Archive for the 'Fox News' Category

Making History

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

A Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill into the Arkansas State Legislature to ban the works of Howard Zinn in school curricula and course materials. This is just the latest of a long string of incidents of conservatives trying to change how history is taught, sometimes successfully. In order to evaluate the potential impact of such efforts, we should take a moment to consider what we believe is the purpose of our emerging citizens studying history in school. Is it to teach them how to critically evaluate historical events so they can use that knowledge to interpret current events and build a better world? Or is to infuse them with a love of their country and a proud understanding of American exceptionalism? Both of those choices sound pretty good to me, but as they are often in conflict with one another, it is incumbent on us to choose only one of them as a touchstone for making decisions about curricula and instruction. And here we find the fundamental disagreement between the left and the right when it comes to teaching history.

Conservatives pride themselves as being free thinkers, but if you examine their ideology, you’ll find that a great deal of it is based in a slavish deference to authority. The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. The framers wanted us to have unlimited access to guns. A cop shot a kid? The kid must have been asking for it. Always trust the invisible hand of the free market. Jesus, Take the Wheel. And so on. For the past eight years, this suspension of free will to the sovereign did not extend to our Democratic president, but in the past few months, conservatives have rediscovered their obedience to the chief executive. Under this ideology, we don’t want citizens to question the authority of the state; we just want them to love Big Brother. Lest you think I’m exaggerating out of some kind of misguided partisan zeal, I present this 2014 clip from Fox News about this same social studies debate, followed by a commentary by Gretchen Carlson where she clearly articulates this mindset:

If, as Phil Graham suggested, the news is the first draft of history, then Fox News is the first draft of Republican history. Carlson’s approach to teaching social studies mirrors pretty accurately the network’s approach to journalism. Facts take a backseat to spin, and point of view reigns supreme over truth. Check out this clip, also from 2014, about a then-new report on torture. Nobody in this clip denies the truth of the report; they just don’t think we should be talking about it. Andrea Tantaros is particularly bothered by the fact that the report highlights “how we’re not awesome.” Really:

The Republican sense of entitlement to create the news, as well as history, is nothing new. In a 2004 New York Times Magazine article, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” Ron Suskind quotes an unnamed senior advisor to President Bush, now widely believed to be Karl Rove:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Remember how Republicans screamed about President Obama giving a back-to-school address to children? Yet, when they’re in power, they have no problem asserting the right to define reality like the most oppressive regimes around the world. President Trump started doing this right out of the gate. He reserves the right to tweet out some absurd nonsense – like the idea that millions of illegal voters came out to vote for Hillary Clinton, thus denying him the popular vote – and to demand that it be taken as unquestionable fact. Take a look at Sean Spicer’s first stint as White House Press Secretary, clearly sent out by the boss to insist that the inauguration attendance numbers were not what they were:

This explains why Republicans have such a terrible relationship with science. Science is all about asking questions and overthrowing the establishment when the facts justify it. We don’t believe in evolution and global climate change because they support our political interests; we believe in them because of the overwhelming evidence in their favor. The Republican power structure wants to dictate what’s true and what’s not. But science doesn’t work that way, and neither does history… unless we allow them to.

That’s why it’s so important to speak out now about the changes they want to make to the way history is taught in Arkansas, and around the country. Zinn would have been the first to admit that history has a point of view, and his history in particular. But nobody is questioning the validity of Zinn’s research, only the perspective he chooses to take. It doesn’t fit in with the conservative view of patriotism, which is an unwavering insistence on American superiority and infallibility. But I would argue that Zinn’s writings are very patriotic; he just chooses to celebrate a different aspect of American history. He highlights how groups of people have come together throughout history to resist the power structure and effect change. No wonder they want him banned.

