Sunday, January 10, 2010

Truth vs. Optics: Truth is the Casualty

Heard on John King's State of the Union program from CNN's Jessica Yellin:

“Lincoln notwithstanding [I love the ‘notwithstanding;’ it leaves the impression that Ms. Yellin has more than a superficial knowledge of U.S. history], the Republican Party has a different history and baggage” on civil rights. Okay, true statement, as far as it goes. But then the Anderson Cooper school of subjective reporting kicks in. It goes something like this: Truth is not the objective, parity is. And so a pseudo-scientist arguing for “intelligent design” gets equal time with a scientist explaining the truth about evolution. And history competes with revisionism, because if we don’t hear “the other side,” even if it’s patently false, CNN will hear complaints from THE STOOPID, which their suits don’t like.

And so, in the next part of her statement Yellin adds the Cooper qualifier: “. . . just as the Democrats have their own history and baggage on national security.” Tell us, Ms. Yellin, exactly what history is that? Is it the history of:
  • World War I (President Wilson, Democrat);
  • World War II (President Roosevelt, Democrat);
  • Korea (President Truman, Democrat);
  • Cuban Missile Crisis (President Kennedy, Democrat);
  • Cold War (Presidents Truman-D, Eisenhower-R, Kennedy-D, Johnson-D, Nixon-R, Ford-R, Carter-D, Reagan-R, Bush I-R: Four Democratic presidents and five Republicans who kept us out of a global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union);
  • Vietnam (Presidents Kennedy-D, Johnson-D who escalated the war, Nixon-R who started "Vietnamization" and de-escalation, and Ford-R who presided over the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North Vietnamese regime);
  • Bosnia (President Clinton, Democrat: The U.S. and its NATO allies successfully ended genocide and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, without a single American service personnel killed –- “the best indicator of success we could ever have,” according to Sen. John McCain on the very program in which Ms. Yellin shoved her foot down her throat -- resulting in a negotiated peace among the warring parties);
  • Iraq I (President Bush I-R, a limited war to liberate Kuwait and keep the oil lanes flowing to the West); and
  • Iraq II and Afghanistan. (President George W. Bush-R: This war of choice started by George W. Bush has passed Vietnam as the longest war in U.S. history. It ranks as the most catastrophic foreign policy disaster in our history as well. President Obama, as is so often the case with Democratic presidents, inherited the wars and ruined economy left by GWB and is in the process of cleaning up the Republican mess.)
That's the history of the wars, Ms. Yellin; tell us where the Democrats were less tough or less effective than Republicans. During World War II many Republicans were isolationists, and prominent right wingers such as Charles Lindbergh expressed open admiration for Hitler. The Republican Party, driven by its right wing much as it is today, made it a political cause to press FDR and the Democrats to stay out of the war, complicating assistance to Britain in its darkest hour of need, lest this betray our “neutrality.” We should be thankful that FDR and the Democrats (with some rational Republican support, yes) did the right thing then, just as the Democrats are presently doing the right thing with increased government spending, unpopular but necessary bailouts of the financial system and our auto industry, and healthcare reform.

Let's turn now to the baggage, Ms. Yellin. What baggage is it that Democrats have on national security? Was it President Clinton's botched intervention in Somalia early in his administration? How does that compare any less favorably with the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, under Ronald Reagan, which claimed the lives of hundreds of Marines and caused the U.S. to withdraw from Beirut with its tail between its legs? Have you conveniently forgotten who was president when we were hit on 9/11? Considering all of the ignored intelligence and warning signs, that dark day was the single worst “national security” failure in our nation's history. It was further compounded by George W. Bush's war of choice against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with its rising death toll of more than 4,000 American troops and tens of thousands of injured. The war has continued to bleed our national treasury, boosted Iran's power and nuclear ambitions, and vastly increased the number of terrorist recruits in the region, especially after Bush allowed OBL to escape Tora Bora when he diverted his attention to Iraq.

Is this your definition of not having baggage on national security issues, Ms. Yellin? If so, I will gladly take the Democratic Party's baggage and be thankful for it. But the larger problem, because it infects a broad swath of the electronic media, is its incapacity to process truth from Republican propaganda, history from gross Republican revisionism, fact from fiction, and reality from the perception of it. There’s a new buzzword for this that unfortunately has entered our national political lexicon: Optics.

Optics is the buzzword Republican propagandists and image shape shifters like Frank Luntz live and die for in the business. In the world of optics the truth is irrelevant; all that matters is the perception of what is the truth. Our political discourse has become a battle of who is best at twisting the facts and rolling the media. Historically, the Republicans own this battlefield.

Just recently, George Stephanopoulos had to eat crow when liberal bloggers blasted him for not correcting Rudy Giuliani’s colossal lie that we have not had a domestic terrorist attack during George W. Bush’s regime -- a Republican talking point. Would he have corrected himself had the bloggers not called him on it? Not likely, considering Stephanopoulos has made a career as a weekly network TV “interviewer” of providing a platform for unchallenged Republican talking points and propaganda that continued with the GMA Giuliani interview. On his last (?) Sunday show Stephanopoulos featured the odious partisan liar Liz Cheney on his roundtable discussion. The contrast with more serious journalists was jarring. It's not often that conservative George Will and liberal economist Robert Reich join in scolding Liz Cheney for outrageously accusing Democratic “elites” (whatever that means) of racism. I'm sure it plays well with the Teabaggers, though.

And today on John King’s State of the Union, Jessica Yellin characteristically dropped her offhand, ignorant remark regarding the Democratic Party's fictitious history and baggage on national security.

No matter how often we are reminded (most recently by Senator Al Franken) that Republicans are not entitled to their own facts, this reminder has obviously not filtered down to Jessica Yellin and much of our disgraced mainstream electronic media whose job it is, precisely, to report the facts. Were it not for the blogosphere and the advocacy TV journalism of the few (a journalism of necessity in the current environment of lies, i.e., optics), the truth would be in greater peril. Instead, because of these alternative means of communication providing a counterpoint to mainstream optics reporting, the truth may be the first casualty, but it is not the last. We should be thankful for small victories. Don’t get me wrong. Truth is not yet in balance, not as long as optics controls what is reported by the Yellins of this world in an increasingly visual medium. But the truth is still out there. Try as they might, it’s a tough thing to kill. For now, that’s the best we can do.

No comments: