Posts Tagged ‘media’

Are you Hypnotized? Chris Matthews’ Mint

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I am uploading this mainly so I have it in future to use in media training.  This shows MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ disgust at Republican Michelle Bachmann’s refusal to answer questions.  Staying on message has its limits!


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Umbrage Contagion Alert! The Juan Williams Nontroversy

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

People who debase themselves by playing the role of “liberals” on Fox News disgust me, and Juan Williams is no exception.  But his firing is part of the broader umbrage crisis, especially among my comrades on the left, that shits me to distraction.

Williams, political analyst with National Public Radio (NPR) and Fox News,  said the following words on Fox a few days ago:

…when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.

Think Progress, a lefty blog, cut and spliced this single quote into a bite-size YouTube video and sent it hurtling through cyberspace.

As a result of the ensuing controversy, NPR cancelled their contract with Williams.

What amazing umbrage contagion!  First, Think Progress was offended presumably because a possible interpretation of what Williams said is that he is bigoted against Muslims.  Think Progress passed on its high dudgeon through the manifold arteries of the left-wing blogosphere to NPR who were offended enough to fire the man.  It doesn’t end there, of course.  This action by NPR triggered its own wave of offence-taking, this time by Fox News on behalf of Williams and red-blooded Americans who believe that thinking nasty thoughts about Muslims is not only acceptable but admirable.  Fox’s decision to make Williams their latest cause célèbre has predictably created political echoes: Darrell Issa, the Republican Congressman who will probably take over oversight of  NPR in January, Darrell Issa, is promising to shut the joint down.

Totally unnecessary hysteria, not to mention a waste of air time and column inches.

Juan Williams is a sort of moderate Conservative which made him a screaming lefty on Fox and a right-wing extremist on NPR.  An odd but useful hybrid on two opposite ends of the political/media spectrum.

First and foremost, Williams should not have been fired .  Taken in context, his comments were not particularly offensive. During the same interview, he decried Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News blowhard, for treating all Muslims as terrorists.  He quite neatly encapsulated the absurdity of the O’Reilly “same brush” approach this way:

Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.

Williams is describing as “crazy” the set of opinions — attributed to him from the same interview — that got him fired.

The offending comments are also subject to a much more lenient interpretation in the first place.

  1. The phrase “they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims” represents a critical nuance.  I feel the same way: when I was in KL last year, the millions of Muslims in my midst didn’t worry me one bit, but when I retired to the hotel and found myself surrounded by Arab Muslims in the full paraphernalia, I tensed a little.  Sue me.
  2. Why is admitting to a visceral reaction to visibly committed Muslims such a high offense anyway?    I He was talking specifically about being on a plane, which understandably adds a level of anxiety given recent history.
  3. The comments by the Times Square bomber – “Brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun. Consider me only a first droplet of the flood that will follow me” – are objectively intimidating so Williams is hardly a bigot  for being intimidated by them.

NPR should give Williams his job back, partly because they should and partly to shut Fox the fuck up.

I’ve said it before and I will say it a million times before I’m done:  can everyone just calm their nostrils?

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Prepare to be Offended

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

During the course of arguing that New Zealanders are too easily offended, I have been mocked for using “quasi academic dribble [sic.]” in the form of phrases like  hypersensitive umbrage-taking.  Point taken, so I will keep this one simple.  I read a story online just now that shone a light on the issue again.  The link is at the end, but here is the movie trailer treatment.

It sparked anger.

It was met with gasps and silence

It disgusted someone so much he walked out.

He was angered.

“It was a racist comment based on ignorance.” he said,

To the victim, it was distressing.

“It hurt us quite a bit.”

“We still hurt about it.”

The guilty party called it an absolute tragedy.

Another called it highly offensive and disappointing.

Yet another agreed it was both distressing and disappointing.

If you want to get to the bottom of this disappointing, distressing, disgusting, racist, ignorant, hurtful, gasp-, silence- and walk-out-inducing (absolute) tragedy, follow the LINK.

WARNING:  It contains material that may underwhelm some readers.

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Misfired Hyperbole: Henry Resignation Not a Freedom of Speech Issue

October 14, 2010 9 comments

Deborah Hill Cone claims in the NZ Herald that the Paul Henry resignation represents an affront to freedom of speech and speaks to a disturbing undercurrent of intolerance in NZ society. She even claims that a million Kiwis choose to live abroad because partly in response to this.

