Saturday, May 22, 2010

Um, Part Three? Or Part One redux?

Updated I've had an interesting exchange with Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy in comments to my post about my criticism of Bob Somerby's treatment of Rachel Maddow - interesting and long enough to move up to a post. I really didn't expect to still be talking about Somerby, but here we are. The way I'm going to do this is to put VLWC's comments in italics and my responses in regular type as well as heading them. It's all verbatim except for correction of typos. Here we go:

==

VLWC: I haven't delved into this chapter in any detail, but overall, I heartily agree with Somerby's diagnosis of Maddow, who presides over one of the top franchises of "progressive" media with tribal, ham-handed humor and serves up (if I may appropriate Somerby's lingo) dishonest comfort food for us rubes.

She sometimes has a worthy guest or commentary, but her program is substantially an excellent place for lefties to get disinformed in self-satisfying ways.

I don't always agree with Somerby (for example, he's been far too generous about Obama and his health-care plan, partially by giving Krugman his proxy on it [something I gather he's slowly wising up from]), but he's plainly motivated more by honesty than by tribe and popularity, something I couldn't possibly say about Maddow without my fingers crossed behind my back.

LarryE: I will simply repeat what I said: Maddow is a good liberal in the classic sense, someone who believes the government has a role to play in matters such as poverty, discrimination, etc., but who still supports the economic system and is "pro-US" on foreign policy.

She surely is no radical and I never suggested she is.

Bluntly, I think Somerby taking aim at her has less to do with anything she has actually said or done but with her popularity and his desire to maintain his "more liberal than thou" cred.

I do wonder, BTW, why you used a two-year old brief clip as a means of, I take it, criticizing her. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things in the past couple of weeks that would work better.

VLWC: Why do I reference a two-year-old clip? Because it was the last nail in the coffin of my ascribing any credibility to Maddow. It was and is an example of twisted and oh-so-easy tribalism, to join in the media's utterly fabricated "RFK-gate" wilding of Hillary Clinton. "Progressives" used to champion a media critique, now career "liberals" of Maddow's ilk are a big part of the problem, spewing utter lies without a hint of shame.

Around that time, I stopped listening to Air America and watching MSNBC, so I don't have first-hand experience of recent vintage of her lame humor, her kissing the ass of power, and her disinforming viewers.

Somerby's reportage on Maddow's sleazy "teabagger" riffs and other vacant comfort food suggests that I haven't been missing much. YMMV.

Somerby has, for years, been willing to (properly) bite the hand that feeds him, calling out the worse-than-worthless career "liberals" that pervade so-called left-of-center media. How that supports your theory that he's merely jealous of Maddow's popularity is beyond me.

LarryE: I said nothing about Somerby being "jealous." I said he targets her because she is a popular media figure among liberals and he is always concerned with proving he is a realer, truer, liberal than anyone else on the planet, most of who, in his opinion, have "low IQs" - which is a big part of the "greasily sanctimonious condescension" to which I object.

As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals.

I find Maddow useful in the same sense and way I find a lot of other media sources useful. Some, of course, more useful than others - but most news outlets, even conservative ones, can be useful if you apply the correct filters.

VLWC: "As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals."

What does this mean? Maddow has a blank check to be the dishonest, lame-humored opiate of the "progressive" masses?

LarryE: It means what it said: The reaction of "Omigod! She's acting like a liberal!" just makes me think "Well, what the hell did you expect?"

It also means that rants about her supposed "dishonesty," which by their nature contain accusations about motive as well as behavior, fail to impress me. I say yet again, she is a classic liberal and what she expresses flows from that. That can make her, given the particulars of a case, anything from insightful to bone-headedingly dense, but it does not make her "dishonest."

(Compare this with, for an obvious example, Fox, where, I believe, many of the news people - that is, the ones Fox labels as "news" rather than "opinion" - are consciously seeking to advance a political agenda. The difference between that and essentially but not consciously advancing such an agenda because of reporting arising from your own convictions may have more to do with philosophy than practical effect but it is nonetheless real and does speak directly to the question of honesty.)

It means, thirdly, that his attacks on Maddow are less substantive (about what she actually says) than personal (who, in his eyes, she is).

