By Mark Harris
realize now that President Bush may be right about economic
recovery being on the horizon.
A quick glance through the Sunday help-wanted notices revealed
the usual ads, but also a long column of listings for an entirely
new job categoryŚRight-Wing Media Fact-Checkers.
One ad read:
"Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill
O'Reilly, and Michael Savage watchers! Make Money While They
Fume! Local human rights group seeks dedicated pursuers of
truth for diligent fact-checking. Many long-term contracts
available investigating assertions of right-wing media celebrities.
Must be able to trod through swamps of insults, hyperbole,
and loud self-righteousness. Former employees of legal or
fact-checking departments of major media conglomerates or
publishing houses need not apply." (1).
If you find this hard to believe, note that I have carefully
footnoted this reference.
Confession. Actually, I made this up. The want-ad, the footnote,
it's all a sham. Unlike the voluble personalities who thrive
in the right-wing media, I'm disinclined to allow self-declarations
of my constant rightness to excuse falsehoods floating by,
as routinely happens in conservative pundit land.
Fortunately, there are still those whose loyalty remains
more to ascertaining the truth of things than in justifying
the every utterance of our court-appointed leader, George
W. Bush. Indeed, business is booming in the fact-checking
industry, thanks in large measure to the multitude of reviewers,
internet scribes, and otherwise incredulous citizens who can't
believe how venomously off the right-wing cliff much of the
American media has become.
In last year's Slander, for example, one of Ann Coulter's
high-level discourses on all the things liberals do that get
conservatives in a huff, the acerbic author with her traveling
sideshow of 780 footnotes derided former Vice President Al
Gore for suggesting that heŚAl GoreŚwas the inspiration for
the Erich Segal book, Love Story. Actually, the Love
Story author did in 1997 tell the New York Times
that the novel's main character was partly drawn from Gore.
However, Gore was also reported to have incorrectly declared
that the character Jenny from the novel was based on Gore's
Gore's apparent "misspeak" in this case was to
have repeated in good faith the latter claim, based on a report
in the Nashville Tennesean. The mistake belonged to
the newspaper, not Gore. In Chicago, WLS radio host Nancy
Skinner, a rare progressive voice in mainstream Talk Radio,
was among those who clarified the facts. Skinner also confronted
right-wing voice Sean Hannity on his nationally syndicated
show over his willingness to repeat this nonsense.
Yet Gore might as well have just announced he was endorsing
the political strangeness known as Lyndon LaRouche for world
absolute ruler, the way the right-wing media played on the
story. The mundane truth of the actual non-story was hardly
a concern to the indiscriminate Coulter or the right-wing
Dittohead crowd generally, eager as they were to seize on
any old thing that proved Gore's deep slitheriness. Or whatever.
Then again, why are we even talking about these things?
In today's political climate, liberal authors like Salon
columnist Joe Conason or comedian Al Franken are mostly right
in refuting right-wing propagandists like Coulter, Hannity,
and the like. Indeed, there's a certain satisfaction in watching
Franken catch Fox-TV host Bill O'Reilly in a pattern of deceit
regarding awards won by the show he formerly hosted, Inside
Edition. Yet the scope of much of the current liberal versus
conservative, fact-checking, counter fact-checking, charges,
counter-charges, Republicans-Good-Democrats-Bad or vice versa
debate remains tediously narrow. The conservative demagogues
who roam the airwaves act as if there are only two possible
political positions in existence, liberalism and conservatism.
It's a narrow, nonsense framework. Unfortunately, Conason
and Franken, respective authors of two new books on the theme
of the lies Republicans tell, don't do much to challenge or
dispel that framework, apologists for the Clinton Presidency
that they tend to be.
The right-wing also baits liberals into putting their energy
into refuting such critical issues as Coulter's claim that
the New York Times didn't cover NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt's
death with the same importance the story garnered in the heartland.
Why? Because they're a bunch of liberal, nose-holding elitists,
of course, urbane east coast types who only know how to look
down upon the reportedly more blue-collar, southern NASCAR
As it happens, Coulter was caught in a lie on the specifics
of this one. But where does this type of critical focus really
take us, other than to prove that demagogues do indeed lie.
Should we have expected anything less from a woman absolutely
nostalgic for the return of truly Big-Time Lies, such as the
"noble cause" of the Vietnam War, or the fine, shining
patriotism of Joe McCarthy's war on free thought?
The true pathology in evidence in the extreme right-wing
media is not just the deceit and vitriol. It's that in the
end telling the truth actually isn't necessarily the point,
not at least to Coulter or Limbaugh or other media Mahatmas
of Republican Righteousness. Watchdog groups like FAIR (Fairness
& Accuracy in Reporting) and writers like Franken, Conason,
and other fact-checkers have certainly proved that. What matters
mostly is just the marketability of the packaged image, the
measure of which is taken more in the shock and awe of sound
bites and smart comebacks, the visceral impression of things,
not to forget advertising dollars and book units moved. What
matters is only the never-wavering upholding of the cult of
partisan, extremist Republicanism.
What also matters is the more substantial political effect
of this constant screech of hostility and insult directed
against progressive thought. To accuse liberals in general
of being "America-hating traitors," or to refer
to Clinton as a "leftist," as right-wing pundits
routinely do, serves an important political end. That end
is to drag the contours of political debate in the country
so far rightward that any reasonable, meaningful debate about
social policy and how to go actually go forward in creating
a better life for people becomes an out-of-focus, almost forgotten
In a day not so long ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., used
to talk of creating a guaranteed income for all Americans,
below which no person would be allowed to fall. Or dream of
a society of true economic equality, non-violence, and democracy.
Today, that kind of dreaming will earn you a quick kick into
the cellar of Leninist thought, as parodied by today's Talk
Radio scholars. The end game of all the current media jingoism
and vitriol is not the edification of thought but to fog up
the air with fear and hysteria, to rally an ever-more pitched
political intolerance in the population and declare it patriotic
courage. The end game is to stifle dissent.
In an era when the American Dream for many might include
a retirement spent working at Wal-Mart, wages that can't keep
up with mounting health care premiums, and real-life poverty
in all its dispirited, worn out misery, millionaire radio
personalities like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity rail against
"socialized" medicine and other fantasy evils of
the "liberal, nanny-state" philosophy.
Where are the media voices now that can speak of a grander,
more powerful social vision? Where are voices to inspire instead
of inflame, educate instead of aggravate, the voices that
will show us the way toward a revitalized vision of social
justice? Where outside of a few alternative media pockets
is discussion of how to create genuine job security, the right
to health care, and economic prosperity for every person?
Where are the voices for a return to a vision of unionism
as a galvanizing social movement, an organizing force to democratize
the American economy, for the sake of the easier, more equitable
and just life possible in this rich country? Where are the
antiwar voices that represent the views of millions?
Where are the voices that offer us not only fire, but light?
That's just dreary, old '30s New Deal talk to right-wing
pundits who believe only in the power of now, nostalgia best
left to some future PBS documentary on the life of community
organizer Sol Alinsky. Instead, the right-wing air waves turn
up the amplifiers over such burning non-issues as whether
the "Clinton military" or the "Bush military"
will prove best at the business of dishing out true, tough
justice on a world stage pockmarked with roving "hot
spots." Or why it's absolutely vital that Flag Burning
Just Has To Be Constitutionally Prohibited! (Unless, of course,
you're talking about the United Nations flag).
But why get real when it's so much more satisfying to pump
our Talk Radio fists in the air in endless self-congratulation
over how well the "winning" of Iraq is going. Or
how George W. Bush will be "unbeatable" in 2004.
No matter the facts, or lack thereof.
Where the social vision is in all this partisan white noise
remains now more to be established than discerned.
Mark Harris is a Chicago-area journalist. His work has
appeared in Conscious Choice, Utne, Z magazine, and elsewhere.
His commentary,"Welcome to Ann Coulter's World," appeared
earlier on Democratic Underground (Aug. 1, 2003). You can
write to him at TheEditorPage@aol.com.