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May 15th 2016 print

Steve Kates

Media Is The Massage

Obama's ratings remain astonishingly healthy, given eight years of foreign-policy debacles, a wan economic 'recovery' and a nation more deeply divided than when he took office. His secret, as a White House spinner explains, is having grasped that voters know little and reporters even less

obama unicornHow do you account for this: Obama report card: Approval up, economy down? In fact, Obama’s approval rating remains well up into his eighth year in office despite of the wreckage not just to the economy, but to the American health care system, the refugee crisis across the Middle East and throughout Europe, the open borders on the American south (and increasingly its north), continuous reductions in living standards, worsening racial relations, and an all-round deterioration in every aspect of American life.

You account for it by understanding that the average American knows less about America than you do and lives in a media bubble almost as tight as the bubble that once surrounded the Soviet Union.

Which is why this remains the single most important story of the Obama years because it explains everything else that would otherwise be inexplicable:

In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, David Samuels details how Ben Rhodes, a script writer, author of the Beloit Journal fiction piece titled “The Goldfish Smiles, You Smile Back,” and brother of CBS president David Rhodes, a man with zero foreign policy experience, shaped and promoted the president’s foreign policy narratives.

Samuels observes: “His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.” (In this respect, of course, he matches the president’s foreign policy background: None.)

The article details how these two shaped and spun make-believe about the facts and their policies and with the aid of a supine press and a number of think tanks and social media outlets helped propagate the false narratives these two wove out of their fantasies.

The quoted story happens to be about foreign policy, but it is just as true about every aspect of policy undertaken by Obama. The media, along with a relative handful of think tanks and social media outlets, has been able to stop dead in its tracks serious discussion about every aspect of policy. The deliberate warping of reality that surrounds every voter is not just the accidental result of politics as usual. It is the specifically designed outcome of the Obama White House.

In an article published in Quadrant in 2013, I wrote about the virtually identical Obama technique in winning the election he ought never to have won in 2012: The New Politics of Data-Driven Elections. This was the central point although there were many ancillary issues raised as well.

The media everywhere have generally been supporters of the Left. But whether because of the limited availability of alternative sources of information or because of an even more decided shift to the Left, the flow of information to the community is now so entirely biased that straightforward reporting of the views of a mainstream party of the Right can hardly find its way into the national conversation. In many respects during the election, media reports and analysis consisted of Democratic Party talking points. For the Republican Party, as for all parties of the Right, it is as if all games are away games with the media providing the crowd noise. A goal by the home team comes with cheers and general all-round satisfaction; a goal by the other side is met with polite applause or even silence. A foul behind play by a player on the team from the Left is taken as part of the rough and tumble of the game; a much lesser offence committed by the Right-of-centre away team brings down the hostility of the crowd—that is, the mass condemnation of the media.

And it is not that the media are in some ordinary sense corrupt and corrupted. They are not influenced to take positions against their own beliefs. It is, instead, that these are the views of the mainstream media. They call it as they see it, but they see it with eyes far to the Left. It is not possible to succeed in the media unless one sees the issues in this way. The hiring practices of mainstream media organisations (the MSM) are designed in a kind of apostolic succession of like-minded individuals of the Left in major positions of influence.

These same techniques have become Obama’s standard means of governance. The following para from the Samuels article, with its direct quotes, ought to be the single most damning statement ever written about the media. But even though it is being discussed across the right side of politics in the United States, it is an absolute non-story where it counts, in the conscious understanding among Americans of how deeply they are being manipulated at every turn (emphasis added).

Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.

Rhodes can say it in print, spitting in the eyes not just of every Democrat opponent but also of the reporters he describes, because after more than seven years in the White House he knows you and they don’t count. Conservative opinions are of no consequence since, whatever influence we might think we have in writing blog posts and specialist articles read by like-minded people, they are utterly irrelevant, given the forces that are ranged against us.

If Obama can permit Iran to build nuclear weapons in plain sight without bringing the world down on his head, what is it you think he cannot do by using the same techniques across every other area of government policy?

Steve Kates teaches economics at RMIT University