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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mainstreaming Right-Wing Extremism, Eliminationism, Violence

Mainstreaming Right-Wing Extremism, Eliminationism, Violence
Image © Austin Cline
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The accusation that the American media are biased towards liberalism has been so common and repeated so often that it's pretty much reached the point of accepted wisdom by now. People don't repeat it anymore as a conclusion to an argument, but rather as an unquestioned premise in some other argument. As a result, no one bothers to even look for any evidence to support this position; if they did, they would find that not only is the evidence not there, but in fact there is significant evidence for very different — and far more disturbing — conclusions.

Anyone who looks very closely at what sorts of material, views, and ideas keep being repeated in America's news media will find not only a surfeit of conservative ideas as compared to liberal ideas, but in fact an incredible amount of right-wing extremism that is presented without any attempt at critique or challenge. News talk shows frequently host multiple guests who are all very conservative and maybe one moderate — yet no liberals, much less far-left liberals.

Thus extremist ideas, beliefs, and claims are presented to the public as if they were normal and justified. News media regularly feature extremists making claims about Obama being a secret Muslim or not really being an American citizen, about America becoming more fascist because of government spending, that God is punishing America for being tolerant of gays or abortion, that basic liberal government policies are really examples of creeping socialism, and so forth.

Featuring such claims as legitimate "news" might be almost forgivable if the news media at least tried to exercise a bit of "balance" by giving equal attention to ideas that can be found on the equivalent extremes of the left side of the political spectrum. Then again, there is little to be found that far out to the left — yet even those who do qualify as being "far-left" in American politics are completely ignored by the media. Indeed, even just those who might qualify as "very liberal" and "very progressive" rarely get much attention from the mainstream news media.

The effect of lavishing so much time and attention on far-right extremism is that their delusions gain credibility and their insanity becomes mainstream. Repeating the talking points of far-right extremists over and over causes them to start to gain acceptance. It's been established in psychological studies that repeating a falsehood just once makes it more likely that people will remember it and think it's true — even if you explicitly state that it's a myth. When the media uncritically repeats the delusions of the far right, they are just causing more and more people to implicitly — and later explicitly — believe those delusions are facts.

Over time, this causes the political and social culture of society to tilt farther and farther to the right. People believe more and more far-right delusions as if they were facts, including delusions about liberalism and liberal political ideas. Falsehoods, distortions, and propaganda get accepted uncritically as truths, shutting off political debate and growth. Is it any wonder that even liberals in America are, in some respects, more conservative than conservative political parties in many European nations?

Is this the product of a conspiracy by the American news media to further a far-right extremist agenda? No, or at least it doesn't need to be a conspiracy to get us to this point. What we have in America is a corporate news media which requires controversy and conflict as well as enough material to fill 24 hours a day. Far-right extremism fulfills both needs: they create lots of controversy and conflict and are always willing to provide people to help fill the news day with commentary. As a consequence, our corporate news media is actively engaged in causing great harm to American politics in the quest for advertising dollars.

Is there any remedy for this? A news media not beholden to corporate interests and not dependent on advertising dollars would be nice, but we may be too far gone for this. Even if we went so far as to create something along these lines, it would have trouble competing with our current bad media. Restructuring America's news media will take a lot of time, so we need something else that will produce positive results in the short term.

The best example of this, I think, would be to have self-conscious and self-confident representatives of the political left to make inroads in the news media. I don't mean the "liberals" we already see on TV because they are little more than half-hearted moderates who spend the bulk of their time apologizing for not being as conservative as Joseph McCarthy. After so many years of being tarred with labels like "communist" and "socialist," people are growing afraid to even call themselves liberal, and many are too scared to either make a strong case for progressive causes or make a strong leftist challenge to far-right extremism.

When I say what we need representatives of the political left to act as a counter-weight to the far-right extremists who dominate the media, I don't mean people who are the equivalent of far-right extremists — people who act as apologists for left-wing violence, eliminationism, or anything of the kind. I'm talking about people who are unapologetic about being leftist and liberal, perhaps even socialist or communist, who will make aggressive arguments on behalf of leftist policies. I'm talking about people who aren't afraid of the smears from the right, who take the childish labeling of the extremists as a badge of honor, and who will ignore any pleas from "moderate" liberals to keep quiet lest they arouse the animosity of "real" Americans.

