Sean Hannity calling President Obama on Fox News Channel a “socialist” every night in prime time on the Fox News Chanel is only the visible tip of the conservative propaganda iceberg. The Right’s real power lies in its ability to shape the narrative and define what is fair and out of bounds for the rest of the media.
Last week MSNBC reported the following:
“So you may not hear Mitt Romney say ‘Keep America American’ anymore, because it was a rallying cry for the KKK group, an intimidation against blacks, gays and Jews, and the progressive AMERICAblog was the first to catch on to that.”
Within hours, so-called liberals at MSNBC like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton were falling over themselves to see who could offer the most debasing, abject apology to Mitt Romney.
Predictably, the rest of the so-called mainstream media and more of the “Liberal Media Establishment” weighed in on the issue, all to denounce MSNBC and to portray Romney as an innocent victim.
As recent as last night, Bill O’Reilly and fellow right-wing media ideologist Bernard Goldberg hashed over the affair in Prime Time. The focus of their debate was whether NBC did enough in their apologizing or whether they were still evil because of their so-called liberal bias.
The otherwise normally sensible Mediaite.com describes the story this way:
“It turns out, the (MSNBC’s) story was not exactly true. …”
There is only one little problem with all of this hysteria. MSNBC’s story that Romney said “keep America American” and that this was a phrase used by the Klan appears to be 100% factual and truthful!
The Romney campaign initially refused to respond to this story for two days. Finally, they claimed that Romney never said “Keep America, American.” They claim he said “Keep America, America.” The central point of evidence is a video you can see here.
When I play the video to various people, most claim they hear Romney saying “Keep America American” (I definitely do). But to be fair, a few do hear Romney saying “Keep America America.” But here’s what isn’t a close call. The Los Angeles Times reporter on December 9, 2011 reported that Romney said this: “We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on the other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American with the principals that made us the greatest nation on Earth. And I will do that with your help.”
Was the reporter ever contacted by the Romney campaign demanding a retraction? Are there comments on the LATimes website at the time of the story (this was before the controversy broke out)?
No and no.
So now we are supposed to believe that he Los Angeles Times reporter just makes up stuff and that most people who hear Romney on this video with their own ears saying “Keep America American” should disbelieve their own ears and instead put their trust in the Romney campaign’s press release.
This stretches credulity.
Another school of thought in most of the media reporters is that MSNBC was horribly irresponsible for not providing more context to the story, presumably to cast Romney in a more favorable light.
Fair enough; let’s parse the phrase “Keep America American.” After all, it truly would be unfair to pick a random phrase like “I love America” or “I am a vegetarian” and show that the Klan or a Nazi had once used the phrase. But “Keep America American” is not that general. It’s not a phrase that easily floats from everyone’s mouth. The phrase had a specific meaning in the 1920s and it has one today. The similarity is that in both cases, what it means is this “My ideas and principles are good and the ideals and values of people who oppose us are bad. And these ideas are bad because they got their ideas from other countries and other parts of the world. We should reject their ideas and values not just because they are bad but specifically because their ideas originated from other parts of the world.”
It doesn’t matter how you slice or dice it, the phrase “Keep America American” is a rhetorical cheap shot used by demagogues in the act of committing demagoguery. No, it doesn’t mean Romney is a closet Klansman, but it does mean he uses rhetorical cheap shots that have a long tradition and it’s fair game to point out their tradition.
So are we being unfair to Romney for looking at the phrase he used and inferring one set of ideas when he really was implying something else? NO. Just look at the full quote above. Romney is rejecting Obama and his ideas, specifically because Obama’s ideas are European. That’s what makes them bad, they aren’t from America—get it?
What O’Reilly and all of the right wing echo chamber have been doing for the last week is tending to the media landscape. And what they have done, to a remarkable degree of success, is to say that any suggestion of racism among prominent republicans is out of bounds. In the conservative media establishment’s worldview, there is no such thing as racism among conservatives. Only liberals can be racist. Therefore any story that hints at or suggests that a conservative is racist is inherently wrong and demands an immediate denunciation and retraction.
This bit of zeitgeist shaping was done with such efficiency and collaboraton that it left the other side helpless.
In the conservative world view, it is quite Ok to brand Obama a “socialist” or even a “communist” if he does something so radical as suggesting Richard Nixon’s healthcare plan. Never mind that socialism and communism are hated ideologies by most Americans and is represented by regimes such as Cambodia’s where 7 million people were slaughtered by a genocidal communist. No, that’s considered completely fair, and normal because, well, because that’s what every conservative gets away with in the media every day.
But no one is ever allowed to compare any extreme Republican rhetoric with, say, fascists or racists. That’s considered automatically beyond the pale. There is an un-written rule imposed by the conservative media establishment and accepted by even liberal mainstream media:
“Thou shalt not accuse any Republican of doing anything even mildly racist or even racist-friendly unless you can capture video tape of the republican saying ‘I hate all black people and want to string them all up and kill them!’”
The result is a media climate where any ambitious, smart reporter pulls his/her punches when reporting on Republicans. Don’t report anything that can tie a Republican to an extremist cause or organization, even if the facts bear it out. Instead, use that time to report that Obama isn’t a citizen or that Bill Clinton made a fortune on Whitewater or that House Democrats want to wage “class warfare” because they want to raises taxes to the same rates they were in 1994.
The strongest form of power is away the subtlest and Conservatives have both overt and subtle power to get the media, all the media, to sell their propaganda.