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[Photo: Seth Doyle via Unsplash]

The Wingnut and the Comedian

In this post I suggested that Fox News has found a way to exercise corporate bio-power directly against a large number of white men aged 55 to death. The formula calls for stoking the viewer’s rage with a smug libtard and then relaxing him with a paid hitman who verbally crushes the libtard in a scripted debate, a formula worked out by professional wrestling. This cycle is designed, according to Toby Smith, to take advantage of the brain chemistry of viewers. It works for these older viewers in part because dopamine levels drop with age, and can be influenced by a number of other factors. People with lowered dopamine levels react with more anger than those with more normal levels. Serotonin and dopamine released when the Conservative Hitman crushes the Libtard is a pleasure to these people. It’s addicting, says Smith, and some of the materials I’ve read agree.

But lefties don’t watch Fox; and they must not watch a lot of cable news shows because MSNBC, supposedly the liberal channel, is slowly drifting to the right. Speaking solely for myself, I don’t watch cable news because TV takes forever to convey information. I like to read. But I do watch some late-night TV: Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyer, occasionally John Oliver, and, of course, Sam Bee on Full Frontal. How is my response to their brand of humor different from the behavior I described for the Fox garbage?

Of course, the response I have is different in one respect, it makes me laugh, both at myself and at the problems. Apparently laughing and smiling release dopamine, serotonin and several kinds of endorphins, all of which make people feel good, and scientists currently think they help us deal with anger. Here’s a nice description from a Harvard institute devoted to neuro-science. The main difference between the laugh cycle and the rage cycle might be that jokes require the involvement of the thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. The rage cycle doesn’t seem to involve that part of the brain, but something deeper. The rage was already there, and this Libtard/Hitman just pushes the buttons directly.

Or, I could be completely wrong. A few minutes of research on the internets isn’t enough to give me any certainty about this or about the Fox attacks. So all this feels like rank speculation. But it’s fun, and seems to be releasing some extra dopamines for me. So, onward.

What I do know is that I am enraged by the Republican assault on our institutions and norms of governance, and even more by their anti-intellectualism, their irrationalism, their rejection of Enlightenment values. And I am outraged by the fact that we are governed by a minority, and that lots of the people in that minority are racist, homophobic and hateful greedy people. Even worse, some of them are violent pigs, both towards those they hate and towards their own families. And I’m angry with the spineless Democrats who seem to have no idea of how to respond to these attacks.

But the people I genuinely feel rage against are the billionaires and centi-millionaires who actually run our political system. You can take your pick of the monsters who plow money into a system of liars and frauds who purposefully lie to the ignorant voters they stoke with Rushbo and his stinking ilk. They expect a huge return on their money. So, yes, I feel rage. It’s probably not that different from the rage that the men 55 to death feel about libtards like me.

When Colbert shows clips of Trump and his flying monkeys lying or spewing bile, it sets me on edge, and the punch lines do the job of the conservative Hitman Toby Smith describes. The resulting laughter is also at least partly tribal. Laughter is a sign of group belonging, and I’m one of many feeling the rage and the release.

One thing these jokes do is to open a space for me to think clearly, and to remember that I really don’t hate the people who vote Republican. I don’t feel sympathy either, more like pity and a kind of resignation that at least they asked for the kick in the face they get. I do despise the Republicans who figured Trump would be good for their wallets and ignored the damage he would do. But my real anger is directed at the rich people who manipulate all of us and who intend to benefit from it in cash and power.

But, all of us plebes, from the far left to the far right should give a big hand to dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Let’s keep those levels high, dampen the rage and open a mental space for thinking. Even our oligarchs, Russian and American, can join that round of applause, thanking heaven for natural Soma.