The work of such leftists will benefit everyone, including those more moderate. First, if they are able to achieve at least as equal of a presence in the public eye as far-right extremists, they might begin to tip the overall state of public political discussions away from the far right, thus making it a bit more moderate again. Second, it will give cover to other liberals who are accused of things like socialism — after all, moderate liberals will be able to clearly distinguish their views from the views of actual socialists who are getting attention and coverage. Indeed, Americans might even learn what socialism and communism really are if they get a chance to hear from socialists and communists, rather than only hearing the lies of conservatives.

If you think about it, all I'm arguing for here is for a greater public presence and greater media coverage of people arguing for political, economic, and social policies which already get plenty of attention in Europe and which are, in fact, generally mainstream in Europe. In America, though, it actually sounds radical to argue that liberals should get as much attention when making their arguments and promote their views as conservatives are given to lie about those same views. How sad is that?

Well, it's almost as sad as the fact that there are so few people in America who actually could fulfill this role. Even if they existed, though, getting them anything like equal attention in the news media would be difficult. It would be wrong to simply rely on the media's good will and sense of fairness because they have neither. Instead, liberal and leftist groups would have to push and push and push to get their representatives more time and attention. They will have to make noise, exert pressure, whine loudly — in short, all the tactics which conservative groups have used to cause their representatives to become standard go-to voices in the news. Look at how well it's worked for conservatives over the past generation —  when will liberals and leftists learn from this and push back?


  1. Anonymous10:33 AM

    The very idea that in the U.S. one can be "tarred" as holding to a political philosophy rather common and unsurprising in most other countries of the world -- as being a socialist -- is telling enough.

  2. I decided to get involved with MoveOn. Mostly because they've been demonized by the lunatic right and I want to put a human face on the organization in my community. Thats in spite of islamocommiedopeheadedsocialistmurderers like comrade Klinksi.

  3. I started blogging during the campaign season last year specifically because "muslim" being used as some sort of insult disgusted me. The fact that Palin is now considered some sort of queen amongst conservatives (yes, many people do respect and admire her), when her schtick was to do nothing more than rally a crowd into a frenzy of racist hatred made me sick.

    We need to fight back.

  4. Thank you for this article. You hit the nail squarely on the head. One example is Sarah Palin. Her whines and rants against MSM abuse of her are so ludicrous it's unreal. She's treated as if she has double coats of teflon.

    I told a friend just this morning that I longed for the days of the true investigative reporters with the tough questions. I think if you want the real news, you have to go to the blogs. No, not the right wing fanatics although they serve the purpose of showing just what kind of scary folks are out there spouting their poison. Keep up the good work! Thanks!

  5. It feels as though the creepy uncle has taken our national discourse hostage, and no matter how much we cry he's going to bury it in his basement. It is quite possible that he already did.

    On a similar note:

    sarah palin, shining bright
    a bird that sings into the night
    in a circle she does fly
    with one right wing we all know why


  6. The biggest obstacle we have to intelligent political discourse is that public education has been stripped down to barely be able to cover the basics; never mind Civics, the Constitution, and Critical Thinking.

    The Dumbing Down of America, the making it nearly impossible to get a college education, and creation of an economy that makes it a luxury to read in depth instead of work a second job to make ends meet, has been a deliberate effort to keep people in line, to keep as many people as possible reliant on what the media dishes out as "truth".

    It is up to everyone who rejects the status quo of the MSM to converse with as many people as possible about the factual nature of the world -- screw the official message. I am all for sending that on its head.

  7. I don't know why I bother checking in on The General on Sundays, what with all this heavy and honest commentary. Makes my head hurt. I'm going to go watch FOX KKKnews so I know what to think tomorrow.....
    Oh shit. I don't own a TV. Fucking doomed tomorrow....

  8. Anonymous10:30 PM

    Well, the government surely isn't going to save us -- they've already been bought out by the dark side.
    We need to sidestep the government and start an alternate economy, based on businesses that are worker-owned cooperatives. Once there are enough of them, they will win out because -- who would you rather work for? A big corporation who expects you to be a slave, or for yourself in a business that pays you a decent wage and a percentage of the profits and in which you participate in the decisions? Once most people are working in these kinds of businesses, the big corporations will die for lack of willing slaves (and customers), and then we can take the government back.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.