In the spirit of St Patrick’s Day:
I’ll make this quick because it’s Friday and I have no desire to work late tonight.
MSNBC’s heading faster and faster down a dangerous road and it needs to put the brakes on. Now.
For a couple of years now the network has been fielding accusations of being the liberal answer to Fox News and for a couple of years now I’ve defended it as being nothing of the sort. While Fox News has had a top-down political mandate from the start, one that’s not only allowed to but is expected to directly impact every single facet of its coverage, MSNBC has always been in a more precarious position journalistically. That’s because MS has always had to answer to the NBC News mothership, which is insistent on balance and objectivity to a fault. NBC is so dedicated to the notion of non-bias that it will proudly behave as if all political stories have two equal sides, essentially turning its journalists into little more than stenographers dutifully reporting the conventional wisdom from whichever side of the aisle they happen to be assigned to — and MSNBC had to at least nominally toe that company line because not to would hurt NBC News’s reputation as a whole.
Yes, there were a lot of programs on MSNBC that leaned left, particularly in the prime time opinion block, but the shows were basically hosted by progressives who provided a leftward slant rather than having that leftward slant dictated to them from on-high.
But lately a lot has changed at MS. The dayside block of shows, which for the most part used to consist of well-balanced, straightforward news, has now had a giant pile of pure left-leaning provocation dropped right in the middle of it in the form of Alex Wagner’s daily troll-fest, Now. Then a couple of weeks ago it was announced that the network was bringing Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod aboard as paid contributors, essentially throwing any illusion of fairness right out the 3rd floor window of 30 Rock. For the record, no news organization anywhere should employ any member or former member of a sitting president’s administration. That’s journalism 101. Finally, a couple of nights ago MS seemed to go fully down the rabbit hole by either mocking for a scant few seconds or entirely ignoring Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster over the nomination of John Brennan as CIA chief.
Look, Paul’s a self-righteous little turd and his filibuster wasn’t much more than a grandiose publicity stunt aimed at improving his Q-Score and grabbing tightly onto an anti-Obama issue that might actually have legs, rather than the usual right-wing cacophony of made-up nonsense. But that said, the filibuster deserved coverage. O’Donnell gave it a few minutes and Maddow, predictably, was all about due diligence but for the most part everyone else pretended it wasn’t happening. For 13 hours. That’s the kind of crap Fox News pulls when someone not on its side makes news that can’t instantly be painted as bad for the country. Perfect example: Just recently Fox hyped the hell out of the Robert Menendez Dominican prostitute “scandal” but when the whole thing fell apart it ignored it completely, not even bothering to inform its audience that the initial report was horseshit. That kind of thing isn’t simply bad journalism, it’s bad for the country because it reinforces, more and more and more, each side’s epistemic bubble. The job of a news outlet is to provide an unflinching look at the stories of the day and to broadcast or report only echo chamber items is a gross dereliction of duty.
MSNBC still tops Fox News in that it relies much more heavily on facts and independent reasoning than its nemesis. Its stable of conservative personalities is also far more robust than the typically ineffectual tomato cans Fox trots out as red meat for its right-wing prize fighters. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to defend MSNBC as being something other than what its critics have long called it: the liberal Fox News.
And that’s really depressing.
Richard A. Arenberg has written a much more eloquent defense of the filibuster than mine. He is a former Senate staffer for Senators Paul Tsongas, Carl Levin and George Mitchell (who spent time as majority leader – all three senators were Democrats.).
“The right in the Senate to debate and amend serves as a protection to the minority, fosters deliberation and compromise, discourages unchecked majority control, moderates extreme outcomes, avoids precipitous decision making, discourages domination by the more populous states, ensures the role of the legislative branch in oversight of the executive and assures the role of the Senate as a counterbalance to the majoritarian House of Representatives in our system of checks and balances.”
Did any of you see the footage of Senator Paul riding the elevator with Senator McCain? After McCain ripped Paul a new one on the floor the moment was pretty awesomely #awkward. The staffers all looked like they wanted to die.
Several years back I was out with some friends in Fort Lauderdale when I came across a porn star. No, not literally.