As a sidebar, before her it was Keith Olbermann and before him it was Chris Matthews - that pattern being part of the basis for my assertion that he is going after her because "she is a popular media figure among liberals." Whoever is in the ascendancy in that role at a given moment becomes a prime target. That is not by its nature an unfair undertaking - those at the top should get and should expect to get more critical attention than minor voices - but it should be openly acknowledged that the targets are chosen due to their popularity rather than the quality of their work. That's especially true when the critiques are to prove your own, supposedly superior, lib cred - which is what I maintain Somerby is doing.

As for "comfort food," that impresses me even less. Bob Somerby is comfort food, a constant harping on the same narrow point ("All those 'liberal' media people are clowns! And liberals are stupid!") that enables his readers to feel they have a much greater depth of understanding of media and events than the trusting rubes who read or watch those "clowns" but without actually providing any.

BTW, I don't get the "bite the hand that feeds him" bit. While his bio on his site is vague about it, the fact is he has never worked as an editor or a reporter. He has written some op-eds, but he has made his living as a teacher and a stand-up comedian. The media does not "feed" him.

I'll end with this: I do watch both KO and RM. I enjoy the shows and take from them what I find useful. (Even though I hit the mute whenever Ezra Klein comes on again.) The bottom line point is this: I will often enough come to the end of a RM show feeling pissed about some attack on civil liberties, some corporate malfeasance, or some government failure to protect the pubic interest. I come away from a Daily Howler entry feeling pissed about Bob Somerby and his over-the-top self-important screeds. There are those who think simple bile is a valuable contribution to public debate. I am not among them.

Last licks are yours if you want them.

==

You are strongly encouraged to check the link for the original post to see if VLWC accepted the offer for last licks and if so what was said.

Updated to say that what I take to be VLWC's last licks are in comments here. Be sure to look at them to get the complete exchange.

28 comments:

Scott said...

Sent over here from Rumproast -- just wanted to say very nicely done. I used to read Somerby often, but I've stopped. It's not so much that he attacks other liberals -- it's more that I finally realized that he doesn't have a schtick outside of attacks and self-righteousness. Might be why he sounds so much like a teabagger these days...

LarryE said...

Thanks for coming by - maybe come back, even.

(Whoa, memory flash on Snagglepuss.)

For some time, I tried to give Somerby the benefit of the doubt, that he went after liberals in the media as the voice of frustrated hope, of saying to them "Come on, people! You're better than this!"

But it just got to the point where it seemed more a matter of saying to them "Face it, people! You're not as good as me!"

That combined with his pattern of committing precisely the same sins of which he accuses others - such as, for one example I found particularly irritating, his literal obsession with media treatment of Al Gore during the 2000 campaign without once mentioning, as far as I know, that Al Gore is a personal friend and was a college roommate - sealed it for me.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

Larry,

I don't have the time to haggle out with you why I find Somerby way more honest and worthwhile than Maddow.

I, for one, appreciate that he demands better "liberal" media. We need that, vitally.

Me, I feel dirty and done dirty when watching the MSNBC gang or reading the Frank Riches, etc. Somerby's writing on them is one of those "he watches so I don't have to" things.

Like most of us (the president notwithstanding), Somerby's not perfect. I encourage you to continue fact-based criticism of him if you have the time and interest. If you don't find him worth your time, as I find Maddow, that's cool, too.

LarryE said...

We do disagree about Somerby but disagree less than you think about Maddow.

In any event, the point here is that I wanted to say thanks for commenting and thanks (to both of us) for keeping it civil, something at which it is so easy to fail in comment exchanges.

I hope you'll come back and check the place out from time to time.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

Thanks, Larry.

Your site feed is in my RSS list, so I'll be following along, even if I'm not finding much time to comment (or post) these days.

"Civility" can be kind of a bugaboo, the cause of couch-fainting and shunning when one speaks inconvenient truths. I think we do best by being reasonable.

BTW, it's common knowledge that Somerby is a college chum of Gore's. He excerpted a Dana Milbank complaint about said source of presumed bias over 10 years ago (not necessarily his first reference to the relationship, but the earliest I turned up in a quick search).