Television by Frank Okay via Unsplash

Corporate Biopower as an Instrument of US Oligarchy

An essay titled FEAR & UNbalanced: Confessions of a 14-Year Fox News Hitman by Tobin Smith offers an explanation of the ratings success of Fox News. Smith says he asked Roger Ailes, the then head of Fox News, about the target audience of Fox News. Ailes said it was men aged “55 to dead”, who look like Ailes, “… white guys in mostly Red State counties who sit on their couch with the remote in their hand all day and night,” and “They want to see YOU tear those smug condescending know-it-all East Coast liberals to pieces . . limb by limb . . . until they jump up out of their LaZ boy and scream “Way to go Toby…you KILLED that libtard!”

Smith says this is addicting: “…Visceral gut feelings of existential outrage relieved by … the thrill of your tribe’s victory over its enemy…” The technique for achieving this addiction is the same as in pro wrestling, where there are two characters, the Baby Face and the Heel. The Heel seems on the verge of winning, but the Baby Face triumphs in the end. At Fox News, there are two characters, the Libtard and the Hitman, both totally scripted.

The Libtard’s goal is to enrage the viewer by reciting liberal or progressive ideas in a predictable, smug superior way. The viewer already hates these ideas and the people who espouse them from listening to thousands of hours of right-wing radio.

Key Point: the viewer’s rage set their brain’s pleasure giving dopamine delivery system into high gear . . .and when their fellow conservative protagonist/tribal hero (aka me the hitman) turned the liberal’s own words against them and vanquished the sniveling apostate into living hell on live TV…WOW…the pleasure chemical rushed through the Fox viewer’s brain like a deep hit of crack cocaine (btw its the dopamine system in the brain that cocaine stimulates and makes it so addictive).

I’m pretty sure this isn’t just pop psychology, although I’m not quite sure he’s got the chemistry right. Here’s an article from Psychology Today, with further links for those interested. This paper says that dopamine/serotonin systems play a role in control of anger, as well as addiction.

Fox News isn’t the only entity out there dishing out tension and release. It’s a staple in the movies. Recently I saw a fragment of a 2008 Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino, in which three tall Black guys were pushing around a Hmong girl whose white boyfriend was spineless. Fortunately Eastwood drives by and intervenes with what looked like a .45 caliber pistol he just happened to have in his belt. The tension was palpable as the pushing around and threatening continued for several minutes with pulsating music, then was increased as the old white guy strode up and confronted the three guys, and then was released with the sudden appearance of the gun. This ridiculous movie grossed $272 million worldwide.

Another anecdotal example: how many of us have watched our dads get hooked on Fox News, like my dad did. His hearing and vision were bad, but he wouldn’t let anyone change the channel away from the Fox. He was always a bit angry about politics, but in his old age, he was remorseless. Here’s another anecdote.

We say movies like Gran Torino keep us glued to the edge of our seats; we mean we are waiting for the next tightening of tension and the sudden release. It helps me understand why Tobin Smith says that these old guys on couches hold that remote with a death grip; they want that fix.

Of course, media have always manipulated public opinion. But that at least was done with words, and could be countered, at least potentially, with smarter words. This is a simple manipulation of brain chemistry by a corporation for its own ends. It’s a psych experiment that would never be permitted by an Institutional Review Board.

Let’s put this in a larger context.

Bio-power and bio-politics are terms used by Michel Foucault to explain the way the state controls and defends its population. This recent essay by Rachel Adams posted at Critical Legal Thinking is a good introduction to Foucault’s thinking. For starters, recall that for Foucault “… power ts a relationship in which one person has the ability to guide another, to influence the behavior of another. This is an unequal relationship, but it is in itself neither good nor bad.”

According to Adams bio-power is the power of the State to influence the lives of the people it controls in a positive manner. She says Foucault describes two poles of power in the current era. One is the disciplinary pole, jail, mental hospitals; also, training the young in schools, banning noxious chemicals, and enforcing open spaces in cities. She quotes this from Foucault’s Will To Knowledge:

The second, formed somewhat later, focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population. (Italics in original).

