Sunday, July 26, 2009
Birth-Brains 3: The Reckoning
Chances are a lot of you have heard by now that a couple of days ago, in response to Lou Dobbs's decision to seemingly allow his brain to implode on national television vis-a-vis the whole "birther controversy," CNN U.S. President Jon Klein issued an internal memo declaring the story dead.
Chances are you may also know that, as arrogant bullies are often wont to do, Dobbs completely ignored the edict from on-high and continues to use CNN's air to express skepticism that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen. Klein's reaction to this insubordination? Nothing of course -- not a goddamned thing other than to spinelessly, inexplicably make excuses for the guy who just laughed in his face in front of the world. CNN's been feeling quite a bit of heat lately over the Dobbs-birther miasma; there are calls for Dobbs's big orange head by people who rightly claim that airing a rumor, a debunked myth, goes way beyond the pale for a news organization that values its reputation, as CNN purports to. Klein, taking the classic enabler stance, suggests in interviews that Dobbs really does believe that Obama is "legal" (to use Dobbs's own tired terminology) and is simply reporting on the phenomenon itself.
Needless to say, this is crap. Reporting the bullshit rumor means furthering the bullshit rumor -- and Klein knows this. The people who believe this kind of nonsense only need to see it on TV or in print, in almost any form, to continue to buy into it. Unless your intention is to 100% debunk it and thoroughly repudiate those trying to advance it without a shred of proof or new information, simply a lot of half-assed conjecture, indulging the "controversy" at this point simply makes you part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Need proof? The moment Jon Klein issued the "Dead" memo, the right-wing clowns who still cling ruthlessly to the ridiculous birther myth immediately cried foul, screeching about how Klein's decision to declare the story over and done was, in and of itself, proof that they were onto something and that, of course, the liberal media was part of the conspiracy to silence the whole thing before the "truth" came out. As with the 9/11 Truth whack-jobs, almost anything can be taken as confirmation of their beliefs. That's the very nature of conspiracy theories and those who hold to them.
Jon Klein did the right thing declaring the story over, barring any new, honest revelations. It's a shame no one's listening -- least of all one of the anchors within his own organization.
I've linked to the story below a couple of times since the whole birther controversy began. I'm reprinting it this morning because I think it says everything that needs to be said about the media's role in the perpetuataion of the birther myth and conspiracy theories in general. It shocks me that even though this was written way back in August of last year, it's still relevant today.
"The Speed of Lies" (Originally Published, 8.28.08)
If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama is unfit to be President of the United States; his candidacy is nothing more than a dangerously specious house of cards that will almost surely collapse if allowed to continue.
According to Berg, Barack Obama harbors a secret which disqualifies him outright from running for the office of president -- and it's only a matter of time before the truth comes to light and the resulting embarrassing debacle leaves the entire Democratic Party in chaos.
See, If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen.
Last Thursday, Berg -- a Philadelphia attorney who's something of a notorious presence within that city's legal community -- filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania demanding that an injunction be issued against the official nomination of Obama. The suit charges that the Illinois senator is constitutionally ineligible to become president on the grounds that he has yet to produce a valid U.S. birth certificate -- Berg claiming that the current one on file from Hawaii is a forgery, proven so by "three forensic experts" -- and that he maintains an unresolved dual-citizenship and owes allegiances to both Kenya and Indonesia, where his father was born and where he lived as a child, respectively. Berg says that he has access to copies of Obama's Jakartan school records which show the candidate registered under the surname of his mother's 2nd husband, Lolo Soetoro, and listed as an Indonesian citizen; as if to hedge his bet, he insists that even if Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate is indeed shown to be authentic, the school registry should be enough to keep the candidate out of the White House.
If these allegations sound familiar, they should; in one form or another, each of them has been bandied about the internet or bullhorned across conservative radio for months now in an ongoing effort to paint Barack Obama as "different."
Oh yeah, and they're all basically bullshit.
A couple of weeks back, the Annenberg Political Fact Check -- an organization whose credentials are pretty much bulletproof -- set out to settle once and for all the debate over Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate. The word "debate" deserves no small amount of qualification because, in reality, there never was a legitimate claim to be made that the document was phony -- simply a lot of fantastical conspiracy theorist innuendo, perpetuated and amplified at lightning speed by a million far-right dolts with computers and delusions of Sherlock Holmesian cleverness. Annenberg dispatched staffers to examine the birth certificate and ruled, to the surprise of no one with a modicum of common sense and two brain cells to rub together, that it's 100% legit; Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. As for the claim that Obama holds a dual citizenship or is in any other way beholden to a foreign country -- that was exposed as nonsense months ago.
