SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2023
Everything all at once: We're happy to praise Nicolle Wallace for something she wisely chose to air on yesterday's Deadline: White House.
As was completely appropriate, Wallace spent the bulk of her two hours discussing the new revelations concerning the inner workings of Fox News.
More specifically, a legal filing by Dominion Voter Systems had revealed a wealth of text messages between major figures at Fox—text messages dating all the way back to November 2020.
In the texts, these major figures discussed the craziness of the claim—or at least, the craziness of some of the claims—that the 2020 election had been stolen from the incumbent, Donald J. Trump.
Major players at Fox News knew that several specific claims were crazy. Therein lay the new revelation about the ways of Fox.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, the craziest claims about Dominion Voting Systems were coming from Sidney Powell, one of Donald Trump's more visibly unhinged lawyers. At one point, the Dominion legal filing describes this private, text message exchange about Powell and her claims:
DOMINION LEGAL FILING: By November 18, Carlson told Ingraham “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.” Carlson replied, “It's unbelievably offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it."
According to the legal filing, so went the private messaging inside Fox, 15 days post-election.
Assuming the legal filing is fundamentally accurate, it offers a jaw-dropping look at what major players were saying and thinking inside the castle at Fox. At that time, Carlson was saying that Powell's claims were "insane," and that he found her promulgation of those claims to be "unbelievably offensive."
For ourselves, we have no difficulty believing that that's what Carlson actually thought and felt at that time. Up jumped Wallace on yesterday's program, playing videotape of the way Carlson had chosen to open his Fox News show this very Thursday night:
CARLSON (2/16/23): Good evening, and welcome to Tucker Carlson Tonight!
We haven't taken a poll, but it's possible, on this Thursday evening, you may be wondering what the hell is going on in our country.
There are so many unanswered questions―some of them lingering. How, for example, did senile hermit Joe Biden get 15 million more votes than his former boss, rock star crowd surfer Barack Obama?
Results like that would seem to defy the laws of known physics and qualify instead as a miracle. Was the 2020 election a miracle? Honestly, we don’t know and we don’t expect to get an answer to it tonight.
Lomg story short:
Ignore the puerile insults which now litter this fellow's work. (Later that night, he described Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer as "a low-IQ plastic surgery disaster," to cite just one more example.)
Ignore the disordered insults! As Wallace noted, Carlson was still suggesting, this Thursday night, that something was fishy about the 2020 election—that the official results of that election don't seem to make any sense.
Over at Fox, the disordered fellow lives in a world of puerile insult—and he continues to float the suggestion that the White House election was stolen.
The apparent contradiction with what he said in November 2020 can surely be explained away. (Sidney's Powell's "insane" claims aren't the only claims which can be made about that election.)
That said, Carlson is still on the air every night, suggesting that something about that election's official outcome defies simple common sense. Puerile insults are thrown in the stew to pander to the same viewers on whose behalf he took offense back in the reign of the crackpot Powell.
"You may be wondering what the hell is going on in our country," Carlson said this Thursday night. Part of "what is going on," of course, is this behavior by Carlson.
Alas! Marvin Gaye is no longer here to explain "What's Going On." Also this:
Wallace's program rarely expends any energy wondering how our own blue tribe can bring the news of Carlson's disorder to the attention of persuadable red tribe voters.
At present, our blue and red tribes live inside their own separate bubbles; very rarely the twain shall meet. Dueling propaganda mills now operate twenty-four hours a day. That has produced a high-speed, profit-based, round-the-clock train wreck which will be quite hard to resolve.
Within this discouraging state of affairs, all hail Feiler faster! In Thursday's report—it seems like a hundred years ago—we recalled the prescient thesis which was named by Mickey Kaus back at the turn of the century:
Feiler faster thesis
The Feiler faster thesis (FFT) is a thesis, or supported argument, in modern journalism that suggests that the increasing pace of society is matched by (and perhaps driven by) journalists' ability to report events and the public's desire for more information.
The idea is credited to Bruce Feiler and first defined by Mickey Kaus in a February 24, 2000 Kausfiles blog post...In an article published two weeks later, on March 9, 2000, Kaus gave the theory the name "Feiler faster thesis."
Kaus's second interpretation in a later article is broader and more succinct:
The news cycle is much faster these days, thanks to 24-hour cable, the Web, a metastasized pundit caste constantly searching for new angles, etc.
Indeed! Thanks to all those new media, "the news cycle is much faster these days."
Also, within that high-speed news cycle, "a metastasized pundit caste" really is "constantly searching for new angles, etc." Also, that metastasized pundit caste is increasingly partisan / tribal.
