A Lesson on the Coronavirus and Media Hype

In 1998, I published an essay called “The Lizard on America’s Shoulder.” I strongly recommend reading it, because it contains a lesson on how hyphenated markets tend to produce newscasts that are highly crime-focused and misleading.

In North Alabama, for example, the TV market includes communities that are spread out by many miles. To properly cover such disparate communities and their parochial mindsets, we needed news bureaus in several places in order to cover everybody. Since, “if it bleeds, it leads,” the stories coming from each of these places are very often crime-related, because, well, crime is easy to cover and a sure thing.

However, the result is a veritable waterfall of bad news, and this taints the minds of viewers who see it all as one, gigantic reason to be terrified. I called this “the lizard on America’s shoulder” as a reference to C.S. Lewis’ terrific book, The Great Divorce. It’s the tale of a busload of misfit ghosts from hell who are being taken to the pearly gates for a second chance. Only one survives and makes it into Heaven, and he’s hounded relentlessly by a red lizard that does nothing but speak filth and trouble into the poor ghost’s ears. He complains to the angel guard that it’s been that way his whole life, but when the angel attempts to kill it, the guy steps back to say, “Don’t touch my lizard.” It’s a metaphor for how evil thoughts can block the way into Heaven.

Eventually, the angel transforms the lizard into a white horse that the ghost rides through the gate in victory.

TV news — and especially when the same story comes from many different places — is the Lizard on America’s Shoulder.

Now, consider the necessary coverage from around the world on the subject of the Covid-19 virus. It’s the same no matter where the story comes from. Even if it’s a nice story of our ability to care for each other and survive, it carries the same coverage weight of any story from the battle zones around the world. The effect is cascading, and no lectures about hype or who’s doing what to whom is going to matter, because it’s the nature of news to scare people.

The role the press plays here is to underestimate its audience, and I don’t think this is something that news people generally think about. In an effort to continue producing archaic, finished-product news, we keep repeating things over and over, as if the audience is somehow unaware.

Last night during my viewing of the CBS show “Bull,” I called my local affiliate to complain about the continuous crawl at the bottom of the screen advising viewers of school closings. This had been going on for at least two full days, but the crawls contained significant repetition. Instead of a simple crawl listing all the school systems that were shutting down on the same day, each school system was treated as its own story and contained the identical language as the previous system. The font was way bigger than necessary, but the real annoyance was the broadcast assumption that THEY were the only source to which people could turn in order to find out if their child’s school would be closed. By Monday night, this was a real statement about how the manager of the station assumed nobody knew. In today’s day and age, this is a ridiculous reason to continue the hype across the station’s programming. The idea that a single media outlet must carry the weight of informing every last viewer was killed and buried long ago, and it’s just another illustration of how the people who manage TV stations are out of touch with reality.

In light of the hyperbolic effect of this lizard-like practice, bulletin-like uses of the press to state or mostly restate the obvious is not only foolish but downright dangerous. These practices have become so automatic that news people aren’t required to actually think about what they’re doing, and it’s one of the reasons they’re becoming useless and obsolete.

Let’s save the news for, well, the news.

The Re-Rise of the Newsletter

The professional news industry is being forced to return to its roots by a world it doesn’t — and probably never will — fully understand. It began with the industry’s initial response to the digital disruption, which was to reproduce its entire finished product for the web. The web, however, wasn’t built by newspapers; it was built by highly creative and rebellious geeks who changed the world without the status quo telling them it needed changing.

The web was a brand new communications invention, not a new distribution channel for old ways of doing things, and in missing this truth, the industry was completely lost. The newspaper people wanted to present their finished product online, but the geeks knew from the start that this was inefficient and a cheap substitute for what was possible.

Blog software, with its reverse chronological flow, came first, quickly followed by ways to distribute content apart from its host. Social media is, at core, the news “audience” talking amongst themselves, which was contrary to the top-down relationship that the press had with its readers. The shift to mobile brought new challenges, the biggest being a playing field built around scrolling and video in portrait mode. News drifted away from the finished product variety and into the world of continuous news.

