The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Friday, March 29, 2013


   Last week the Pew Research Center released its annual study on the media and raised concerns over the erosion of the public's trust in the media and the increasing political polarization of cable news. 
  According to the annual “State of the Media” report,  during a ten-week period in the last election cycle 14 percent of the coverage about Barack Obama on FOX News was positive. Similarly, three percent of the coverage of Mitt Romney’s campaign  on MSNBC was positive while 71 percent was negative. Furthermore, 75 percent of those sampled, viewed statements about each candidates’ character and record as negative. 
  The report quoted conservative blogger from Red State Erick Erickson and former George W Bush speech writer David Frum, who criticized the fringe elements of modern conservatism.
   The report comes at the same time that Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee  issued a statement reflecting on how the GOP can improve its  political identity. Interestingly, there is some evidence that the public tends to pay more attention to positive rather than negative news.
   The problem with the proliferation of negative attack ads was addressed by Neil Postman in his book "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

A person who has seen a million television commercials might well believe that all political problems have fast solutions through simple measures

  Frum and Erickson are correct. There are a plethora of conservatives who have damaged the reputation of the Republican party in the last election

   Since Obama’s election, prominent conservatives have used incendiary language to express their opinions about the new commander-in-chief.  Former Fox News host Glenn Beck, has brazenly stated that “the destruction of the West is happening” and that the new “Marxist” president is using “Fascism” to grow the government. Or in the words of almighty Rush Limbaugh Obama’s ideas are “Left-wing, socialism, fascism, Marxists” all rolled into one overarching view of government.
  In September of 2009, three years before the gun debate became a hot topic, a Newsmax contributor’s article was pulled after calling for a potential coup on the president.   
Later, In solidarity with South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, tea party members congregated at the National Mall, with a plethora of revealing signs that read:

And This 


       It isn't just media figures and tea party protesters making absurd statements about the president. The Queen of Crazy, Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), told her constituency to be armed and dangerous to defend against Obama’s energy policy and said that the government's volunteer program, Americorps, is nothing more than a series of “re-education camps.” With brilliant statements like this I wander why Bachmann didn’t clutch the nomination.  Bachmann is not alone in her astute political observations;  Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Obama’s healthcare “Is going to absolutely kill grandma” Iowa republican Steven King said Al Qaeda is celebrating the victory of Barack Obama. Even after the election Michele Bachmann has the crazy dial to the max:

   In the world of conservative fanaticism, this is small. Arizona Congressman Trent Frank went all out crazy when he called Obama “enemy of humankind.” Obama has even been compared to Hitler.
 To be fair, not all of the ridiculous statements made about Obama has come from Conservatives, PUMA, a group of Hillary Clinton extreme supporters, started the rumor that president Obama was not born in America. In fact, it was this group that claimed Obama was a secret Muslim operative a Manchurian candidate planted to destroy America
  Of course, Democrats are not the only party with mutinous fringe groups. In the last CPAC gathering, Islamophobes Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer claimed that CPAC has been infiltrated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.


      The most outlandish comparison to Obama is the anti-Christ. In 2008, an erroneous chain email was circulating the internet which stated that the description of the Anti-Christ in Revelations fits Obama. Moreover, some religious conspiracy theorist point to the Biblical verse Luke 10:18 as proof: “I beheld Satan as Lightening (Baraq) fall from Heaven.” Also it turns out that the day after Obama became president a winning lottery ticket emerged with the 666 as the winning numbers. 
            Fortunately, Obama does not completely fit the description of the Anti-Christ according to televangelist Pat Robertson. According to Robertson the Anti-Christ will create a world government by colluding with “Masons”, and “International Bankers.” (This is the same Pat Robertson who said former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was  punished by God for relinquishing the Gaza Strip.)  

         Of course, not all the political polarization is coming from the Right. In fact, the same study also found that the left leaning cable news outlet MSNBC, opinion-based content overwhelm its hard news.  

  Interestingly, just as some anti-Obama fanatics have compared him to the Anti-Christ some Bush protesters have compared Bush to another biblical villain; Satan.  Offensive signs were ubiquitous during Bush’s inauguration: 


    Like Obama, Bush has received his fair share of comparisons to the German dictator.  Even Noble Peace Prize winner Betty Williams admitted she wanted to find some way to kill Bush non-violently. Not surprisingly, entertainer Harry Belafonte joined in the “I hate Bush” chorus when he said that Bush is a bigger terrorist than Osama Bin Laden.  

