The news after Roger Ailes

What will history say about Roger Ailes? It won’t be kind, if the initial reaction to his death is any indication. I’ve seen him described as despicable, a career sexual harasser, a purveyor of conservative garbage information, slimy, dirty, unethical, one of the worst Americans ever, bloodthirsty, and responsible for turning Americans into “a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online.”

Holy crap, and this was even before he was buried!

Rolling Stone was among the harshest:

Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.

Roger Ailes was eulogized Saturday as the architect of conservative TV, but while he was the founder of Fox News, he didn’t write its playbook. That was done fifteen years earlier in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the home of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson, and The 700 Club. I know, because I was there and participated in the creation, development, and execution of “TV News With A Different Spirit,” a genius level rewriting of the rules of journalism and marketing to suit a politically conservative audience. There isn’t one strategy or tactic used by Ailes and Fox News that we didn’t pioneer earlier, and it’s vital to our current cultural conundrum that we understand this. That’s because the term right wing media is not only supportive of Republican Party politics but it’s undergirded by a worldview that is entirely Christian of the fundamentalist, evangelical ilk. Zeal always trumps reason with those who practice extreme forms of religion, so it’s not the political conservatism that matters; it’s the Christianity that places itself above reason in its ability to easily govern the lives of participants.

What this means is that arguments by reasonable people are automatically dismissed without consideration, because they are determined to be contrary to the faith. Rationalized responses become fact, regardless of their absurdity, because “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound (shame) the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Hence, the many references among Evangelicals to Donald Trump as being like Cyrus the Great, the pagan Persian king that God “put in power” in order to free the Jews from Babylon and return them to Jerusalem where they rebuilt the temple. If Trump is a “Cyrus,” then, the thinking goes, it’s unnecessary to excuse his behavior, for God is using him anyway. The end justifies the means, although nobody is saying what that end will be.

…Trump had been elected by God…He was a warrior against the global “demonic agenda”, “raising the warning cry about the unraveling of America.” Trump’s obvious faults and flaws only confirmed the prophecy: Cyrus, like Trump, was powerful, rich, and pagan, not at all godly…

…Many Evangelicals who voted for Trump continue to have an abiding faith in his presidency. Just as Cyrus returned the Jews to Jerusalem, and restored their wealth, so Trump, they fervently believe, will restore a lost world of personal safety, psychological security and material prosperity.

The point is that unless you’re prepared to discuss the Cyrus argument, nothing else matters for those who put Mr. Trump in the White House in the first place. Just because the culture is uncomfortable with arguing religion does not mean that the basis for our differences aren’t essentially religious. The fact that we’ve generally dismissed such debates is what energizes the engine of American conservatism today. It’s what allows poor Republicans to vote against their own best interests and blindly sit by while the GOP deepens the pockets of the haves. The response of Christians is “I don’t care about his character as long as he gives us conservative Supreme Court justices.” To these well-intentioned people, abortion and same-sex marriage are the essence of all that’s wrong with our culture, and, by God, they’re going to fix it.

You can say what you wish about Fox News, but don’t be fooled into thinking there isn’t the constant hum of religious superiority that seeps through all of its programming, for contemporary political conservatism is sustained by evangelical Christianity.

Whatever you think of Roger Ailes, you must also concede that his efforts brought to the surface what had previously been hidden and assumed irrelevant by the progressive culture. Contrary to blaming Ailes for dividing the country, we should thank him for bringing that division into the light, where we might be able to actually do something about it. Actually, I don’t think we have a choice; we simply MUST do something about it in order to bring a sense of unity among us as a people. The problem, of course, is what to do and perhaps moreso, how to do it.

To me, it’s a personal journey that each of us has to make. It just won’t happen overnight in a one-to-many environment, because the “one” always – ALWAYS – begins and ends with self-interest. Neither side in this zero-sum game can “put forth” an unbiased representative to participate in an open debate. This can only lead to same-o, same-o. And this has always been the problem – even perhaps the cause – of our division. Each side instead must challenge, with open minds, its own assumptions, those that undergird what is presented as absolute truth. It is the unfortunate thinking of humans to posit that one cannot be simultaneously just and merciful anymore than one can be simultaneously liberal and conservative.