Anyone with a brain, a conscience, and a penchant for honesty is better than the career "liberals" that represent a polluted oasis amid our conservative MSM. It's hardly arrogant of Somerby to presume to be more legitimate than the Frank Riches, Maureen Dowds, and Rachel Maddows.

If we shun Somerby and his monomania, we're cutting off one of the few people who will consistently shine a light on the rot that pervades the "liberal" end of the media, the end we (at our peril) rely upon to be a healthy alternative to the VRWC.

Remember when "media critique" was one of the prime roles of the left blogosphere?

Now it's "Presidents generally get about the media coverage they deserve."

Oh, well.

LarryE said...

It's quite possible to differentiate between the person and the view (Gandhi's quote "Hate the sin and not the sinner" comes to mind) and so to be both civil and extremely pointed.

One last (I promise. Really.) thing which is not about you but about a different issue raised again by tracing back some of the links you provided: I find it striking in how much of the argument over Somerby you can find tremors of the 2008 primaries and people still fighting the same battles, just now by proxy.

For example, there are the references to "RFK-gate," which you called a "wilding" of Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, at a blog that linked to this post, someone noted how Somerby pushed the "Obama gave Hillary the finger" meme despite its obvious falseness.

I'm not saying Somerby was a Clinton supporter who interpreted in that light; I didn't follow him nearly closely enough to know. This is about the Obamabot/Clintonbot divide that can still be discerned.

(As a sidebar, I had no horse in that race; I would have been equally satisfied/dissatisfied with either. One of the reasons it got so nastily personal, I think, is that in political terms there wasn't that much to choose between them. I did, however, say in 2007 that I had "grudging admiration" for the fact that "just 42 years after blacks were viciously beaten simply for wanting to vote by police who assumed they still could get away with it ... the leading candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president are a black man and a woman.")

LarryE said...

I want to say again just to make sure it's clear: The last comment was not about you or about Bob Somerby. It was about a different issue that the discussion about Somerby raised.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

[Response (noted with *asterisks*) in parts due to word limit]

It's quite possible to differentiate between the person and the view (Gandhi's quote "Hate the sin and not the sinner" comes to mind) and so to be both civil and extremely pointed.

* Indeed. But I have often seen/heard the word "civility" used as a tool of STFU, so it's not my chosen term for describing conversation that is happily unmarred by uncalled-for rudeness.*

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

One last (I promise. Really.) thing which is not about you but about a different issue raised again by tracing back some of the links you provided: I find it striking in how much of the argument over Somerby you can find tremors of the 2008 primaries and people still fighting the same battles, just now by proxy.

For example, there are the references to "RFK-gate," which you called a "wilding" of Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, at a blog that linked to this post, someone noted how Somerby pushed the "Obama gave Hillary the finger" meme despite its obvious falseness.

* First of all, it's unsurprising that heated and impactful happenings (such as the 2000 Election and the 2008 Democratic Primaries) are full of lively and telling occurrences.

Secondly, it's curious that you take no position on RFK-gate, which was an absolutely vicious, wide-spread and patently false character, well, assassination. You disqualified my reference to Maddow's involvement in it because it was (for some reason) past its expiration date as an example of her honesty and character, and now you hold my "wilding" description at arm's length.

In contrast, you manage to be certain that the "Obama gave Hillary the finger" story is false, while the tape is rather ambiguous (sorry this is a Bill O'Reilly clip, but hey, he takes Obama's side on it). The people on stage (note the woman in red) and in the crowd (what else explains the sudden "whoop"?) reacted as though Obama was signaling something provocative, and the follow-up dandruff gesture could reasonably be seen as reinforcing the gestures of disrespect. Seems to me, it's a judgment call, whereas the reference to RFK running until a fateful day in June was obviously not in any way, shape, or form what nearly the entire news media relished turning it into (and which the Obama camp fed, both with a condemnation of the innocuous statement triggering the wilding and capping it by distributing copies of Keith Olbermann's fire-breathing rant about it to the entire news media).

Also in contrast, the "finger" story never reached anything like that fever pitch.