It’s important for students to have exposure to the truths of American history, even the unpleasant ones. You can’t understand the facts about society today without an understanding of how we got here. You can’t have an opinion about Standing Rock without knowing about the genocide of the Native Americans and their subsequently troubled history. You can’t intelligently discuss Black Lives Matter without an understanding of slavery and the civil rights movement. You can’t truly contextualize the treatment of Muslims in America post-9/11 without an understanding of how the Japanese internment camps came about and were later judged. The most unpleasant moments of history turn out to be our most teachable moments. We can still love America, warts and all, by celebrating, as Zinn does, our potential for growth and change. What a low opinion of America it must take to believe that students won’t love it if they have all of the information. So when administration officials, such as Ben Carson or Betsy DeVos, make statements that demonstrate a shocking misunderstanding of American history, it may be less about their ignorance and more about their arrogance. But Anderson Cooper demonstrates the dangers of allowing conservatives to just make up the version of history they want to present:

I do realize that I’m taking a very partisan tone in an essay that’s supposed to be about how to best teach history. But I really do see this as a partisan battle, and even more so now that we have a president who not only creates his own reality space, but seems to be taking about a third of the country along with him. Teaching critical thinking in social studies has never been more important. Ignorance breeds hate, and hate is a powerful weapon in dividing us. One side is trying to start a dialogue; the other side is trying to shut it down. We have to teach students how to question authority, how to find credible information about the issues, and how to make their voices heard in a way that matters. This does not mean liberal indoctrination. I’m perfectly happy to support my students in researching and debating the conservative side of the issues. Reasonable people can disagree, and classroom debates should mirror the real discussions happening across the country. But if your opinions aren’t informed by historical perspective and you only react based on your emotions and prejudices, then I’m not really all that interested in debating you.

Without a clear understanding of the past, you cannot fully comprehend the present or work to build a better future.

Friday Night Video

Friday, January 28th, 2011

You only really need to watch the first minute of this.

Yeah, she confused the arms race with the space race.

Also, President Obama wasn’t saying we needed to have a Sputnik moment like the USSR had; he was referring to America’s reaction to Sputnik, as a wake-up call.

And did I hear her say that President Obama wanted to “aspire” Americans?

Palin-Bachmann in 2012!

Shakespeare Anagram: Twelfth Night

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

From Twelfth Night:

I have heard of some kind of men that put quarrels purposely on others, to taste their valour.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

The hateful ire run for the proposed Manhattan mosque is, sadly, a lie to provoke hurt voters.

Shakespeare Anagram: Richard II

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

From Richard II:

Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be;
Therefore no no, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me how I will undo myself:
I give this heavy weight from off my head,
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;
My manors, rents, revenues, I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke are made to thee!
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing griev’d,
And thou with all pleas’d, that hast all achiev’d!

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Sarah Palin idly leaving as Governor of newly-widowed green Alaska for no apparent reason makes little sense. If she runs for President, it won’t win votes, and this tough woman has more ambition than that.

What was the real reason? To save face over impending ethics idiocy? Did an enemy’s muddy-eyed blackmail jimmy her out? Do the kids want their mommy more? Or was she moved over the Letterman thing more than it seemed? Why would a “my way or the highway” leader modify to go for the highway?

My augury: maybe we will find her the host of a hip new talk show on that right-wing cable news network. Running a state must be a dull toy compared to the fame and fortune of television.

Web 2.0’Reilly

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

The problem here – well, in addition to all of O’Reilly’s usual problems – is that he seems unaware, or pretends to be unaware, of the difference between an online community forum like Daily Kos and traditional corporate-owned pre-Internet media. Inviting users to participate in an interactive, Web 2.0 medium doesn’t make you automatically agree with everything they post to your site. If it did, there would be very little reason to do it.

O’Reilly even seems unaware of the comments left by people on his own site. Again, it’s possible that he just chooses not to be aware or he pretends not to be aware. But given O’Reilly’s demographic and the hate he peddles, it’s not hard to imagine that O’Reilly has more than a few viewers who would be willing to express views in a public forum that even O’Reilly wouldn’t want to be associated with.

I don’t consider comments on the O’Reilly site as coming from O’Reilly himself. It’s inappropriate for O’Reilly to use the comments on blogs or the postings of Kos diarists to compare progressive blogs to the Nazis and KKK.

