Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I have heard that question before. When I was living in Sweden, I often heard (about Reagan) "how can Americans elect such a dimwit?". Some considered that it was an irrelevant mistake, an accident of history and that it wouldn't happen again. Well they didn't know about Dubya. And the most appalling is that a majority of Americans still consider him for having been a "good president"...  

This quote from G.Soros book "The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror" might be a part of the explanation :

The chapter "What is Wrong with America" could be considered by some to be harsh. Soros reaches the conclusion that the US has become a "feel good" society where citizens don't want to deal with difficult issues or complex questions.

He attributes this unwillingness to confront difficult issues to a political process driven by the principles of consumerism. It is this combination whereby people are coaxed into settling for simple answers to difficult questions. "It's almost as if people are clamoring to be deceived," he says. And, later: "The American public has shown a remarkable indifference to being deceived."

This is a key criticism because it focuses the responsibility for the distortion of truth on the public in their "begging to be deceived". Consider the following Soros quote (my bold type):

The entire construct of open society is based on the assumption that the truth matters. The ultimate truth is beyond our reach, but the closer we get to reality, the better. In dealing with nature, the truth is paramount. In human affairs, there is a shortcut to success. We can impose our will on other humans directly [without] going to the trouble of pursuing the truth.


To be fair I must say that Europeans can elect assholes and dimwits too. The latest I have in mind is Berlusconi. But it seems that the US takes the price anyway, or is it just a cultural aspect that differs ?. When I see the current debate in France and the speeches made by the duo Sego/Sarko, I must say that we are not very far from the Reagan level... But it seems that there is here a gag reflex somewhere. We can use Le Pen as a scarecrow, but we would never elect him as President. And if it by mistake happened, the country would probably fall immediately into civil unrest , with new elections as a result...

So why can a Dubya figure can be reelected ? Because there is no free access to "unbiased information" except maybe for the Internet...

 "The media merely [serve] the market," says Soros, but the role of a free and independent press is one of the cornerstones of US democracy. Like other cornerstones, it has been so badly eroded that the entire edifice is in jeopardy. Some of the other cornerstones of US democracy are free public education and libraries, and the division of powers among the three main branches of government.

And probably the worst problem of all is that the legislative branch that is supposed to keep the executive in check has been bought off. The legislators are completely co-opted by the Washington money and power game. Getting re-elected is what the vast majority live for."

by oldfrog on Tue Dec 26th, 2006 at 09:48:40 PM EST
"'The media merely [serve] the market,' says Soros...."

Indeed. And there is a vast difference between being
sold what you want to have, and being
told what you want to hear.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 12:54:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The media merely serve the marketers.  

Not quite the same thing.

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 05:08:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The media serve many masters and interests, including the marketers. All of them share an interest in maximising viewership, which therefore weighs heavily in the trade-offs. Viewers, unfortunately, seem to have little appetite for truth -- in part because untruth makes it hard to recognise.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 02:53:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that's basically right. The way I see it, the media, itself, is effectively indifferent to the marketing it presents. Think of a television being aware of its content. It's not. But it is aware of certain marketable attributes which it has direct control over-- color, tone, saturation, volume, etc. It doesn't want to deal with certain content that doesn't behave well in its frame. If it has such content, it does what it can to jettison it or modify to meet what it considers acceptable standards. As a consequence policy discussion of any depth is necessarily truncated. Sound bites and image frames are the order of the day for candidates. Policy discussion of almost any length get shown the door. Pervesely, (a winning )war is more marketable than boring old Social Security discussions from a viewership perspective. In Presidential politics, in many ways, it's the good looking charmers who'll win the election cycles, their platform can be recycled styrofoam and it won't matter--because they'll look and act the part of an appealing candidate which--from the media frame perspective-- is really much more important.

On television, the Democrats I think suffer a serious disadvantage because of their actual experience with ruling as a majority party--they know something about both policy and the subtle art of political compromise neither of which make good televsion. Republicans know neither, but have mastered the sound bite and the "One of the People" personas in the form of Bush or even Limbaugh. It's not that their ideas are smart or even practical as policy matters, but that they are easily spoken and digested by an increasingly spoon fed American public (and increasingly anti-intellectual  American public, I fear)...Thus, yes, their are politic hacks who get paid very well to manipulate the media and to sell their candidate exactly like a toothpaste or hair gel is sold. The media is only complicit to the extent that it inevitably strives for the optimum viewership; which increasingly means dumbing down the content. Hence stupid candidates win, smart candidates lose, and we invade Iraq against the will of most people in this country and the world. There's certainly some rightward bias in the system as well based on corporate ownership, etc. But--except in the case of Fox News or certain obviously tilted news programs --  I'd wager the bulk of the problem is entire media/advertising market system. It drives everything to the lowest common denominator.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 10:00:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The press does merely serve the market.  Note the increasingly-liberal tone cable news and the papers have taken since the midterms and as Bush's approvals hit new lows.  They pander to whatever view is generally held by the public.  When Bush was popular, the media propped him up.  Now that he's becoming more and more unpopular, -- and, for the first time, he's starting to hurt once-nearly-invincible figures like St. McCain and Rudy Mussolini -- the press is eating him alive.