This is a pretty good example of misfired hyperbole. First up, I actually agree, in broad terms, with Hill Cone’s argument. New Zealand, for a long time, has been far too thin-skinned to allow a sufficiently robust public discourse. This is often laid at the doorstep of “political correctness” (yawn) and the Helenistas who imposed it on the country for most of the past decade. There is something to this, but it misses a critical point: New Zealand’s culture of hypersensitive umbrage-taking is a direct offshoot of the excessive and detrimental politeness hard-wired into Kiwis.

What is often derided as PC-gone-mad (yawn) is actually as much a product of painfully good manners as anything else. Even New Zealanders of the radical right-wing, anti-PC (yawn) fringe would, I bet you, apologize to when someone on the NYC subway stands on their toes.

I am not denying that there is an ideological component to New Zealand’s version of political correctness (yawn). Of course there is. The Waikato University types have a very definite political agenda to soft-cockify the nation — but, absent the right breeding conditions, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. My argument is simply that New Zealand’s endemic over-politeness provides exactly such conditions.

Hill Cone is delving into rich and productive territory but she misses the chance to say anything particularly useful.

Freedom of speech is not the issue here. No-one, not even “Dr” Brian Edwards, is saying that Henry doesn’t have the freedom, or legal right, to say pretty much whatever he likes about the Governor-General.

This doesn’t mean he can’t be forced to resign for saying it. Henry doesn’t have a constitutional right to a job for life. By conflating his resignation with broad freedom of speech arguments, Hill Cone’s post loses credibility and punch.

The real question is cultural, not legal. Is it a good thing that New Zealand society is such that Henry had no choice but to resign? Whatever we think of Henry (which is not much, in my case), Hill Cone and I agree that the answer is “no”. Since there is no shortage of good arguments in our favour, it’s a shame Hill Cone, given her platform, neglected to use any of them.

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The Age “Dirt Unit” Story Breaks My Heart

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

From my current base in New York, I make a point of staying in touch with events back home, by which I mean both Melbourne and Wellington. I read voraciously, and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter fill in the gaps. To invoke a geek-chic phrase from The Social Network, I consider myself “wired-in”.

But, in important ways, I cannot avoid the tyranny of distance. For one thing, all the surfing and tweeting and Facebooking in the world won’t replace the experience of actually being in a place when it comes to the important art of vibe-reading. Take the example of the Paul Henry scandal in New Zealand that I wrote about yesterday — despite reading blogs, newspaper articles and Twitter feeds on the subject, I know I am missing how the story is really playing; how it is interacting, so to speak, with the zeitgeist. This is a good example because the story revolves around allegations of racism, so it is inevitable that the published vibe is at odds with the actual vibe because everyone is tiptoeing around the subject.

This zeitgeist-reading problem is worse in Australia than New Zealand, I suspect, because their news outlets are far more interested in manufacturing the vibe through pushing particular political agenda and editorial judgments. Take Murdoch’s Australian newspaper which, if I were to read it at face value, would lead me to believe that the predominant concerns of everyday Australians are:

  • The conspiracy among climate scientists aimed at sending Australia back to the economic stone-age;
  • The plot to socialize the world by Obama and his henchmen on the Australian left;
  • The strategic shortcomings, tactical mishaps and endemic corruption of federal and state Labor governments;
  • Noel Pearson’s awesomeness.

This doesn’t match at all with the top concerns of Australians which are:

  • Housing prices
  • Footy
  • Master Chef

When I arrived in Australia in 1998, I thought the Age newspaper in Melbourne was spectacularly good. To this day, it is my default paper of choice — this is all but demographically pre-determined since I am an inner-city leftie with decidedly homosexual leanings. But, like all Age readers I have ever met, it breaks my heart every single day.

There is not enough capacity on the world-wide-web to contain the full extent of my disappointment at the Age newspaper, but Tuesday’s lead story by Royce Millar does a neat job of summing it up:

Labour unit digs up dirt

VICTORIAN taxpayers are footing the bill for a secretive operation run out of Premier John Brumby’s office aimed at discrediting Coalition MPs and Greens candidates in the lead-up to next month’s state election.

Shock! Horror! Call the Governor! Prorogue the Parliament! Ready the handcuffs!

I don’t want to dwell too much on this point because I trust it is obvious: conducting opposition research within a political office is not a crime and it is not even remotely newsworthy. If the public service, and not a political office, were using taxpayer funds to research opposition politicians, then Royce Millar would have a genuine scandal on his hands. If the Premier’s office were using resources to dig dirt on enemies within his own Labor Party, then stop the presses by all means. But accusing political staff of — what? corruption? — for undertaking run-of-the-mill opposition research should be of no greater news value than reports of birds flying, fish swimming or paint drying.

