am secure enough in my ignorance to admit that I wasn’t sure who this Chris Hedges was or anything about the book Death of the Liberal Class. A Google search followed and, well oh well, I have to admit that the commenter was absolutely correct in her assessment. I am a veritable Santa Claus, bringing joy and happiness to the wider world when put up against Chris Hedges. Where he’s seen fire and rain, I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

In my defense, I have not spent any time whatsoever in the world’s war torn hotspots like El Salvador back in the day, the former Yugoslavia back in the day, northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s violent suppression of Shia and Kurdish rebels in 1991. I did not leave a high profile post at the New York Times after receiving a formal reprimand from the paper for my denunciation of the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq. So the opportunity to truly blacken my soul and shrivel my heart has not been offered up to me as it has Mr. Hedges. To such a consummate professional as he, years and 1st person experience combine to provide a dark view. Me? A mere dilettante, an armchair cynic.

So I bought me a copy of Mr. Hedges Death of the Liberal Class from a locally owned, independent bookstore and set down to reading it. Since I’m only a couple chapters in, this isn’t any sort of review but the premise of the book goes something like this: the liberal class, consisting of the media, academia, labour movement and moderate religious institutions, historically acted as the “safety valve” that fought for, at least, “incremental reform” in the face of the vested interests of the “power elite”. But with the rise of the “corporate state”, Mr. Hedges claims that “the liberal class has distorted its basic belief systems to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization, and staggering income inequalities.” In so doing, it has “relinquished its moral authority” and ceased speaking for the working and middles classes, helping feed the anger that’s given rise to such movements as the Tea Party (and, dare I say it? Rob Ford here in Toronto.)

A dust jacket synopsis to be sure and I bring it up because, despite Chris Hedges’ pedigree including a Pulitzer prize, such a position as he takes in this book will surely relegate him to the fringe bin. That place we put people who spout uncomfortable ideas and question the conventional wisdoms we as a society operate under. It already occurred when Hedges appeared on The Agenda a couple weeks back. During the debate segment of the show, fellow media liberal class member Tony (“The World’s Not Perfect But…”) Keller politely dismissed Hedges’ book treatise as too conspiratorial. Implicit in that argument is the sentiment, and where’s your tinfoil hat, Chrissie?

Why I find all this interesting enough to write about is that at the same time I was discovering Chris Hedges, in an unrelated matter I coincidentally encountered what is now referred to as the Powell Memo. Written in 1971 by Lewis Powell just a couple months before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, it was sent to Eugene Sydnor, a Chamber of Commerce mucky-muck, and outlined a battle plan for beating back the opponents of America and its free enterprise system. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility. There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy. But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

The irony of this memo is rich and the disengenuousness of it deep. Before assuming his position on the bench, Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer whose firm represented various tobacco companies. Powell himself sat on the board of Phillip Morris. So yeah, the 60s were a bad time for businesses like tobacco (Damn you, 1963 Surgeon General’s Report!), as government slowly interceded in tying their hands in peddling their poisonous products and marketing them as ‘healthy alternatives’. Powell expresses special disdain for the likes of consumer advocate Ralph Nader and thought it high time for right thinking American business leaders to stand tall against the creeping insidiousness of anti-consumerism and environmentalism.

More interesting about the Powell memo (or at least, more relevant to this discussion) are the pages and pages written, targeting the culprits (**cough** Communists! **cough**) of said attack on the American way of life and the remedies to combat it. Campus, media and the pulpit. That there would be a huge overlap with Chris Hedges’ pillars of the liberal class. Academia, media and moderate religious institutions. So three decades ago influential business leaders targeted what they saw as opponents of free enterprise (“The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom”) and set out to reverse their influence.

Whether or not they succeeded in doing so is not the point of this post. Clearly writers like Chris Hedges think they did. But to dismiss his arguments purely on the grounds of being ‘conspiratorial’ as Tony Keller did is lazy and suspect. Mr. Hedges has earned his dim world view by engaging it on the ground. Those disagreeing with him based solely on the notion of his ideas being too fantastical really only serve to prove the point of his book. We purporting to be of the liberal class are our own worst enemies.

liberally submitted by Cityslikr