     What members of the fringe should realize is that political affiliation does not always align with ideological values. Here are some examples:

    Liberals are typically presented as doves in the sphere of international affairs yet the truth is more complicated.  Obama has received praise from hawks like John Bolton, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain for expanding the drone program in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. In his first term, Obama used force to assassinate a North African dictator and the terrorist leader behind 9-11. Moreover, Clinton’s foreign policy became increasingly hawkish in the late 90s when the Project for the New America Century convinced the former president to attack the Sudan, Iraq and 
  Even in the realm of diplomacy there are noticeable differences. While neo-conservatives want to isolate Iran, the Reagan administration engaged the Iranian government during the Iran Contra Scandal. Likewise, during the cold war, Nixon extended an oil branch to China when he visited the communist leader Mao Zedong in an effort to promote bilateral relations. Moreover, foreign aid, an economic indicator of diplomacy, has increased under George Bush ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) from $7 Billion under Clinton to $19 Billion.  

  In the field of economics, Clinton demonstrated more frugality than both George W Bush and Ronald Reagan. Clinton raised the national debt by 36 percent, nearly one-third of the level raised by his successor.  While Clinton had a balanced budget, Reagan, who championed supply side economics, increased the budget deficit from 74 Billion in 1980 to 220 billion in 1986. Although the deficit has increased under the Obama administration Obama had adopted pro-capitalist policies such as extending Bush tax cuts, and lowering the corporate tax rate. He even considered himself to be a moderate republican

  Political nuance is also reflected in social policy as well. While Obama is known as the Deporter-in-Chief for deporting more illegals than his predecessor, Reagan was more lax with immigration

   During his second term in office Clinton became more socially conservative, by enacting DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, getting tougher on crime, and placing more restrictions on welfare. In contrast, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, spearheaded key parts to the  civil rights legislation.  

   Additionally, the polarization of the media would make it seam as if liberals and conservatives are not capable of cooperating. However, there are many examples of individuals reaching across ideological boundaries to solve problems like intervening in Darfur, reforming the prison system, and reducing  poverty. Some examples include:  

1.      Pro-life candidate Rick Santorum and social liberal Jon Corzine worked together
3. Ted Kennedy, Chuck Colson and Frank Wolf

    Even large corporations such as Hewlett Packard, Dell, General Motors and other companies, who may have been accused for exploiting workers or abusing the environment by liberal organizations, have adopted left leaning policies such as advancing gay rights, and promoting sustainability. Some companies have even advocated in favor of affirmative action.

       Unfortunately, the media has led the citizenry to believe that every issue is evaluated based on a left-right paradigm. The Pew Research Study made other findings that might explain this.
   According to the study, many of the reports that came from the media during the campaign seamed to reiterate what the candidates where saying rather than challenge them. 

  A good example of the symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and the government was illustrated on Al Jazeera: 

  Of course this is not the first time a president has used the media to propagate policies. When Woodrow Wilson was in power, the former president established the Committee on Public Information, to control information about the first World War.


   The problem is becoming more pronounced because the media does not have enough resources to filter all the information they receive from various interest groups due to budget constraints. Whatever, the reason may be, It is noteworthy to point out that a third of respondents in the study said they had abandon a news outlet. 

  According to scholars Michael Gurevitch and Jay G. Blumer, the function of the media should include facilitating dialogue from a diversity of viewpoints, educating citizens on social political issues, and holding government official accountable.
  Instead, the state of the media report, found that the media is becoming more polarized and that the public feels that the media does not scrutinize public officials enough nor is the media providing sufficient information on many issues.

 Of course Opinion-based news is nothing new. In fact, many people have used opinion leaders as a source of information for decades. There is nothing wrong with turning to political commentators to gain more insight into different issues. Conservatives have ever right to question and criticize Obama's healthcare plan just as Liberals had every right to question Bush's war in Iraq. 

  The main point is that many people on both sides of the spectrum only consume media that appeals to their ideology. Liberals and conservatives become so engulfed by their selective media outlets that they begin to lose any ambition for dissent within their own ideological group. Instead of using logic to address numerous issues, Ideologically driven news, as reflected during the Campaign, has created a political environment rich in ad hominem attacks, slippery Slope fallacies, and straw men rather than concrete facts and well-researched analysis.

  The state of the media report, offered some useful insight into the relationship between media and democracy. Unless the media undergoes serious reform, it will cease to become a conduit of critical information but instead turn into an oasis for entertainment and extremism.     

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