Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine—Thursday, April 30th, 2015

While the book is framed with the intern scandal, and Kurtz does include some of the administration’s stonewalling on the other potential presidential sex scandals, the thrust of his analysis is the long-running fundraising scandal.

Spin Cycle was published in 1998, which means it mostly predates the Lewinsky scandal, which is too bad because that was the Clinton’s finest spin, when they convinced feminists to support an abusive boss, Democrats to vilify a young woman, and reporters to ignore scandal and report as if the prosecution was the scandal.

It is an insider’s view, literally. Kurtz describes the world through what he takes as the view of each participant, giving both Clinton spinmeisters and press a charitable reading. With the benefit of hindsight this isn’t quite as effective now as it probably was in 1998. The same press that he characterized as “guilty for not stumbling on the finance scandal until just before the election” and so allowing Clinton and Gore to delay until after the election, deliberately and blatantly ignored the Obama credit card scandal until the fifth of never two cycles later.

The Clintons pioneered some unique defenses, defenses that only really work if the press is with you. For example, when Dick Morris was caught having had—and ignored—an illegitimate child, they simply refused to talk about whether the President, who had voiced “strong concern about child support” (read: deadbeat dads) knew anything about Morris’s troubles.

…the press secretary’s ploy paid off. Unable to confirm that Clinton knew of the relationship… none of the networks reported on Morris’s triple life. Nor did the New York Times or the L.A. Times or USA Today… Now that reporters knew the president had knowingly employed a political strategist who had fathered an illegitimate child—well, it was old news.”

“Old news”, however, doesn’t work if the media doesn’t play along.

The Clinton administration also used time-honored strategies, such as blatant threats. For example, there was a charge that “Craig Livingstone, a low-level White House aide… had once issued a memo chastising White House staffers for writing bad checks.” New York Post Reporter Deborah Orin asked about this memo at one of the “gaggles”, morning briefings at the White House, and was brushed off as having come from a proven unreliable source.

The Best of Omni Science Fiction No. 2—Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

I bought this magazine-sized collection of Omni fiction mostly out of nostalgia—while I loved reading Omni back in the day, and always looked forward to the next issue, I was never impressed by its fiction. Unlike its sister publication, which of course one bought for the articles, Omni was famous for its graphics and its science interviews and articles. Of all the science fiction I remember reading from that era as really affecting me—David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz come to mind, as well as pretty much the entire contents of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame—none are from Omni. But I also considered that perhaps they were simply over my then very young head and that they would thus be more interesting now; and also, of course, that this, being the best of Omni, would indeed be worth reading.

But Robert Sheckley’s introduction did not bode well. Sheckley was smarter than this:

Before the Eighties we lived in an apparently inexhaustible earth; now the end of our resources is in sight… American hegemony in space, once taken for granted, is now uncertain as the Russians move ahead of us in the exploration of space.

Malthus and Malthusians had been talking up the end of our resources since 1798 and science fiction has taken up Malthusian pessimism almost since it existed—from the moment Morlocks began feeding on Eloi.

In more modern science fiction I have, sitting right next to this collection in my to-read pile, Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! from 1966, so obscure it was turned into the oft-quoted 1973 movie Soylent Green, in which, spoiler, the end of our resources results, yet again, in humans feeding on humans.1

Dr. Kookie, You’re Right!—Monday, April 6th, 2015

Dr. Kookie, You’re Right! includes a smattering of Royko’s Chicago Tribune pieces from 1984 through 1989. This would be immediately following his leaving the Sun-Times because he couldn’t stand working for Rupert Murdoch. In order to avoid working for Murdoch, he went to work for the “conservative” Chicago daily, and I have a suspicion his work here is extra-shrill because he wanted to distance himself from the paper for which he’d once promised he would never work.

But even given that there is a lot in here that makes me realize Royko was part of the Democratic media machine, at least nationally. At one point he takes Reagan to task for praising Truman and FDR on the national campaign trail rather than, say, Lincoln. Nowadays, I recognize that Republicans praising Lincoln for being a Republican is mostly unreported because it is against narrative. The press seems to want to think Lincoln was a Democrat. So it is possible that the same media filter was active in the eighties.

