November 30

Demand Real Journalism: It All Started with the Sweaty Brow of a Homely Man…

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paul ryan washing dishesLook closely at this picture of Paul Ryan “washing pots and pans” at a soup kitchen.  See how clean that apron is?  See that huge crease down the front?

A crease like that probably means it was just removed from its’ packaging, brand new and ready for the cameras!  The entire scene looks staged, because it is staged.  I don’t see a bunch of dirty dishes.  Do you?

Paul Ryan’s photo op was exposed for what it was, political pandering and staging-to-the-cameras for the sake of influencing voters.  In other words – a photo-op.

With photo-ops, it matters not two whits that it’s all fake.  What counts is the effect of the visual portraying him as a hardworking guy helping out the unfortunate.

No doubt research has shown the political operatives running the campaign that Ryan has an image problem with this issue.  Their solution is to counteract the unpopular reality of the candidate’s position with a staged photograph designed to deceive.  That’s politics in America!

Don’t for one second think Paul Ryan is alone in pulling this sort of stunt.  Granted, this is particularly ironic since he is an Ayn Rand worshiper and probably disdains anyone forced to rely on a soup kitchen , but rest assured that politics today is dominated by a circus-like, dog and pony show atmosphere.

A DYSFUNCTIONAL MARRIAGE

Politicians need the news media and the news media needs politics.

Politicians have to persuade voters with their message and the news media has lots of time to fill.

This mutual need has created what I’d call a dysfunctional love-hate relationship that’s plagued with manipulation and control issues.

The stakes are enormous. No wonder one of the main goals of any campaign is to dominate the airwaves with a positive spin of their message.

A LITTLE SWEAT ON THE BROW MARKS A LOSER

In 1960, the world of politics was forever altered when the very first televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was beamed out over the airwaves.

Nixon was the experienced, two-term VP. Kennedy was a relative newcomer. Going into the debate, most observers felt Nixon was more qualified.

The Nixon/Kennedy debates proved very telling of the incredible power of television.

People who heard it on the radio tended to say Nixon won. Those who saw it on TV thought Kennedy won.

The verbal and audio content was the same on both mediums of course. The difference was on the radio, no one could see that Richard Nixon was a homely man who was sweating profusely because he was just getting over a serious infection. On the radio, no one could see that JFK was exceptionally handsome and not sweating.

Nixon refused to apply make-up for the debate. Kennedy did not mind. So Nixon looked pale under the lights and his 5 o:clock shadow was pronounced. Kennedy had a deep tan which helped him look exceptionally handsome.

Nixon kept looking at the men asking questions. Kennedy stared straight into the camera as he spoke.  Viewers perceived Kennedy was speaking directly to them and Nixon wasn’t.

All those superficial differences added up to a big difference in the viewers’ perceptions.

Just think, a little make-up and sweat on the brow influenced the outcome of the presidential race.

If you watch the video, I think you’ll be amazed at how subtle the differences were. But when Kennedy pulled ahead of Nixon and won, political handlers everywhere realized that a good showing on TV meant the difference between winning and losing.

From that moment on, the goal became to create a show that would look good on TV.

Over the years, campaign staging has grown to enormous proportions. If simple things like make-up and sweat were going to sway voters, then by golly, what could a billion dollar staging effort do?

SMILE FOR THE CAMERA!

michael dukakis photo op in tank

Campaigns today devote much of their time, energy and money to staging a good show for the TV cameras. What’s in the background of a shot when the candidate speaks is seen as vitally important. It’s not left up to chance. The backgrounds are carefully crafted and locations are accepted or declined because of background opportunities.

“Photo-op” is the term given for a staged event where the media is allowed to take pictures. Do it right and your candidate is a hero. Do it wrong and your candidate is a chump.

Case in point is the image of Democrat Michael Dukakis in a tank during his 1988 presidential run. The photo was staged to counter the Republican’s charge that Dukakis was soft on defense. It backfired badly and people make fun of it to this day.

The trick is to stage it so it does not really look like its staged.  The Dukakis photo op looked staged and people easily saw through it.  Perhaps if they’d flown him to a combat zone it would have worked better.

