Tag Archives: Markos Moulitsas

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How to Deal with a Media Pile-On

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v60/lindstroms/1984-2-min-hate.gif

Tips for Targets of Online Hatefests

Over the holiday weekend I found myself in a uncomfortable yet not entirely unfamiliar place. I was the target of the online equivalent of the Two Minute Hate in Orwell’s “1984.”

The subject: the way I draw President Obama. Which I’ve been doing since 2009. But this column is not about that. It’s about a few things I’ve learned about how online witch hunts and mob mentality have evolved in recent years.

Like other cartoonists I’ve taken heat before, notably over my “terror widows” and Pat Tillman cartoons from 2002 and 2004, respectively. During the grim years following 9/11, bloggers on the far right of America’s political fringe repeatedly issued furious rants calling for me to censored, imprisoned, tortured, raped and/or assassinated. Well, hey, it’s nice to be noticed.

Ten years later, the anatomy of the Internet pile-on has changed, and it reveals some interesting changes in American political culture. The knee-jerk nationalism of the Bush years has given way to a form of political correctness on steroids under Obama, with identity politics running amok. Influenced by social networks, the comments sections of political discussion websites have adopted like/dislike ratings systems that amplify groupthink. In contrast to the 2000s, when right-wing haters threatened lefties’ lives more than their livelihoods, conservative Obama Democrats are more likely to censor you than to threaten to kill your family.

To be sure, the basic characteristics of TwoMinuteHate.com remain the same. Internet mob rule still relies on the power of suggestion; when people follow a link that urges Click Here to See a Terrible Horrible Witch, they’re more likely than not to see, well, a horrible witch.

I call this the Comedy Club Effect. 99.99% of stand-up comics aren’t funny. Yet most people laugh at most of their (bad) jokes. People who spend $30 plus a two-drink minimum are preconditioned to have a good time. Having a good time at a comedy club requires laughing. So the audience laughs.

The mandatory drinks help.

After I was introduced as “America’s funniest cartoonist” at a talk in Chicago I apologized — in a straight-ahead, not even trying to joke way, for being late, explaining that I’d gotten stuck in traffic from O’Hare. Everyone laughed.

The corollary of the Comedy Club Effect is that when people are preconditioned to hate, they tend to hate well and often. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen experienced this when his “what if I were a bigot” musings (“people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex“) about New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s biracial family drew calls for his firing and unsubstantiated assertions that these were really Cohen’s thoughts. It was the exact 180-degree opposite of fair: If anything, white conservatives “with conventional views,” rather than progressives, should have been angry at Cohen for attributing bigotry that the conventional types hadn’t expressed.

Like other targets of media pile-ons, I find it hard to accept that angry people who are yelling at you are open to nothing you have to say. Explanations don’t help. Apologies don’t stop them. They just want to yell at you. Anything you say can and will be used, distorted and twisted against you in the court of Twitter.

If you’re smart, you’ll duck and cover, leaving your allies and fellow travelers to run interference for you and defend your cyberhonor. But your defenders won’t get far. Dissenting voices get shouted down too. Anything they say will be similarly twisted and they’ll be accused of being your toadies and shills. In the end, they’ll get ground down by endless demands to repeat themselves until they finally fade away, leaving the field to your attackers’ hundreds of comments, all of which will remain forever Google-able to your future might-have-been employers.

There’s no way you can win. All you can do is conserve your energy until the mob moves on to burn down someone else’s house.

As always, commenters have strong opinions about, for example, cartoons they haven’t actually seen.

My latest imbroglio brought me into contact with such relatively recent additions to the PC canon as “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining.” According to the Urban Dictionary, whitespaining is “the paternalistic lecture given by whites toward a person of color defining what should and shouldn’t be considered racist, while obliviously exhibiting their own racism” and mansplaining is “the tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her — correctly or not — things that she already knows.”