Of course, the biggest disruptor by far was how advertising was changing to adapt to the new, and a realization that smart marketers could provide ads at the browser level and based on the behaviors of that browser. This offered a much greater likelihood of advertiser return-on-investment. History books will cite this as causing the death of newspapers, but it’s really more a case of ignorance, for newspapers still lack the technology and the networks to provide this to local advertisers. The industry has ceded defeat to Google without even firing a shot.

And, now comes the newest era of the email newsletter, a technology that’s been around since the dawn of email but generally only used to provide links to the industry’s “real” content online. The shift today, however, includes those who give the energy it takes to produce actual content for newsletters, and it’s a godsend to overwhelmed news consumers. This trend is going to continue until a company’s online newsletter will become the primary method that news organizations use to disseminate news and information.

People can pass them around, which often results in new subscribers.

The first trader newsletters during the Middle Ages — actual letters from observers in far away places — were the precursor to the newspaper industry. Wikipedia notes that “Trader’s newsletters covered various topics such as the availability and pricing of goods, political news, and other events that would influence trade.” This is the essence of today’s developing process, and it suits not only the web’s unique abilities but also that most precious of earthly commodities: time.

I’ll be 74 this summer, and I spend most of my days online in an endless search for knowledge. Even with all that time, I still feel uninformed, because studying modern times is like trying to take a sip from a firehose. It’s the primary reason I’ve turned to newsletters. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are five newsletters that hit my inbox overnight or every morning:

The New York Times: While this is primarily a tool to “drive traffic” back to its newspaper site, the content is growing to include small story summaries throughout. It’s a way to follow the Times without subscribing to its main product.

Mondoweiss: I have family of Palestinians that lived in Amman, Jordan for a great many years, so my window on the Middle East is a little different than most. I don’t trust the Israeli’s, and I need an outlet that understands this. Mondoweiss is a terrific example of a point-of-view news organization that represents an extreme minority in the West. I need that to stay informed.

Dave Winer: Dave is one of the real gems in providing important technology news in a highly conversational format. I also really like Dave as a person, and his takes on life in general also give me food for thought. Dave’s is a constant voice on Twitter, and he uses his newsletter to summarize those thoughts. Moreover, and this is important, Dave is always a yard ahead of everybody else, and if he’s taking the trouble to produce a newsletter, it’s something that requires my attention.

Mathew Ingram: Mathew provides summaries and links to the stories he finds important. I trust Mathew and lean on his understanding to help my own.

Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy: CNN’s Reliable Sources is (by a mile) the most useful contemporary newsletter in the market today. It is the model for others to copy, for it’s loaded with content written for readers of the newsletter. What a concept! Oh, it contains marketing and links, but it is written to be read, and the summaries are specifically aimed at people such as myself and all of those who just don’t have the time to invest in reading complete stories.

There are many others out there, and I’ll probably be extending my subscription list as I find those suited to my tastes. The point is that I get to decide what I wish to influence my thinking, not the forced and irritating offerings of the artificial and manipulative hegemony known as objectivity. That old standard disappeared with the advent of continuous streams of news. Journalism has always spoken with the authority of overseers, which is the luxury afforded to those who could afford a printing press. Today, every single person on the net is a media company and able to distribute their content just like the big boys.

To those who would drag out the ol’ echo chamber meme to accuse me of circular logic, let me state once again that my experience in helping to create right wing news means that I know that it’s just political propaganda disguised as news. Give me a little credit for that tidbit, because I’ve already turned the page on it.

If you don’t subscribe to newsletters, my advice is to begin today. Click on the links I’ve provided, if you’re interested in those. If you find yourself being fed content that you find bitter or tasteless, unsubscribing is just a click away.

To those in the news industry, if you don’t produce a newsletter, what are you waiting for? The only rules are that it can’t be a vehicle that merely “drives traffic” back to its point of origin, and ads should be presented as content, perhaps even written by the newsletter’s author(s).

Can we blame sin as our culture’s underlying problem?

The assertion by the white evangelical crowd that the culture has been lost to sin is worth examining as we attempt to process the disaster that has been Donald Trump. Moreover, if the culture is lost to sin, has it always been that way, or is this merely a contemporary phenomenon? And, if it’s only a modern-day problem, does the slogan “Make America Great Again” reference a period of time in which the culture wasn’t awash in sin? If so, when exactly was that?

