Monday, February 13, 2012

Political Reality Checks--Whose News Do You Trust?

Dear Rob:
I read your recent e-mail about a neighbor of yours who had some negative comments about George Soros and MoveOn.org.  In it, you bemoan the fact that you “can’t believe anyone any more [because] they seem to twist everything to fit their agenda.”  I sympathize with the constraints to engaging in social and political discussions with ones neighbors in today’s heated climate.
Given your rather idyllic, rural existence, you also may feel a greater need to treat neighbors more gently than someone living in a more highly populated environment.  This particularly may apply to a neighbor who holds strong opinions divergent from yours:  the greater your  disagreement, the more you must weigh the value of either engaging him in some form of intellectual discourse, and risk being branded un-neighborly, or simply remaining a silent, and thus supportive, listener.
When I lived in central Pennsylvania, a fairly conservative part of that state, and especially when I drove up to Manheim to play tennis at my club there, I had to decide, daily, whether to talk politics and be the lone voice of progressive and liberal ideas or just play tennis!   Usually, I did the latter;  but as the 2008 elections neared, I took a certain delight in wearing my Obama cap when I played, for which I took a lot of flak.  This kept me on my toes on the doubles court, a bit like Lewis Carroll’s “Father William.” To wit:
"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"
"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."
All I can say is that you and your lovely wife have great educations and a breadth of experience that ought to buttress you somewhat from what appears to be a strain of vehement and radical conservatism in this particular neighbor.  All you can do is to believe in yourself.   But then, you also have access to the internet;  reliable sources there will provide you with a reality-check on almost any issue.
For example, your neighbor calls George Soros a "dangerous and frightening man."  Outside of the fact that Soros supports progressive and liberal causes, which your neighbor seems to hate, what does he know of the man?  Does he know that Soros gave away over $8 billion to the causes of human rights, public health, and education?  Can your neighbor really be against the promotion of such worthwhile causes?
Does he know that Soros played an instrumental role in helping Hungary, the country of his birth, to transition from communism to capitalism?  Certainly, your neighbor should applaud anyone who helped overturn a communist country (which I am sure ranks near the top of his list of hated things),  and then double his applause for one who led Hungary towards capitalism (which must rank at the top of things he reveres).
George Soros is also the creator and chairman of the Open Society Institute, which, beginning in 1993, was dedicated to promoting democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal and social reform to Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union;  its operations have also spread to other parts of the world, such as Africa.  I can imagine some die-hard communist calling Soros a “dangerous and frightening man,” but hardly any thoughtful and patriotic American citizen!
I’m not sure what your friend’s sources of information are.  A likely source is FoxNews--really more of a right-wing propaganda outfit than a real news source--and, as I see it, America’s equivalent for the sort of biased news reporting that Tass once fed to the citizens of communist Russia.  Another possible source could be statements made by some of our politicians who are stumping the country right now on the electoral road, saying whatever is expedient for the audience before them at any particular moment.
For example, I can imagine someone making generalized, negative remarks about George Soros in the way that Newt Gingrich has lately been tossing out derogatory references to Saul Alinsky, as if he were the devil incarnate.  Gingrich is smart enough to not say too much, but he regularly has been equating Obama with “the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.”  That’s all that his conservative base needs to hear--some guy with a funny name, Alinsky, is clearly a terrible threat to everything American.  Yet Alinsky, a community organizer and writer, has been compared to Thomas Paine as “one of the great American leaders of the nonsocialist left,” and the methods he developed have been embraced and applied by many people, including Newt Gingrich.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds you while also misinforming the public!
Then, again, your neighbor may be reading the work of such conservative bloggers as Selwyn Duke, who has called Soros “the Most Evil Man in America,”   or the highly conservative newspaper, Human Events, which published an article in April of 2011 titled “Top 10 Reasons George Soros Is Dangerous.”  Neither are reputable news sources.
Then there is MoveOn.org.  Your neighbor writes that he “has a lot against,” this organization which “is largely funded by George Soros.”   Right-wing pundits and bloggers constantly link MoveOn and Soros as if they were Siamese twins, but here is the reality.   MoveOn was started in 1998 by two entrepreneurs, Joan Blades and Wes Boyd.  It took its name from its original petition asking Congress to stop wasting valuable time and money, “censure President Clinton and move on.”  Now, during the 2004 election cycle, George Soros backed the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a Democratic 527 organization.  However, MoveOn.org stopped receiving any donations to its 527 organization after the 2004 election, and its primary funding has been from its members, whose average donation is ca. $50.00.  George Soros does not fund MoveOn.org.  That is the reality, no matter how often FoxNews and right-wing pundits say otherwise. 
Finally, your neighbor also sent you an article by Matthew Continetti on “Combat Journalism: Taking the Fight to the Left” and suggests that it offers a view of journalism today that he feels rings true.  Since I have been planning to write a blog post at some future date on what we could call the 4th Estate, I won’t respond to this article in any detail.
However, be aware that Continetti repeats a favorite conservative trope which holds that most journalists today are promoters of left-wing and progressive ideology, because today’s journalists must have college degrees and come out of graduate journalism programs.  What “hogwash!”  This falls into the same category as Rick Santorum’s call to all Christians to stop contributing to America’s institutions of higher learning because they brainwash and indoctrinate our children in liberal ideology.
Continetti then hails the rise of conservative journalism since the 1980s with The New York Post, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News, calling them a counter to the “biased news” of the New York Times, Washington Post, and (pre-Murdoch) Wall Street Journal.  He then concludes his piece by touting his own paper, the Washington Free Beacon, which ostensibly will reveal the real issues behind the news, or, as he writes, “the half that the elite media have taken such pains to ignore.”
Here is his conclusion:  At the Beacon, all friends of freedom will find an alternative to the hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole, and insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags on MSNBC and talk radio.  At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.”
It would seem to me that the most egregious examples of “hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, [and] paranoid hyperbole,” are to be found on FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh, The New York Post  and the Washington Times.   Simply put, the entire notion of a dominating liberal media is nonsense.  It is a phrase that has been repeated ad nauseam and daily for so many decades that people just assume it must be true.  It's not.  Select your news sources judiciously.
Stay well, my friend, and hold on to your solid, reasonable convictions; stay silent, if you must, in respect to your neighbors.  I always look forward to hearing from you.
Yours truly,  Tyko

