That was then.
This is now.
Of course there are some aspects even the Just-deceased creator of What Makes Sammy Run? and On the Waterfront might have hestitated to include.
Very Paddy Chayevsky, no?
That’s who Glenn Beck thinks he is.
Here’s the real Glenn Beck
Not that he’s the only problem, as Frank Rich points out.
“Last week Brian Stelter of The Times reported that the corporate bosses of MSNBC and Fox News, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, had sanctioned their lieutenants to broker what a G.E. spokesman called a new “level of civility” between their brawling cable stars, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. A Fox spokesman later confirmed to Howard Kurtz of The Post that “there was an agreement” at least at the corporate level. Olbermann said he was a “party to no deal,” and in any event what looked like a temporary truce ended after The Times article was published. But the whole scrape only fed legitimate suspicions on the right and left alike that even their loudest public voices can be silenced if the business interests of the real American elite decree it.
You might wonder whether networks could some day cut out the middlemen — anchors — and just put covert lobbyists and publicists on the air to deliver the news. Actually, that has already happened. The most notorious example was the flock of retired military officers who served as television “news analysts” during the Iraq war while clandestinely lobbying for defense contractors eager to sell their costly wares to the Pentagon.
The revelation of that scandal did not end the practice. Last week MSNBC had to apologize for deploying the former Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe as a substitute host for Olbermann without mentioning his new career as a corporate flack. Wolffe might still be anchoring on MSNBC if the blogger Glenn Greenwald hadn’t called attention to his day job. MSNBC assured its viewers that there were no conflicts of interest, but we must take that on faith, since we still don’t know which clients Wolffe represents as a senior strategist for his firm, Public Strategies, whose chief executive is the former Bush White House spin artist, Dan Bartlett.
Let’s presume that Wolffe’s clients do not include the corporate interests with billions at stake in MSNBC and Washington’s Topic A, the health care debate. If so, he’s about the only player in the political-corporate culture who’s not riding that gravy train.
And tainted as he is, the proof that’s in the telepudding isn’t all that bad — at least on the surface
Not tht we shouldn’t be distrustful. After all NBC, which runs Keith and Rachel, is the greatest manufacturer and disseminator ( both though the front door AND the back of Weapons of Mass Destruction the world has ever known.
Meanwhile. . .
As Democrats have pointed out, the angry hecklers disrupting town-hall meetings convened by members of Congress are not always ordinary citizens engaging in spontaneous grass-roots protests or even G.O.P. operatives, but proxies for corporate lobbyists. One group facilitating the screamers is FreedomWorks, which is run by the former Congressman Dick Armey, now a lobbyist at the DLA Piper law firm. Medicines Company, a global pharmaceutical business, has paid DLA Piper more than $6 million in lobbying fees in the five years Armey has worked there.
But the Democratic members of Congress those hecklers assailed can hardly claim the moral high ground. Their ties to health care interests are merely more discreet and insidious. As Congressional Quarterly reported last week, industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million in the first six months of 2009 alone to the 18 House members of both parties supervising health care reform, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer among them.”
True, but they’re not operating at this level.
What’s needed are journalists capable of cutting through this noise — with editors to back them up. And we don’t really have that.
“As a freshman Democrat, Representative Frank Kratovil Jr. figured he would spend the August recess reconnecting with the folks back home. Perhaps he should have known this would be easier said than done when an opponent of health care reform hanged him in effigy outside his district office on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Undaunted, Mr. Kratovil tried last week to hold “Congress on Your Corner” sessions intended, he said, to help voters with “casework matters” — Social Security benefits and the like. On Tuesday, 200 angry conservatives confronted him over health care in an elementary school cafeteria. On Thursday, liberals struck back: President Obama’s political organization sent a mass e-mailing urging supporters to turn out for a Kratovil event at a library, to “make sure your support for health insurance reform is seen and heard.”
Mr. Kratovil’s experience was part of a phenomenon that swept the country last week, with increasingly ugly scenes of partisan screaming matches, scuffles, threats and even arrests. The traditional town hall meeting, a staple of Congressional constituent relations, had been hijacked, overrun by sophisticated social-networking campaigns — those on the right protesting so loudly as to shut down public discourse and those on the left springing into action to shut down the shutdowns.
The result was a series of made-for-YouTube moments, with video clips played endlessly on the Internet and cable television, the logical extreme, perhaps, of an era when Joe the Plumber is really named Sam. Along the way, another kind of Joe — Joe Six-Pack, the average Joe — seemed to disappear, pushed into the background by crowds bearing scripted talking points and signs.”
Precisely. And who’s writing those scripts, talking points and signs?
““We’re living in the era of the viral town meeting,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who once worked as a Senate aide. “I remember back in the ’70s getting identically worded telegrams in the thousands. What’s happened now is the technology of protest has metastasized, and it threatens to overwhelm the relationship between members of Congress and their constituents.”