Best example: Chris Matthews.  During Bush's popular time, Matthews declared, "We are all neocons now."  Today Matthews is pushing the "Get the Hell Out" line on Iraq every night and showering praise on the potential Democratic presidential candidates.

And it's making a difference.  Barack Obama is now beating every Republican in the polls, as is, if I'm not mistaken, Edwards (who is, for the first time, impressing me without having to run to the smooth, Deep-South "thang").

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 11:02:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're telling me the press doesn't have editorial lines or serve the interests of their owners?

Why did Clear Channel come up with a list of "1000 un-American songs" in the days after 9-11? By popular demand?

The press as much responds to opinion as creates opinion.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 11:13:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I'm not saying they lack editorial lines.

I am saying that they must, however, respond to market forces.  The owners' interests are served by earning more profit.  It just so happens that, in the case of (say) Murdoch, the conservative line was a money-maker for several years, and he was thus able to serve his ideological interests along with his microeconomic interest.  The problem for Murdoch is that this is no longer much of a money-maker, and we see that reflected in Fox's fall in the ratings.  In contrast, Keith Olbermann -- who, of course, takes a more liberal line (not that "more liberal" tells you much when compared to the extremism at Fox) -- is enjoying huge gains over at MSNBC, as is, I think, Matthews.

Clear Channel was looking for ratings when it ran the 1,000 unAmerican songs gig.  It was capitalizing on the post-9/11 mentality the public was stuck in.  As we all know, this was done by many people shortly after 9/11 and all the way up to the 2004 election.  I haven't the slightest idea as to which songs were on the CC program, but I suspect the company would be far less likely to get away with it today.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 02:19:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Things like "A day in the life" by The Beatles were among the 1000 unamerican songs, as well as many others that I have no clue why were unamerican. The whole thing was insane. To think that knowing about the list (I don't think many people did) would not turn people off from Clear Channel's radio stations gives me the creeps. Meantime, you couldn't escape Lee Greenwood wherever you tuned.

Now, are you also going to say talk radio just mirrors the audience's opinions and doesn't create them?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 02:43:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lee Greenwood.  Yes.  I was a fan of that song until I discovered what a little Nazi he was (or had become after 9/11).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 28th, 2006 at 10:31:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I should note that I was a fan of the music to the song, not the unbelievably cheesy lyrics.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 28th, 2006 at 10:31:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm relieved.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:59:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose this means you're right, however:
While rumors initially floated that the list was a corporate mandate, or a cruel hoax, the radio conglomerate insists that a program director created and distributed the list to its 1,100 stations, including KIIS-FM in Los Angeles and Z100-FM in New York.

"Given the environment, a Clear Channel program director took it upon himself to identify a number of songs that certain markets or individuals may find insensitive today," the company said in a statement. "This was not a mandate, nor was the list generated out of the corporate radio offices. It was a grassroots effort that was apparently circulated among program directors."

Not all Clear Channel stations are paying attention to the list. For instance, New York's Z100 has been playing many of the tunes, while Q104 has noted that "inappropriate" songs like "New York, New York" and "Imagine" were some of the most requested of the week.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 02:53:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the answer is part and parcel of our highly accelerated consumer culture. We don't elect Presidents based principally on 'platforms' or 'issues'--we elect them based on Marketability. An entire industry has been given birth concurrent with the rise of the corporation--PR firms now tailor political 'personas' as much as the advertising agencies tailor logos. The process is called brandng and Naomi Klein has much to say about it's power. The 'branding' question is how well does a presidential image sell to the American public, how well does the individual politician control that image?

It's a game of expensive smoke and incredibly costly mirrors, and the fundamentals are in inverse relation to their costs. What I mean is, a person gets elected on such nuanced hackery as would you have a beer with this man? Does he sound like your Uncle or your Dad or that third semester prof you couldn't stomach?

That's why almost any politician is never called on a direct lie by the media. Everyone in media understands the game of 'forming' the image, so, to an extent, almost everyone is being deceitful at one level or another. Even spinning a war in such an environment becomes less a matter of murder and more a matter of how well it sells (I remember Andy Card on the Iraqi invasion, said something like... you don't introduce a new product in August). It's packaging. That's why such abortions as Ronald Reagan and Bush light the fire of the American Right's eye. They understand their objective as a sales job, not as a policy push. Democrats in some cases still suffer the illusion that there is more potential room for actual information in the political process--that mistake destroyed Al Gore (along with his nebbish button image down, natch).

I don't know how to correct this outside of wholesale electoral reform, and maybe the Green idea of Instant Voter Runoff so alternates to the image hackery of the major parties can be diluted.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Wed Dec 27th, 2006 at 03:44:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, oldfrog. Nice response.
 My reasons for posting this were truly to solicit opinions, not to flog one of my own. But I do have one.
This comment should be a diary, so I will expand upon it there. But I agree with you.


Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 11:07:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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