Meanwhile, we need to hear Christian arguments that challenge the assumptions of the right wing crowd, because that’s where the real battle lies. It’s THE challenge to journalism in the wake of Roger Ailes’ passing.

How ironic that our current president – the beneficiary of all that fundamentalist faith – would be lecturing Muslims in Saudi Arabia this weekend about Islamic fundamentalist extremism.

The Mining of Christian Discontent

It’s never enough, never, never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?” Olivia Newton-John

To watch the news these days, you’d think that President Trump’s army of dissatisfied white Christian people is happily moving its agenda forward, but you’d be mistaken. Hundreds of the ear tickling promises made by Trump-the-candidate are off the table or have been brushed aside entirely by Trump-the-President, and people are having doubts about their man. This is most readily expressed in the social media discussions among friends. How long those people will cling to the guy can’t be known, but one important thing is being overlooked by the professional observers: the anger for a revolution against the status quo that Donald Trump originally tapped remains unsatisfied. This is only going to get worse. Victims of a film-flam man aren’t likely to buy in again, but that anger is still festering.

My father was a factory worker in the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He operated a router, cutting the same piece of wood for the same furniture over and over again as part of an assembly line. He was a working man and a Democrat of the Adlai Stevenson brand. My father simply could not vote for Republicans, because they represented the wealthy, including the boss, the owners, the managers, all those who got rich on the backs of others, especially labor.

At the annual company picnic, the children of employees were each given a silver dollar, and it was a big deal for all of us. They were heavy and big, and they made our eyes pop. However, those shiny coins were also emblematic of the reality that the people carrying the bags full of them were the overseers, and we, as recipients of their largess, were not. When you hold a big silver dollar in your little hand, the mind wanders to what it might be like to hold two. Or three. Or more.

“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV

My father even disliked Gerald Ford, the local boy who became President in the wake of Watergate. Ford came from East Grand Rapids, considered the other side of the tracks from our modest means. The idea that the haves should govern the have-nots is straight out of the colonialist playbook, the outcome of which is only good for the conquerers. I think my father knew that, and it’s one of the things that drives me in my old age. I believe that the people can rule themselves and that the net makes this possible.

But amazingly, disgust with the rich is now gone from our culture. It’s been replaced by envy and the dangled carrot that liberals have robbed you of your chance at the good life through the tyranny of the minority. All you have to do, the carrot reminds, to get your share is vote against the troublemakers. This forms a fascinating paradox for the people who elected Donald Trump, because there simply aren’t enough bodies in the one percent to elect a candidate anywhere. You must have working class people included, and that remains the biggest mystery of the Trump phenomenon. How do you get people like my father to vote WITH those above you in every status measurement?

Television reality shows pay their stars well, so even “realities” like the Jersey Shore, a Louisiana swamp, or a small town in rural Georgia are skewed because everybody seems to have money. Then there are the Kardashians and other famous families, the Housewives of wherever, the Sharks, the Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and the bargain hunters who always seem to hit it big. Endorsement deals featuring reality show “celebrities” create a wannabe sub-culture that mimics the wealthy in ways that contribute to the envy of our neighbors. How much of the debt in our culture comes from young people trying to emulate those they see on TV or online? Johnny has that car, so why not me? This is the self-centered cultural core that we explored at The 700 Club to raise money and channel this discontent to the Republican Party. It’s all in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Envy unsatisfied easily becomes stored anger.

And the problem with anger is that it can redirect energy away from truth. Resentments always color one’s existence, because the narrative can only present a skewed reality. Resentment also burns the insides. The revenge we seek by remembering, which we intend for the source of the resentment, has nowhere to go except inward. We end up beating ourselves with the two-by-four intended for someone else. We paint ourselves as victims who deserve better, but the best a victim can do is survive. Those willing to let go and embrace life, however, are free to win.

