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The Itch for Attention in News Media

Don’t feed the delusional bears.

Take the art for this post. What is the truth? Is it two or three in the afternoon? The left clock says two. The right clock says three. Is it afternoon? Could this picture be from extreme latitudes during summer? Both could be wrong. Timekeeping is arbitrary. There could be a temporal anomaly and both could be right.

We often see media posturing to get things right. To get the correct answer. To ace the test. But the media isn’t graded by actual correctness. It’s graded based on viewer consensus—or really viewer consent. It’s graded by getting eyeballs to look at it. If the eyeballs show up, it’s got it right, hasn’t it?

And it mainly learns how to do that. Is it any wonder that the right-wing media often makes things up? It is less concerned with being the wrong clock in the picture, exactly because it is more comfortable with its true role of being a magnet for eyeballs. It is so unconcerned that parts of it often read and look more like a factitious disorder imposed by media.

What does that mean? You can see Wikipedia: “Factitious disorder imposed on another” for an overview, but basically it means the RWM often invents problems—CRT, Jade Helm, social media censorship—in order to draw attention. It shops some new fake symptoms around, some claim of calamity, some cry of wolf, until it finds another crack in the broader media to draw eyeballs in.

A crudely drawn wolf arm holding up a mirror with a cruder reflection of a wolf in it. Thought bubble reads, "Wolf! I've spied a WOLF!"
The RWM looks in a mirror.

This isn’t something exclusive to the RWM. The Times had a recent story about the Russian Federation engaging in the same kind of stuff via social media in 2017: (Paywall) The New York Times: 18 September 2022: Ellen Barry: “How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step” (emphasis added):

At desks in bland offices in St. Petersburg, using models derived from advertising and public relations, copywriters were testing out social media messages critical of the Women’s March movement, adopting the personas of fictional Americans.

That part is key. The advertising industry (and factions of media generally) is known to impose on its consumers’ insecurities in order to make a sale. They’ll invent all sorts of problems for you if it means you’ll buy a product. It’s the same for political disinformation, of media meant to fabricate illness in society so that you’ll donate to their cause or you’ll vote for their lackey.

The RWM is locked into this kind of concocted illness drama. Them, with the Repub politicians, are in a kind of activated state of disinformation. Like an abuser, they have learned they are rewarded for disinformation, for faking the illnesses of America and causing a big hubbub.

They create false grievances for the business class to worry over. They basically put up a second clock with the wrong time and then want to fight about which one is right.

In order to combat this abuse, the rest of the media has to both point out the reality, point out the clock that is correct, but also minimize coverage of the argument. Two clocks disagreeing makes a funny picture, but it doesn’t make a useful argument. And once you know a clock is wrong, it doesn’t make sense to keep checking it. It’s wrong. It’s a Joseph McCarthy. It doesn’t serve the public interest to keep pretending it might be right when we know it won’t.

If you are eligible, you should consider visiting to find out about registering to vote.

Expectations and the 2022 Midterms

Breaking news: there’s an election in November of even years.

Expectations are a big part of politics. Midterms tend to cost the president’s party seats, and so the president’s party goes into the midterm year on a defensive footing. The party fields fewer candidates ((non-TLS link) The Green Papers: “2022 Political Parties” counts 843 candidates for Democrats to 957 for Republicans, but that number includes state races; I couldn’t find a good pair of numbers for Congress only. For comparison, their 2018 counts were 706 to 687.), directs funds to shore up incumbents, sees more retirements, and has less energy. The media treats the president’s party as weakened. And then the result comes, either better or worse than predicted, and the media still has a narrative to ride into the new year, while the parties scramble to get ready for the new Congress.

Call it the armored marathon runner scenario. Thinking the race to be defensive, the runner wears full plate armor, which makes them slower. If it turns out they can actually go on offense, it’s harder because they’re still wearing heavy polished metal all over their body. Incumbency helps individual candidates win elections, but incumbents have their job to do while they run. Challengers are more able to campaign, and thus provide a lot of extra energy to their ticket, even if they don’t win.

Now, Democrats have gotten good news. The economy remains strong-ish (? If hot? If not? The question-mark economy.), they passed a transformative climate-plus bill (eureka!), and they passed a bipartisan technology bill, along with the earlier bills on infrastructure and modest gun safety. But predicting how their achievements and the state of things will fare in November—always difficult—is all the harder for the strangeness of these times.

They also got the terrible news—the Dobbs decision—that stripped a fundamental right from millions of women, empowering the worst state legislators, in states with poor records for protecting women’s health, to legislate pain and suffering. But that bad news also means a new skepticism of Republicans: being anti-woman isn’t popular with America. (Statistically, most Americans either are women, or know at least one woman.)

The Democratic party didn’t plan to be in this position. That is, the balloted candidates are mostly baked in. A few states still have primaries, but even there, who decides to run in a president’s-team midterm year is different than who runs alongside the president. It’s a different crop.

