Prelude—Fox culture spreads: Lawrence O’Donnell was off to a very good start last night.
In his first segment, he interviewed Senator Manchin about the way background checks are viewed. (We’ll grant you, Lawrence glossed the major limitations in the Manchin-Toomey proposal.)
In his second segment, he interviewed Senator Gillbrand about sexual assaults in the military.
Each of these segments was sane and on-point. “Why can’t Lawrence always be like this?” one of the analysts asked.
At this point, Lawrence began his third segment. Rather quickly, we saw the way The Loathing Wars are starting to rule our own tribe.
Lawrence said he wanted to discuss “the art of the comeback and why scandal might not matter anymore in politics.” After a brief preview, he offered these thoughts concerning Mark Sanford’s election to Congress:
O’DONNELL (5/9/13): Joining me now, MSNBC’s Krystal Ball and Eugene Robinson.We wouldn’t have framed it that way ourselves. But Lawrence said it was “a good thing” that those South Carolina (Republican) voters hadn’t “voted on scandal.”
Krystal, I think one of the good things about this election in South Carolina is that it turned out it was about the issues. The voters didn’t see the issues the way I see the issues. But they obviously voted on policy instead of on scandal.
As it turned out, the election “was about the issues,” Lawrence said. To watch this whole segment, click here.
We’re opposed to scandal-mongering too, just as we were in the 1990s. That said, we wouldn’t necessarily praise those voters (or other voters) for voting “on policy,” or on “the issues.”
On balance, though, we think it was a good thing that they walked away from the marital wars. But Krystal Ball, a young tribal pundit, had a less flattering view. We think the highlighted statement is wonderfully revealing:
BALL (continuing directly): Well, I would frame it a little differently. I would say they voted on partisanship instead of scandal. But I think the underlying point is right, that the American people are actually incredibly forgiving. They want to forgive. And Sanford seemed like he was contrite. Lots of people have affairs. Lots of people have divorces.What a wonderful moment! Lawrence said those Republican voters had voted “on policy.” Krystal knew that remark couldn’t stand. Those people had voted “on partisanship,” this tribal chief quickly said.
At the end of the day, they decided that wasn`t enough to totally get rid of this guy for good.
No, Ball’s statement isn’t “important.” Nothing will turn on the fact that she rewrote Lawrence that way.
But in that moment, you get to see the essence of tribal loathing—the loathing which has come to rule our American discourse. The essence of tribal loathing is this:
The other tribe is less than human. We must never make a positive statement about their actions or motives. No such statement can stand!
It’s a bit like Goofus and Gallant. When our tribe votes for the Democrat, we can be said to be voting “on policy.” When their tribe votes for the GOP guy, they must be said to be partisan!
Absolutely nothing turns on the fact that Ball rewrote that framework. But in that moment, you see the prehistoric instinct for loathing—for dehumanization of The Other—that has very much started to claim the culture of our own emerging tribe.
Krystal Ball sees Republican voters as modern Slovaks see the Roma! Before we give you the relevant link, let’s examine another way the culture of Fox is starting to capture our tribe.
Yesterday morning, Irin Carmon authored a report at Salon concerning the sexual enslavements in Cleveland. The headlines atop her piece captured the eye.
“The Cleveland kidnapping could have been stopped,” a bold headline said. “The imprisonment of three Ohio women was allowed to go on for 10 years because of a culture of denial.”
Presumably, Carmon didn’t write those headlines. For the record, nothing in her essay says that the kidnapping(s) could have been stopped in some way.
Whoever wrote that headline may not be a good reader. Unfortunately, Salon is often like that.
That said, Carmon did assert in her piece that the imprisonment of the three young women “was allowed to continue” due to “a culture of denial.” That may turn out to be true in some way. But right at the start of Carmon’s report, our emerging liberal culture kept merging with that of Fox.