In the world of televangelism, few things are as important (and telling) as fundraising telethons. For all the hollering about faith and how God will sustain them, these telethons are methodical, systematic, manipulative, and self-serving. Nothing is left to chance. Hot buttons are pushed relentlessly. Anything goes when it comes to raising money for rich Christian ministries, something I participated in as show producer, senior producer, and then executive producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club during the 1980s. I was there during the height of the televangelists, before scandals ripped the genre apart, and I was there when Pat ran for President in 1988.

The theme of our telethons was always a variation of how the world was going to hell, because we had lost our Biblical guidance. Therefore, the solution was for viewers to give us the money to combat this through “outreach,” ministry, education, and action. I need to state clearly that this strategy was extremely effective, in part, because the culture wasn’t hearing this kind of message from its leadership. Although very old, the message seemed new, because it was on TV in easily-digestible form. The television rule for audio-video linkage was manipulated, so as to match our words about sin to pictures of calamity big and small. Consequently and for a season, we sat in the position of prophets calling down hellfire and damnation on the culture for its dreadful sins, and it’s a short path from there to blaming the sinners, a.k.a. those demon liberals.

We attributed this conflict to cause and effect without proof whatsoever. That gave us license to say anything we wanted about the culture and attribute it to the loss of Biblical “authority” in our society. In so doing, we completely dissed the blood that was shed on behalf of our rights to self-determination, and, frighteningly, rejected all of those battles as being of the devil.

Who knew that one day we would actually be taken seriously?

This is the underlying pretext for everything from the Christian Right, and it’s why people who have no business being yoked to the extremely wealthy find themselves supporting everything the group tells them to support. The most obvious is in the appointing of judges who pass the litmus test of supporting business owners in all matters regarding business. Moreover, when we hear the phrase “religious liberty,” we must translate that as white evangelical Christian liberty.

If we’re ever to truly understand what’s happened to us over the past four years, we MUST not be afraid to examine these kinds of questions in the light of day. This was modern journalism’s great failure in the run-up to the 2016 election, for reporters simply didn’t see it coming. It’s a cornerstone of the Trump phenomenon, so we’re simply unable to get to the truth absent the deconstruction of this critical influence. Is sin the culprit for which we all must repent, or is something else going on? We must examine it historically, but we must also consider basic Christianity.

Basic Christianity
There is no Biblical entry whatsoever — not even one — that suggests it is the mission of believers to force a non-believing culture to repent. The most oft-quoted Bible story concerning this comes at the end of Solomon’s rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, when God spoke to Solomon thusly:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 (NIV)

In this statement, we learn a great many things. One, that God is the one who’s responsible for those cultural/natural events that believers find so discomforting. Two, the responsibility for these “punishments” is with the believers, not the unbelievers. Three, the land can’t be healed from these pestilences absent the repentance of those He holds responsible, namely those same believers.

Therefore, it’s beyond misleading to claim that God wants to heal the land from sin, so that the righteous can live in peace. Seriously, who do we think we are? Watching people of faith yell and scream about abortion, prayer in schools, and Christian liberty, all the while aligning themselves with the vast wealth of the few is a bastardization of everything that’s truly holy. Period.

This command to repent was directed towards God’s people, not the culture at large. It came at the end of a great accomplishment, which is when humans are most vulnerable to deception. Rather than pat them on the back for such a feat, Solomon called for the Jews to repent, which I’m sure shocked many. The only lesson here for today is that God’s people — if in fact they have won a battle against cultural sin — ought to be on their knees begging forgiveness rather than prayers of thanksgiving and celebration in the White House. The fact that they aren’t is a dead giveaway to the unrighteousness of their behavior.

These are modern-day Pharisees, for God’s book isn’t a message to the culture; it’s a message to individual hearts.

The entire story of redemption is corrupted by the actions of this religious group, for Jesus Himself refused to call for back-up when He was taken to the cross. Spiritual warfare takes place outside the confines of our senses “under the sun,” but these self-centered warriors view the battles as among each other, right here within the whole of creation.

