While shopping in Issaquah today, I stopped at Barnes & Nobel to look for the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet. As I looked through the Current Affairs section I was struck by the large number of right wing propaganda books — by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Anne Coulter, and others.
A lot of the books attack President Obama, by questioning his citizenship, patriotism, or morality. They portray him as a far-left radical (a portrayal which is so out-of-sync with reality that it’s almost unbelievable that they can write these books with a straight face). Many of the books are about how liberals are destroying America. There were a few books by “reformed” liberals. There were more right wing than left wing books.
It’s quite possible that most Americans realize that these right wing books are biased. But even if most people disbelieve the conservative rhetoric, many definitely do believe it, and the marketing of these books is successful in that it clouds the issues and drowns out progressive and moderate voices. (It’s the “Right Wing Noise Machine,” as David Brock so aptly named it.) It shifts the dialog to the right or causes people to tune out or to “split the difference.” Indeed, oftentimes I meet someone who describes themselves as “Independent” or “non-political” or “middle-of-the-road”, and they often say things like, “Oh, progressives are as crazy as the Tea Party people.” And I can’t talk to most of my suburban neighbors about politics or they tell me I’m crazy.
Speak sense to a fool and he’ll call you a fool.
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’
I believe in free speech and a free press. But if bookstores routinely publish distortions and lies, it bodes poorly for the future of America.
We need to win the hearts and minds of the public and open their eyes to how they’re being screwed.