Our group had decided to go grab sushi at a popular place and as we approached the hostess stand to put our name in for a table, I basically froze in my tracks, my eyes suddenly widening and my gaze fixed directly in front of me. The girlfriend of one of my friends turned to me with a bemused look and tossed out a cliché that was actually perfectly appropriate: “What’s the matter with you? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” I was honestly speechless, because, as it turned out, it wasn’t a ghost I was looking at but someone I’d recently seen naked. Having sex. Pretty damn well, I might add.
“I know that girl,” I finally said, still a little dumbstruck. I then shook myself out of my daze, hurriedly dragged my friends off to the side, and explained that the hostess at the sushi restaurant — the 20-something blonde with the pixie-cut and the tattoo around her bellybutton, visible because of the halter top she was wearing — had done porn for an amateur website run out of South Florida. (They didn’t bother asking how I knew this; they know me.) While my friend’s girlfriend tried to get me to approach the hostess and bring up her possibly-secret identity, probably for no other reason than the group’s entertainment, I shot it down in a hurry. Yeah, I was in a bit of a state of ecstatic shock — the kind that I suppose can only come from actually being face-to-face with someone who has no idea that you were their voyeur at one point — but the last thing I wanted to do was publicly embarrass someone who’d done nothing wrong objectively but still may have done something she regretted. Sure, I watched porn, but I was still kind of a gentleman — I wasn’t going to be a dick to this girl. The fact that she’d had sex on camera, on the internet, didn’t give me carte blanche to hassle her or potentially get her fired from her job.
So I said nothing. We had dinner. I admit that I watched her for a bit out of the corner of my eye. We all went home. Please try to contain yourself and refrain from asking the obvious question about what I did when I got back to my place.
I’ve been thinking about this little chance encounter quite a bit lately, given the trouble that Melissa King is going through. In case you’ve wisely unplugged yourself from the internet over the past week or so, King is the 18-year-old beauty queen who was forced to resign as Miss Delaware Teen USA when it was revealed that she’d done a sex scene for an internet site that specializes in amateur porn. At first, King denied that the girl in the scene was her, but on Monday the production company behind the site released another clip that must’ve knocked the wind out of a regret-filled King: It showed her reading a legal release stating that she was Melissa King and that she wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was making the decision to do porn of her own free will. In other words, it pretty much confirmed what many already knew. The girl on the internet was definitely her.
There are all kinds of facets to this story and a thousand questions raised by it about who we are as a culture, how the internet and social media feeds our need for personal celebrity, and what the mistakes of youth mean when proof of them is now as far away as your computer and can last forever.
Melissa King shot her porn scene — which, despite being all smiles for, she admits on-cam was done mostly for the money — then probably figured she’d just get on with her life. The life she’d planned on having before she decided to have sex on the internet, basically dropping a landmine into her world that might remain hidden or might very well be stepped on at some point, blowing everything sky-high. It’s almost impossible to imagine that as her career in the pageant circuit began to flourish and her dreams began to come true there wasn’t always that pit in her stomach, the one that knew it could all end in a second, and, ironically, the more legitimately famous she became the stronger the possibility that her past indiscretion would be dug up and dragged through the streets for all to see. It’s a pretty fair bet that, regardless of my surprise encounter at the Lauderdale sushi restaurant, the more anonymous you are in your daily existence, the better the chances you can get away with something like doing porn or having it in your past somewhere. Yes, it can still cause a hell of a headache even for the average person, but when you’re not in the spotlight — particularly for being attractive — there’s a much better chance people won’t go looking for it.
I feel bad for King, I really do. She’s basically just a kid who did something I guarantee she now regrets completely (and may have regretted long before this). Her life as she had hoped it would be is pretty much in shambles at the moment, but internet fame is a double-edged sword and not necessarily in a bad way. The feeding frenzy mentality that turns someone into the subject of instantaneous media fascination and public gawking leaves the herd constantly craving fresh meat to feed on. Disgrace only lasts for so long in our media culture these days. People move on to something else in a heartbeat and generally forget what had occupied them just a couple of weeks previously; there will be other salacious stories to latch onto and new Melissa Kings to heap judgment on in no time. This girl’s life will go on, maybe not the way she had originally planned, but if she stays strong, keeps her wits about her and just barrels through this mess, she’ll come out the other side just fine and probably a little wiser.
