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When con men peddle flat-earth tales, someone should tell the people
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WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE! When con men peddle flat-earth tales, someone should tell the people: // link // print // previous // next //

KO and BillO and Potok and toys: What are tea party people like? We were intrigued by David Barstow’s lengthy piece in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/16/10). Last night, cable viewers got two more chances to wonder.

On the one hand, Keith Olbermann mused on the topic again. He has one toy, and he plays with it constantly. “Those people” are racists, he pretty much said. But that is this big child’s sole toy.

Over on Fox, Bill O’Reilly spoke with Mark Potok, a key honcho at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Wikipedia quotes the Huffington Post: Potok “leads one of the most highly regarded operations monitoring the extreme right in the world today.” In Wikipedia’s formulation, the SPLC is “a nonprofit organization that arose from the anti-segregation movement and fights extremism and hate crimes.” Click here.

For our money, Olbermann clowned, as he constantly does. By way of contrast, we were interested in what Potok had to say—although, unless you’re a hater yourself, there is of course no simple way to “explain” the people in a fairly large movement.

What did Potok say about tea party folk? For those whose limbic brains have been fried by Olbermann’s antics, we thought we’d offer a bit of remedial reading. This was the first Q-and-A between BillO and Potok:

O'REILLY (2/17/10): According to an article about the Tea Party movement in the New York Times yesterday, some far right groups are associating with the populist phenomenon, as we just talked about with Dick Morris. And the Times believes some of these groups are dangerous.

Joining from us Montgomery, Alabama, Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups.

First of all, overarch on this: Morris doesn't believe and I don't believe that the Tea Party movement is representative of any far right group. And while some of those members may—there might be some back and forth—it's not the way the New York Times presented it. Are we wrong?

POTOK: Well, I think you're at least somewhat wrong. The way I would describe it is this: I don't think that it's fair to say that the Tea Party movement is, you know, a right-wing extremist movement and that's all there is to it. I think that's clearly not the case.

But what I would say is we've got a lot of evidence to suggest—I mean, the movement is pretty well shot through with some of the elements that you find in the patriot groups, the militia groups, and some of the other groups, the anti-immigration groups and so on.

So the kind of thing we're seeing is increasingly—people in the Tea Party movement, while I think probably their predominant worries are the size of the government, the spending, the bailouts, the idea that undeserving elites like bank executives and so on, mortgage brokers, are getting rewards out of this, you know, this is driving a lot of anger. I think that's the predominant thing.

Still, we are seeing ideas like, you know, FEMA is running a set of secret concentration camps out there. Martial law is around the corner. The Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations are sort of evil entities involved in pushing us into a, you know, new world order or some kind of global one world government. And I think some of the evidence is very well known. I mean, you know, people come to these things—

At that point, some back and forth occurred. This would pretty much be the bulk of the second exchange. Potok continued to overarch about the tea party movement:

O'REILLY: Look, I said this last night. There is about ten percent, that's what we put it, of the Tea Party people who do fall under that paranoia blanket. But you could say the same thing about the Democratic party, Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont, is he's a socialist. Outright Socialist. Admits he's a socialist, all right? But you can't say the Democratic party is socialist because Bernie Sanders is a part of it. You know, Sanders runs as an Independent, but caucuses with the Democrats. So that's my point. You guys have not uncovered any kind of strain of malevolence that some of these right ring militia groups have inside the Tea Party movement, have you?

POTOK: Well, I wouldn't say malevolence. I would say a lot of fear and frustration. And unfortunately, in a great many cases, these are things that are built around fears that aren't real. We are spending a lot of money, there's no question about it, but there are not secret concentration camps out there.

O'REILLY: Okay, I got it.

POTOK: And I think it's a little more widespread than just five percent or ten percent or whatever, you know, small percentage it might be.

O'REILLY: All right, and you may be right—but it's impossible to say.

POTOK: I mean, let me say, we're seeing a lot of interaction between these kinds of groups. Now I think this is part of a much wider phenomenon. We're seeing an explosive growth in what really are militia groups. And I'm not talking about the patriot movement. I mean, an explosive growth over the last year, year and a half. At the same time, a growth in anti-immigration groups, the Minutemen-type groups. Something like 80 percent. So, you know, I think what we're really looking at is a very wide, sort of broad-based populist right wing rebellion, if that's the word. Now, by right wing, it's not the same as extremist.

“I'm fascinated by what you say is happening,” O’Reilly said. “Is there one group in America right now that you guys believe is dangerous, is growing fast, and that the folks should know about?” Potok expressed concern about the Oath Keepers. O’Reilly said he would try to interview a representative on his program tonight.

Potok wasn’t asked about race, and he didn’t bring race up. We have no way of knowing how accurate his various perceptions may be.

On MSNBC, Keith has one toy. If you want to hear that “those people” are racists, you can play with that pleasing toy too. For our money, it’s one of the ways pseudo-liberals tend to lose. Then too, it’s inane on the merits.

What are tea party members like? What do they think and believe? We’d like to see members interviewed on cable. Or if you prefer, you can tune in each night and watch Keith play with his toy.