I interpret this to mean that issues of births and mortality, health, life expectancy, and the conditions that cause these, are properly the subject of politics in the current era, and that it is appropriate and necessary that the State provide a framework for making decisions about those outcomes and conditions. In other words, they become a proper subject of practical politics and of theoretical and scientific study. In a democracy, at least theoretically we all have a role in making decisions about these matters. Foucault makes it clear that such decisions should be made rationally, considering the possible outcomes of possible choices and selecting those that advance the values of the society.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that the decision-making processes can be hijacked by people furthering only their own personal interests. This is how I view the Fox News crowd. The addiction practiced on their audience makes the target audience suckers for whichever candidate multi-billionaire octogenarian Rupert Murdoch chooses. That addicted audience is the people who now rejoice at the dismay of the libtards at the gutting of government and of health care and of all our international relationships.

It’s a new form of bio-power: the direct manipulation of brain chemistry for the goals of the people who control the vast capital pools in the private sector. It fits neatly into our oligarchy. Not all billionaires support all the garbage Fox spews about cultural issues, but they all support his economic agenda. And quite a few billionaires don’t really believe in democracy; they think they should make decisions about policy and infrastructure themselves. That’s the basis of their support for privatization, public/private partnerships for infrastructure, charter schools and deregulation, all of which are ways of displacing social control and inserting themselves directly in control.

So far, the people subject to this kind of manipulation aren’t a majority. So far.

Sean Hannity Cries Himself A River

There has been a lot of upheaval at Fox News lately. Gretchen Carlson went nuclear on Ailes and the misogynistic rapey culture that Fox cultivated over decades, and nothing has been the same there since.

That is a good thing. It may have been a limited, even if loud start, but Carlson initiated ripples in the Murdoch empire that could not be easily contained, even with the ample crisis suppression talents of hired liar Ted Wells and his firm, Paul Weiss. The once closed barn door was open, and all horses and carts were suddenly out.

The Murdoch cabal, give them an iota of credit, realized the situation….kind of, and cut bait with Ailes in record speed for a bigly man that supposedly was untouchable and was a bff of Trump.

Probably motivated by Rupert’s sons, James and Lachlan, but still correct, even if horribly behind the curve of human decency and sexual harassment law. But so much has happened since Gretchen Carlson cooked the supposed golden goose, Roger Ailes, that common lore held responsible for all the Fox News golden eggs.

Whatever the impetus, Roger Ailes was summarily dismissed when obviously necessary. The Murdochs and Fox News probably thought that might contain the exposure of their decades long belligerent misogyny. But, no, then came the claims against Bill O’Reilly. An odious asshole every bit as despicable as Ailes. And one known as exactly that since the Andrea Makris out of court settlement over O’Reilly’s loofah phone fetishes back in 2004.

Instead, Fox not only kept O’Reilly until they could no longer, they kept Ailes Number Two, Bill Schein and attendant protective underlings in place. Until they no longer could. That started today with Schein’s ouster. And Hannity is floating like an overboard deck chair in the seas away from the Titanic, away from the mothership. (Killer graphic by the one and only Darth – click to enlarge!). But the suddenly disposable Sean Hannity deck chair is drifting away from the ignorant and misogynistic shipwreck he helped perpetuate all these years.

In any normal corporation, especially such a public facing one like Fox News, they would have culled the problems out immediately after the Ailes embarrassment. But not Fox. Oh no. Instead, Fox and Fox News allowed O’Reilly and Sean Hannity to bellow with umbrage about the public admissions of their owners of misogyny and bigotry. Fox, as a company, had not learned their lesson going back to Andrea Makris in 2004, nor insured that their precious bought and paid for “talent” did.

But now the Murdoch sons, James and Lachlan, are protecting the family name by cleaning up their father’s idiocy at warp speed in a way that the gel headed sons in the Trump family can only dream of. Today, the Murdochs the younger have outed Bill Schein. Via Digby, a quote from Andrew Kirell at Daily Beast:

Sean Hannity is looking to leave Fox News, according to sources, following the resignation of Fox News co-president Bill Shine officially on Monday.