Citizen gatherings, of course, are as old as the republic itself, but as a form of constituent relations town hall meetings are relatively new. In the 19th century, lawmakers spent more time at home, mingling with voters at block parties, barbecues and parades. Organized complaints came in the form of petitions; by the 1950s, there were mass letter-writing campaigns. In recent decades, with lawmakers shuttling between Washington and their districts, squeezing constituent meetings into weekends and short breaks, town halls emerged as a convenient one-stop-shopping for lawmakers to hear citizens’ concerns. Presidents used them too; in 1978, Jimmy Carter tried to sell voters on the Panama Canal treaty by phoning town hall meetings.
Now, though, the complaining constituent is not always who he seems to be. In Wisconsin last week, Representative Steve Kagen, a Democrat, was challenged on health care by a woman who declared herself politically unaffiliated; the local television station later discovered that she was a former Republican Party official who had worked for Mr. Kagen’s opponent in his Congressional race.”
Aha. Can we have her name? What else do you know about her and the people who put her up to this?
(crickets chirping )
Nor can members of Congress be certain that their questioners are truly constituents. Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said that given the current uproar over health care, someone suggested she check addresses at her town hall meetings.
“I’m not going to get into that,” she said. “It creates a real sour atmosphere at the door.”
Not to mention the copy room floor.
And lawmakers are learning the hard way to watch their tongues. At one of his constituent sessions last week, Representative Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican who opposes President Obama’s health plan, remarked that some of his colleagues “almost got lynched” at their town halls. His sympathetic audience laughed and clapped; Mr. Akin replied, “I assume you’re not approving lynchings,” and made a choking gesture. The clip quickly turned up on YouTube, and now the chagrined congressman faces accusations that he was making lynch-mob jokes about Democrats.
“I was recognizing the atmosphere as opposed to condoning it,” he said in an interview on Friday. Given the “aggressive atmosphere,” he said, he is turning to the telephone conference as a way to take questions from constituents. “We’re adjusting our format to the situation,” he said.
“In some respects, last week’s town halls — fueled on the right by antitax groups backed partly by industry, and on the left by unions — are the logical outgrowth of decades of American political activism. Community organizing is nothing new; President Obama made an early career of it. The civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the anti-abortion movement, the rise of the religious right — all grew out of grassroots campaigns conducted by methodical organizers.”
So it’s Obama’s fault. Cue the Reverend Wright and William Ayers clips!
Accusations of phony grassroots campaigns — “Astroturf,” in Washington argot — also are not new. When Richard Viguerie, the conservative strategist, pioneered the use of direct mail to raise money in the 1970s, he quickly came under attack for creating “the impression of a mass uprising when there were organizers behind it,” said Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University.
But last week’s “town brawls,” as the news media dubbed them, do seem to represent a shift. Instead of each side’s holding rallies and protests, the activism seemed directed personally at lawmakers, with the aim of overwhelming them. Mr. Kratovil, the Maryland Democrat, opposes the health care legislation moving through the House. But he was unable to get his point across, he said. “They simply want to yell when you talk.”
Some might call it democracy in action, but there is a risk. If the pattern continues, lawmakers could grow suspicious, refusing to believe that their encounters with voters are genuine.
“When a politician can’t tell what’s grassroots and what’s Astro, that’s dangerous,” Mr. Zelizer said. “In the long term, that could undermine the potential of grassroots mobilizers to change things. At a certain point, it’s crying wolf. No one is going to believe it’s real.”
Then again, just because someone has been recruited to an event does not mean his sentiments are not real. Dr. William Crowley, a retired neurologist in Austin, Tex., who participates in antitax “Tea Party Patriot” protests, turned out to see his local Democratic congressman, Representative Lloyd Doggett, after being tipped off by a fellow activist. The meeting turned ugly — Mr. Doggett left early and protesters blocked his car — but Dr. Crowley insisted he was nobody’s tool.
“Sean Hannity didn’t tell me to go; Glenn Beck didn’t tell me to go; Rush didn’t tell me to go” he said, referring to the conservative commentators.
And what of the Average Joe, who might want to talk to his elected representative about the kind of mundane matters that do not inspire protesters to yell and scream and get arrested? Mr. Kratovil, the Maryland Democrat, said he feared that such voters would no longer turn out for public meetings. He is making plans to hold office hours to meet them quietly, one on one.
“I think everybody across the country is trying to figure out how to deal with this,” he said last week, “and we’re not there yet.”
And neither is the NYT.
Why ask questions when you can get quotes from “both sides”? Why ask anything at all when you can get pictures? For it’s all about spectacle. It’s all about show. Right Howard?
Sing us out, Steven.