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Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Nixonesque" and "Nixonian" "Shades of Nixon" in the Obama Administration

Richard Nixon (Movement Republicanism's frowny-faced obverse of smiley-faced, but equally toxic, Ronald Reagan) once famously declared that "The Press is the Enemy." It is curious that Nixon's name is attaching now to President Obama, of all people, as figures across the mainstream corporate media terrain rush to the defense of "Fox News" precisely because the President has recognized that this partisan media organization has repeatedly and publicly declared him to be The Enemy.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, for example, has adorably insinuated (Cooper is incapable of professional gravitas and has wisely opted to be interminably adorable instead as the next best thing) that there may be "shades of Nixon" and his infamous "enemies list" in the Obama Administration's conduct. It is worth noting that there really is a difference between creating an enemies list and noticing that your own name is at the top of somebody else's enemies list and acting accordingly.

It is also worth noting that in acting according to this recognition, the Obama Administration has not ceased to admit Fox News reporters to the White House Press Room, nor ceased to call on Fox News there, nor established any general policy to shut out Fox requests for interviews with Administration figures. That is to say, Obama hasn't done anything but publicly recognize what Fox repeatedly crows about equally publicly themselves, and is simply refusing to perpetuate the fantasy that they don't know what everybody already knows about Fox as an opportunistic propaganda and activist organizational arm of Movement Republicanism.

It is also worth noting, as Jamison Foser of Media Matters for America has pointedly done, that while figures like The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus and NPR's Ken Rudin have sniffed out something worrisomely "Nixonian" or "almost Nixonesque," respectively, in the frankly flabbergastingly obvious recognition by the President, by White House communications director Anita Dunn, by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and others in the Adminsitration that have said that "Fox is less a news organization than a partisan political operation" none of these would-be respectable mainstream media figures seemed eager to draw comparably Nixonian parallels to the, you know, blatantly literally Nixonian moves of our previous President George W. Bush as he illegally wiretapped citizens, and journalists and peaceful progressive activists in particular, and broke laws in efforts to destroy his "enemies" like Joe Wilson who told inconvenient truths undermining deceptive rationales for his killer clown administration's pre-emptive war adventures or US Attorneys who wouldn't play ball in their partisan election fraud schemes.

Hell, it's also worth noting that the partisan propaganda and activist organizational media formation of "Fox News" is in fact just the latest chapter in the radioactively partisan career of Roger Ailes, a career whose earliest chapter was his doing, on a smaller scale, precisely the same thing he is doing now with Fox for, yes, you guessed it, quite literally, Richard Nixon, whose media consultant he was. Nothing "Nixonian" or "Nixonesque" to see there, apparently, folks.

It would seem to me that in refusing to pretend that Fox is News President Obama is actually declaring himself to be a friend to the Press as an indispensable institution, insisting on the distinctions without which legitimate News cannot do its proper and vital work in a democratic Nation, contributing to the self-education of the citizenry and holding authoritative institutions and persons accountable for what they do in our names.

I daresay that many of those stenographers and gossips who reside in the tattered precincts of mainstream would-be news media know better themselves than Obama does how little their own efforts rise to the standard he is defending in defending them from identification with the likes of Fox News. No doubt they know better themselves how little difference there is, or could easily come to be, between the shallow insinuating opportunism and hyperbole of Fox and what they are themselves capable of and fit for. I don't doubt in the least that in defending Fox from public exposure as a Movement Republican partisan activist and propaganda organization these other marginally more legitimate news organizations are defending themselves in their kinship in the downward slide to becoming themselves what Fox already is.


Impertinent Weasel said...

Things are following the usual pattern. Fox is grabbing market share as an 'opposing voice' to the Dems, who are in control. Guys like Beck, who were ratings losers for years until Obama was elected, are now cashing in.

This is not unlike how Rush Limbaugh got his start. He shot to the top of the political media as an opposing voice to Clinton. This was before big Internet media, and before cable news personalities really caught on.

On the left, John Stewart was a somewhat funny stand-up guy with a popular teeny-bopper talk show on MTV until 1999 when he got the Daily Show gig. What great timing for his career that Bush stole the election from Gore, providing 8 years of endless hilarity as material for his comedic news show. Stewart is not a minor figure these days.

Opposing voices are always engaged in some form of iconoclasm. In this case it's political iconoclasm. The more the world fawns over Obama, the more some people just want to see him made fun of and knocked-down a few notches -- Nobel Prize and all. Nobody gets off on iconoclasm like Americans. Fox is entering its heyday, I think. And it's a good thing, too. Conservatives can be the opposing voice all they want. All they have to do is keep losing elections.

Now who would have an objection to that?

Dale Carrico said...

To identify Stewart and Beck as "oppositional" is to disregard for one thing that Stewart has always aimed a considerable portion of his derision at the absurdity of media coverage at an institutional level (including its lazy over-reliance of false equivalences, for example), and also to disregard that Beck's opposition is not confined to the expression of opinions (which, however silly or ugly they may be, he has every right to express and which we who disapprove of them have good reason to prefer be exposed in and to daylight) but also takes the form of active organization to undermine the legitimate elected government of the United States. I do not disagree with everything you say or imply here by any means, but I think your critique assumes too soon a level of generality at which differences that make a difference vanish from view to no good purpose.