Schein was Hannity’s long-time ally whom he personally recommended the network hire two decades ago to produce Hannity & Colmes.

So, cry me a river Sean Hannity you stuporous dolt. In recent days, Hannity warned it would be the “total end” of Fox News should Shine leave, and he rallied conservative activists to back him up.

Initially, insiders said, Hannity’s army of lawyers had hoped to discuss with Fox ways of protecting his 8-year-old primetime show, amid fears that Lachlan and James Murdoch—fresh off the ousting of Bill O’Reilly—were looking to push the network away from hard-right politics.

Yeah, good riddance. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya, Sean. Go fuck yourself in hell.

[Okay, went with that version of Cry Me a River because it is sooo much better audio and video production wise than the one from Mad Dogs and Englishmen (with Leon Russell, of course) that I really envisioned.]

Friday News Dump Not Dead Yet: Stephen Kim Guilty Plea

Just when Kevin Drum declared the “Friday News Dump” dead, comes proof news of said death was greatly exaggerated.

As Josh Gerstein and others have reported, the plea will be entered this afternoon:

Under the terms of the agreement, Kim will plead guilty to a single felony count of disclosing classified information to Rosen in June 2009, and serve a 13-month prison sentence. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly would have to accept the sentence or reject it outright?, in which case Kim could withdraw his plea. Kim would also be on supervised release for a year, but would pay no fine.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly is expected to accept the guilty plea at today’s hearing, but will not impose a sentence until sometime later.

Well, that is kind of a big deal dropped out of nowhere on a Friday afternoon.

As you may recall, this is the infamous case where the Obama/Holder DOJ was caught classifying a journalist, James Rosen of Fox News, as an “aider and abettor” of espionage. As the Washington Post reported, the scurrilous allegation was clear as day in a formal warrant application filed as an official court document:

“I believe there is probable cause to conclude that the contents of the wire and electronic communications pertaining to the SUBJECT ACCOUNT [the gmail account of Mr. Rosen] are evidence, fruits and instrumentalities of criminal violations of 18 U.S.C. 793 (Unauthorized Disclosure of National Defense Information), and that there is probable cause to believe that the Reporter has committed or is committing a violation of section 793(d), as an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator, to which the materials relate,” wrote FBI agent Reginald B. Reyes in a May 28, 2010 application for a search warrant.

The search warrant was issued in the course of an investigation into a suspected leak of classified information allegedly committed by Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department contractor, who was indicted in August 2010.

The Reyes affidavit all but eliminates the traditional distinction in classified leak investigations between sources, who are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, and reporters, who are protected by the First Amendment as long as they do not commit a crime.

[snip]

As evidence of Mr. Rosen’s purported culpability, the Reyes affidavit notes that Rosen and Kim used aliases in their communications (Kim was “Leo” and Rosen was “Alex”) and in other ways sought to maintain confidentiality.

“From the beginning of their relationship, the Reporter asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information…. The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.”

“Much like an intelligence officer would run an [sic] clandestine intelligence source, the Reporter instructed Mr. Kim on a covert communications plan… to facilitate communication with Mr. Kim and perhaps other sources of information.”

Of course, the fully justifiable uproar over the Rosen treatment by DOJ eventually led to “new guidelines”, being issued by the DOJ. The new guidelines are certainly a half step in the right direction, but wholly unsatisfactory for the breadth and scope of the current Administration’s attack on the American free press.

But now the case undergirding the discussion in the Stephen Kim case will be shut down, and the questions that could play out in an actual trial quashed. All nice and tidy!