Millar has spiced up his piece admirably by the tabloidesque use of inflammatory language and sentences like this:

[The Premier’s Office] uses expensive corporate investigators to probe the affairs of political opponents, in particular Mr Baillieu. It is not clear who pays for this work, taxpayers or the Labor Party. Another possibility is that it is done free of charge as an undeclared donation to the Labor cause.

That last sentence is so naughty that the News of the World would hesitate. Another possiblity? He could add the sentence “a further possibility is that the work is being funded by narcotics and human trafficking” without making it substantively worse journalism than it already is.

As a taxpayer in a parliamentary democracy, I hope that all sides spend a good deal of their time and resources checking up on the other side. Perhaps if Royce Millar and his colleagues at the Age spent more time holding politicians to account, rather than “exposing” politicians for practicing politics and fluffing bullshit non-stories like this one, political staff could direct their focus elsewhere.

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Brian Edwards and the Republic of (E)ire

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Provocative TVNZ breakfast presenter Paul Henry is in hot water for racist comments about NZ’s Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand, who is of Indian parentage and whose term is about to expire.  “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time,” Henry asked of Prime Minister John Key, who was appropriately taken aback, “are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?”

Paul Henry’s reputation revolves around saying precisely this kind of outrageous thing.  He called Susan Boyle “retarded”, for example, and made fun of a female Greenpeace activist for having facial hair.  You get the picture: champagne comedy.

The GG slur has dominated headlines in NZ for the past 24-hours, and much outrage is ensuing.

Veteran broadcaster “Doctor” Brian Edwards, an Irishman who moved to New Zealand when he was deemed to have an inadequate sense of humour, was interviewed in the NZ Herald about the Henry comments:

Dr Edwards said he was a good friend of Sir Anand and found the comments “doubly offensive” for that reason. “He couldn’t talk about a more delightful, charming and wonderful born and bred Kiwi.”

Dr Edwards said TVNZ should look at itself and ask whether it was worth keeping Henry. “He’s offended a whole lot of people before, but they weren’t in the same calibre as Sir Anand.”

I am outraged by two aspects of Dr Edwards’ outrage.

  1. Edwards is “doubly” offended by Henry because the GG is a good friend.  I am fuming at this vile favouritism!  In effect, Edwards admits he would be only 50 percent as outraged if the offended person were a stranger.  This clearly discriminates against the nearly 4 million Kiwis who are not friends of Brian Edwards and yet could conceivably find themselves offended by Paul Henry.
  2. And how about Edwards’ suggestion that this is a worse-than-usual crime because the people usually insulted by Henry are “not in the same calibre as Sir Arnand”? In Brian Edwards’ sick mind, the level of anger he feels at Henry’s aspersions is directly related to the calibre of person at whom they are directed.  According to this formulation, Henry can insult low-calibre types — Susan Boyle does creep into mind here — to his heart’s content without risking the ire of Edwards or his ilk. It seems that only when Henry directs his attention to high-status individuals — especially when those people are on the Edwards Xmas card list —  that Edwards will find cause to summon a conniption.  This unequal application of fury by Edwards is sickeningly elitist.

As a low-calibre-Kiwi-non-Edwards-friend who is not at all “delightful, charming and wonderful”, I am offended.

Doubly, triply, multitudinously offended.

Edwards should resign, from his golf club if necessary.

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Bolt Case and the Culture of Umbrage

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Am I the only person of the left who finds this kind of litigation chilling?

Fair-skinned Aboriginals are suing Melbourne newspaper columnist and prize tool, Andrew Bolt, for blogs and articles where he suggests they are less authentically indigenous than their darker-hued brethren.

Understandably, they find these comments upsetting…but a court-case? Seriously?

Andrew Bolt is a bombastic fool and a racist to boot. His “by-the-numbers” right-wing diatribes are more offensive to me for their lack of original insight than anything else. Each week, he resurrects some tired old reactionary trope and bashes its carcass to a pulp — femo-nazis, the PC ‘police’, indigenous politics, law and order, blah fucking blah. He is interminably boring and utterly predictable. If he must be sued, please make it for bad writing and stale thinking.

Suing Bolt in this fashion is misguided and dangerous because (a) it is a twin assault on freedoms of speech and the press, (b) it awards Bolt martyr points and fires up his ditto heads and (c) it seems to concede that the so-called victims can’t beat Bolt on the merits of his specious and self-evidently idiotic argument.

This culture of umbrage will envelop us all, and the left must disentangle itself from it. It is a dead weight dragging us under.

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