The critique of critics has long been that however accurate their targeting of ineptitude, fraud, camouflaged catastrophe, and other horrors, they offer no cure for the diagnosed disease. Since my focus is on lying and deception, seeking the truth would seem to be the cure, but of course that is too simple. What is the truth? How do we get at it? More crucially, how do we get people, citizens, to care about it?
It all depends on circumstances, but most often reliable sources are to be found if we look hard enough and the very search may provide the key to discernment, the 24/7 bullshit detectors we all need. And to understand our predicament is at least to know that we have a predicament., when we must daily face propaganda designed to disguise, deflect and distract any recognition of the status quo as dangerous, unjust, and shamelessly treacherous over time.
The most difficult part of the task is to root out factoids, hundreds, even thousands of pebbles of mischaracterization, deliberately seeded over the media landscape and embedded in discussions of other topics. They then form the vocabulary of straight-up reporters and journalists who must assume some of what they write as common background.
Thus, the Clinton Health Plan becomes the “failed Clinton Health Plan” with the subtext that the failure was in the plan and not in the efficacy of the multi-million dollar campaign against it. Once it is announced we are “at war” with terrorism, we have opened the door to Lawyer Yoo, Guantanamo, and the big muddy we find ourselves in.
So, we have to pull back and describe things accurately and thus freshly. Peter Baker, writing in yesterday’s NYT Magazine about “The Education of the President” made these comparisons and implied equivalencies:
In covering the last three presidents, I have watched as each has been tested, albeit in very different circumstances — Clinton’s impeachment over false testimony under oath about an affair with a White House intern, Bush’s drive to begin a war that would drag on for years at enormous cost and Obama’s struggle to turn around the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They are starkly variable crises, but some dynamics are familiar: presidents who live and die by polls insist they are not important when they fall; they argue that they are focused on principle, not politics, when it’s almost always a mixture of both; they acknowledge difficulties but say they will pass; they portray themselves as courageous when flying against public opinion; they complain that the news media distort the situation and fuel division; they blame their opponents for practicing the politics of destruction and obstruction.
Hard to disagree with this “big picture of the plight of presidents.” But wait a minute, was “Bush driving to begin a war” anything at all like a received trial with merely altered circumstances? Did Bush have any idea what was at stake in the sense of the other (or any other) presidents? Was it not a drive to topple Saddam Hussein even at the cost of abandoning the bin Laden hunt? A test? Or an exploited opportunity. There are so many of these nits that are woven into the fabric of media discourse, that you have to pick on some if only to point out how prevalent and effective they are in keeping us from the truth. The rules of ancient rhetoric have long decreed that he who states the question wins the argument. In mediaworld, they who frame the context form the accepted mainstream view.
Most viewers and readers think they are savvy because they have heard of spin and spin doctors and spinmeisters, but this is to confuse the plumbers and plasterers with the architects, whose work we live in and accept as the world itself.
It is worth the trouble to break out into the fresh air and maybe let some back in. In doing so you find that you are not alone and that there is hope because there is honesty.