Thursday, February 24, 2005

Karl Rove, Suuuuuuuuuper Genius...
Amongst the more ridculous conspiracy theories I have ever heard is the latest being pushed by Rep. Maurice (snicker, snicker) Hinchey (Communist -NY) which insinuates that Karl Rove planted the infamous, phony National Guard memos which have brought both Dan Rather and CBS to their knees. He further postulates, nay, accuses, Mr. Rove of a blatant attempt to manipulate the American media to advance a nasty (i.e. Republican) agenda.

Rep. Hinchey presents no hard evidence, no smoking gun, not even fingerprints. You could bring Quincy in on this case and he wouldn't find anything either, but that is beside the point. According to Mr. Hinchey, an evil plot is afoot to deceive the media and, ultimately, the American public which depends on said media. Said evil conspiracy, sayeth Mr. Hinchey, undermines the entire political process. In lieu of facts or evidence, Mr. Hinchey intimates that he recent bruhahas over Jeff Gannon/Guckert and Armstrong Williams insinuate foul play. The rest is left up to your fevered imaginations. The implication is that only a damned idiot (i.e. republican) could miss the connection between Gannon/Guckert, Williams and CBS and not trace it back to Rove. This despite the fact that no evidence is available or even likely to be available, and he can produce not one scintilla himself.

Assuming Mr. Hinchey is right (it could happen in some other parallel universe), then Karl Rove is a mad genius. Rove was so incredibly prescient as to predict that CBS would do the story and concoct a plot to discredit CBS, with unimpeachible details like the 1973 IBM Selectric, kerning, et. al. He then sent his minions out to find a webpage whacko with a shady past, and pornographic photos to boot, got the White House machinery to issue him a press pass, and then bribed Armstrong Williams to write lovely things about the President. By my calculations, that would mean Mr. Rove had probably not slept in about three years, and had to have employed or involved in his fiendish plot somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 other folks, all of whom have mysteriously been kept silent.

But, to return to the poor, deluded man's original concept, I defy anyone who reads this to show me just one example, from any period in human history, where the media was NOT manipulated by a ruler or ruling faction. Propaganda has been with us since Adam and Eve.

Pharohs stuck their images and names on every piece of worked masonry in Egypt to extoll their virtues, even in death. Chinese Emperors would have official history rewritten to suit their tastes and needs. Poets and playwrights throughout history have written marvels of suck-up-itude to their patrons, the rulers. Elizabeth I is still regarded in many circles as the stalwart, virgin Queen, savior of England. The faces and heads of Roman Emperors festoon coins, all with catchy slogans. FDR never allowed himself to be photographed in a wheelchair, if he could help it, to give the impression he was not a crippled man. Hitler ran the movie studios, radio stations and newspapers in Nazi Germany. Stalin told you what to write or say or do or else you wound up in exile in a place that even Eskimos avoided. Popes had church doctrine changed to reinforce their notions of infallibility. JFK's womanizing never saw the light of day until he was long dead and buried, and still he is lionized as some sort of virtuous model.

There may be differences in the type of media involved, after all, Hammurabi's Code on the side of a obelisk is a far cry from Fox News, but whatever the medium, it has always been used by the ruling elite to prop up their rule. Architechture, masonry, coinage, litterature, music, radio, television, satellite boradcasts, movies. They are all insturments of propaganda and all of them are routinely manipulated. Just ask Micheael Moore. There is nothing new under the sun, in this case.

There is, however, a few differences which change the way in which the media operates. We live in a 24-hour news cycle. We have access to more avenues of information than ever before. The competition to be first, to scoop your rivals, the need to fill valuable airtime, now makes the media even easier to manipulate than ever before. Mostly because in the race to be first, to have more information, to be the prime source, media outlets are less likely to be accurate, less likely to do real research. They'd rather be first than be right. In that kind of enviornment, people cut corners, and cutting corners often leads to egregious errors and mistakes. Just ask Dan Rather.

And speaking of Rather, he is a prime example. His half-assed, non-apology when he got caught basically came down to this; the documents may be fraudulent, but the story is true. In other words, it's what we want you to believe, despite the fact the foundation of our whole argument is made of sand. When an icon like Rather stumbles badly, or when newspapers no longer get read, in Mr. Hinchey's world it cannot be because that media cannot be trusted, it must be the result of some external force applied with malicious intent. It must be a plot.