Plus, the rewards are too damn high! Tons of money are being made as that metastasized pundit caste pushes tribally segregated accounts of a fast-moving string of controversies. Faster and faster and faster and faster, disputes arise, one after the other, as do the dueling tribal accounts of those endless disputes.
The legal filing by Dominion gives us a remarkable look inside one "cable news" channel. We'd love to see what sorts of messaging may or may not occur within our own blue cable channel—a channel which also works to give us viewers the types of food product we want.
(See quote from Michelle Goldberg below.)
That said, the rush of events in this past week brought the wisdom of "Feiler faster" into very clear view. Consider:
On Monday, a news report in the New York Times heightened the focus on the way the College Board adjusted the original framework of its Advanced Placement course in African American studies.
A wide range of difficult questions are involved in this important topic. The difficulty is compounded by the polarization of the journalistic culture—by the way our dueling tribes will assure their respective populations that Only Our Own Instinctive Views Are Defensible, Moral, Correct.
Especially in this high-speed, highly polarized world, it would be very hard to create a sensible discussion of the questions involved in the design of the College Board's AP course. But then, mid-week, it happened again!
All of a sudden, a new arrival on the front became the topic of general conversation. We refer to the highly-charged discussion of various issues in the realm of transgender rights.
Please don't make us link to the essays and public statements which suddenly shoved the College Board aside in favor of this new arrival. You could possibly start with this essay at Slate, then click a few of the links which you'll find therein.
Especially in this high-speed, highly polarized world, it would be very difficult to create a sensible discussion of the various important questions involved here. But then, on Thursday night, along came that legal filing from Dominion, and the fight about transgender issues had suddenly been supplanted at the front of the stage.
In this high-speed journalistic world, new arrivals on the front keep appearing day after day. Beyond that, the "democratization of media" produced by the Internet means that any subgroup can state its particular case. No journalistic platform required!
In theory, the democratization of media is a very good development. In practice, it's everything everywhere all at once, just in the course of one week!
Given the profit-driven partisanship of many of our media entities, conflicting claims would be extremely hard to resolve, even in the fullness of time. When it's everything suddenly all at once, it becomes impossible to produce anything which even resembles basic clarity, let alone consensus, concerning the basic facts and the basic logic of any particular topic.
As a general matter, Wallace strikes us as being perhaps a tiny bit demagogue adjacent, if only as a matter of instinct. This doesn't mean that she's a "bad person," because she surely isn't.
It does mean that she's quite limited as a journalist. Others may know what our blue tribe needs, but she seems to know what we want.
Yesterday, Wallace provided a valuable service, alerting us to the way Carlson opened Thursday night's program. Left unaddressed was that same old question:
In the high-speed rush of highly emotional tribal disputes, is there any way that our blue tribe can peel voters away from Carlson's legion of viewers?
Back in November 2020, Carlson said that Powell's lunacy was "unbelievably offensive." "Our viewers are good people," he said, "and they believe" what Powell is saying.
Fox viewers still don't know that they're being misled by the gruel Carlson ladles. Somewhat similarly, it may not occur to our own tribe's viewers that we seldom hear "a discouraging word" on our own tribe's cable news programs.
Our own tribe's viewers will never see John McWhorter on their favorite programs. Next week, we'll examine some of things he and many others have said about the College Board's AP course, including the things we may not be allowed to hear on our tribe's favorite programs.
Our own tribe's favorite TV shows are profit-based entities too! The hosts are paid enormous sums to keep us watching. (We aren't allowed to know how much.)
Our own tribe's shows are profit-based entities. Can it be that we're being misled, mistreated and underfed too, not unlike Carlson's viewers?
Free the John McWhorter One! Why is it that we never see him, and who knows what others, on our favorite shows?
Not that there's anything right with it: In this morning's New York Times, Michelle Goldberg pens an excellent column about the Fox reveal.
Along the way, she offers this. She could have named a lot more topics our tribe won't hears about:
GOLDBERG (2/18/23): It’s certainly true that all cable news shows program with ratings in mind. MSNBC—where, full disclosure, I’m a contributor — pays much closer attention to various Trump scandals than to climate change or the war in Ukraine because it’s catering to its audience. But there is no analogue for the way Fox treats its viewers.
In addition to MSNBC, in the past I’ve appeared a number of times on CNN. Sometimes hosts are a little saltier when the cameras aren’t rolling, but I don’t recall ever hearing any daylight between the views they express on-air and off. Fox News is unique in its bad faith.
They keep serving our favorite food: Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail!
We're inclined to agree that Fox is the worst. But the other two channels address our own tribe. For that reason, we're the ones they're dumbing down in search of ratings and profit!