A more lucid definition is for the suffix “‘splaining,” which Geek Feminism calls “a form of condescension in which a member of a privileged group explains something to a member of a marginalized group — most particularly, explains about their marginalization — as if the privileged person knows more about it.”

As a white male, in other words, I can imagine how irritating it would be to hear a white guy like me tell someone who isn’t white or male about their experience as a disadvantaged minority. But I can’t know how they feel.

Obviously, this is true. The trouble is that, on sites like Daily Kos, where the majority views are pro-Obama and pro-Democratic Party no matter what they do, the cries of “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining” are used to stifle not condescension, but disagreement.

Speaking about the controversy over the way I draw Obama, the founder of Daily Kos refused to weigh in with his opinion over whether or not I am racist. “Don’t be that white guy telling African-Americans what is and isn’t racist,” sayeth Markos Moulitsas. 1300 comments or so later, someone finally asked: “If white guys have no right to voice an opinion about racism, I’m curious if minorities expect white guys to say anything at all about racism (except for racist statement, of course)? After all, if your opinions simply aren’t welcome, can you really expect people to engage in a debate?”

Daily Kos is one of many sites that have adopted Facebook-style like/dislike rating systems. Viewers may click “recommend (+)” or “hide (-)” on blog entries as well as individual comments. Items with more thumbs up add to a poster’s digital “mojo” on the site. Items with more thumbs down get hidden from view and subtract from mojo. Run out of mojo and you can’t post anymore. You are unpersoned, like in “1984.”

The link aggregator Reddit demonstrates the problem with this system. Post cute kittens and your ratings soar. Post anything controversial — say, something about Edward Snowden — and the hates will more than cancel out the likes. Reddit is a place where anything less than totally insipid goes to die. I assume they like it that way.

At Kos they call this “community moderation.” It sounds democratic. In practice, the Rec/Hide system is toxic, stifling and distracting, prompting long threads of comments by people complaining about one another’s hides and recs, and threatening to get even for them. (What were we talking about again?) There are secret Facebook pages for various gangs of Kossacks, who swoop into certain posts to rec or hide them into glory or oblivion, as the case may be.

It sounds silly. It’s what happens when people have too much time on their hands.

But this manipulation of online political discussion has a real-world effect: it crushes anything that disagrees with the hive mind — a collective mentality that becomes more lockstep because of it — and it kills anything new or interesting. Worst of all, casual browsers could be forgiven that nothing new or interesting or taking issue with this mainstream/generic view (in the case of Kos, unquestioning support for Obama and the DNC) exists.

I posted a blog defending myself and explaining why I draw Obama the way I do to Kos. It received many recommendations and attracted hundreds of comments. Unfortunately, you can’t find it anymore. It was “hide rated” by pro-Obama Kossacks.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Internet was supposed to turn out like this.

(Ted Rall’s website is rall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Political Violence? Stop Violent Politics

Media Spokesmen Move to Stifle Violent Speech

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 other people is tragic. But it is not shocking. It isn’t even surprising.

What is surprising—weird, even—is the response of the corporate-owned political and media establishment. They’re coming out against violent rhetoric. Not real violence. They want to stop talk about violence.

Liberals accuse right-wingers of creating an atmosphere of hatred that fuels incidents like the Arizona shootings.

“We need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently,” urged MSNBC’s Keith Olberman. If he gets his way, a lot of people in Hollywood are going to be out of work.

Violent-rhetoric-causes actual-violence-is-a-liberal-meme. “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin,” tweeted Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos after the Tucson shootings. Moulitsas noted that the website for Palin’s PAC featured an image of Rep. Giffords’ district with crosshairs over it. There is, however, no evidence that the accused gunman ever saw Palin’s website.

Righties counter that the really inflammatory rhetoric comes from the left. From, for example the likes of me: “Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right,” Erick Erickson of RedState whined after Giffords was shot. “The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall,” he then backtracked. Like hell.

