Saturday, July 10, 2010

Right Wing Thought Police–An Analysis

Hi. I've been in a quandry over sending you a thoughtful analysis
on Oscar Grant, the Gulf spill, Afghanistan or several others. Then
I got this, which casts both light and shadow over all of them.

Right Wing Thought Police – An Analysis (July 9, 2010)

By Prof. Lawrence Davidson
Department of History
West Chester University
West Chester, Pa 19383

The American right wing is achieving its long term goal of becoming the
nation's thought police. They are realizing this goal through the timeless
practices of extremists (be they on the right or the left, religious or
secular) which are intimidation, slander and harassment. In the past several
months conservative outbursts have ruined the careers of journalists, most
of whom were of the political center but who were indiscrete enough to say
something that ran counter to the right's version of political correctness.

The latest victim in this on-going campaign is Octavia Nasr who for the last
20 years worked at CNN and, up until July 7, 2010, was the network's Middle
East News Editor. She made the mistake of expressing appreciation for Sayyed
Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a recently deceased and important member of
Hezbollah. What she liked about Fadlallah was his stand on women's rights in
the Middle East. That was enough to release the dogs of war on the right. No
matter that no one who complained about Nasr knew anything about Fadlallah
as a person. His association with Hezbollah was enough. Typically, CNN caved
into the attack without a struggle. Almost immediately upon receiving the
protests the network executives decided that Nasr's "credibility" had been
destroyed. Nasr herself commented that she had learned "a good lesson on why
140 characters [the length of her statement on Fadlallah] should not be used
to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing
with the Middle East." She misses the point. It is not the length of her
comment, which was expressed as a private "tweet," that did her in. It was
the fact that she expressed a considered opinion that showed respect for a
man the American right, with little or no accurate knowledge, had decided to
hate. In truth, it is CNN's credibility that is called into doubt by this
incident. But there is little new about that.

As noted, Nasr is only the latest victim. Last month it was Helen Thomas
whose 60 year career as a journalist abruptly ended when she expressed her
frustration with Israel. She said that the Israeli Jews ought to go back to
Germany and Poland. All hell broke loose on that one. No one seemed to
notice that a good many Israeli Jews are in fact going back to Germany and
other European countries. Indeed, more Jews are leaving Israel than are
coming in. Also, no one dared mention that while Helen Thomas was indulging
in wishful thinking, the Israelis have spent the last sixty years in fact
making refugees of as many Palestinians as they could. But such facts are of
little interest to the right. Helen Thomas was quickly forced into

Here are the names of some other victims. The details of their cases can be
had by following the links provided by Glenn Greenwald's piece on this same
subject posted at (July 8, 2010). David Weigel was fired by the
Washington Post for expressing scorn for the likes of Rush Limbaugh . Eason
Jordon was fired by CNN for publically expressing concern about the U.S.
military's appalling habit of shooting at journalists not officially
"embedded." Back in 2003 NBC fired Peter Arnett for remarks on Iraqi TV
raising doubts about Bush Jr's invasion of that country. The right had
accused him of treason. MSNBC fired Ashleigh Banfield for suggesting that
the American media were all becoming mimics of Fox TV. Even Phil Donahue got
axed because he was perceived as being critical of President Bush Jr.'s war.
This list of notables is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many
non-notables hit the unemployment lines because of the revival of
McCarthyite tactics by the American far right?

Why is the screaming right so effective? Is it merely the volume? No, it is
more complicated than that. Here is my explanation:

First the background:

1. In their daily lives the vast majority of Americans are apolitical. They
really don't care about left or right politics because it doesn't seem to
have much to do with their local lives. They are, however, the consumer
audience for which the media outlets compete.

2. While inherently apolitical, this audience does not live in an apolitical
media environment. In my opinion, there is no "objective media" much less a
"liberal" one. The majority of the media outlets are one of two kinds. They
are either a) overtly conservative because they are owned by right wing
ideologues who are interested in inserting their ultra-conservative
worldview into the heads of their audience (the Murdoch/Fox News bunch) or
b) they are "politically neutral" media operations (often owned by bigger
businesses like Westinghouse and Disney) whose foremost interest is making a
profit (CNN and its ilk). You do also have a few left leaning media
organizations out there, mostly in print (i.e. The Nation), but they are on
the fringe and don't reach a mass audience.

3. Since the end of World War II leftist ideas have been demonized almost
out of existence in the U.S. And, since 9/11, the "commies" have been
transformed into Muslims. These simplistic stereotypes set the parameters
for correct and patriotic thinking in this country and they are delivered to
you at different levels of intensity by both the conservative and "neutral"
media systems. No matter how apolitical one might be in one's daily local
life, these notions are in media air, so to speak. You take them in almost
by osmosis. They mess with your mind without you realizing it.

The Foreground:

1. This situation gives the political right a very big head start when it
comes to shaping public opinion and then policing the "neutral" corporate
media to make sure it does not step out of line. The right is very good at
this because their leaders and spokespeople tend to be bullies and
authoritarians. On the other hand, American political liberals are really
centrists who are trying to hold together a conglomeration of different
groups. That might get them votes when it counts but it doesn't make for
principled backbone. The liberal centrists tend to be accommodating rather
than resistant to right-wing bullying.

2. The "neutral" media that is primarily concerned with the bottom line,
their owners and bureaucratic operators, readily sacrifice the principles
underpinning a free press if they are seen as hurting the company image.
There are, of course, occasional exceptions to this rule (just remember the
Washington Post and Watergate) but they are rare and momentary.

3. So, you put together a for- profit, largely unprincipled "neutral" media
with an aggressive political right run by loud mouthed thugs, throw in a
liberal political class that has very little backbone, and you get the
present day situation.

What I have described here is a general situation that is working at two
levels. At the corporate level the right-wing bullies seem to be in charge
and regularly force the firing of those who purposefully or inadvertently
challenge them. Inside the beltway the same sort of sordid business goes on
through the pressures put upon politicians by wrathful special interests. At
the popular level the initially apolitical masses get largely right-wing
influenced storylines coming through the system described above. Over time,
this of course influences their collective worldview.

However, there is another factor to watch for. This propaganda machine can
be overwhelmed by events. That is what may be happening when it comes to
Middle East policy and perceptions. For instance, the behavior of the
Israeli government has been so brutal and uncompromising that it is becoming
more difficult for the U.S. media to rationalize it away. Different
storylines, coming from pro-Palestinian, Arab-American and Muslim-American
movements are catching on among select audiences, such as those on college
campuses. These counter- perceptions have the potential of spreading into
the public at large. If and when we reach that stage, the "neutral"
for-profit media will have to choose between a growing skeptical consumer
audience and the bullies on the right.

Lawrence Davidson
Department of History
West Chester University
West Chester, Pa 19383
Contributing Editor

Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture
New Book by Lawrence Davidson, Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's
National Interest
go to

Book by Lawrence Davidson, America's Palestine: Popular and Offical
Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood go to
Book by Lawrence Davidson, Islamic Fundamentalism go to
Keep your eye on the language:
When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it
apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it
the only democracy in the Middle East.
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