In Mr. Hinchey's universe, as for most democrats, it must be this way because they refuse to admit that their traditional mouthpieces just might be fallible, lazy, inept or are subject to the random chance of human nature. It's almost as if they think that because someone took the time to put it in print, or if came from Peter Jennings' mouth, it MUST be true. They have this view of the press as some monolithic defender of the people's rights, and forget that the press is a business full of people with their own individual agendas and their own personal takes on things. Somehow, these factors get filtered out on their way to press or air and we're supposed to believe that we're getting the unvarnished truth.

The most potent weapon on the planet is information. The second most potent is the ability to control that information. That ability used to belong to democrats, who had an ideological lock on the three major networks and the five or six major newspapers that set the tone for all the others. They had this lock because the gatekeepers of information were either ideologically aligned with the democratic party or died-in-the-wool democrats themselves. In this age, when alternate forms of information are available to everyone 24/7/365 and arrive at the speed of light, it's not so easy to play information traffic cop anymore. These alternate forms of information cannot be outright destroyed, so democrats and their hangers-on do the next best (and predictable) thing; they belittle it, they accuse it of being wrong, they castigate it and they wrap it up in conspiracy theories. These alternate sources must be discredited at all costs.

Rep. Hinchey is merely one more in a long line of those who have decried the democrats loss of the propaganda high ground. This loss makes him and his fellow travelers delrious with fear over the consequences of being unable to control debate in this country, and they are not done with their demonizing yet.

However, history shows that when people have an alternative to the official source, they flock to it, and no amount of official repression can stop the flow of "unorthodox" information. In Islam, the printing press was all but banned until the 19th century. The Catholic Curch burned printers of protestant bibles at the stake, and persecuted the purveyors of alternate thought. Just ask Gallileo. Hitler burned books inimical to the Nazi party or it's ideology. Lenin, Stalin and Mao had dissenters shot out of hand. In Britain, you still require a license to own a television set. None of this is a new idea.

And then we have Mr. Hinchey himself. He is attempting to manipulate the media with his talk of unsubstantiated conspiracy whenever he gets on television and repeats this stuff. The pot calls the kettle black and then wraps himself in the flag as the defender of the "people's right to know".

I have news for Mr. Hinchey and his friends; the people know what they want to know. Folks who watch the nightly news and feel somewhat unsatisfied make efforts to get more information. Cynical folks investigate and experiment rather than accept the "conventional wisdom". The truly objective make an effort to hear both sides of a story. The uninterested digest whatever crap is served to them. The truly stupid don't even care.

Mr. Hinchey's conspiracy theory also leaves out two minor, but still important possibilities. If the press is a stalwart champion of the people, interested in it's own integrity, profits and reputation, then it is guilty of being sloppy, lazy and stupid in the way in which it gathers, sorts and reports information. The other possibility is that the press actually WANTS to be duped, in which case, it is a willing accomplice. In either case, the press itself is to blame. Not Karl Rove, not Republicans, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or George Bush, and certainly not the Tooth Fairy. Why would the press wish to be a willing accomplice in a fiendish plot to undermine their own credibility, you ask? How about currying favor with the ruling clique, to gain access to the players, to get inside information, to shut the competition out. This line of reasoning falls flat on it's face because even if the press did get favors and access, who would believe them after they've made such collossal mistakes in order to get the access?

CBS got fooled because it wanted to believe the documents were real. Gannon/Guckert got access because the White House knows just how important bloggers are in getting it's message out to the folks, and they perhaps didn't do their homework on him. As for Mr. Williams, I cannot even begin to imagine what his motivation was (rumored to be cash, however). In any case, the issue of the sanctity of the mainstream, official press as guardian of the people is damaged goods.

In any case, the White House did not create the enviornment the press operates in -- the press itself did. Perhaps Karl did take advantage of it, but that has been the case with every government operative since the beginning of time. Mr. Hinchey's claim is neither original nor necessarily false, but the way in which he presents it is even more odious. The real reason for all the smoke and mirrors is that Mr. Hinchey, and many of his peers, recognize that they have lost the information battle. New circumstances and methods have outpaced their ability to continue putting new prom dresses on the same old pig, and these outlets and methods are outside their realm of control. They find themselves in the same situation Neanderthal Man faced when confronted by modern Homo Sapiens.

I have no doubt that one day democrats will learn and adapt to these new realities, make effective use of the new media and in their turn, do the same things they now accuse Rove of. That's part of the art and science of politics. It just will not happen while they continue to hold their breath and stamp their feet and rampage like a 3 year-old denied a piece of candy. It requires brainpower and logical thought, and at the moment, the democrats and their press puppets cannot muster much of either.

So, the best they can do is a conspiracy theory.

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