(more ahead)
*

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

(continued)

* Do this for me, if you would. Provide me with a link showing a major media figure describing the alleged finger incident with an animus within a million miles of the Olbermann RFK-gate "Special Comment." It wasn't just Olbermann, it was an entire long-weekend media feeding frenzy (including a NY Times editorial) pushing an outright and incendiary lie. And good ol' Rachel Maddow was only too happy to feed the beast. I found all that disgusting (as I would have if Obama had borne the brunt of such a false and withering attack). YMMV.

Sure, it's pleasing and simplifying to equivalate the behaviors of the two camps and their supporters (including media figures), but that utterly obscures what actually happened.

There was an extraordinary social phenomenon that made any sort of evisceration of Hillary Clinton and any sort of elevation of Obama not just fair game but de rigeur.

As Eric Boehlert, who studied the blogosphere during the primaries, said (to me):

[T]he anti-Clinton tone online was much more vitriolic and personal. At times it didn’t seem that people even cared about her positions, they just couldn’t stand to see the sight of her and lashed out in very emotional ways. Again, I can’t say categorically that that never happened with regards to Obama, but in general, I did not see those kinds of attacks. I didn’t see bloggers and their readers express their deep, unabiding contempt for Obama as a person, the way I saw that stuff directed towards Hillary.

Nearly mandated Obamamania continued into Obama's first year in office, as Ian Welsh recently noted:

[I]n early 2009 the number of things I wanted to say that I couldn’t either get published or front paged was rather extraordinary. What happens in such situations is that writers, even when not explicitly edited, start self editing. “Everyone knows” certain things, but hardly anyone says them, which is why you get the weird sight of people saying “everyone knew”, but then you look into the person’s archives and find they never said what “everyone knew”.

*

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

I'm not saying Somerby was a Clinton supporter who interpreted in that light; I didn't follow him nearly closely enough to know. This is about the Obamabot/Clintonbot divide that can still be discerned.

* It's not fundamentally, "what it's about," it being what the likes of Somerby and yours truly are after. It's about the craptastic liberal media and liberal blogosphere that ought to be a badly needed antidote to the lying, truthy, groupthinking rightwing media, it's about the failure for honest and meaningful left-of-center political debate to take root in any vaguely mainstream place.*

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

(As a sidebar, I had no horse in that race; I would have been equally satisfied/dissatisfied with either. One of the reasons it got so nastily personal, I think, is that in political terms there wasn't that much to choose between them. I did, however, say in 2007 that I had "grudging admiration" for the fact that "just 42 years after blacks were viciously beaten simply for wanting to vote by police who assumed they still could get away with it ... the leading candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president are a black man and a woman.")

* I agree that the political similarity of the two candidates gave rise to non-reality-based arguments. Even George Fucking Lakoff was reduced to uttering this sort of drivel:

Obama believes in bold moves and the building of a movement in which the bold moves are demanded by the people and celebrated when they happen. This is the reason why Hillary talks about "I," I," "I" (the crafter of the policy) and Obama talks about "you" and "we" (the people who demand it and who jointly carry it out).

Another challenge for you. Can you point to a comparable collection of off-the-rails quotes (and graphics) from many respected figures that holds a candle to these about Obama? The simple fact is that the temperature in Hillaryville never got close, either in terms of ethereal love for their preferred candidate or for the pervasive dehumanization of the other. Sure, there were some jerks and idiots (especially after so much abuse and malarkey had been shoved down their throats), but who was the Hillary supporter with, say, the stature of Markos (who pushed the "Darkened Photo" canard) selling the crazy and the cow-dung? Most of the pro-Hillary bloggers I'm familiar with had little use for the underbelly stuff (e.g., the "whitey video" rumor pushed by No Quarter). In contrast, the "as far as I know" crap, the "fairy-tale"-is-a-racist-term fable, the "sleeping-children-are-a-Birth-of-a-Nation-reference" howler and so forth graced the biggest blogs and the biggest media outlets.

Our cultural proclivities toward "get over it" and equivalation demand that inequities and systemic breakdowns be forgotten, especially when the evidence is unflattering to the popular and the powerful. Those who remember are dead-ender monomaniacs.

