I know the line is usually quoted as "The Emperor isn't wearing any clothes!" (which isn't right either) but this conjures up storybook illustrations of the monarch parading down the street in his underwear. Frankly, Mr. Andersen never mentioned tighty-whities.
Did you know that we have an emperor in America? His name is Public Opinion, and tricksters behind the throne are constantly whispering things into his ear to mislead him. No, I'm not talking about the news media. They're part of the process of course, and none of them are guiltless, even the ones that make a point of constantly telling you how unbiased they are, but much of the time, they are only guilty of acting as a mouthpiece rather than reporting. They don't delve into the facts at all, they simply present what each side claims the facts to be. In fact, far too often they give more coverage to what a particular side alleges the other side says or does than to what the other side actually said or did.
During a televised debate during the 1994 Senate campaign, incumbent Daniel Patrick Moynihan informed challenger Bernadette Castro, "You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts." It is no surprise that these days, this has become a very oft-quoted phrase.
When I watch both MSNBC and Fox News Channel on the same day, I discover that they have contradictory "facts" on virtually every issue. In fact, if the names of the players weren't the same, I could almost imagine they were reporting on two entirely different countries. These nations do have one thing in common; in the middle of hard times, an elitist minority in control of the government is hell-bent on defying the will of the people and making things worse. Oddly, in one nation the elitist minority holds the Presidency, while in the other it does not, and yet, somehow the two have arrived at the same impasse.
Both sides override Moynihan's Law by invoking Adam Savage's Dictum: "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" Perhaps in older days the press might have pounced on politicians who played loosely with their facts, but today news outlets focus on which side is winning, as if covering a football game rather than events impacting the lives of millions.
By reporting on each development primarily in terms of how it will effect the standings of the players rather than the fortunes of their viewers, the news media has no need for the facts either. They will go into great detail on 'facts' about what percentages of the public believe which sound byte, yet they will take little time to actually delve into even those items which they could easily research and simply present the facts on.
The reason this happens is very clear; if the big question for the reporters is "which side is winning?" then the facts simply don't matter. Only our perception of the facts matters. Once one side has caught his ear long enough to override the other, Emperor Public Opinion makes his arbitrary law heedless of Constitution or Reality.
The end game for this process is obvious. The managers of the media outlets, seeing how the two major political parties could manipulate their reporters with impunity, choose which side they want given preference and staff their organizations with the reporters who give their side preference. The public, now confronted with two neatly divided and irreconcilable bodies of fact, simply shrugs and picks which version to accept. As a consequence of this, Public Opinion now marches down the street draped in nothing but vapor and fantasy.
I doubt I will ever unearth solid, incontrovertible evidence that this has happened, but circumstantial evidence abounds, and one can easily find it. Just ask proponents on each side how they know the other side is biased, and they have evidence in volumes to present. Much of it is trivial viewed on its own, but the sheer quantity is troubling. At some point, I may try to list some of the stronger items, but today I will only present what I see as the single most eyebrow-raising item, the one that shows clearly how the manipulation can begin.
(If I am starting in on one of your heroes, please don't take offense. I am an equal opportunity iconoclast; I'll spend time on your villains soon enough. As an independent who more often than not votes for the Libertarian candidate, I don't have a dog in this fight.)
In 1996, Roger Ailes, the president of NBC's cable channel America's Talking, a short-lived venture modeled after talk radio, and past president of CNBC, left NBC to start a new cable news channel for News Corporation.
Sounds reasonable, that News Corp would choose a man with news experience to start up a news channel doesn't it? However, the great majority of his career up until then had been politics, not news. After learning the TV production trade on The Mike Douglas Show, during which he met Richard Nixon, Mr.Ailes became a 'Media Consultant' for Republicans, running the TV wings of the presidential campaigns of Nixon, Reagan and the senior Bush, as well as many Republican candidates for less offices. He announced his exit from politics in 1992, but by this time he was Executive Producer for Rush Limbaugh's television show. His first job as a member of the official new media was at the top, as the president of CNBC.
In other words, he had absolutely no experience in reporting the news at all. The little experience he had in that industry was experience at telling the reporters what to do.
If you've never heard of America's Talking, it's probably because it was very short-lived. Roger Ailes didn't so much jump ship as get pushed overboard. He went over to News Corp, taking 89 fellow NBC employees with him, after seeing the parent company ax the channel they had put a couple years of their life into building, when NBC canceled and replaced it with the new MS-NBC, originally a joint venture of NBC and Microsoft.
So now we can speculate fairly safely on how the never-ending feud between Fox News Channel and MSNBC got started. It was built in from the very start. I have a very strong suspicion that much of our current political situation began the day NBC pulled the rug out from under Roger Ailes's creation.
I know that for this introductory column, I've stated many generalizations and not very many specifics. My purpose today is not to prove anything, but simply to set my course. My goal is to spotlight the falsehoods behind a few fundamental public beliefs that are driving our political system into chaos. I'm talking not about pros and cons of political proposals or the philosophies behind them or the conspiracy theories involving some historic event or another, but the simple assumptions that public figures and newsmen depend upon us to believe so that they have a starting point upon which to work to mold our views.
It would not surprise me if the reader doesn't know what I'm talking about. Despite the greatest blossoming of information access in history, our nation may today be more misinformed than ever before. I have very little power to overcome this problem, and I do not doubt at all that I am as misinformed on as many subjects as the next American, but I would like to tilt at this windmill anyhow. The worst I can do is get smacked in the face with green energy, which would hurt nobody but myself, so I'm going for it.
If I can have any effect, then what I hope I can do is increase the number of Americans who realize that something a lot more fundamental and important is going wrong than the surface issues that most Americans are worrying about today. I don't pine for the good old days, because they never existed. Things seemed brighter and better in our youths because we ourselves were young and innocent then, not because the times were in reality any better. I pine for the future we used to have, and I want it back, for 'ourselves and our posterity' as it was once put.
I watched a man walk on the moon when I was barely old enough to stay up that late to watch it (in fact, I think that might have been the first time I was allowed to stay up to 11.) Yet the last man to walk on the moon left his last footprint on it when I was younger than my younger son is today.
It's not our space program that I am concerned about, it's the nation behind it. In those days, we went from a president making a speech to a walk on the moon in eight years and two months. Today we have a manned space program about to end after having flown for more than a decade longer than it was ever intended to fly (the Space Shuttle), with its successor program on the verge of cancellation as 'over budget, behind schedule and lacking innovation' in the President's words, and our only ability in the near future of traveling to space will be hitchhiking on Russian rockets.
The Presidential speech launching the Constellation program happened on January 14, 2004, and on Apollo's time line we would be preparing to fly our first manned mission and only two years away from walking on the moon again. Instead, all we have is one unmanned flight of the booster rocket, a few system tests and a revised schedule now promising the first manned mission (only as far as low Earth orbit) by 2015. The moon apparently can't be reached for an additional five years after that. In the same length of time after Kennedy's speech, we had done Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, and we had already done glide tests on a prototype Space Shuttle, with manned shuttle flights to space only a few years down the road.
What has happened to our future, or more specifically to our ability to make our future? Here's what I think: we've traded clear visions, like the need to keep our nation at the forefront and not surrender that position to the Soviets, or the need to conquer age-old wrongs like generational poverty and racism, for cloudy, dark visions painted by people whose only real desire is to hold the reigns of power.
Stay tuned, and if I can, I'll have you seeing that foolish monarch walking butt-naked down the street eventually. Maybe we can work together to get the old coot to put on a decent suit made of Reality.
Eric "the Fred" Fretheim, March 4, 2010