Tomorrow: Matthews does Mack.

Special report: Global dumbing!

PART 4—WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE (permalink): When public figures say things which are blatantly false, someone should tell the people. However:

In the wake of the Washington snow, Sean Hannity spent a good solid week making blatant misstatements each night, thus disinforming millions of people. At least three Republican senators played along, implying that the snow in D.C. provided evidence that climate change theory is wrong. All serious people know this is pure nonsense. Three out of three “Fox all-stars” even said so on Special Report!

But on the front page on the New York Times, John Broder couldn’t seem to find a way to tell the people. As Paul Krugman said when he told a now-famous joke, “the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying [such] knowledge to readers.” Very significant public figures were blatantly disinforming the public. But so what? On its front page, the New York Times failed—or refused—to let its readers know.

Given conventions of news reporting, how can a journalist tell the people when a claim is blatantly false? Sheryl Gay Stolberg displays one technique in today’s New York Times. Has the stimulus bill “created or saved” any jobs? Stolberg offers this:

STOLBERG (2/18/10): One year to the day after he signed the package into law, Mr. Obama appeared at the White House alongside small-business owners who have hired workers with federal money from the measure. He declared that the bill had created or saved as many as two million jobs, lowered taxes for 95 percent of Americans, and spared the nation the next Great Depression.

There is little dispute among economists that the measure has kept the jobless rate from being even higher than it is. But with unemployment at 9.7 percent on average, and higher in some states, the president conceded that there was widespread confusion about the bill, and a sense that it had not lived up to expectations.

In the case of Hannity’s clowning, Broder could have written something like that, except his statement could have been stronger. Does any actual climate scientist support the statements and insinuations of Hannity, of those three Republican senators? Presumably, you’d have to search far and wide to find such an climate expert. But Broder simply didn’t go there in his weak and timid report—and his editors didn’t push him.

A whole phalanx of pseudo-conservative con men had been deceiving the public. Millions of people were being misled. And on its front page, the New York Times seemed too frightened to tell them.

Of course, “flat earth” statements have become rather common in our discourse over the past several decades. (If we lower the tax rates, we get extra revenue! European health care has failed everywhere it’s been tried!) But many of our biggest journalists seem to have no earthly idea how skewed our discourse has become in the face of this flat-earth onslaught. Good God! In yesterday’s Times, the blissful Thomas Friedman finally began to “wonder” if we can have a serious discussion about climate change! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/10.) How clueless is this big galoot? After referring to “all the errors and wild exaggerations made by the climate skeptics,” Friedman began to offer his advice. The analysts simply threw up their hands at the cluelessness of this first suggestion:

FRIEDMAN (2/17/10): Here are the points I like to stress:

1) Avoid the term “global warming.” I prefer the term “global weirding,” because that is what actually happens as global temperatures rise and the climate changes. The weather gets weird. The hots are expected to get hotter, the wets wetter, the dries drier and the most violent storms more numerous.

The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington—while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought—is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever.

That is just unbelievably foolish. Friedman is right about one thing, of course; according to climate change theory, local weather will get somewhat “weird”—will diverge from traditional norms—as global temperatures rise. But Friedman doesn’t bother explaining why we should avoid the term “global warming”—although. to state what is merely obvious, “global warming” is also “what actually happens as global temperatures rise.”

Presumably, Friedman thinks the term “global warming” has become distorted in the public mind due to “all the errors and wild exaggerations made by the climate skeptics.” (See Milbank, below.) But what do you think these hustlers would do with a silly phrase like “global weirding?” The climate change movement would be left for dead if it adopted “global weirding” as its chief descriptive term. But why expect Friedman to know such a thing? Eleven years after he sat and stared as con men started to lie about Gore and warming, he has just now started to “wonder” if we can have a serious discussion about this critical topic.

He has just begun to wonder! It’s hard to be more out of touch.

Friedman refuses to stand and fight. Like many others, he’s prepared to dump a descriptive phrase because the lethargy of losers like him has permitted a phalanx of con men to disinform and confuse the people. Cluelessly, he thinks his newly word-smithed phrase will, by some miracle, be immune from flat-earth attacks. But go ahead—search through Friedman’s column! See if you can find the place where he names the names of the disinformers. He names Jim DeMint at the start of his piece, and then he quickly moves on.

Shouldn’t someone tell the people the actual names of the actual con men by whom they’re actively being misled? Alas! By the conventions of a failed and feckless press corps, such things are rarely done. And when such things are briefly done, they are then quickly bartered away. Consider the hapless piece by Dana Milbank in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Good God! As he started, Milbank actually did name the names of the con men. (He omitted the con man Hannity, but he included Glenn Beck.) And he knows these con men are hustlers and frauds; he understands, with perfect clarity, that they’re engaging in flat-earth ways. This is the way Milbank’s piece began—before he turned tail and ran:

MILBANK (2/14/10): The back-to-back snowstorms in the capital were an inconvenient meteorological phenomenon for Al Gore.