The rebuttal to this lunacy was, of course, put best by Stephen Colbert:

Exactly. The Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis were both notorious for allowing people to express unpopular views in an open and free forum.

And that basically sums it up. If O’Reilly wants to make the argument that people who instigate hate are responsible for all of the comments and opinions of their followers, he’s free to do so. But then, we’ll all need to have a word with O’Reilly himself.

Dan Quayle

Friday, July 20th, 2007

This isn’t really a Six Degrees game, but does anyone remember Dan Quayle?

I’ve been thinking about the office of the Vice President and the men who have held it in my lifetime, such as George HW Bush, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney. Whatever you may think of their politics or behavior, these were some serious dudes who brought a lot to the table in experience and gravitas.

Is it really possible, then, that we had a lightweight like Dan Quayle in the VP slot for four years? Was he really a heartbeat away from the presidency? Did we all just imagine it? All I remember is him spelling potato with an E, and feuding with Murphy Brown, who happened to be a fictional character from a sitcom. Was that really our VP?

Hey, come to think of it, why isn’t he running for president? It should be about time for him. If Nixon could have a comeback, anybody could. Besides, Quayle is someone you’d like to have a beer with, and that’s all that really matters. Plus, this time, he’d have Fox News on his side. Wouldn’t it be cool if Al Gore and Dan Quayle were the nominees? They could have a rematch of the 1992 VP debate, my favorite political debate EVER.

I don’t know how many degrees it would take to link Dan Quayle to Sir Francis Bacon, but the two men have a lot in common. Each was a politician. Each was an Aquarius. Bacon said “Knowledge is power.” Quayle said “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” Bacon published The Advancement of Learning. Quayle insisted “We’re going to have the best-educated American people in the world.” Bacon developed the scientific method. Quayle observed “Mars is essentially in the same orbit… Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.”

Ah yes, I remember one other thing. At the time, we were all horrified that a hardcore conservative simpleton with no empathy might possibly become the president, embarrass the nation with his constant misstatements, bulldog a right-wing agenda, and lead us to perpetual war. How silly we all were back then.

Is Birth Control a War on Babies?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I don’t know. Let’s ask Fox News.

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother with Fox News. Every time I think I can walk away, I just keep getting sucked right back in. Maybe it’s because I’m concerned that so many people watch it uncritically that it’s actually doing great damage to our country.

The best we can do is to teach information literacy skills to our students. Are we doing that well?

Welcome Tudor Fans!

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

So thanks to a link from the Showtime page on The Tudors, this blog got over 100 unique hits today, and the day is not even over yet. I think the previous record was around 30, and that was a day when I e-mailed all my friends and some of them e-mailed all of their friends.

And it occurs to me that I’ve been kind of hard on the media lately. Now that my readership has widened somewhat, I am concerned that some may have been disturbed by last week’s Question of the Week which involved my putting legitimate news sources alongside more questionable ones and asking my readers to rank them in order of reliability.

Please know that I meant no disrespect to Fox News. Or to CNN. Or to network television. Or to the New York Times editorial page. I’m simply raising questions.

The sources we have always been told we can trust may not be as reliable as we’d like them to be. But does this mark a decline in mainstream news reporting, or have these sources always been somewhat unreliable and it’s only through the more democratic medium of the Internet that we’re able to stay on top of it?

The reason I bring it up is that this study suggests that the shifts in the last twenty years have not resulted in a more informed electorate.

That surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Howard Dean turned himself from being a dead-end candidate into the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004 by raising money through a grassroots movement over the Internet. It was a groundbreaking use of the new medium. But then it was the traditional media who ruined him by playing that one clip, taken out of context, over and over. And it seems that the winners are the ones who know how to play the system. So the democratic process is still controlled by slick marketing experts. Perhaps nothing has changed since the days of Parson Weems.

Parson Weems, a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, wanted to emphasize strong values in young America. So he wrote a fictional story about the late George Washington to illustrate his point. Perhaps you’ve heard it – it involves a hatchet and a cherry tree.