Frankly, I have mixed emotions about the reported Kim plea itself. It is, all in all, a pretty good deal for Kim and his attorney, the great Abbe Lowell. The case is done, bad precedent does not get etched into a jury verdict and appeal, and the nightmare has an end in sight for the defendant, Stephen Kim. All things considered, given the seriousness of the espionage and false statement charges in the indictment, 13 months is a good outcome. And it is not a horrible sentence to have as a yardstick for other leakers (were I Ed Snowden and Ben Wizner, I would like this result). By the same token, the damage done by the ridiculous antics and conduct of the DOJ in getting to this point is palpable. It will leave a stain that won’t, and shouldn’t, go away.

That still leaves the matter of Jeffrey Sterling, and reporter James Risen, though. Whither DOJ on that? And it is an important question since the much ballyhooed and vaunted “New Media Policies” announced by DOJ left wide open the ability to force Risen (and others that may some day be similarly situated) to testify about his sources of face jail for contempt.

Did Fox News Really Interview Dr. Shakeel Afridi From Peshawar Central Jail?

In a remarkable development, Fox News published a story Monday based on an interview Dominic Di-Natale says he conducted with Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the doctor who aided the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. As I had described back in June, Afridi now is in the central jail in Peshawar, but local authorities there have been asking the federal government to find a safer place for Afridi to be imprisoned, because it is feared that militants will attack Afridi to exact revenge for the aid he provided in the bin Laden mission.

Prior to his trial earlier this year, it is believed that Afridi was detained by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. In the Fox story, Afridi is quoted as saying that the ISI is merely manipulating the US to obtain funding for Pakistan:

Pakistan’s powerful spy agency regards America as its “worst enemy,” and the government’s claims that it is cooperating with the US are a sham to extract billions of dollars in American aid, according to the CIA informant jailed for his role in hunting down Usama bin Laden.

/snip/

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained.

Pakistan, and especially the ISI, vigorously denies that the interview could have taken place:

The ISI rubbished as ‘fiction’ on Tuesday a reported interview by a US TV channel of jailed Dr Shakeel Afridi, allegedly involved in tracing Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Fox News correspondent had interviewed Dr Afridi,” a senior security official said after preliminary investigations.

“It is all concocted and baseless,” he said as he laughed off the claims made in the interview. “It’s amusing how well he (as reported in the interview) learnt about ISI operations from the cell in which he was kept blindfolded for eight months, as claimed by him,” he added.

The jail in which he has been lodged has ‘jammers’ that block cellphone signals, another official said.

At yesterday’s press briefing at the State Department, Victoria Nuland said that the authenticity of the interview has not yet been determined:

QUESTION:Staying on Pakistan, I wondered if State Department’s had a chance to review a supposed interview that Dr. Afridi has given to Fox News and whether you think it’s credible.

MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, we can’t at this point verify the authenticity of the interview. Read more

WikiLeaks Media Files: Are They Definitely Fox?

As a number of people are reporting, Julian Assange told John Pilger Wednesday that WikiLeaks has files on some media companies. Thanks to a PDF link made available by The Nation (see 12:05 update), here’s the exact quote from the New Statesman article in question.

If something happens to me or to WikiLeaks, ‘insurance’ files will be released. They speak more of the same truth to power, including the media. There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organization and there are cables on Murdoch and News Corp.”

I wanted to look at the exact quote, because coverage of this claim has been conflated into “insurance files = 504 cables = Murdoch, News Corp, and Fox.” That is, the assumption is that some of the insurance files pertain to a subset of 504 cables that pertain to a broadcasting organization that given the mention of Murdoch and News Corp, must be Fox.

That’s not necessarily the case: after all, Assange appears to have talked about insurance files, some of which pertain to the media, and then discussed 504 cables on one broadcasting entity, and then mentioned Murdoch and News Corp. It is possible that there are 504 cables on a broadcast outlet — something like ABC, which has a habit of laundering intelligence leaks, or NBC, owned by a defense contractor. These cables might reveal something like the Rent-A-General’s program, first exposed by NYT. And there are files on Murdoch and News Corp. generally (which could include any of his properties worldwide).

Mind you, in its coverage of the issue, the Guardian (which as it points out, has access to all the cables) doesn’t exactly correct such a misimpression, if it is one.