Why is the press unable to argue this? Rationalizations include it’s too complicated, it’s hard to be neutral, and there’s no consensus to fall back on. This is a blight on the practice of journalism, one that has been used to manipulate people and the press itself. There’s no fence to ride here.

Setting Aside History
In their zeal to advance THEIR religion, white evangelical Christians have disregarded the history behind that which we as a nation hold dear. In many of these events and instances, blood was shed — sometimes a lot of it — and lives were sacrificed in order to make these rights worth keeping. However, these elitist representatives of God that we have today think THEIR way is the true path to righteousness and that nothing else matters. It is with haughty, self-centered goals that these people piss all over the sacrifices of history as if they never mattered in the first place.

We fought a civil war over racism, unity, and the extent to which states within the union can try to distance themselves from the rest. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty, and immigration became the bedrock of our fledgling economy. We fought the First World War to spread our thoughts and ideals of freedom to the rest of the world and to protect our rights at home. We went through a Great Depression and came out on the other side determined to protect the poor and the afflicted from ever suffering again due to the lack of basic necessities. We determined that the market for liquor was so strong that we ended prohibition, because that market led to violence and death in the government’s efforts to press an alcohol-free society. We fought the Second World War to again preserve our freedoms in the face of fascism and its intolerance for personal rights. We helped dismantle Communism. Add to these the efforts to secure women’s rights, labor rights, civil rights, gay rights, and even the “rights” of our planet itself. It’s easy to understand why opponents of the current administration are not only opposed to shoving all of this aside but appalled and infuriated at the mere suggestion. Who knew we’d have to fight all of these battles again?

Governmental regulations of businesses, such as environmental mandates, didn’t just suddenly appear in a vacuum. These were hard-fought victories for all of us, as we tried our best to advance not only our culture but the human race in total. Did this burden the business interests of the country? Of course, but it had long ago been determined that they helped foster environmental concerns and human rights violations in the first place. There is nothing inherently righteous or evil about Capitalism. It’s an institution of humankind, and profit can be a highly selfish motive for cultural behavior.

This is now all being set aside by the good intentions of the few, and that is the real tragedy of our current dilemma. Add to this the idea that foreign leaders are willing participants through subversion, and we have very real dangers to consider. It is a real slight-of-hand to incite disputes among us when the truth is that we are not our real enemies. There are others who want what we have and will do anything to disrupt the unity that we struggled so dearly to gain and protect.

Adverbs like forward and backward are used to describe culture but only by those making self-serving judgments as to its governance. Both are pejorative and ineffective descriptors, because cultures don’t actually do any moving. There is only the present. Sure, there’s history and there’s the future, but we can’t do anything about either. We only have the present, and that’s where our efforts are best presented. We must always guard against those who will direct us to the future, for such is a license to deceive.

So, let’s go back and repeat our central question: Is America so corrupted by sin — especially the sins of those atheistic liberals who want to destroy the church — that only a revival of religion (specifically, white evangelical Christianity) will solve what ails us? I’d argue strongly that the answer is no, but even if there’s a grain of truth to it, the correct spiritual response is prayer, not political action.

Today, there are those who think the world is going to hell due to Trump and his cronies pressing absurd demands based on their beliefs in absolute certainties. Those who pointed to corruption of the culture have now themselves become the real corruptors, and it’s going to take more than our votes to sort it all out.

Honestly, we’re going to need the chaos of Life to fix this terrible mess, and that’s exactly what I choose to see happening today. To paraphrase George Carlin, if we’re going to have a disaster, make it so big that we destroy everything and have to start over.

Even so, let it be.

1920 — When the Rules All Changed

Image result for woodrow wilson

When I first discovered historian Christopher Lasch many years ago, I was stunned by his brilliant reading of the role of Woodrow Wilson in all the nonsense we deal with today in the worlds of politics and the press. Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on a platform of “He’ll keep us out of the war.”

World War One was America’s chance to become a world (business) power, however, and Wilson knew this, so the trick became how to run opposing the war while at the same time preparing to enter the conflict. Wilson formed a group of advisors and thinkers — including influential newspaper publishers. This organization — The Committee for Public Information, also known as The Creel Committee was named after its leader, George Creel. The characters making up this committee was a who’s who of a new type of thinking, one that would change the rules for everybody 100 years later.