Royko, however, blames this praise for Truman and FDR on a racist Southern strategy; he does this in a passive-aggressive way to make it harder to call Royko on the accusation. But this was more likely a Democrat strategy, to the extent that it was a strategy at all. You don’t get Democrats to vote for you by praising Republicans. You get there by praising Democrats. And while, certainly, in those parts of the South where Democrats still dominated racism still abided, attracting them by praising Truman and FDR hardly seems egregious.

But take Royko at face value that hidden racism was worth mentioning. A few essays later, Royko talks about Senator Byrd. Now, I had no idea Byrd founded his own KKK chapter until long after the eighties, when the Internet ran an end-run around the media. But it wasn’t a secret from the media. Royko doesn’t go against narrative here either; he simply doesn’t mention it. Real racism by Democrats is less important than manufacturing racism by Republicans.

I remember Royko as more independent than this, and checking the previous collection on my shelf, my memory isn’t deceiving me. Of course, in Chicago, if you’re going to criticize politicians you have to criticize Democrats, because that’s who runs Chicago, especially in the era of the Daley machine. But this book was disappointing compared to Sez Who? Sez Me and Like I Was Sayin’. His criticism of national Republicans vs. national Democrats seems much more blatant in this selection.

World Chancelleries—Friday, March 6th, 2015
Premier Benito Mussolini

“Mussolini is liberator.”

The plaintive thread of these interviews is probably best summarized in this exchange during Edward Price Bell’s interview with Germany’s Chancellor Wilhelm Marx:

“… Heavy wars disarm peoples in their minds; only the abolition of the teachings of war and of the objective symbols of war can keep peoples disarmed in their minds. If we are to abolish war we must forget war. If we are to abolish war we must fill the minds and souls of our young with the gospel, the emotions and the images of peace.”

“Your feeling is that the world’s supreme need is peace?”

“That certainly is my feeling.”

“Do you know of a better way than through a League of Nations to get peace?”


Throughout the book, Bell asks everyone about the efficacy of the League in ways that telegraph what he wants the answer to be. And the opening statement in the above quote, about abolishing the teachings of war, is reproduced as the frontispiece quote to this interview. Similarly, the Italy interview has Mussolini’s quote about creating a new Italian pulled out for emphasis:

Fascismo is the Greatest Experiment in Our History in Making Italians.”

And in the China interview, Dr. Tang Shao-Yi argues that…

“Education is the specific for the disease of war, and education works slowly. We must teach our children that to kill in war is precisely as criminal an act as to kill in civil life. Murder is murder. We loathe murderers. People must understand that war killers are murderers.”

The importance of education by the right people is affirmed in Bell’s introduction:

Not only statesmen, but specialists and thinkers of every calling, have a natural allegiance with the interviewer for the education of mankind. Fame is power. Fame is responsibility. Names with hypnotic properties are obligated to kindle, enlighten, and direct an attentive world.

World Chancelleries was published in 1926, and edited by Edward Price Bell, the “Dean of the Foreign Staff of The Chicago Daily News.”

This is an odd book all around. I first found it at a library book sale. I used to work at the University of San Diego, and saw it at their Copley Library discards sale for seventy-five cents. It appears to have arrived there after having been presented by the Chicago Daily News to a Mr. M.L. Hallett.

Liberal Fascism—Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
Roosevelt’s Blue Eagle

That Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration/Blue Eagle program looked fascist wasn’t lost on the Roosevelt administration—or on fascists.

My friends on the left who post on Facebook asking that we import Christian values into government policy would be right at home among the fascists in Italy and Germany, according to Jonah Goldberg. Fascism is, among other things, supplanting religion with government, a “religion of the state”. This is similar to the definition used by early progressives who talked of the “social gospel”.

