James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The real media message from Iowa

In the early 1960s, a Canadian named Marshall McLuhan wrote a book, “Understanding Media,” that was a very big deal, although few people actually read his turgid prose.

What made it big beyond the tiny audience of scholars who really cared about how various communications media affect public perceptions and actions was one enigmatic statement: “The medium is the message.”

There still are arguments about what that really means, but I figure the hoopla, blather, nonsense and plain nuttiness spilling from our television sets and noozpapers since Thursday night pretty much prove the point as I understand it.

There probably are very few Americans who aren't convinced by now that the Iowa caucuses and the upcoming New Hampshire primaries are very significant indeed. And believing it, they make it so, though neither event has much significance in itself.

Despite having warned against acceptance of such nonsense right here on my blog a couple of days earlier, I felt myself being sucked in Thursday night. Yessiree bob. Sure looked like Hillary's goose was cooked, that Obama had emerged as the likely candidate of the Democratic wing of the Corporate Party, that Edwards was on his way out and that Huckabee, the super Christian, was gonna be the candidate of the Republican branch.

The “commentators” were excited. Breathing hard. You could switch from network to network, CNN to CNBC, everywhere but Fox Propaganda, and the opinions and lock-step analyses were almost identical. Wow. What a horse race! Yessir, Obama had a thrilling victory which showed us America was ready for a black president and women would vote for a man over Clinton, and Huckabee showed the rich guys of the Republican right that the middle class is unhappy with their leadership and, and, and....

And it's almost entirely fiction, except that in being sucked into accepting the nonsense, the public may well turn it into reality, thus again allowing handful of corporate commentators to choose for them.

To repeat: Iowa is a sparsely populated, behind-the-times state with a mostly rural population that is 93 percent white. While the people who participate in the process do, as one reader pointed out to me, make considerable effort to check out the candidates before the caucuses, they do so from a pretty narrow point of view. (They might vote for a black guy – might; we still don't know for sure – but most of them don't know any black people, and their opinions are formed mostly on the basis of television news: Gangs bad, rappers bad, some celebrities good.)

And New Hampshire is 96 percent white, mostly rural and small town, with pretty narrow, social-conservative views.

The professional blabbers were very excited Thursday evening by the big jump in caucus attendance in Iowa, particularly on the Democrat Branch side. More than 200,000 attended Democrat caucuses; Republican numbers were considerably smaller.

What they pointedly did not mention -- it would greatly have reduced the message of significance -- is that the population of Iowa is slightly less than 3 million, according to 2006 Census figures. (The state holds less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, by the by.)

So all of the hoopla is about the actions of less than 10 percent of the residents of a very small (by population) state.

Want to guess how many of those very white rural folks in the nonparticipating 90-plus percent -- people who get their news from television and often get their views from "reality television" -- are willing to vote for a black man who, they've been told, attended a Muslim school as a child?

Both Iowa and New Hampshire are traditionally Republican, incidentally.

What we've seen in the papers and, especially, on television is show biz, folks, not news. The yapping heads are hucksters, not reporters. They're the guy on the back of the medicine wagon, the woman doing the restrained grind in front of the hootchie-kootchie show, the barker talking you in to see the corpse of the giant squid, the shill for the three-card monte dealer.

Their purpose is to increase ratings, not to enlighten. They do that by persuading you that what you are seeing is important. It doesn't have to be, most often isn't, actually important.

But by convincing us that their version of events is the real thing, they get a great many people to behave in ways that are innately illogical and stupid. The medium is the message.

(Even Britney's being hauled to the hospital, with film of her trucked out of her house on a gurney, interrupted the flow only for a couple of hours, off an on – and am I prescient or what? The Iowa story already was scripted, the flapping jaws in place, so that act had to go on.)

Election cycle after election cycle, more intensely every four years, Americans are brought to believe that they should go along with the positions taken by maybe 400,000 small-state residents whose views generally are different from the views of a majority of Americans on a long list of important issues, such as abortion, the rights of gay Americans, the entry into and conduct of war and adherence to the U.S. Constitution, taking measures to protect the physical environment, the role of religion in government and our attitudes and conduct toward other countries.