I’ve written much about these remarkable people whose good intentions have had a lot to do with today’s untenable government-press relations. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was a member of the committee as was Walter Lippman, the father of professional journalism. Volumes could be written about these two characters alone, but everybody on that committee shares the responsibility for what we have today. Bernays, a cousin of Sigmund Freud, used lessons from his Uncle to shape new ideas for marketing. Here’s just one of his famous quotes:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must coöperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

From “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays

If that sounds familiar, it should, but we must understand that this thinking is only 100 years old. Here are four Google N’Gram graphs about the use of certain thoughts in the books of our world. Note that these all show rising use in the wake of 1920:

Here’s the use of the word Propaganda in publications.

Here’s the phrase “Public Relations”.

Here’s one that works in concert with the above. Objectivity. It’s necessary for public relations to insert itself into journalism.

And finally, here’s what “Professional Journalism” looks like:

The other side of this whole “Right Wing News” fallacy is going to require something completely different, because in 100 years, we’ve gone from a government of the people to one of propaganda and self-interest of the few.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to put all this into the dust pile of the past. Maybe we should begin with technology that labels news as propaganda (regardless of the source) when such passes through our filters.

One thing is super clear, however, and that’s that this doesn’t work, not at all, for the country that our founders created.

Journalism Loathes Its Audience

Journalism and academia make two enormous mistakes when trying to analyze the current state of political affairs in the U.S. Unless we correct these errors, we’re always going to come to the wrong conclusions.

Error #1: Dissing Religion:

“Why We’re Polarized” is a new book by the brilliant journalism analyst Ezra Klein, and based on an excerpt published this week in Vox, Klein — like all other such analysts — tries to figure out why we’ve arrived at such a polarized place in the U.S. today. He does so, however, without considering human nature whatsoever, and that will always be a problem in such efforts. This is typical of those academics who believe and are taught that reality is determined by what can be measured, because measuring is the preferred path to truth.

This bias is best reflected in Daniel C. Hallin’s Spheres of Influence, a theory of media objectivity revealed in his 1986 Vietnam war book The Uncensored War. The press determines their coverage decisions based on concentric circles or “spheres,” The Sphere of Consensus, The Sphere of Legitimate Controversy, and on the outer most circle, The Sphere of Deviance.

The Sphere of Deviance is reserved for topics that journalists are “expected to either disregard or denounce,” according to Hallin. This is where discussions of things such as human nature exist, and this is a major stumbling block for journalists and journalism. So, permit me to talk about why this is so vitally important in our work to understand what’s going on with the press in the era of postmodernism.

The major religion in the U.S. is Christianity, which has been divided into two camps since Martin Luther first exclaimed his justification by faith 500 years ago. This argument is that the sacrifice of Jesus paid the price for any personal attempt at righteousness or righteous behavior. The argument is that mankind cannot possibly live up to the expectations that God demands in order to be considered for the promises of God to a righteous people. This is why redemption for sin can only be achieved by means other than one’s own behavior. This view elevates God’s justice to the topmost position in the faith. God, the argument goes, is 100% just, and there are plenty of Bible verses to examine. Here are three:

  • Colossians 3:25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
  • Jeremiah 32:19 great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, giving to everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds;
  • Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”

It’s this belief that opened the doors for colonialism and a host of other evils in the name of God. After all, if behavior doesn’t (really) matter — and God’s forgiveness is always there anyway — then pursuing the great commission (Go into all the world and make disciples) is paramount.

The problem, of course, is that God may indeed be 100% just, but the Bible also says he is also 100% merciful, something that’s viewed as impossible to those of us trapped in the measurable worlds of time and space. We’re only capable of seeing such as a zero-sum equation through the anthropomorphization of God, declaring that the best God can be is 50–50. the Bible says otherwise:

  • Psalm 89:14 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face.”
  • Psalm 145:8–9 “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”
  • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Let’s go back to Martin Luther on this one, for his primary objection with the Roman Catholic Church was their selling of indulgences for sin, which Luther rightly reasoned was a bastardization of God’s mercy. But in rejecting Catholicism, he rejected a good portion of the mercy argument, but I think I can safely say that God had nothing to do with that.