Today’s version of the mythmaker, Karl Rove, has access to 24-hour information networks, both on cable and over the Internet. But so do we. Lies spread faster than they used to, but corrections are immediate. It’s harder to get away with things now, at least with those of us who are paying attention. In the days of Parson Weems, you couldn’t just go to to see if that cherry tree thing was true. And you certainly couldn’t just stumble upon some guy’s blog through a link from the Showtime website and get a rambling media literacy diatribe.

But it’s today, and you just did. Welcome! This blog is often about Shakespeare, but as you can tell, it’s about other things too. I hope you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and please feel free to leave a comment behind on any of the posts, either current or in the archives.

Question of the Week

Monday, April 16th, 2007

First of all, I want to thank everyone who answered last week’s question about the reliability of Wikipedia. The discussion there was one of the most vibrant of the blog so far. Between that and the subsequent post about Fox News, it made me realize that there is a larger question we need to address here: What does it mean for a source to be reliable?

The answer may be changing with the culture, and some quick background reading may help support that potentially controversial claim. Cynthia points us to the article in the The Chronicle for Higher Education The Intellectual in the Infosphere, which hits a lot of key issues in a short space and is definitely worth checking out. I also have an earlier post about the changing nature of information in the digital age. And then there’s the Karl Fisch video.

So with all that in mind, it’s as important as it’s ever been to ask what it actually means for a source to be reliable. Does it simply mean that we can count on it for accurate facts? Or do we require more from our sources than just fact checking?

Is it important for a source to give us balance between different points of view? Or can a source be reliable and just give us one point of view? And if the source only provides one point of view, how important is it for the source to share our values? Could different sources be reliable for different people, or is reliable meant to be an objective term?

Is a source that provides a more depth of coverage always more reliable than a superficial one? Does quality of writing affect reliability? Does a proven track record count for anything? Or do these factors co-exist with reliability without affecting it? Is a primary source always more reliable than a secondary source? Or can secondary sources bring qualities to the table that can increase reliability?

And does reliability cover just facts? Or can sources also provide opinions? Are you more likely to be persuaded to share an opinion that’s expressed by a source you already trust? Is that a part of reliability? Is it even possible for a source to be value neutral? Or does a source always have an inherent value system by the choices it makes in what information to present? If a source presents information in a way that doesn’t fit your worldview, which sources can affect your willingness to reevaluate that worldview, and which sources would simply make you doubt the source?

Does the element of time affect reliability? The book you purchase in the book store may have been written months ago, while a website might be updated while you’re reading it. Does this affect reliability, and if so, in which direction?

Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, I’d like you to consider the relative reliability of the following twenty sources when it comes to information, perspectives, and opinions about, say, the Bush administration:

A. Joe Biden on This Week with George Stephanopoulos
B. Wolf Blitzer on CNN
C. Dick Cheney on Meet the Press
D. Noam Chomsky in a new book published by AK Press
E. Katie Couric on The CBS Evening News
F. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007 edition (Hardcover)
G. Thomas Friedman in a New York Times Op-Ed
H. Seymour Hersh in the current issue of The New Yorker
I. Brit Hume on Fox News
J. Russ Kick in a new book published by the Disinformation Company
K. Rush Limbaugh on his radio show
L. Michael Moore in a new documentary
M. Sean Penn while accepting an acting award
N. Tony Snow from the White House briefing room
O. Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show
P. The White House website
Q. Christie Todd Whitman on Real Time with Bill Maher
R. Wikipedia in an entry with no controversy alerts
S. Bob Woodward in a new book published by Simon & Schuster
T. Markos Zuniga on his blog The Daily Kos

I lettered them instead of numbering them because you may wish, as part of your answer to the question below, to rank some or all of these twenty sources in order from most reliable to least reliable. If two of these sources gave conflicting information, which would you be more open to, and why? What if their information didn’t conflict, but they selcted facts that promoted different biases? What if their facts were the same, but they presented conflicting opinions?

What does it mean to you for a source to be reliable?

Geraldo Visits The Factor

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007