It would be nice if King’s story can be a harsh lesson for today’s youth. I did a lot of awful things when I was young, but thankfully no one ever got them on tape. I’d say that I can’t imagine where I’d be right now if they had, but I personally made the decision a while ago to embrace all my worst qualities and make my life largely transparent. I’m out there, warts and all for all to see, and without meaning to have kind of, ironically, used openness to insulate myself from unwanted exposure. The unfortunate thing is that, internet culture being what it is, this may be the only way to survive these days: either don’t do anything terrible or accept that there are no secrets anymore and just “shoot the hostage,” copping to whatever you’ve done that you should, by all accounts, be ashamed of. The problem is that even though today’s youth are much savvier than we were at my age, they often still don’t truly understand the consequences of their actions. They can’t look ahead far enough to make the right decision when faced with one that can have repercussions capable of lasting a lifetime.
Melissa King is a living testament to this. Who knows? Right now she may very well be entertaining the notion of taking the giant pile of shit she inadvertently created in her life and spinning it into gold, capitalizing on her sudden notoriety by doing more porn, as she’s of course been offered. I suppose you could make the argument that it’s a career no more exploitative than parading around in your bathing suit for Donald Trump. And turning infamy into fame is the American way these days, after all. Still, this wasn’t what King had planned for herself. It wasn’t supposed to be this way and, what’s more, it didn’t have to.
I have no idea whatever happened to that hostess at that sushi restaurant, where her life eventually took her. I know this though: Whether she likes it or not, I can always find her on the internet.
My mates dad made this in 2002. Please check out if you want a counter-mainstream perspective on Chavez. He wasn’t perfect but you can’t understand him without understanding the history of U.S intervention in Latin America.
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Glenn Greenwald caught this brilliant example of power-subservient journalism in Washington – a moment when one the country’s most celebrated reporters defines what it means to be a hack so perfectly that people like Glenn Greenwald only have to lay out the transcript to let it speak for itself. Here’s Woodward speaking on “Morning Joe”, blasting Obama for withholding a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf because the Pentagon is preparing for the sequestration that mandates spending cuts for all agencies, including the military budget:
“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’ Or George W Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to invade Iraq because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need’ or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters,’ as he did when Clinton was president, because of some budget document.
“Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the president going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
As Greenwald points out, this was actually a law enacted by Congress and signed by Obama (ie. it’s legally binding). But not good enough for Woodward, who believes the President can override laws when it comes to military action and do as he pleases. Writes Greenwald:
How ironic that this comes from the reporter endlessly heralded for having brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency on the ground that Nixon believed himself above the law. Nixon’s hallmark proclamation - “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal” – is also apparently Bob Woodward’s.
The screed against Obama is silly for several reasons – one being the perpetuation of the myth that by only sending one aircraft carrier in the Gulf, the United States becomes vulnerable to attack from the big baddies in the Middle East. Given the US spends more money on its military that every country on the planet combined, claiming the President isn’t doing what he needs to do ‘to protect the country’ is simply laughable. The President could press a button in the White House and blow Iran off the face of the planet. It doesn’t need an aircraft carrier to defend itself.
But that’s not the point. It serves the interests of the Pentagon and the affiliated military industrial complex to continue this myth in order to maintain the status quo: A vastly bloated military and no spending accountability whatsoever. Everyone in Washington makes a lot of money, poor kids get education cuts, and Bob Woodward gets to write books for 50 year old white men who do Civil War enactments in their spare time.
Woodward has been well rewarded for switching off his integrity and serving the interests of power in Washington – he’s made a lot of money peddling books and showing up on TV to offer ‘inside analysis’ of the DC political scene. It’s sad to see someone who is supposed to hold power to account lining up behind it and arguing for its expansion, but that’s what money and fame does to people more concerned with being relevant than telling the truth.