Here at the intersection of the news media, policy and politics, the unsubtle destabilizing -- and sometimes deliberate sabotaging -- of our democracy is proceeding on pace.
America’s please-lie-to-me voters, who prefer to get their news and their political promises from folks who know how to make them feel good, knew where they could turn on State of the Union night. And all of us who want to understand how our political games are really being played these days need to take the time to watch along with them. Or at least read this.
For today we will be looking at the essentials that the polls won’t tell you about how voters’ minds are being massaged and manipulated and molded -- before their voting decisions would show up in the polls and on Election Day.
An hour before President Joe Biden’s Tuesday State of the Union address, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson was presenting a carefully choreographed opinion message massage aimed at molding viewer impressions that there’s lots that’s wrong with Biden.
In what looks like an unusual start, Carlson’s cameras show the 2.4-meter-high metal fence that security has placed around the Capitol just for that night only, for the third straight year, to safeguard dignitaries from the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the hall.
“In the new America, Congress is surrounded by walls,” Carlson says. Fox correspondent Kevin Corke claims the security fence created a “nightmarish commute for many Americans.” He reminds us of an irrelevancy -- that Biden had called his predecessor’s border wall “costly and ineffective.” And he adds, “Some would say that is a bit hypocritical.”
“Yeah,” says Carlson. “If you’re afraid of the people you govern, maybe you’re not doing a good job. Just a thought!”
After comparing a temporary one-night security fence with Donald Trump’s border wall, Carlson switches suddenly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s government-controlled media and government-praising pundits had been peddling something former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed in a rambling, five-hour interview. Bennett, who mediated a failed peace effort last spring, said he believes “the West” had “blocked” peace negotiations he thought Russia and Ukraine agreed to try.
But Carlson never mentioned that Bennett also contended Russia’s slaughter of civilians in Bucha was what really ended the peace effort. Carlson said the news that “the Biden administration” apparently blocked peace in Ukraine was “a huge story.”
“How can The New York Times, The Washington Post, how can all the cheerleaders for this refuse to acknowledge this fact?” Well, because it was unclear and imprecise just who Bennett was saying did what. Bennett had also said that it was Russia’s slaughter of many civilians in Bucha, a city near Kyiv, that ended the peace initiative. Indeed, Bennett tweeted a walk-back of his earlier claim, “It’s unsure there was any deal to be made.”
But Carlson was nowhere near done with his inflammatory use of that topic in his pre-speech message massage. He introduced former Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a onetime Democrat who has found an audience on right-wing shows. Gabbard said, “Our leaders … could have prevented this (war) and they didn’t. ... It just shows they never cared about the Ukrainian people … the American people, or democracy, or freedom. … It reveals what they really wanted all along … to overthrow the Putin regime.”
She warned the conflict in Ukraine “increased the risk of nuclear war" and added, “We know who is profiting from this … expenditure of taxpayer dollars.” Her list began with Biden’s administration and ended with the military industrial complex. Interestingly, her attack from the right sounded identical to the themes we heard a half-century ago from the left-wing Vietnam War protesters.
By then Fox viewers had been craftily massaged and molded to suitable skeptical outrage -- in time for President Biden to begin speaking for himself. Biden’s speech was laden with the populist programs targeted to appeal to the blue collar, non-college degree Americans who have been a major part of Trump’s base. And when Biden finally got to his carefully conceived words where he said some Republicans wanted to sunset Social Security and Medicare, the Republicans in the chamber erupted in howls of outrage.
“Liar!” That’s what a number of Republicans shouted -- even though every one of them knew that just last year, the Senate Republican campaign chairman, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, had proposed that very thing. And they knew many others in that room had too. But they aren’t for that any more. So they chose to call the president a liar -- even though they knew his words were absolutely true.
And at home, their faithful core of please-lie-to-me voters may well have been moved to join in as they shouted at the president, “Liar!”
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)