Carmon’s basic portrait of this matter pleases our tribal predisposition. Sadly, it doesn’t make sense:
CARMON (5/9/13): Whether we want to or not, we will soon learn many more horrifying things about what the three young women imprisoned and tortured in Cleveland went through. But here is something we already know: It might have been stopped earlier, but for a culture of denial. Charles Ramsey’s now-famous intervention shows some success with decades of cultural messaging that violence can happen in the house next door and you should do something about it. But it took over a decade.At that point, Carmon switched her field, moving on to the problem of sexual assaults in the military. But her three paragraphs regarding Cleveland don’t even rise to the level of D-minus work. Salon’s honorable history is in the basement when it prints writing like this.
The Cleveland story fits every societal expectation of what sexual violence looks like: Young girls, abducted off the street, imprisoned by grim-faced perpetrators [sic] whose mug shots are straight out of a crime procedural. And even then, it was allowed to continue, hidden in plain sight.
Police deny that neighbors ever called the police to say there were naked women on leashes in the backyard. But that’s what the neighbors say, possibly due to false memories: “We thought it was funny at first, and then we thought that was weird, so we called the cops,” said Nina Samoylicz. “They thought we was playing, joking, they didn’t believe us.” (Cleveland police claim they have no record of such calls.) Israel Lugo told the paper he knew of three calls made to police about the house between 2011 and 2012. Elsie Citron told USA Today her daughter called the police after a similar sight, “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
It what way were the Cleveland imprisonments “allowed to continue” due to “a culture of denial?” Carmon never explains. By her own explicit account, she doesn’t know if Ariel Castro’s neighbors made the phone calls they say they made. So who exactly was caught up in the culture of denial?
Were the Cleveland police caught up in that culture? Is Carmon criticizing the neighbors? Carmon never attempts to explain. This is terrible journalism, of the sort one finds every day in the trash heaps over at Fox.
When Salon launched in the 1990s, it was one of our very few liberal journals—and it had high journalistic standards, at least as judged by American norms. Today, its work is routinely a mess (though not always).
Its work does feed liberal tribal desire, but often does so quite ineptly. That presentation by Carmon is just the latest example.
The rise of tribal culture at Fox has been a dagger to the heart of the American discourse. Fox feeds the prehistoric desire to loathe The Other. In service to that ultimate goal, its intellectual standards are often amazingly bad.
As our own liberal world keeps emerging, are we adopting a similar culture? Next week, we’ll look at the clownishness coming from Fox—and we’ll consider the shape of the culture we increasingly adopt as our own.
Here’s one reason why this matters:
As a general matter, progressives want the government to act in the public interest. But this simply can’t occur in a state of full-blown tribal warfare.
When our side adopts the culture of Fox, we make ourselves feel tribally good. In the process, do we serve progressive interests?
Concerning the number of perps: Long before Carmon’s piece appeared, Cleveland police had said that only one perpetrator, not three, had been involved in these crimes.
Carmon continued ahead with the plural! As you know, that’s the way these things are done at Fox.
The Slovaks and the Roma: Instantly, Krystal Ball knew she had to act.
Lawrence had made a positive-sounding remark about the conduct of Those People. Ball knew his comment couldn’t stand. Instantly, she reframed it:
Lawrence: “They voted on policy instead of on scandal.”She certainly would—and she did! When cultures are captured by tribal loathing, The Other must never be praised.
Krystal: “I would frame it a little differently. I would say they voted on partisanship.”
Our tribe can be described like Gallant. Their tribe must always be Goofus!
Ball is smart and likeable and telegenic. In the world of high-income cable audience-building, she has a lot to offer.
She also thinks as the Slovaks do when they gaze on the Roma.
Just click that link to see what we mean! Tribal thinkers are found all over the world, and they always have been.
More and more, tribal loathing defines our discourse. The loathing is spreading out from Fox along with that channel’s intellectual standards.
Will progressive interests be served by this spread? More on these questions next week.