So, why is this Bible study so important to today’s journalists? Because it forms the foundation for the matter of Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized”. Those who come down predominately on the side justice are the Republicans. Those who come down predominately on the side of mercy are the Democrats. It really is as simple as that, and it’s why Western culture wars are essentially based in the faith and behavior of these two groups, who couldn’t be more polarized than the uprights in the end zones of a football field. To even begin a discussion of political polarization without this is chasing the wind.

This fundamental split also shows up in the study of brain dominance in humans. We’re all a combination of right brain (the arts & leaders) and left brain (math & managers), but each of us tends to be dominant in either right or left brain capabilities. For this discussion, left-brainers would fall on the justice side and right-brainers on the mercy side. Again, brain dominance determines fundamental stuff and includes the polarization of which journalists of today are discovering.

The point is that journalists need to move religion from its Sphere of Deviance and into the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy, so that its influence can be included in what we call “news.”

Error #2: Dissing the Audience

The second major error that analysts make is the gross underestimation of journalism’s audience. In the Vox excerpt, Klein writes:

“The news media isn’t just an actor,” he notes. “It’s arguably the most powerful actor in politics.” He concludes, “It’s the primary intermediary between what politicians do and what the public knows.”

This remarkable and self-serving declaration states something that has been completely disrupted by postmodern era technology. It was this, more than anything else, that allowed a man like Donald Trump to rise to the office of President of the United States.

14East’s Jack Ladd wrote in a commentary called “The Sphere of Deviance”:

The way that the public may view journalism is not how journalism operates. Media portrayals of journalists often romanticize journalism as a career for underdog superheroes because we want to believe that journalists are a crucial force for good. They can be. But, the vision of journalism so neatly constructed for us in movies and television shatters if it is used to keep the marginalized on the margins. I would argue it frequently is.

In this sense, journalism loathes its audience and talks down to it regularly. It’s why I believe my 2010 essay “The Evolving User Paradigm” is one of my most important writings. The longer everyday people use the internet, the more disruptive they become. The web itself, with its relentless links, is a tool for deconstruction, which has long-term political ramifications for all of us. The postmodern disruption creates what Jay Rosen has called “The Great Horizontal,” because we are now — everyone of us — our own media companies with our own ways to gather information, run that information through our own filters, and share our conclusions with others. To suggest that our need for journalism is the same as it was 50 years ago is absurd, and yet, this is the paradigm within which journalism functions. There’s no such thing as a “mass” to influence anymore, and this begs the question of why journalists and analysts think we need them to function as “the most powerful actor in politics.”

As I’ve long tracked for everyone, mistrust of the press began with Watergate. Gallup’s annual measurement of media trust has been on a downward slide since 1973, and the blogging disruption was in very large part a response to this. We don’t want our journalists to be celebrities, and yet that’s exactly what we have taking place now. It is in no way a reach to suggest that journalists’ quest for popularity is off-putting to the audience they are trying to serve.

The American public has been ignored and disrespected for way too long, and this, too, influences analysts ability to rightly perceive what’s taking place politically. People are fed up with both being considered sheep and with behavior that treats them thusly. “Mad” doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s a resentment that won’t be overcome by those who think of themselves as “the most powerful” anything.

The press must learn to function with its audience, and that will take a level of humility that I’m not sure the institution is capable of producing. The press artificially separates itself from the public while chasing old world influence. Before the press can function as truth-tellers, it must first embrace the totality of those it serves and drop the quest for celebrity status through spotlights on its individual actors.

Because, in this way, journalists are bigger pawns than the audience they claim needs its protection. The institution has lost its influence, and it will never get it back absent a deep soul-searching of its self-image.

Debunking the Right’s Straw Man Fallacy, Part 1

“A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person’s argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.” Excelsior Online Writing Lab’s Argument and Critical Thinking curriculum

This is the strategy of the extreme right in the U.S., which I deconstructed in part in my argument regarding the response of James Dobson to Christianity Today’s editorial about removing Donald Trump from office. This is the first in a series of discussions about the Right Wing Straw Man Fallacy.