Progressives like to tout Christian values at the point of a gun for things that sound nice, like forced charity. The first time I ran across this, I thought it was because they hadn’t thought the implications through. But if progressivism is “applied Christianity”, as early progressive William Gladden described it, perhaps they have thought it through and enjoy the thought of aligning religion with the government.

Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is the story of how the National Socialist German Workers Party and the fascist government takeover of businesses became defined as a conservative movement by socialists, progressives, and leftists who believe governments should control businesses.

Several years ago at a library book sale I stumbled across an old book of interviews by the progressive Chicago Daily News. The interviewer, Edward Price Bell, “Dean of the Foreign Staff of the Chicago Daily News”, openly praised Mussolini. At the time I found it a humorous example of the media getting things very wrong in their quest to suck up to power.

They call him dictator. To the unpatriotic, to the anti-social and anti-civilized, to the lawless, to the bolshevists, he is dictator. To Italy—full of sterling human worth—to Italy, in my judgement, Mussolini is liberator.—Edward Price Bell (World Chancelleries)

Murrow: His Life and Times—Sunday, February 8th, 2015

A.M. Sperber basically frames her 1986 Murrow biography with his 1958 speech at the Radio-Television News Directors Association. That speech was, in her telling, the end of Murrow’s career with CBS. It took a couple of years to wind down, but his friendly relationship with Bill Paley of CBS pretty much ended then.

The speech, if it was original at the time, has been the theme of journalism’s insiders ever since. The same arguments still are made today, and it seems as though there are no solutions.

The problem, basically, was that television and radio needed money. They got that money from sponsors. Sponsors demanded more viewers. So television and radio played what viewers wanted rather than what newsmen thought the viewers needed. In Murrow and others’ view, radio and television were falling down in their primary job of lifting people up to a greater level.

Unlike many who complain that viewers don’t know what they want, however—including many of Murrow’s friends—Murrow was not a socialist. He did not believe that more government interference was a good idea.

“A telephone call or a letter from the proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer.”

Part of the problem was that shows back then were often sponsored by a single company. He didn’t see an alternative to that, and suggested that sponsors should “tithe” a portion of their profits to support shows sight unseen.1

Because Murrow tended to hang out with, and make friends with, people in the political and intellectual elite, he was often disappointed by people. For example, he supported FDR’s “deploring the growing concentration of governmental power” when FDR ran for office. He often, despite his well-deserved courage in other areas, seemed afraid to voice opinions counter to his friends. Murrow grew up in rural North Carolina and Washington, and seems in this account to have been both proud of and embarrassed by his roots. Even back then, provincialism was a go-to insult for journalists.

Jerry@GoodReads—Sunday, February 1st, 2015

On my GoodReads account, you can see how erudite and well-read I am.

I’ve been using GoodReads lately to track the books I’m reading and want to read. I’m not yet sure how useful it is, however, it does seem useful to discuss books with other readers. I’ve added it to my Keep in touch section below the blogroll, and I’ve also added a link to recent books across the top of this section of Mimsy.

The Elements of Journalism—Friday, December 5th, 2014

I wrote a little about The Elements of Journalism, when I hit the section praising David Protess for tricking Alstory Simon into confessing to murder. The thing about that is, it isn’t just that the authors praised Protess, and that this praise became embarrassing a few years later, that made this example stand out. It was that Protess explicitly broke some of the rules outlined in this book. This should have been a red flag signaling that maybe they should dig deeper before using the Simon case as an exemplar. But it didn’t, because the rules of journalism aren’t prescriptions, they’re rationalizations. That is, they aren’t scientific rules to guide journalists moving forward, they’re religious rationalizations used to justify what they want to do. They’re used to justify a belief rather than find the truth.

The major problem with this book is that it does little, if anything, to change that. To the extent that it provides justifications that may be chosen from ad hoc, it makes things worse.

When the author started talking about using the scientific method as a guide to better journalism, I thought, maybe he’s onto something. But the bedrock foundation of the scientific method is that you must do your best to explain how your findings can be proved wrong. You must show how to falsify your results.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.—Richard Feynman (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!)

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