The cognitive disconnect between reality and self-perception in American society and politics is bizarre and frightening. Whenever there’s a school or workplace shooting spree, Americans act shocked! shocked! shocked! To hear media commentators, you’d think this was a peace-loving nation of Dalai Lamas rather than a bunch of brawlin’, trash-talkin’, gun-totin’, foreigner-bombin’ yahoos who drive around Iraq shooting people while listening to death metal.

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy,” said Keith Olberman. Does he live in America? Americans worship violence. Kicking ass is our national religion. “Violence and threats of violence” are part of our daily lives. As a kid, I got beaten up by bullies. As an adult, I collect death threats in response to my cartoons. When I ride my bike, motorists try to run me off the road. Most of my female friends have been raped.

When I served jury duty in New York prospective jurors were asked whether they or someone close to them had ever been the victim of a violent crime. Down the line they went, 50 at a time. They went through 150 people. Every New Yorker there had suffered the effects of a brutal assault or the murder of a loved one.

The first time I felt any self-respect was when I sent a high school bully to the hospital.

Sorry, Keith. Violence has plenty of place in our lame excuse for a democracy. Remember how Bush became president in 2000? He hired goons to assault Florida election workers and had a representative threaten a coup on national television.

“Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” chimed in President Obama. Who was either coming from or en route to a meeting with Pentagon generals to discuss America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, or perhaps the occupation of Haiti, or expanding the new concentration camp at Bagram. How many assassination orders have you signed so far, Barry? How many extraordinary renditions? How many torture memos?

As I recently explained to an interviewer: “The reason I oppose this particular regime is because it is so aggressively violent.”

And I’m not talking about gun violence.

I’m talking about the wholesale over-the-top violence of neo-colonialism abroad, fueled by a cult of militarism here at home. U.S. forces are currently engaged in combat operations and propping up puppet regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other countries. They are hated and reviled there. Here every other car’s bumper urges us to “support our troops.”

We kill so many civilians we can’t be bothered to count them; not even America’s wimpy phony Left opposes the killing of “enemy” uniformed soldiers who die defending their homelands. Military action is America’s default response to every major news story. The 9/11 attacks? Kill them all—even if we’re not sure who “they” are. Hurricane Katrina? Send in the troops—not help. Indian Ocean tsunami, earthquakes in Pakistan or Haiti—anything and everything is an opportunity to invade, corrupt, pillage and murder.

The young man accused of shooting Rep. Giffords is portrayed as sick, deranged, and fond of oddball conspiracy theories. In these things, he is a typical American. “Typical” Americans, after all, believe in angels and creationism and that Bush found the WMDs in Iraq and trickle-down economics. Typical liberal Americans think it’s perfectly fine to give trillions to bankers while millions lose their jobs and get no help whatsoever.

The Tucson gunman is accused of an act of “senseless violence.” Here, too, he is just another face in the crowd. We all pay our taxes. None of us loses a minute of sleep as those taxes are used to make bombs and hire men and women to drop them on innocent people, who then blow into bits of flesh and bone.

Then there is the covert violence all around us: the tens of thousands of Americans who die annually because they can’t afford to pay for a doctor’s visit, the millions of children who go to bed hungry every night, the millions evicted from foreclosed homes (tell them it’s not an act of violence), the hundreds of thousands who sleep outside and the millions who couchsurf with friends and relatives because shelter is too expensive. We don’t even think about getting serious about solving these problems.

Like terrorism, political violence is a relatively minor issue. And as guys named Lincoln and Garfield and Charles Sumner—who was nearly beaten to death by a fellow member on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856—could attest, it is not a new one.

The brutality being carried out by the political system and its corporate sponsors is responsible for the equivalent of tens of thousands of Tucson-level shooting sprees each year in the U.S. alone. For example, a peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2005 found that the death toll directly attributable to income inequality is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”

But the ruling classes doesn’t want us to think about reality. They want to make us shut up. Thus their calls to ramp down high-octane political speech.

Political violence? We should be much more worried about violent politics.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL