EPILOGUE—WHO IS RICK STENGEL: For decades, the public has been disinformed about the Social Security program.
As we noted in yesterday’s post, the process has continued this very week. And sure enough! The process continued after we posted! Just consider Richard Stengel’s appearance on MSNBC’s 1 PM program, Andrea Mitchell Reports.
Stengel is managing editor of Time; that's an important position. Yesterday, he made the rounds of the cable shows to promote the magazine’s cover story about Candidate Perry. He had already played the fool on Morning Joe, saying (for example) that Perry “has a comfortableness [sic] in his own skin that almost nobody else in the Republican Party up there has.” But on Mitchell, Stengel topped his earlier efforts, discussing Perry’s recent statements on Social Security.
Yes, he actually said the following, speaking with guest host Chuck Todd. To watch him do so, click here:
STENGEL (9/15/11): I also think he’s on to something, I mean even with Social Security, right? I mean, you know— Do Americans really realize that there’s no such thing as the Social Security trust fund? That it's a pay-as-you-go program and when there are fewer paying in there’s less money coming out? Are there any people under 35 in America who think Social Security is going to be there the way it is and was for their parents? So I think he's hearing something that maybe some of the other candidates are not hearing.Stengel advanced two of the hoariest claims through which the public has been disinformed. Variants of these hoary claims have been pimped for decades:
There’s no such thing as the trust fund!
People under 35 know the program won’t be there for them!
In truth, there actually is a trust fund, though it’s projected to be exhausted around the year 2037. But decades of well-crafted disinformation have made many people think different.
And yes, Social Security will be there for younger people, even after the trust fund is gone, if the program is left alone. Though in fairness, Stengel hung several qualifiers on that second misleading pronouncement.
Stengel advanced two of the hoariest claims through which the public has been misled. American voters have been disinformed by such claims for the past thirty years. They’ve been disinformed by people like Stengel, which leads us to an obvious question:
Who the fuck is Richard Stengel? Yes, he’s the major boss man at Time. But who exactly is Richard Stengel on a political, societal, cultural basis?
Surprise! Stengel isn’t a movement conservative, the type of person you might expect to be issuing such disinformation.
Instead, Stengel is a familiar species of highly privileged waste meat. He’s a recognizable modern player—the type of player which is defined by this sad biographical profile:
WIKIPEDIA: Stengel was born and brought up in New York. He attended Princeton University and played on the Princeton Tigers basketball team as part of the 1975 National Invitation Tournament. He graduated from Princeton magna cum laude in 1977. After college, he won a Rhodes Scholarship and travelled to England to study English and history at Christ Church, Oxford.The saddest fact is the fact that Stengel once taught a college course. It isn’t hard to believe that he was one of MSNBC’s original commentators. So was Cornell’s brilliant Ann Coulter, who was unknown at the time.
Stengel joined Time in 1981 and contributed to the magazine through the early and mid-1980s, including articles on South Africa, which he also covered for Rolling Stone magazine. He became a senior writer and essayist for Time, covering both the 1988 and 1996 presidential campaigns.
While working for Time, Stengel also wrote for The New Yorker, The New Republic, Spy, and the New York Times and appeared on television as a commentator…Using his experiences as a journalist as a basis, in 1998 Stengel taught a course at Princeton on “Politics and the Press.” He was one of the original on-air contributors for MSNBC.
In the broader sense, this profile almost defines the broken-souled class which now rules our mainstream “press corps.”
Stengel went to Princeton, then to Oxford. Today, he appears on TV to recite stupid pap, thus disinforming your neighbors.
In other words, Richard Stengel is waste meat—waste meat of a very high grade.
Don’t get us wrong—Stengel is a major, major journalistic talent! In 2006, he became managing editor of Time. As Wikipedia continues from there, it describes the type of brilliance we now expect from the lucky duckies who go to Princeton and Oxford:
WIKIPEDIA: The first major initiative Stengel announced as managing editor was to change the magazine's newsstand date to Friday, starting in early 2007. Following this, Stengel implemented an ambitious graphic redesign and changes in the magazine's content, stating that he wanted the magazine to be more selective and to represent "knowledge" rather than "undigested information." He increased reporting on war and politics, giving Time a more focused editorial profile. In his first year as managing editor, Stengel selected "You" as Time's "Person of the Year,” which was the subject of much media coverage and debate. In 2010, Time chose another social media-oriented "Person of the Year,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.Stengel switched the newsstand day to Friday—and he changed Time’s famous red border! Through such bold decision-making, he reached the “Power” list.
In 2008, Stengel approved the changing of Time's emblematic red border for only the second time since its adoption. The border was changed to green for a special issue focused on the environment.
Stengel was listed as number 41 on Newsweek's 2010 "Power 50" list in November 2010. He also regularly appears on shows such as CNN's American Morning and MSNBC's Morning Joe to promote the magazine.
It’s hard to be more privileged than Stengel—or to be more fatuous. But increasingly, this is the profile of major players in what we still describe as our “press corps.” The waste meat which comes from the Rhodes Scholar program should be a special source of disgust. (We'd compare Stengel to Slate's Jacob Weisberg. Weisberg went to Yale and Oxford; he now uses his talents to keep us abreast of Palin's dumber comments.)
Simple story! The upper ends of the national press corps are increasingly peopled by waste meat. The financial rewards are much too great; the cocktail parties are way too many. To maintain all that wealth and fame, you have to maintain that bottom line. You may want to please all comers.
Down through the years, we have persistently posed a question: How has the disinformation campaign about Social Security managed to persist so long? Where have our liberal journals been? What about our mainstream news orgs? What about those mainstream columnists who allegedly have liberal views?
Why haven’t our liberal journals debunked the claims which define the disinformation campaign? What about our mainstream news orgs?
They’ve had thirty years to take this challenge. Can you name a single journal, or a single journalist, who has addressed this disinformation? (Below the journalistic radar, we can name Baker and Weisbrot.)
Where have all those people been? Why haven’t those people pushed back? What have your liberal journals been doing?
To answer those questions, just consider the reaction (so far) to Stengel’s latest comments.
Over at Hullabaloo, Digby pushed back instantly. In her headline, she correctly trashed Stengel for “Making Us Stupid.” Digby’s transcript isn’t perfect, but her reaction to Stengel’s remarks was swift and well-informed.
But many others will ignore the stupid things Stengel said. As of this morning, Steve Benen hasn’t mentioned his comments.
A prediction: He never will. If he does, he'll be very deferential. Excuses will be made!
Do you think Josh Marshall will pipe up? Frankly, we don’t. Could be wrong!
Darlings! It simply isn’t done! Careers hang in the balance! Stengel is a powerful player, and our fiery liberal heroes very much want to succeed. They want to make mother and father proud. Future pay days can still be quite large. The fame can be enormous.
Celebrity hangs in the balance! It’s safer to write one more pleasing post about how vile those tea party folk are. Waste meat gets a pass!
An enormous amount of societal waste has emerged from the Rhodes Scholar program alone. Waste meat like Stengel gets wealthy and famous.
Waste meat like Stengel makes “Power” lists. If it plays along.
Monday: The silence of the professors
A wink-winking explanation: On yesterday’s Morning Joe, Stengel helped explain one part of the post-journalistic process.
Early on, Mika Brzezinski seemed puzzled by Stengel’s fawning remarks about Candidate Perry. (The fawning continued for the full segment.) To her credit, she asked her guest to explain.
The following exchange was conducted in the wink-wink manner of the post-journalistic “press corps.” To watch the exchange, click here, advance to 1:45:
BRZEZINSKI (9/15/11): What are you doing?“We all want an interesting race!” Translation: Stengel is talking Perry up to stimulate his own economy. His news org wants an interesting race. It’s good for the bottom line!
STENGEL: What am I doing?
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, what are you doing?
SCARBOROUGH: (Ironically) He’s a big Rick Perry fan!
BRZEZINSKI: No, what are you doing?
STENGEL: I’m just saying— We all want an interesting race, don’t we?
That may not be the real explanation, of course. But it's bad enough as it is.