The most heinous of the fallacies promoted by the extreme right (which includes our current leadership) is that the have-nots somehow only want handouts — usually from the pockets of the haves — rather than working in the same way that the haves have. These “conservatives” are truly disgusted by those who “refuse” to take care of their own. These people are likely well-intentioned, but this perspective is so addictive that people will follow it to sometimes bizarre conclusions.

This position is but a single facet of the straw man created by the right to justify its extreme positions, and the problem with straw men is that they don’t have to be real to be bullied. This straw man is multi-faceted and represents the extreme of everything the right “hates”. Borrowing in large portion from Dr. James Dobson, here are a few of the characteristics of this “opponent” of the Christian Right:

Pro-abortion
Anti-family
Promotes laziness for the poor
Hostile to the military
Dispassionate toward Israel
Supports a socialist form of government
Promotes confiscatory taxation
Opposes school choice
Favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms
Promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda
Opposes parental rights
Distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct.

In attempts to cloud reality, these people mash all of these into one enemy called “the left”. They are highly adept at promulgating such a fallacy, because their Bible tells them they can make sweeping judgments in the self-serving name of God’s prosperity.

This was recently revealed in a Brookings analysis paper “Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay.”

Some will say that not all low-wage workers are in dire economic straits or reliant on their earnings to support themselves, and that’s true. But as the following data points show, it would be a mistake to assume that most low-wage workers are young people just getting started, or students, or secondary earners, or otherwise financially secure:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25 to 54.
  • More than half (57%) work full-time year-round, the customary schedule for employment intended to provide financial security.
  • About half (51%) are primary earners or contribute substantially to family living expenses.
  • Thirty-seven percent have children. Of this group, 23% live below the federal poverty line.
  • Less than half (45%) of low-wage workers ages 18 to 24 are in school or already have a college degree.

These statistics tell an important story: Millions of hardworking American adults struggle to eke out a living and support their families on very low wages.

My own research confirms the position that unemployment numbers are extremely unreliable as a measure of our economy, and the Presidency of Donald Trump has exacerbated the problem. Here’s a graph revealing that in 2019 poverty shows up in unique ways. This graph reveals the growth of people in the labor force working multiple jobs. The source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

MULTIPLE JOBHOLDERS 10-YEAR TRACK

Of course, this only reveals about 5% of the labor force. However, other employment categories combine to tell the bigger story:

“Even with sunny job statistics, the nation’s economy is simply not working well for tens of millions of people.” (Brookings Analysis)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 48.8% of the labor force are dual income families. 63% of families with children had both parents working, Even 65.1% of mothers with children under 6 are working. A BLS profile of the working poor in 2017 offered five points worth noting:

  • Full-time workers continued to be much less likely to be among the working poor than were part-time workers. Among persons in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, 2.9 percent of those usually employed full time were classified as working poor, compared with 10.9 percent of part-time workers.
  • Women were more likely than men to be among the working poor. In addition, Blacks or African Americans and Hispanics or Latinos continued to be more than twice as likely as Whites and Asians to be among the working poor.
  • The likelihood of being classified as working poor diminishes as workers attain higher levels of education. Among those with less than a high school diploma, 13.7 percent of those who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks were classified as working poor, compared with 1.5 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Individuals who were employed in service occupations continued to be more likely to be among the working poor than those employed in other major occupational groups.
  • Among families with at least one member in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, those with children under 18 years old were over four times as likely as those without children to live in poverty. Families maintained by women were more than twice as likely as families maintained by men to be living below the poverty level.

The point of all of this, of course, is that silly arguments that present poverty as single dimension are extremely misleading, for nowhere is there a way to nail down the laziness of one group of people over another. Margaret Sanger, in speaking about men, once said, “Women have just as much right to be lazy as men,” and that generalization is just as false as the one presented as part of the left-wing boogieman that the Republicans reference.

But that’s the way it goes when political manipulators paint horrendous pictures of their opponents. Beware the straw man of the right, for the character is quite unbelievable.