FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2023
Norman O. Brown had a secret: We're so old that we can remember the federal "fairness doctrine!"
The leading authority on the doctrine recalls its operation, and its demise, in the manner shown:
The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints. In 1987, the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine, prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or congressional legislation. However, later the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.
The fairness doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters...The demise of this FCC rule has been cited as a contributing factor in the rising level of party polarization in the United States.
Those were the days! If you held a broadcast license, you were required to present "differing viewpoints" concerning "controversial issues!"
As a matter of federal law, this requirement came to an end in 1987. By then, we were already well along in the Point Counterpoint / Crossfire era.
According to the informal arrangements of that era, broadcasters would routinely present "both sides" of some topical issue. As soon as the viewer heard the programmed recitation of the Democratic Party's viewpoint, that viewer would hear the programmed recitation of the Republican outlook.
As late as 2009, some semblance of this format remained. Over on the Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity was still confronted by the late Alan Colmes every night, though topic selection and selection of guests tilted toward Hannity's side.
Today, factual claims and Storyline largely emerge from an array of silos.
(In fairness, Fox still allows one liberal to appear each day on The Five. If she tries to explain the firing of Viktor Shokin, the other four shout her down.)
Today, it's all about silos. So it went last evening and this morning as red tribe viewers received their "news," and we blue tribe viewers got ours:
Early this morning, on the clownish Fox & Friends, the three friends rose from their tuffets and walked over to "the wall." This wall was something like thirty feet long and twelve feet high. It carried this stirring title:
TIMELINE OF HUNTER BIDEN'S INDICTMENT
So it went on Fox & Friends. On Morning Joe, blue tribe viewers saw excerpts of Donald J. Trump's interview with Megyn Kelly.
On Morning Joe, the absurdity of Trump's remarks was stressed. On Fox & Friends, red tribe viewers are never going to hear about such problems.
Last night, on The Last Word, the opening 19-minute segment was devoted to the absurdity of Trump's remarks to Kelly. The legal panel swapped jokes, chuckled and chortled, over the absurdity of Trump's various statements and claims.
Lawrence O'Donnell was especially entertained by this, as he has been recently. And then, for one brief shining moment, Neal Katyal could be heard saying this:
KATYAL (9/14/23): I know everyone’s saying, "Well, Trump is reckless in giving this interview."
I have a different view. I actually think that this is not an unwise strategy for him, because he doesn’t have a legal defense. He doesn’t have a factual defense. The only defense he has is to try and poison the jury pool with his cockamamie nonsense.
As far as we know, there is no easy way out of our silo culture. News by silo is a very big business. Many people are getting wealthy as its dysfunction spreads.
It's also true that red tribe viewers are sometimes exposed to serious material—material which is being withheld from us in our own blue silo. Watching Fox in recent weeks, we've seen Mayor Breed complaining about the damage done to San Francisco by certain groups of homeless activists. We've seen Mayor Adams saying that immigration policy will destroy New York City.
Last night, we saw tape of President Biden offering his latest embellishment. For the record, it was his very weak voice and his halting manner which worried us, more than the mere fact of this latest overstatement.
Red silo denizens see this sort of thing all the time; we blue silo dwellers do not. Can the president make it through the next year as a candidate? Everything is possible, but we're not real sure he can.
In the larger sense, can a major nation survive the prominence of such silos? At The Atlantic, headline included, McKay Coppin reports Mitt Romney's doubts:
WHAT MITT ROMNEY SAW IN THE SENATE
Earlier this year, [Romney] confided to me that he would not seek reelection to the Senate in 2024. He planned to make this announcement in the fall. The decision was part political, part actuarial. The men in his family had a history of sudden heart failure, and none had lived longer than his father, who died at 88. “Do I want to spend eight of the 12 years I have left sitting here and not getting anything done?” he mused. But there was something else. His time in the Senate had left Romney worried—not just about the decomposition of his own political party, but about the fate of the American project itself.
