Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We Should Treat All Punditry With Caution

I was tempted to bypass commenting on the departure of Lt. Col. Ralph Peters from Fox News until I read Jack Holmes’ piece at Esquire.
“The Republican Party's base now exists in a closed information system dominated by talk radio and Fox News. Dissent—or attempts to poke holes in the bubble—will not be tolerated. So, it was remarkable when last night's news was dominated by a letter sent by a Fox News contributor, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, to the network's employees. Peters set out to explain the reasons he was leaving the cable news juggernaut. The ex-analyst did not mince words, calling Fox ‘a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.’”
It's Peters' timeline that comes up short. He says that ‘Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine.’ But when did this degeneration take place? When Trump became president? When he got the Republican nomination? When he became the frontrunner? When he got in the race?”
“The stranglehold on the conservative psyche exercised by Fox and talk radio will not easily be broken. They appeal to the darkest corners of the lizard brain, the fears and the vengeful bitterness that keep eyes glued to the screen—and generating dollars.”
“Perhaps it's a start that Peters, by his account, gave up the money on offer in a Fox contract in the name of principle. Money is at the heart of it all, as the right-wing infotainment sphere has become a lucrative career path. The money and the power also convince many Republican leaders it's worth abiding the loons in their base year after year. Trump, the cash-guzzling cartoon tycoon, is merely a grotesque caricature of an existing archetype in the conservative movement. For all our sakes, conservatives will need to accept that this moment is a mudslide, not a lightning strike.”
The Lt. Colonel’s chief complaint centers around his belief the network’s hosts are advancing Putin’s agenda by “making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign.”
He asserted the network had downgraded itself from being an “outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.”
On July 6, 2017 President Trump delivered a speech in Krasiński Square in Warsaw, Poland before heading to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.  It was this speech, in which President Trump said, “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes─including Syria and Iran─and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself,” that Peters proclaimed, “That Warsaw speech was to me, the most timely, the most effective speech given by an American president since Ronald Reagan.”
If President Trump’s address cleared up all doubts and reservations he’d had about the President’s attitude on the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, what the hell happened to put a bee in Peters’ bonnet?
Just days before Peters declined to renew his contract with Fox, he penned a piece for the Hoover Institution entitled, “Post-Modern Propaganda: The Gatekeepers Are Gone.”
“No plague in history spread with the speed of internet disinformation. We live in an age of hyper-charged propaganda, an onslaught of lies more pervasive than any that came before. Over millennia, propaganda changed minds. Today, it changes governments and subverts institutions. And this flood has burst the dams that, for centuries, kept the foulest waters in check.
He walks through the progression of propaganda from ancient times to present day and concludes:
“Then the digital revolution arrived to conjure internet anarchy. This Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the avatar of the genocidal lie, empowered fanatics and propagandists everywhere: one man or woman with a laptop computer could spread a destabilizing or deadly claim worldwide. Further enabled by Silicon Valley hubris, which discounted editorial checks, the new apparatchiks of Putin’s Russia suddenly could run wild—the bigger the lie, the warmer its reception by the ill-educated, the disaffected or the cravenly ambitious, by political hacks, bigots, fanatics and madmen. Under the false flag of free speech, the internet subverted our democracy, and its corporate masters grew fabulously rich through their self-adoring irresponsibility.”
“Putin’s Russia swiftly leapt from propaganda to outright information warfare. 2016 was our information-age Pearl Harbor. But instead of standing shoulder to shoulder against the threat to our vital institutions, we’ve been reduced to squabbling amongst ourselves, compounding the effects of Russian schemes.”
“We’ve entered a new age of hyper-propaganda, of post-modern warfare. If we fail to unite and take this threat as seriously as the danger from long-range missiles or terrorism, we’re committing suicide by the gigabyte.”
“Now it’s up to the titans of tech to defend the civilization that enriched them by imposing objective editorial standards on their platforms, to develop a new and credible system of guardians of the facts, of gatekeepers against subversive lies.  And the private sector, not the government, has to do it.”
“Or we can let the propagandists win.”
Peters is not entirely wrong about the legacy media churning out propaganda, but when 90 percent of the coverage of President Trump in 2017 by ABC, CBS and NBC was negative, his rage is off the mark.
Fox News replied in a statement saying: “Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he's choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention. We are extremely proud of our top-rated primetime hosts and all of our opinion programming.”
Peters told the Washington Post he does not agree with Fox News’ criticism of his email. “It just makes no sense. If I wanted attention, I would have stayed on Fox News and spoke to a few million people a day. I have no intention of seeking other TV news opportunities. I am not a great-looking guy, I have a high-pitched voice and I smack my lips. To what end am I looking for attention?”
Peters said the farewell email that leaked to BuzzFeed “was meant for internal consumption. Fox is entitled to their views.”
Lt. Col. Peters does not deserve our scorn, but our sadness.  I point to his verbal fisticuffs with Tucker Carlson on July 11, 2017.

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