Frankly, I don't spend a lot of my life ruing that Hillary Clinton isn't president. But I am very saddened by the truthy and bullying culture that put Obama in office and which insulates him from meaningful progressive outrage. The very same culture made a mockery of the health-care reform process, where the entire progressive establishment was co-opted or tricked into distracting the left from demanding real change and fufillment of promises of an open and transparent process, by pushing a completely meaningless faux-policy called "public option." The systemic failure that prevented lefties from understanding that Obama is a neo-con reared its head again, as a plan written by an ex-Wellpoint VP was sold as a progressive milestone.

We can learn from these things and maybe do something about them, or we can narcotize ourselves with catnip from MSNBC and company about "tea baggers," the all-important Sarah Palin, and the latest dumb thing Rand Paul said. It's quite clear that catnip is the order of the day. (And I'm not directing this at you, BTW).*

LarryE said...

Unhappily, it now appears that you are among those still fighting the Clinton-Obama wars, something the two parties directly affected have seemingly long left behind.

I have no interest in that battle. I never did. Don't expect me to take up arms now.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

Unhappily, you are sidestepping the substance of my response, which documents the parallax between your assertions about the 2008 primaries and what actually happened -- a history which, if examined, shines a light on a "liberal" media and new-media that are an epic fail.

You paint me as a dead-ender Clintonista (which is wildly off base, BTW), rather than, for example, staring the vileness of Olbermann's RFK-gate rant in the face, and coming to grips with what such behaviors show about the career "liberal" establishment.

Rather than look into that abyss (or rethink your assumptions about what went down in 2008), you create the straw man that I'm expecting you to "take up arms" in favor of one Democratic "centrist" over the other in a battle that was conclusively settled. That's not "civil." It's cheap, demeaning, and bogus.

What happened in election 2000 (what Somerby, of course, is on about) matters not just because of the fateful outcome, but also because it provided object lessons about our truthy and petty information and opinion-dissemination systems, if only anyone could be troubled to learn them. Ditto for the 2008 primaries. (As I noted, there is a direct line between the dynamics of the primaries and the dynamics of the health-care reform "debate" and policy debacle. But few could be bothered to notice or to rattle any cages as our betters sold us down the river. Add to that, of course, the paucity of outrage at most any of Obama's countless Bushian moves -- the seeds of that blithe acquiescence were quite obviously sown in the truthy hopey changey primaries, but it's too gauche to remember and learn from that).

Something in our species, or at least in our culture, drives us to wallpaper over "late unpleasantnesses." "Move on," is the watchword. Once the tribe agrees that a topic is played out or too ugly, one best not bring it up, or if one does, one best parrot the official story, facts be damned.

Failure to join in that endeavor makes one a laughable crank. The good thing about Rachel Maddow is that she'll never commit that faux pas. She'll tell us the story du jour and will make us feel good about liking her and will never seriously challenge us to rethink the "progressive"-insider status quo.

The posts in this series, seems to me, are a public attempt to excuse yourself for siding with the trendy Maddow over the cranky Somerby. Congrats, you're hangin' with the kewl kidz now.

lambert strether said...

Shorter liberal tribalists, chanting in unison:

"Somerby is a purist!"

Which, after a time, modulates into a second shorter:

"Why don't you get over it?"

* * *

The collapse of the legacy parties can't come too soon for me....

Kevin K. said...

"sorry this is a Bill O'Reilly clip"

Yeah, I'll bet you are.

It's funny that you forgot to mention that pure-as-the-driven-snow Correntewire was leading the charge pushing out this bullshit meme, started by Laura Bush's shady former speechwriter, or that Media Matters posted definitive proof that Obama did no such thing. The UStream video (now offline) of the event clearly showed Obama scratched his face with two fingers (screenshots here and here) but you and other online Clinton supporters continued your "wilding."

And the "it was only No Quarter" defense is absolute crap. There were many, many blogs created by Hillary supporters that were dedicated to nothing but 24/7 Obama bashing and posting all sorts of crazy shit about him. MyDD's diaries became a vicious anti-Obama RedState-style outpost after Allegre's heroic DKos strike. Hell, Taylor Marsh, to name one prominent, pro-Hillary blogger, posted an anti-Obama video that was so vile and racist that a McCain staffer was fired for tweeting it. She also wrote a long post questioning Michelle Obama's patriotism.