The paradox of prosperity is that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it.

Despite the election of Donald Trump, that anger is still throbbing in the hearts of the working class, white Christian mid-Americans that supported him as an agent of change. What he’s changed mostly so far is to switch the welfare of the poor to the welfare of the rich, making rules that benefit the rich, so that they can be richer. The jobs won’t show up. The promises he made to that disgruntled heart of America won’t be fulfilled, and the real revolt lies just around the corner.

My hope is that somebody will come along someday with a message that points to the Bible’s categorization of the rich as “oppressors” and opens the minds of middle America to the possibility that perhaps God isn’t a Republican. The reason I’m not optimistic about this is that these people aren’t driven by reason; they’re driven by faith.

Any person who will dance and kick with arms raised in church, speak in tongues, fall to the floor “in the spirit,” lay hands on the sick for healing, and generally give themselves over to a public display of emotional worship can easily be convinced to step outside reason on matters of conscience. The mind is a fertile field when opened by extreme forms of worship, which is why it most often comes before the message in church. Sixties rock superstar Jimi Hendrix said in Life Magazine’s October 3, 1969 edition: “I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive—like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get people at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say.

The point is that the “personal relationship with Jesus” preached by the public face of Christianity has come to represent the gathering to one’s self for personal gain along with a Bible that’s used as a self-help manual from God Almighty. These Americans are not satisfied — nor will they ever be satisfied — as long as they are convinced that they deserve more due to their loyalty to Jesus. As George Carlin would say, they’re “out where the busses don’t run,” a place where reason is a mile wide and an inch deep. Donald Trump tapped their inner disillusion with promises he would never be able to keep, and that is only going to turn up the heat on their anger.

The press would be smart to understand that this battle has only just begun.

Using the Bible to justify selfishness

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Evangelical Christians were among Donald Trump’s staunchest allies during the 2016 campaign, and they remain a group the President can count on as he implements even the most extreme of the positions he proclaimed would make America great again. Chief among these for Evangelicals are: religious freedom allowing for rejection of liberal mandates such as being forced to serve those with whom they disagree theologically (and socially); the ability to have their children pray in school and be exposed to Biblical absolutes; returning to a culture within which access to safe abortions is illegal, and this despite the fact that the abortion rate is now where it was BEFORE Roe v Wade; eliminating the threat of evangelism from what they view as the false religion of Islam and in the process making sure their neighborhoods will be Muslim-free; and a return to a time when – in their opinion – the voice of Christianity was sought, heard, and embraced as relevant by the culture as a whole.

I remain convinced that this group is the most important to reach with the message of the potential for mischief and danger from an autocrat President of the United States. It also happens to be the most difficult to reach, for their perceived authority comes from a Bible that is taught to them as errorless and to be obeyed by those seeking the promised, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” and a guarantee of an afterlife of heavenly bliss. We will not succeed in efforts to convince this group without attacking certain assumptions they’ve been led to believe are absolute according to Holy Scripture. This struggle is private and behind-the-scenes, because it often takes place in forums not considered by those who view the issues as entirely political. These forums are then passed around for the horizontal consumption by others of their ilk.

Today, I want to delve into one of these private discussions, this one via a simple article on Herman Cain’s right wing website. There are a great many “Christian” blogs and websites, and while many bloggers using that label are not of the political right wing, it is the Evangelicals who make the most noise and speak loudest about the brand. Hence, the battle is entirely with those Evangelicals who represent the political opinions of the far right, which is what writer Dan Calabrese has done in this article headlined, “What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?” Here are a few pertinent quotes from Mr. Calabrese regarding the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which he views as wrongly exegeted by those arguing it represents God’s will for dealing with refugees:

“As liberals often do, they take directives aimed at individuals in the Bible and try to make them the responsibility of the state.” He makes the case that, because the Samaritan took the injured man to an inn rather than his own home, he was revealing the wisdom of not bringing a potential problem into his own home. Thus, he reasons, it’s relevant to the discussion of Syrian refugees. Of course, this is Mr. Calabrese’s opinion, his interpretation, not the Bible speaking directly to us, and this, of course, is the problem. The Bible says nothing about the Good Samaritan avoiding danger, so that is an assumption. “As liberals often do” is also a convenient, pejorative, and condescending put down designed to frame whatever absurdity follows as a given, when it’s at best a mere guess.  He goes on to add:

“What the left wants to do in the case of the Syrian refugees is use the power of the state to force an entire nation to welcome people into their midst without any effort to ensure that members of ISIS with evil intentions were filtered out. That’s not compassion. That’s national suicide.” How does one respond to the many assumptions here? One, refugees ARE vetted – often vigorously – so there doesn’t exist a zero-effort absolute when it comes to identifying members of ISIS. Two, the statement assumes that the President’s anti-Muslim initiative WILL effectively rule out those with evil intentions. This is utterly absurd in addition to representing a straw man that serves only to distract, for terrorism isn’t a problem of religion. It’s organized crime and needs to be treated accordingly. Finally, the statement assumes that the matter is black and white, that anything other than a unilateral denial of entry is self-inflicted death. It makes for a good soundbite, but it’s simply exaggerated illogic. But he goes on:

“It would make more sense for them to be resettled in majority Muslim countries anyway, and we can do a lot of things to support that process.” This has nothing to do with the Bible but speaks loudly about the writer’s religious bias. I’m sure the refugees would rather stay with their own homes in their own countries, but each has made a decision that such a proposition is untenable. They seek freedom, not further distress. To which “Muslim countries” would the writer have us divert the stream anyway? Has anybody inquired as to their willingness to participate? How does it follow that their faith has anything to do with where they settle anyway? I understand this absurdity, because it comes from Islamophobic thinking, which is really at the core of Mr. Calabrese’s reasoning in the first place.

The point is this is nowhere near the God I serve, and the interpretation of scripture in this manner is not only without merit; it’s entirely self-centered. It’s redlining on a national scale and against everything for which our country stands.

I’m not surprised at all, however, for what we have here is a generation nurtured on the Gospel of Self. It’s bad enough that we’re naturally inclined in that direction, but this is self preservation gone to seed. Not only that, but it also denies the very power that its proponents claim protects them, and it reeks of the very unBiblical “God helps those who help themselves.”

The scope of the battle over the minds of those so inculcated is enormous, but it’s quite likely the one that matters most.

Netanyahu’s ISIS claim

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017. RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s English language videos have long hinted (to Americans) that our shared enemy is ISIS, while almost all of the violence Israel experiences is brought about by its occupation of the West Bank, its dehumanizing behavior towards Palestinians, and the responding attacks by those being “occupied.” So when he claims a knowing form of solidarity with Western governments over attacks by ISIS, those claims ring hollow at core. The Israeli narrative needs an attack by ISIS to validate its position that their fight is against an enemy bigger than the occupation.

This is why it’s not surprising to read that Bibi is trying to connect the deaths of four IDF soldiers over the weekend to ISIS, although the similarity of someone using a truck to ram a crowd of people is much more likely to have been opportunistic. Here’s the way Haaretz put it.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, the ISIS theory is well suited to the message he tried to convey – which is that Jerusalem, like Berlin and Nice, is just another western city dealing with brutal, uncompromising terror committed by global Islamic operatives. As per this message, this force of absolute evil has no motive or rationale, and has nothing to do with the occupation or any other Israeli policy.

The apartheid state of Israel is a bubbling laboratory of narrative control by governing authorities attempting to justify as righteous their provocative behavior towards the indigenous residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The nationalist Netanyahu has found himself a staunch ally in our President-Elect, who has promised to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to a spot not far from this weekend’s deadly truck ramming.

If you honestly think we’re helping the situation with such a provocation, you’re just not paying attention to what’s taking place.