The media say it's so, and therefore, for a large and uncritical portion of Americans it is so.

If you're chewing over Thursday's results, taking the jaw flappers seriously, let me suggest a couple of lines of thought, and questions to ask yourselves or others:

Have you noticed that almost all of the coverage of candidates has been celebrity coverage? You have been told much about their spouses and marriages, about their family backgrounds, about how they deliver a speech.

There have been stories about their tastes in music and food, where they went to school, haircuts and styles of dress. You've been told that Obama appeals to “optimism” and sees himself as someone who “can bring people together” (where they will dine on him before going back to attacking each other).

You've been told endlessly about Clinton's claim of experience and real leadership ability. Only very recently, belatedly, in fact, you've been told that Edwards is willing to take on the country's oligarchical corporations.

What do you know, really, about their positions on issues of importance?

Are you aware that serious analysts of economics and health care issues call Obama's health care “plan” little more than a guarantee of continued runaway profits for insurance companies and pharmaceuticals? And that the expert views of Clinton's plan are only minutely better?

Are you aware that Huckabee is rabidly antiabortion, antigay and for teaching right wing Christian views, rather than accepted science, in our schools?

Also, think hard about who has received how much of what kind of coverage.

A few weeks ago, or maybe it was a bit longer than that, the New York Times disappeared Dennis Kucinich. That's right; so far as the Times is concerned he does not exist. The paper had two big pieces last week on positions taken by candidates of both wings of the Corporate Party. Kucinich's name did not appear.

Television and most other newspapers did the same months ago.

And that disappearance came after about a year of telling us the man could not possibly be taken seriously – but never, never telling us what his positions and thoughts were about anything. The nooz people didn't want us to take him seriously, to get a look at him, so they never gave him, or us, a chance.

They did much the same, though not so blatantly, with a few others, some of whom actually are nuts, and some of whom, like Kucinich, are intelligent, perhaps even brilliant, and certainly strong and honest members of Congress.

You might ask yourselves why you would take seriously anything propounded by a “news” media that would simply refuse to let you know about candidates they don't want you to know. You might also ask what those people were afraid of and why.

The big story that won't be published in tomorrow's newspaper or bleated about endlessly on CNN is the utter breakdown of the American news media as serious public watchdogs, and what that breakdown means for rapidly fading American democracy.

The medium is the message, and the real media message is: Do not believe us; do not trust us.

The ediots who are killing newspapers

Thursday, before the Iowa caucuses, I turned on my television set briefly, to see if there might be any real news breaking.

Sometimes television will tell you that.

On one of the talking-head cable stations, I'm not even sure which one, I ran across an odd program that consisted of several people talking, one by one, in short statements. They were identified, in lettering below their wagging mouths, as “newspaper executive” or “newspaper editor” or some other variation on that theme. No names, oddly, either personal or newspaper, though one must assume they had been identified by name at the beginning of whatever peculiar show it was.

What those supposed newspaper bigwigs were talking about is why they print the crap they do, and why they don't bother much covering serious news or the kind of news that has real and long-lasting significance for the lives of human beings.

“We do research,” said one very smug mug. “We do focus groups and take surveys. People say they want real news, but what they really want to read is the little blonde girl who disappeared in Europe.”

“We know readers really want celebrity news,” said a woman who reminded me in more ways than one of the MBA-holding jenny who now is editor of the once-fine newspaper where I labored for 30 years. “They're bored by serious things.”

About three more such quick comments and I snapped the thing off in raging disgust.

Half an hour later, I realized I should have sat through it and taken notes for the edification of those who read my stuff. I should have found out who those alleged newspaper editors and/or publishers were and what newspapers that represented, or misrepresented.

When I hear such fools -- it's hard not to hear one every week or so, somewhere, expounding on why they don't do real reporting any more and, by strong implication, on the fact that Americans are dribbling idiots -- I want to put them against a wall and make a couple of points of my own.

The main point being: Hey, jackasses, you say you are dumbing down your publications because it's what the public wants. But the public is abandoning you in rapidly increasing numbers. If you're giving them what they want, why is that happening? And have you noticed that the only newspapers holding their ground on circulation are the handful of newspapers that continue to try to do serious reporting on the issues and events that really matter?

