Links and Comments: Fox News; Jonathan Haidt; Scientology; Paul Krugman; US and Israel

First, an essay at Salon not just about Fox News and Bill O’Reilly but about Why the pundit’s fabrications are almost beside the point.

Key point: there isn’t enough ‘real’ news to sustain a 24-hour new network.

That is, the rise of cable news 20 years ago (along with, I would think, the ascendance of the Internet, which lets people read only the news that confirms their biases), have indirectly created this fractured American cultural divide, which has led to our virtually-dysfunctional political system.

Put simply, there wasn’t enough “real” news to sustain a 24-hour cycle. So cable news relied on two things to fill the hours: time spent hyping future stories and pundit reviews of news items. Both of these changes depended more on fear than facts to keep viewers tuned in. Anchors babbled on about worrying news stories, then pundits hyped them up with hysteria.

But that was just the beginning. The fear era of news was about to get much worse. In 1996, Roger Ailes founded the Fox News Channel. The station was the first explicitly conservative TV news network and its mission was to offer a partisan spin on the news. The Fox News angle was more than just a conservative take on the news. It was fear-based programming that far outpaced anything, in terms of scaremongering, that had been on television prior. Fox didn’t just shun the facts as liberal bias, it also taught viewers to be afraid. Particularly of anyone who disagreed with their extreme right views.

This is why Eric Burns, who hosted Fox’s media critic show Fox News Watch for a decade, recently explained in an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter that Fox News is more like a cult than an actual news channel. He pointed out that O’Reilly’s lies had been well documented since Keith Olbermann went after him when he hosted a show for MSNBC. But no one cared, Burns said, because for Fox News viewers consider anything that contradicts the fear and hype they consume as liberals propaganda. There simply are not enough facts to change their minds since the only thing they trust is Fox News. “To the Fox News cult, this kind of thing doesn’t matter,” said Burns. “It’s a lie from the liberal media.”

Which is to say, cable news (and to some extent all journalism) creates its own culture in order to justify its own existence. Its hidden motivation is: Pay attention to these stories because if you don’t we’ll be out of a job! Conservative sources like Fox News play off the paranoia among many that government is incompetent, scientists are elitist eggheads, and everyone unlike you is a danger to your way of existence. And Liberal sources play off that characterization of conservatives — with some justification, it seems to me.


Noted: A link to a YouTube TED talk by Jonathan Haidt, about The moral roots of liberals and conservatives. Haidt wrote a book, The Righteous Mind, on this subject, that is on my to-read shelf.


Salon: a long interview with Lawrence Wright about Scientology’s “broken community,” and the complicity of Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Wright wrote a book about the Church of Scientology that is now basis for a documentary film, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

Wright notes various parallels between Scientology and Mormonism, comments about the Amish, comments about how L. Ron Hubbard’s original condemnation of homosexuality have disappeared from current editions of his books, and makes some comments about religion in general:

Craziness doesn’t have anything to do with how successful a religion might be. Religions prosper in large part because of the communities that they create. If you look at Mormonism, it’s a very appealing community. It takes care of itself, there are active charities, it’s got a successful work ethic. Whatever you might think about the authenticity of their theology or their history, it’s immaterial in terms of how the religion itself actually functions. With Scientology, it has a very strange set of beliefs, but right now it has an incredibly dysfunctional and broken community. That’s the difference. Scientologists are told not to look at anything critical of the church, most of them don’t. They put blinders on. It’s our hope that some of those blinders will come down and Scientologists will take a look, and then try to change the religion themselves. There’s very little that we can do other than bring awareness to people about what’s happening.


Politics: Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist who takes, what seems to me, a reality-based approach to economics (i.e., look at history, look at what’s working or not in other countries), as opposed to the ideology-based approach of… Republicans.

For example: NYT: Partying Like It’s 1995.

About Republican warnings of inflation should Obama administration policies go into effect.

Needless to say, those warnings proved totally wrong. Soaring inflation never materialized. Job creation was sluggish at first, but more recently has accelerated dramatically. Far from seeing a rerun of that ’70s show, what we’re now looking at is an economy that in important respects resembles that of the 1990s.


Still, we’re now adding jobs at a rate not seen since the Clinton years. And it goes without saying that low inflation combined with rapid job growth makes nonsense of all those predictions that Obamacare, or maybe just the president’s bad attitude, would destroy the private sector.

Now, obviously both ends of the political spectrum have their ideologies. But for anyone paying attention to the evidence about the real world, the ideology of the conservatives seems far more out of touch with reality than that of the liberals.


Politics and culture: It seems to be an unquestioned given that the US supports anything Israel might do, never mind the very difficult historical and political issues in that part of the world, and never mind how needlessly aggressive Israel has been in picking fights (building new settlements in disputed territory). [As far as I can tell, ‘settlements’ mean subdivisions.]

The largely unspoken justification for this policy is religious. Frank Bruni, in last Sunday’s New York Times, spells this out. Christians Loving Jews: Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner and America’s Evangelicals.

Some evangelical Christians’ interest in Israel reflects an interpretation of the Bible’s prophetic passages that’s known as premillennial dispensationalism. It maintains that the End of Days can play out as God intends only if Jews govern Israel and have reconstructed a temple on the Temple Mount, where there’s now a mosque.

But just a subset of evangelicals subscribe to that. Others are motivated by their belief, rooted in scripture, that God always intended Israel for Jews and that honoring that and keeping Israel safe is a way of honoring God. God’s blessing of America, they feel, cannot be divorced from America’s backing of Israel.

This might be the scariest, and most unrecognized, influence of religion on American politics.

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