And I'll see your Obama Messiah blog and raise you with this, this, this, and this. Believe me, I've got plenty more where that came from. Don't make me post a link to the guy with the puppets, because I will.

Anonymous said...

I think you are unjust to Somerby. I have been reading him since 1998 and I don't think he is trying to prove he is more liberal than thou. I think he is determined to follow facts and logic where ever they take him. I have never seen Maddow, so can offer no opinion of her.

dcblogger

LarryE said...

VLWC: You say "you create the straw man that I'm expecting you to 'take up arms' in favor of one Democratic 'centrist' over the other.... That's not 'civil.' It's cheap, demeaning, and bogus."

You demanded that I engage in what you plainly regarded as a fool's errand of proving to your satisfaction that the press treatment of Obama was as good/bad/whatever as that of Clinton. You also accused me of "sidestepping the substance" of what you said when I specifically stated you were pursuing an argument in which I had no intention of participating. That is demanding I "take up arms" in that battle. Period. I won't do it.

In case you're wondering why I would think you're participating in the on-going Clintonbot/Obamabot battle, it's because it was my mention of it that sent you off the deep end.

LarryE said...

LS: I hope the phrase "liberal tribalists" is not aimed at me. If it is, you're making a wildly sweeping and wholly wrong assertion based on the extremely thin evidence of a single post and discussion.

On the other hand, your desire for the "collapse of the legacy parties" is one I can wholeheartedly endorse.

LarryE said...

dcblogger: Thanks for the comment. Obviously I disagree, but as VLWC said earlier in this exchange, YMMV. If you find Somerby useful (as opposed to, as I expect a number of his readers actually do find him, merely snarkily amusing) then by all means keep reading.

Just remember that all news critiques, just like all news sources, must be read with the proper filters.

LarryE said...

And finally this, to Kevin K. and everyone else:

I appreciate the attention and lord knows I can use the traffic, but I really really really have neither the interest in having nor the desire to have this become another place to re-fight the 2008 primaries.

Maybe everybody could read some other posts on other topics and comment on them, maybe? I'd like that.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

"off the deep end"

Argumentum ad psychologiam. Stay classy, Larry.

Zach said...

Seriously? Larry? Hiding behind the "this is all about refighting the primaries" banner is pretty demaning.

I'd say VLWC made about eleven or twelve very intersting, and salient points, but all I hear is you trying to shut him down, consign him to the role of "poor loser" or something. Seems like a blog-owners way of trying to shame somebody into leaving.

What is that about. Methinks the gentleman doth deflect too much.

No Blood for Hubris said...

What Zach said.

Kevin K. said...

I totally understand, Larry. I'm done. Take it easy.

LarryE said...

VLWC: Why "off the deep end?" Because we had and had concluded a civil - no fainting couches here, "civil" meaning the focus was the opinions, not the personalities, and was done without insults - disagreement about Bob Somerby.

I then mentioned that "tremors" of a continuing divide between the 2008 strong supporters of Obama and Clinton could be seen in various people's attitudes about Somerby.

That, which I thought just an observation about the lingering after-effects of the primary fight, sparked a torrent of righteous indignation and phrase-parsing 1100 words long (not counting the parts that quoted me), including demands that I essentially take up the opposing side in an argument in which I have zero interest in participating.

And when I said that, you accused me of "sidestepping the substance ... which documents the parallax between your assertions about the 2008 primaries and what actually happened" - even though I made no assertions about the primaries; in fact the only mention I made of them, and that indirect, was quotes to illustrate the existence of the "divide" I was pointing to.

Another couple of hundred words followed, including calling me "cheap, demeaning, and bogus" and concluding with some snarky reference to "the kewl kidz."

Frankly, I think that fits the general understanding of the phrase "off the deep end."

LarryE said...

Kevin K.: Thanks for understanding.

LarryE said...

To everyone else: Any additional comments on this thread that do not relate to the original post - that is, which are not about the value or lack thereof of The Daily Howler - will be deleted.

I said I have no desire to have this become another place to re-fight 2008. I meant it.

You don't like it? Tough. My house, my rules.

 
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