As with the moguls of finance and heavy industry, however, there is a wall of ideology and stupidity that cannot be breached. The only thing to do is break them and replace them.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iowa...It don't mean a thing

Quick note: I had not intended to take such a long break over the holidays, but should have anticipated that the break would be long. My household is chaos from early December until almost mid-January every year. I regret the absence because there is so much to say that others, especially the corporate propaganda outlets, aren't saying, but it couldn't be helped.


I trust your hearts are palpitating and your breath is short. You no doubt are having trouble concentrating on the mundane stuff of life.

On Thursday Iowa holds its party caucuses. Pant, pant. Be still, my heart.

That evening, the jackasses – uh, that is, the reporters and “commentators” for the once-were newspapers and network and cable nooz -- will give us the identities of the 2008 presidential candidates for the Republican and Democratic branches of the Corporate Party.

Subject to change if results are different in New Hampshire, of course.

The candidates and the people who fancy themselves journalists have been crawling all over Iowa for months now, delivering and listening to the same inane speeches over and over and endlessly over. The silly journalists have gobbled and spit out poll after poll, they've spent hours with small town big shots and clergymen and farmers whom, in their normal mode, they hold in deepest contempt, and they have regurgitated what they've heard as though it was pronounced from a burning bush.

That is because Iowa is, of course, the very heart of America, and typifies the entire country. It is where we get our national leaders. It is Iowa that decides what music we will hear, what fashions we will wear, how we will decorate our homes, what books we will read, what new social formulations we will take seriously, what our health care policy and foreign policies will be, and where global warming first drew serious attention.

Oh. It's not?

Iowa isn't where national economic policy is born, or where great scientific discoveries are most often made or where fine art is at the foundation of local society? (Iowa has thus far produced two notable painters. Grant Wood was one, and I can't remember the other. The neighbors didn't much like either one of them.)

The flat truth that we're supposed to ignore is that Iowa is a rather thinly populated, overwhelmingly white-face farm state where almost everyone goes to a mainstream church (not synagogue or mosque) and where originality or questioning of the local norms on any issue is regarded with deep suspicion if not outright hostility – not unlike certain portions of my home state, Iowa's northern neighbor, Minnesota.

It is a state from which we occasionally get serious innovation in agriculture – and, no, I'm not knocking that – but where progress in social issues and understanding of geo-political reality generally is at least a decade behind the majority of the nation.

So, you may ask, as others often have, why does anyone give a tinker's damn about the Iowa caucuses?

Because “the press” is too stupid, too ill-trained and too cowardly to devote its time and efforts to going after the real stories that lie within reach but untouched, too lazy and too fearful to write seriously about the life and death issues facing this deteriorating remnant of the United States of America.

When you haven't the guts to deal honestly with social and political deterioration, the deliberate undermining of the U.S. Constitution, the greed-driven destruction of the physical environment, you write about the Iowa caucuses as though they are significant.

When you're afraid to tell the truth about candidates who put their own careers way ahead of the survival of the planet, when you're too dimwitted to see what the huge and growing divide between the very rich and everyone else bodes for the future of the nation, when you dare not tell plain and demonstrable truths about crack-brained religious nuts running for the country's highest office, you divert the public's attention by writing nonsense about a meaningless political horse race in a backwater state.

Play the game and your colleagues approve, your right-wing super-rich boss approves, and you get to stay on the bus, pretending that what you do is important.

Don't fall for it, people, I beg you. Do not believe that candidates favored by the few of Iowa are the ones we must accept and vote for. Especially, do not let the jackasses of television and once-were newspapers think that you believe their fictions. Write at least one letter to an editor or a television news outfit and tell them you've seen through their game of “hide the truth.”


Then it will be New Hampshire, another small state far out of what is today mainstream America. And again the reporters and columnists will be breathlessly asking silly questions and giving silly answers: Will New Hampshire voters change the direction set by Iowans? Will they confirm the Iowa caucuses and so set in stone the nominations? Will Britney marry a grocery carryout boy while having sex with him in the back of a limo?

Don't be pulled into caring, or accepting the supposed results. Iowa is not America. New Hampshire is not America. Their voters do not represent you and me.