Problem is, if political operatives stage it well enough so that it does not looked staged, then they’ve really pulled a fast one on voters.  This is their goal. It hap[pens every day of an active political campaign.

FOX NEWS IS BORN

When Richard Nixon was preparing to go on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967, he told Douglas’ aid Roger Ailes that he thought TV was a bothersome gimmick.  Ailes told him that was the wrong attitude if he wanted to be a political winner.

Nixon was smart enough to know Ailes was right, even though he hated the idea.

Ailes later worked directly for Nixon in the White House.  They began planning a way to get around the scrutiny of the news networks.  If there was ever a president who felt the sting of bad publicity, it was Richard Nixon.  Not only did he go down to defeat in part because of  his lackluster television performance against Kennedy, but he got shamed from office by Watergate, the scandal doggedly reported by Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post.

Memos have been found in the Nixon Library and first reported by the news website Gawker that detailed their plans.  They wanted  “to provide pro-Administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.”  Their original idea was to produce the stories themselves and give it to stations.  Today that sort of thing is done all the time by PR agencies but back then, it was a  new idea. Keep in mind this was 1970, before cable television and satellites.

Roger Ailes handwriting is seen in the margins of the memos, calling the idea “very good,” it just needed some refinement he wrote.

Nixon’s team never got the idea off the ground, but Ailes went on to begin a right-wing news service called Television News Incorporated, TVN, in 1970.  TVN lasted for five years.  As reported in Rolling Stone Magazine, Ailes tinkered with the basic plan and “fixed” a few of the issues with TVN, then launched Fox.  Ailes has been chairman of Fox News ever since.  Reportedly, even Rupert Murdoch is somewhat afraid of Ailes due to his ruthless and domineering ways.

The Rolling Stone article says, and I concur, that Fox News is the largest and most effective propaganda outlet ever devised.  As a 24-hour news channel, they  have had a tremendous effect on the news media, and the country, as a whole.  The dream back in the Nixon White House was to shift the country hard to the right.  With the long running influence of Fox News, this has indeed happened. Slowly but surely, the presence of Fox News as a (theoretically) objective news organization has lead to a massive shift in the entire political mood of the United States.  I do not see this as a good thing.

Fox news logoFox claims to be “Fair and Balanced.”  They aren’t.  Viewers loyal to Fox News love it however and their audience is quite large.  Loyal Fox viewers no doubt will be offended by this post and claim I am wrong.  But I can not Demand Real Journalism! without calling Fox out for what it is.  Go ahead and call me names.  I can take it.

I have spoken to some Fox News loyalists who admit Fox is biased, but simply do not care.  They think it is payback for the liberal bias of the news media in general.  They’re quick to say that MSNBC is just as bad.  I disagree.  MSNBC employs several hosts who are indeed unabashed promoters of a liberal agenda.  I’m not saying that’s right, but I think the difference is that as an organization, MSNBC does not work directly with the Democratic party and take marching orders from their talking points.    According to a well-researched documentary by Robert Greenwald called “Outfoxed, Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” many former Fox employees claim they indeed get daily memos admonishing them to stick to the Republican talking points.  That might not seem like much of a difference, but indeed it is a major difference.  Their agenda is to promote the Republican party and right wing views.  MSNBCs agenda is to produce a quality news program and they do it from a revealed liberal standpoint.

MSNBC in its current state is actually filling a niche left void when Fox became so big with audiences in the right.  In  its early days, MSNBC was right leaning but could not find much of an audience compared to Fox.  Then liberal sportscaster Keith Olbermann got fed up and decided to say what no one else would at the time.  George Bush had lied us into the Iraq War.  His ratings took off like a rocket and management realized they had accidentally found a niche.  Olbermann led to the other liberal hosts like Rachael Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Lawrence O’Donnell.

The vast differences in those two origin stories ought to be enough to let people know the two organizations are NOT two sides of the same coin.  The liberal hosts on MSNBC let their bias show but they consider themselves journalists who follow basic protocol.  They largely do.  Their shows are not riddled with inaccuracies in the same way as Fox Shows.

I’d rather see a more objective news landscape but once Fox News tilted it so far to the right, MSNBC simply found ratings gold by counter programing.

 


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demand real journalism, origin of fox news, photo op


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