1 comment:

  1. Lovely- thanks so much! You just grind away at the basic facts so terrifically well. I'd hate to find myself in the wrong intellectual yard, trying to shake your logic jaws off my pant leg. Ouch.

    Soros is a personal hero, so I want to inject my two cents. The first is that he expounded clearly and powerfully a theory key to modern capitalism and finance called reflexivity, which is grounded well in a philosophical approach called Ironism, which I explain in a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5ihlFVGA10 . Reflexivity makes really clear why the markets are unstable, always going too far in whatever direction they go. I've relied on reflexivity for 20 years of market analysis.

    The second point is that it is incredibly hard to give away money well. He articulates wisely the principles of excellent philanthropy, and is famous for doing amazing things with relatively small amounts of money. Saying he's done $8 billion doesn't even come close to enlightening us on all the good he's done. I'm not an expert at most of it, but he takes an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy that has been breathtakingly successful in eastern Europe with small amounts of money.

    I feel privileged to've lived in the same age George Soros. And yes, he's quite the liberal, which makes him an automatic target, one of the autobaddies they synthesize on the far right: ironically, his politics have so little to do with his value to society it's not even funny- AND most of his true contributions are most beneficial to the right (reflexivity, philanthropy theory)!! Anything he's done politically is a freaking blip to just his eastern European contribution alone.

    Thank you for doing what we all need to do with knee-jerk reactions from the anywhere, triggered simply because someone perceives a political difference and reacts to it. You've ground out some pretty tough facts to shake off, and I appreciate it. -S.

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