WikiLeaks: Julian Assange claims to have Rupert Murdoch ‘insurance files’

Founder claims WikiLeaks has more than 500 US diplomatic cables on one broadcasting organisation

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed today he was in possession of “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his global media company, News Corporation.

Assange also claimed that WikiLeaks holds more than 500 confidential US diplomatic cables on one broadcasting organisation.

Speaking to journalist John Pilger for an interview to be published tomorrow in the latest edition of the New Statesman, Assange said: “There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organisation and there are cables on Murdoch and News Corp.”

Assange refers to these specific cables as “insurance files” that will be released “if something happens to me or to WikiLeaks”.

The Guardian has published stories based on more than 700 of the cables and has access to all 250,000.

Which I find all the more interesting, in that it suggests the media involved — including the Guardian, NYT, and Norway’s Aftenposten (which obtained its own complete set of the cables) — all have seen what Assange considers the insurance files relating to Murdoch, if not Fox.

So what would be shocking enough about Fox and or Murdoch to consider it part of an “insurance” file?

Judy Miller’s Editor Calls on Journalists to Expose False Journalism

Tim F made this point implicitly, but it deserves to be made explicitly. Do you really think Howell Raines, the editor who oversaw Judy Miller’s Iraq War propaganda, is really the one to exhort journalists to call out Fox for its false journalism?

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

[snip]

Why has our profession, through its general silence — or only spasmodic protest — helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?

[snip]

Why can’t American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team?

[snip]

As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.

I’ll admit that when I first suggested that Judy Miller was not engaging in journalism when Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby outed Valerie Plame to her, I wished that other journalists would have the courage to acknowledge that what she was doing was not journalism. It would have been nice, then, to have a column like this, calling on journalists to expose disinformation in the guise of journalism.

But really. Does Howell Raines have no sense of irony?

After all, it’d be a pity if Raines missed the irony of the fact that Judy Miller now works for Fox News.

Fox’s Non-Denial Denial

Loo Hoo linked to this, and it has me laughing, so I thought I’d share. Fox News says it didn’t "receive the letter" that John Ensign’s cuckold sent to them and they didn’t tip off Ensign to it. But that claim all depends on what your definition of "receive" is:

Tom Lowell, senior producer of "America’s Newsroom," hosted by Kelly and Bill Hemmer, says no one at Fox News ever received a printed letter, but that a booker on the show received an email from Hampton with the letter attached on June 15 — the day before the Senator’s press conference.

"We never received any letter from Mr. Hampton," Lowell told the Huffington Post. "He might have sent it, but we never received it. He did reach out to us about 24 hours before the news conference, and he sent an e-mail to a booker on my staff."

Lowell said that a member of his editorial staff followed up with Hampton that day.

"We followed up with him, but he seemed evasive and not credible, thus we didn’t pursue it," he said. "We certainly weren’t going to rush to air with accusations against a sitting Senator without doing due diligence on the reputability of the claims. [my emphasis]

I guess Fox routinely "follows up" on things they claim they haven’t received, huh?

And when they get around to denying that they tipped off Ensign, they limit their denial to the editorial staff of one particular show. 

Lowell also stated emphatically that no one at Fox News reached out to the Senator to alert him about the story.

"I know there are people asking if we alerted the senator," Lowell said. "Definitely no one on our editorial team called anyone in Senator Ensign’s office prior to our announcement. We just hadn’t gotten to that point of confirming the story yet. Somehow, somebody told the Senator something and I don’t know how that happened. [my emphasis]

So at Fox News, its denials that it tipped off a Republican friend all rely on your definition of "received" and "editorial team," but they do agree that somehow Ensign found out about a letter that–they confirm–got emailed to a Fox employee in plenty of time for Ensign to come clean on his affair. 

You know, I originally thought this story was going to be your garden variety Republican adultery and hush money. But it’s beginning to get interesting.