Shortly after moving into his Senate office, Romney had hung a large rectangular map on the wall. First printed in 1931 by Rand McNally, the “histomap” attempted to chart the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful civilizations through 4,000 years of human history. When Romney first acquired the map, he saw it as a curiosity. After January 6, he became obsessed with it. He showed the map to visitors, brought it up in conversations and speeches. More than once, he found himself staring at it alone in his office at night. The Egyptian empire had reigned for some 900 years before it was overtaken by the Assyrians. Then the Persians, the Romans, the Mongolians, the Turks—each civilization had its turn, and eventually collapsed in on itself. Maybe the falls were inevitable. But what struck Romney most about the map was how thoroughly it was dominated by tyrants of some kind—pharaohs, emperors, kaisers, kings. “A man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others,” he said the first time he showed me the map. “It’s a testosterone-related phenomenon, perhaps. I don’t know. But in the history of the world, that’s what happens.” America’s experiment in self-rule “is fighting against human nature.”
“This is a very fragile thing,” he told me. “Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.”
For the first time in his life, he wasn’t sure if the cathedral would hold.
Each civilization had its turn. Eventually, each one collapsed. We thought again of the late Norman O. Brown's Phi Beta Kappa address.
On the perceived strength of this book, Norman O. Brown was very big back in the 1960s. He's never mentioned today.
Even back in 1960, he thought our civilization might be ending "in exhaustion." He thought we needed to discover some new secret, that we had to make things new:
BROWN (5/31/60): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...
And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.
Periodically, we've been posting this statement since at least 2009.
We can't remember why we thought it was relevant to our society's ongoing collapse as far back as that. We don't recall how we knew about this statement in the first place. We don't know why Brown's obscure formulation had stuck in our head ever since college days.
That said, it seems to us that a civilization can't survive the power of the silos. Here's the secret we think we must discover anew:
We blue tribe citizens have to learn to sit there and listen to Others.
We have to stop believing in the very existence of Others. Also, we have to find a way to persuade the Others to sit there and listen to us.
In his book, My Life, former president Bill Clinton said he admired the Pentecostals. Locked inside our own blue silo, it has become extremely hard for us to make statements like that.
More presidential advice: For whatever reason, we started recalling Brown's Phi Beta Kappa address at least as far back as 2009.
Our civilization was less crazy then. But, for whatever reason, Brown's statement bubbled back up through our head.
One year earlier, the president of Wesleyan University had cited Brown's speech in his own Phi Beta Kappa address. We don't understand his statement either, but here's part of what he said:
Norman O. Brown, a great figure in Wesleyan history, gave one of the most startling Phi Beta Kappa speeches imaginable at Columbia in 1960, where he called on the initiates to become mad, to save themselves through madness. He turned to Emerson to make his point, but it was the Emerson who told you to stop reading, the Emerson who warned you about being a bookworm. This is the Emerson of ecstasy—not Enlightenment.
I turn to another Emerson, the Emerson of the essay Experience, and I will read you a quote, and then we'll almost be done.
Emerson said, "We animate what we can and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them. It depends on the mood of the person whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem. There are always sunsets and there is always genius. But only a few hours so serene that we can relish nature or criticism."
"We animate what we can," Emerson said, "and we see only what we animate,"
You have learned to animate. You have learned to bring things to life. That is an enormous gift. You will do it with your friends, you will do it with your families, you will do it in the places you work. Bringing things to life through your intelligence, I submit to you, is so much more important than being able to show somebody why something they thought was alive is really dead.
That move will show how smart you are, but it will do no good. When you can use your intelligence to animate, you will harness your education in the service of life, in the service of love, in the service, to call on the spirit of Norman O. Brown, in the service of Eros, and not in the service of being smart.
We have no idea what that means. It may mean that we should "animate" the Others, that we should stop pretending that Others are morally and intellectually dead and that we're just amazingly smart.
In truth, we aren't amazingly smart. Thinking back to what Bill Maher told Ari Melber, are you aware of the various forms of liberal / progressive semi-crazy we aren't encouraged to think about, aren't even permitted to see?
We aren't sure that President Biden will be able to make it. In part, we say that because of the videotape we sometimes see when watching Fox & Friends.
Lawrence was vastly amused last night. Based on messaging from Cassandra, we aren't sure that was smart.