Those differences amount to structural problems, alongside others like gerrymandering, which make it a tough race for Democrats. Republicans have their own problems. They have no real agenda beyond opposing President Biden and Democrats, and whatever their post-Dobbs policy may be, they don’t have it yet. But unlike Democrats, Republicans started the year planning to contest more races, planning for a harvest.

This year’s election will not be the election to fully repudiate Dobbs. If we see one, it will likely be in 2024, when Democrats will have had more time to field candidates, to draft policy. By then, the media will have made clear the terrible crime the Repubs on the Supreme Court perpetrated against America. By then, state courts ((Paywall) The Washington Post: 9 August 2022: James Bikales and Praveena Somasundaram: “State supreme courts could soon decide on abortion, raising stakes of their midterm races”) and state legislatures will have worsened, and perhaps in some cases, bettered the state laws around abortion. It will be a more mature issue with abortion rights activists poised to begin cleaning up the mess.

But 2022’s election can still turn out differently than it looked from January 2022. Even wearing armor, the Democrats have a decent chance to win this marathon. Will it come down to turnout? Will it come down to how many people actually show up and cast ballots for each of the two major parties? It very well could.

I urge you to visit to learn how to register to vote. You could also check out Ballotpedia to learn more about what’s on your ballot.

We Need Leaders.

Leaders tell people what needs to be done.

A leader is someone who tells people where they’re going, and the people, agreeing with that goal, finding it worth the effort, work to go there too. That’s where we get the name leader.

In America we have people who set them selves up as legislators, or in executive roles as administrators. They know how to, what, sign papers, speak in public. But how few actually lead? Do they bother to go ahead of the people and bring them along?

In the wake of Dobbs, we need leadership. We need Biden and other Democrats to stand up and say, “We’re going to bring about an America where rights are protected as they’re supposed to be. And here’s how I think we get there, and here’s what I want you to do to help us get there.”

In general, we don’t get status updates from our parties. They don’t check-in with us in a meaningful way. They often shove thorns of reality into our flesh, in hopes we’ll wince and donate. But they don’t stop and say, “Okay, here’s how it’s going. Here’s why it’s not working. Here’s what we should do differently.”

But status updates are exactly what leaders do. If your team at work has a big smelly hairy project and you’re yak-shaving it away one step at a time, they want to make sure everyone’s doing the right thing, and if something goes wrong, they want to adjust quickly.

Finally, if a leader knows themselves incapable of the job, either they’re unwilling to go where they need to go, or they know the people will not follow, or they cannot imagine the path, or they think themselves inadequate to the journey, they quit and let someone else lead.

Obviously my go-to on abortion rights is an effort to amend the Constitution that joins with other movements that also seek constitutional memorialization of rights (equal rights amendment, gay marriage, gun safety, etc.). In Biden’s Dobbs speech, I was a little surprised he didn’t say that we should ultimately work to change the Constitution. But he didn’t say much of anything about where he wants us to go.

Democrats need to be leading. Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader. Jack Kennedy was a leader. He pointed up to the Moon and said, “Grab your shit. Let’s go.”

And it’s okay for a leader to be lost. It’s a bewildering country. Where should we go? How can we get there? It’s okay not to have the answer. But you have to tell us. You have to say, “If we get 60 in the Senate, then…” or “We’re going to need states to call for a constitutional convention.” Or whatever the lift is. People need to know where you want to try to go. Where do you foresee the mountains and rivers and perils of the journey? Maybe we can’t get there, but dissembling is a waste of time.

So where we are, unless Biden and the Democratic governors, legislators at all levels, step up and lead, give status updates on where we are, what we need to get there, is we’ll have to find some leaders. That means either other Democrats or third parties or whatever. But it’s going to take leadership, not just stump speeches and deafening silence when we need fireside chats with action items.

And it will be 2024 before most of the people who want a better response can build the machinery in most states. Names on the ballots, all that jazz. In most states it’s too late to do much for 2022 beyond what was already in the pipe. A few states have odd-year elections next year (Louisiana, Mississippi, plus legislative in Virginia and New Jersey, and gubernatorial in Kentucky).

The people will listen if you lead. If you just read some warmed over gibberish, we’ve heard it before. Tell it to Buncombe.

There are leaders in some organizations today doing whatever they can to help the vulnerable tied to the fucking tracks by five Repubs on the Supreme Court. (Oh, sorry, they handed the rope to the states to tie them to the tracks.) The good people are not going to stop pushing their missions. They’ll arrange transport, expand access to contraception, to anti-implantation drugs, and to medical abortion drugs. They know their missions and what they can do. But they and the folks on the tracks deserve leaders. Tell us how you want America to get to those tracks, and how we’ll cut those fucking binds and get them up. Lead your nation.