 

The logical fallacies of Benjamin Netanyahu

netanyahu-ethnic-cleansing-palestine-mondoweissAs Donald Trump continues to campaign using logical fallacies as his daily weapons (e.g. To deflect attention away from his admission that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen, he told followers that the whole idea was Hillary’s in the first place – classic), there is a more ruthless practitioner of fallacious reasoning across the sea. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu, and his latest got virtually zero coverage by media in the U.S.

An important part of Israeli hasbara (official propaganda) is a relentless dissemination of misinformation to American supporters. After all, the United States provides $10 million a day in military aid to Israel, so it’s understandable that the Israeli government would feel obligated to provide “evidence” that the money is being well-spent. The problem is that the money can’t be morally justified, and so the Prime Minister must twist the facts to fit a tired, old narrative.

Netanyahu regularly produces English language videos for consumption here in the U.S. These videos bend current events to shape the narrative that poor, defenseless Israel will ALWAYS need the support of friends to prevent another holocaust. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to perpetrate genocidal crimes against Palestinian neighbors in an illegal land grab in the West Bank. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Those crimes involve “extrajudicial executions” (what we call murder) of Palestinians, the terrorizing of legal residents, and the continued bulldozing of Palestinian homes in order to build Israeli settlements and expand the territory it polices. It is the systematic destruction of a people and their culture in order to remove them entirely from the land. There’s a word for this, and it’s called “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”

And yet, in this latest video to Americans, Netanyahu uses the same term in describing the Palestinian wishes to remove the illegal settlements. The Palestinians, he says, want to cleanse the land of Jews! This is a logical fallacy. It’s very clever, and we buy it almost completely.

Netanyahu was roundly criticized for this video – even in his own country – for it’s an obviously outrageous claim, especially in light of the evidence to the contrary. The State Department responded immediately, but again, this was not covered in the U.S.

So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

Look, let’s be real. There will be no two-state solution in the Holy Land. The best we can hope for – perhaps generations from now – is a peaceful solution that includes both Israelis and Palestinians under a single government that doesn’t discriminate against either. South Africa is the model, but that country was able to get past logical fallacies in facing the reality of its situation.

Israel’s current government is simply incapable of such.

Announcing my new book

contractI’m very happy to announce that OR Books in New York will be publishing my new book about my days as Pat Robertson’s producer with The 700 Club. We’re going to call it “The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP,” and it should be available by December, which is a pretty quick turnaround for a publisher. You will be able to pre-order via the web in a few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted about that.

This has been quite an adventure, and I’m very proud to be associated with OR Books. They are a unique independent publishing company embracing “progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” Believe me when I say we are a perfect fit, and I am so, so excited.

As you likely already know, I’ve been working on this book for 18 months and thinking about it since I left CBN in the wake of Pat Robertson’s run for President in 1988. It’s a book for Christians – especially Evangelicals – although its message will be a very hard sell to this group. It will do well with Christians on the left, but it’s really for everyone who was ever influenced by the hard wind that blew in the era of the televangelists in the 1980s. “The Gospel of Self” is my term for the broad use of the Bible as a self-help manual, a handbook for personal salvation, as opposed to the bigger issue of pleading the cause of the poor and the afflicted. I will get a ton of criticism for my views, but the facts are always what really matters in the telling of history. I provide documentation, including portions of my sworn testimony with the Criminal Investigative Division of the IRS. It’s a compelling story and includes my postmodern predictions for the future of the church.

I’ve been writing about online marketing for over 15 years, and this will give me a chance to try some things that haven’t been done as well as doing things the mass marketing way. Can you tell I’m pretty pumped?

A great big thanks here to Jeff Jarvis, my old friend and colleague from the trailblazing days of early blogging. Jeff is the one who opened this door for me, and I will forever be in his debt.

Another big thanks to my newer friend, Brian McLaren, who has been a strong supporter of this effort. McLaren is a prolific author and the key founder of the Emerging Church movement. His work dovetails nicely with mine over the last 20 years, and I’m proud to call him a friend. He has a new book coming out next month that I’m looking forward to reading. I could not have stayed the course of my vision without Brian’s encouragement.