"It's going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries 'uncle'," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) exulted on Twitter.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) posted photos on Facebook of "Al Gore's New Home”—a six-foot igloo the Inhofe family built on Capitol Hill.

"Where is Al Gore?" taunted Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

"He has not been seen since the snow and the arctic blast have pummeled the Eastern Seaboard in America, turning it into a frozen tundra," reported Fox News's Glenn Beck, who also tastefully suggested hara-kiri for climate scientists.

As a scientific proposition, claiming that heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic debunks global warming theory is about as valid as claiming that the existence of John Edwards debunks the theory of evolution. In fact, warming theory suggests that you'd see trends toward heavier snows, because warmer air carries more moisture. This latest snowfall, though, is more likely the result of a strong El Niño cycle that has parked the jet stream right over the mid-Atlantic states.

DeMint, Inhofe, McConnell, Beck—these are important, influential public figures. And rather plainly, Milbank knows that these people have been conning the public. “As a scientific proposition,” he knows the things these people have stated and implied are “about as valid as claiming that the existence of John Edwards debunks the theory of evolution.”

He knows these very important people have been selling flat earth to the people.

You’d almost think a situation like that could fill an entire column! But in the world of our timorous “press corps,” baby slope snow bunnies like Milbank must cut and run after advancing such thoughts. And sure enough! Just like that, Milbank collapsed on the side of the slope. By the rules of such timorous men, the current confusion about global warming has to be Gore’s fault too:

MILBANK (continuing directly): Still, there's some rough justice in the conservatives' cheap shots. In Washington's blizzards, the greens were hoist by their own petard.

For years, climate-change activists have argued by anecdote to make their case. Gore, in his famous slide shows, ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought and the spread of mosquitoes, pine beetles and disease. It's not that Gore is wrong about these things. The problem is that his storm stories have conditioned people to expect an endless worldwide heat wave, when in fact the changes so far are subtle.

You’ll note the conspicuous lack of quotes as this mewling bunny plays the “on the one hand/on the other hand” card.Please note: In Milbank’s tiny world, it’s not that Gore has been wrong in what he has said; presumably, this means that Gore has been right. (Gore “ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes?” Does anyone know what that actually mean? Did he say something that was inaccurate?) But so what? Somehow, Gore’s “stories” have “conditioned people” to “expect an endless worldwide heat wave.” Milbank makes no attempt to explain how this happened—or even to demonstrate that it has happened. But from this point on, it’s “moral equivalence” all the way to the rope lift as Milbank blames various environmentalists for our current state of confusion. How dumbly so these snow bunnies reason? No, we really aren’t making this up. Eventually, Milbank typed this:

MILBANK: Scientific arguments, too, are problematic. In a conference call arranged Thursday by the liberal Center for American Progress to refute the snow antics of Inhofe et al., Joe Romm made the well-worn statements that “the overwhelming weight of the scientific literature” points to human-caused warming and that doubters “don't understand the science.”

The science is overwhelming—but not definitive. Romm's claim was inadvertently shot down by his partner on the call, the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters, who confessed that “there's a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system” and not enough years of measurements to know exactly what's going on. "Unfortunately we don't have that data so we are forced to make decisions based on inadequate data.”

“The science is overwhelming—but not definitive.” So a moral idiot writes. By the way: Do you have the slightest idea what Masters was talking about in the statement Milbank has quoted? Of course you don’t! Neither does anyone else who read Milbank’s weak-minded piece. But Milbank was chasing moral equivalence—and he had to find a way to achieve it. And sure enough! By the time he wrote this passage, Milbank had achieved a true miracle. He had created moral equivalence between the following groups:

Group 1, whose position “is about as valid as claiming that the existence of John Edwards debunks the theory of evolution.” And Group 2, whose “science is overwhelming.”

By the laws of this boy’s cult, those two groups must be equivalent. The current confusion must be Gore’s fault too. And Masters must undercut Romm!

(Please note the way children like Milbank function: Romm’s statements can’t be said to be wrong, because his statements are of course right. But Milbank wants to say something which at least sounds negative. So he calls Romm’s statements “well-worn.”)

Broder, Friedman, the hapless child Milbank: Which of these losers will tell the people? Who will devote an entire column to a truly remarkable fact: A gang of very important people have been grossly deceiving the people—have been handing them flat-earth claims about the state of warming science. No one believes what Hannity said—but he kept saying it, all week long. Millions of people heard him, each night.

No one has yet called his name.

The mainstream press corps has its cowardice. It has its inanity and its “conventions.” It has its Washington cocktail parties, to which it seeks continued admission. For all these reasons, the mainstream press corps never quite gets around to telling the people. Something always gets in the way. For the most part, names don’t get named. If the names of the guilty get named, the innocent’s names get slimed too.

But then, we liberals don’t much tell the people either! All next week, we’ll ask a question: Could it be because we hold the people in so much contempt?

Why don’t we progressives tell the people? Is it because we feel contempt for the people? We wonder about that more and more frequently. As our text, we’ll take a very poorly reasoned piece—a piece about something that’s real.

TOMORROW: Debating the stim.