And yet Philip Berg filed his lawsuit anyway. He filed it knowing full-well, one would have to imagine, that most of its claims are bogus -- that they already had been or easily could be debunked.
So why? What the hell would possess someone to willfully propagate claims that are tenuous at best and outright false at worst -- even going so far as to do it in court?
Because these days, when it comes to politics particularly, the truth is negotiable -- and there's value in the lie.
Whereas once there were a select few sources of information, and those sources were generally deemed credible by all but those on the furthest fringes of the public, now anyone can be his or her own news source. And while -- as this site, ironically, has advanced -- the rise of citizen journalism and hyper-connectivity has been good for the ethics of media as a whole, it's also created a treacherous wasteland of journalistic mini-fiefdoms, each spouting its own version of reality and together making it impossible, at times, to tell honest, well-researched fact from made-up crap conjured out of thin air to further an agenda. Whether the message comes in the form of an e-mail forwarded to your inbox by that paranoid uncle with the survival bunker in his basement who you're always hoping skips Thanksgiving, or as a bitter flamewar on every news aggregation outlet across the blogosphere, the internet has replaced television as the most effective and least regulated tool for political propaganda in America.
Which is why, ironically, it's now become the partial responsibility of television to help keep the corruption in check. It's too bad the good folks in the TV news media are usually unwilling to do it.
Mainstream media managers, as a whole, subscribe fully to the notion that bloggers and their internet realm are of an inferior journalistic stock; they see them as pests constantly circling the carrion of stories already broken by TV, radio and print; they condescend to them, dismissively painting their ilk as pasty, overweight losers, futilely raging against the machine from the comfort of a Middle-American basement, hopped up on Red Bull and basking in the post-orgasmic bliss of an afternoon spent masturbating to Asian porn. Those who adhere to the Mega-Media ethos believe that when a blogger does break a story, the quality of that piece of information can be judged by whether or not it rises to the level of inclusion in a mainstream broadcast, newspaper or magazine. In other words, only those above the radar can make the decision as to what's worth pulling up from under the radar. The problem is, the good stuff -- the powerful investigation, the sometimes penetrating insight -- gets passed over by the larger media outlets because it's, well, boring. It doesn't make for good TV or a quick, sharp read. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the garbage -- the rumor, conjecture, and misdirection -- is often picked up and elevated to the level of "real news" simply because it's so damn juicy and such a sure-fire ratings or circulation enhancer. A crap story thrown out by a few official-sounding blogs -- like the story of Obama's "phony" birth certificate -- can suddenly be granted validation simply by virtue of the fact that the "controversy" surrounding it is being discussed on national television. The lie is amplified inside the 24/7 cable news echo-chamber and, presto, it's suddenly palatable and worthy of serious consideration by 90% of the population.
It would be one thing if mainstream media outlets faced this kind of bullshit head-on and said, "No, this story isn't true, and if you believe it you're a lunatic." But it's better for ratings and revenue to instead ask, "A lot of folks are saying (insert spurious assertion here), but is it true?" (For the record, nobody does this vaguely referenced end-run on responsibility better than Fox News; see "Terrorist Fist Jab.") It goes without saying that this is how political propaganda is perpetuated; by reporting the rumor as its own story -- without sharply and decisively denouncing it -- you're validating it, giving new life to it, and ensuring that enough people will believe it that the very future of the country could wind up eventually hinging on it.
Ask yourself this: How many people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim?
Or this: How many people still believe that Iraq was connected to 9/11?
Very few within the mainstream media came right out and unequivocally shot down these ludicrous rumors before they could take root within the consciousness of the masses -- or at the very least, the minds of those who wanted nothing more than to have their preconceived biases confirmed.
There are thousands of Americans who will still claim that they "don't trust" Obama -- and yet they'll base this lack of trust on their willingness to trust an e-mail that got forwarded to them by a friend of a friend of a friend of some guy somewhere.
It's the responsibility of respectable news media everywhere to bring truth to propaganda and refute the fiction proffered for the sole purpose of sowing discord and confusing the electorate. It's incumbent upon the mainstream media, particularly if they value their stature as strongly as they claim, to shine a bright light on the lies, rather than fueling the fire by debating the merits of a story that they know perfectly well has no merits.
Should you believe Philip Berg?
It's a question that doesn't need to be asked, because it's already been answered.