As I side note I do want to add as someone who likes President Obama and wept with joy when he won the Presidency and likes him more now than I did then (despite disagreements with him on many issues not least his apparent timidity on lgbtq issues that impact me very directly and apparent hesitancy to disengage from warmaking in Afghanistan and Pakistan that impact us all) and regard him as likely the greatest president of my lifetime and very much the President since FDR who has inhabited most pragmatically the left wing of the actually possible, I must say I disapprove in the strongest possible terms the attribution of words like "fawning" to describe attitudes like mine toward my President. I know the dictionary definition of that word and it is a stupid and insulting and self-defeating misuse in my opinion. If you did not intend to insinuate that my qualified but eager support of the President is "fawning" then I'm sure you'll forgive me for jumping to such a conclusion.

Impertinent Weasel said...

I had the Nobel Committee in mind when I wrote 'fawning', not you or even any American. Americans as a group seem quite unable to fawn over their political leaders in any case.

I could have picked a different word, but the point was more about how Obama's popularity world-wide tends to encourage ever-dirtier Fox News-ish behavior at home.

In my experience (yours may differ), Americans can't get enough of stories that elevate average Joes. But they also can't get enough of stories that bring down the popular, powerful, or just plain rich. There are entire industries devoted to iconoclasm in this country -- it's big business.

So, if you're wondering why the news media is leaping to a defense of Fox News with the all the Nixon parallels, it's not stupidity or ignorance, IMO. It's just playing to the audience. Americans lap it up. And they lap it up because Obama *is* popular and well-liked.

I'm not an expert, but I think this is possibly an indispensable facet of American culture. We won't let anyone get away with being rich or powerful or popular without beating them up a bit. After all, this country is something like a democracy, and if we're being objective, there's a kind of beauty in the ugliness of knocking celebrities, oligarchs, and elected officials around a bit, and thereby dispersing their authority.

Dale Carrico said...

There is something in what you say, and maybe you're right altogether, but I still wonder. I really do think there is plenty of stupidity, and cynicism, and opportunism in the marginally more legitimate news organizations leap to the defense of Fox's partisan activism and scandal-mongering. But you make an interesting more general point.

In my view, a great many of our "celebrities" are celebrated despite the lack of any distinction worthy of celebration, and a great many of our elected and cultural "elites" have failed upward into their authority and lack distinction as well.

In the largest sense, luck looms so large in the distribution of wealth and authority in the world that it is hard to pretend that either fortunes or penury are "earned" in any absolute sense and yet given the absolute consequences that follow from these distributions (literally life and death, aiming the gun and having the gun aimed at you) it is hard not to feel a bit of rage or despair about the whole business.

I think Americans like narratives that elevate Average Joes precisely because Average Joes tend on average to be incomparably more intelligent and sensible and sensitive than their locations in America's self-proclaimed meritocratic distribution of wealth and authority indicate, something their elevation often bears out, just as we enjoy the exposure of the self-congratulatory superficiality, stupidity, and sociopathy of corporate CEOs and celebrities and so make the contrary point.

I actually think that some people are worthy of admiration, that some struggles are inspiring, that some examples fuel the struggle for real distinction. It is important to insist on the actual substance that drives these assessments.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama are Presidents, but it seems a bit of hooligan foolishness to posit the same iconoclasm against the High and Mighty drives some to denigrate pampered heartless serially failing war-mongering Bush and others to despise the inspiring serenely intelligent pragmatic progressive Obama (crucial disagreements with his neoliberal appointments and policies, crushing disappointments with his sluggish lgbtq policies notwithstanding).

If everything is just dumb mammalian annoyance at everything big or high, indifferent to any of the whys or wherefores that yield the highs and lows then I cannot help but feel a bit desolated by that conclusion.

I have far less interest myself in knocking celebrities around than ensuring that whatever the luck of the draw no one's lot is so precarious that they cannot consent to the terms of their lives' self-determination in a way that is legibly informed and nonduressed, I have far less interest in knocking elected officials around than ensuring that they are truly accountable for the decisions they make in our names. It is the scandal of nonconsensual lifeways and unaccountable authorities that drives my disdain of talentless celebrities and corrupt officials, not some generalized cynicism about or hostility to human distinction, which, even in our present distress seems to me both possible and wonderful wherever it is on display.

And I do disagree that even the Nobel Committee was fawning over Obama, that seems to me to miss the pragmatism that can freight symbolic gestures of this kind. There are very good reasons for registering the shift (and announcing an expectation) in vision represented by the Obama Administration and then symbolically soliciting the substance of that shift from the incomparably powerful figure who promised it and in so promising facilitated more promising politics than he alone could ever expect to author individually on the global scene. The award was in fact quite realistic and intelligent in my view, hopeful in a more substantive way than we are wont to attend to.