Tag Archives: Pat Tillman

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

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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: The Truth About Truthers

Why Does the US Government Create Paranoia?

“Truthers expect something from you,” an interviewer told me last week.

Indeed they do. I rarely get through a public appearance or talk-radio interview without being asked about 9/11 by a “Truther”—a person who believes that the attacks were planned and/or carried out by the U.S. government.

The 9/11 Truth movement is diverse. Some adherents think the Twin Towers and especially the Pentagon were struck by remote-controlled missiles or drone planes, not hijacked jets. Others accept the involvement of four commercial airliners in the official account but think the Twin Towers, and especially 7 World Trade Center, an office building across the street from the Twin Towers that collapsed hours later, were brought down in a staged, controlled demolition. Then there’s the “stand down” theory, which posits that the Bushies knew what was coming and ordered the military not to respond.

Theories about the execution of the 9/11 conspiracy vary. Its purpose is broadly believed to have been to cow the public into relinquishing long-cherished freedoms and liberties, opening the door to a post-9/11 police state.

As a critic of U.S. government policy, I get a lot of email from Truthers. They ask me to support their cause.

Truthers are passionate and energetic. They send links to websites, books and DVDs questioning the series of events laid out in the 9/11 Commission Report and mainstream media accounts. They remind me that the Bush and Obama Administrations have gotten caught lying about the post-9/11 war on terror. Why, then, am I not open to the possibility that 9/11 was an inside job? Am I lazy? Or some government shill? (If so I wish they’d pay me.)

I am open-minded. And I don’t trust our political leaders. So I read everything that people send me. I watched films like “Loose Change” and “In Plane Sight,” a professionally edited documentary that relies on insinuation to argue that nefarious government somebodies fired something other than hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Example: “How can a Boeing 757, which is over 44 feet in height and 124 feet in width, simply disappear without a trace into a hole that is only 16 feet in diameter? Also, why is there no external damage to the Pentagon where the wings and the tail section would have impacted with the outer wall?”

Answer: The plane hit the lawn, not the building. The Pentagon is made of reinforced WPA-era concrete. The plane’s wings were thin, light and full of jet fuel. They disintegrated upon impact.

Everything I’ve read and watched on Truther sites is like that: easily dismissed by anyone with a basic knowledge of physics and architecture. (I spent three years in engineering school.) Therefore, with one exception, I believe the official story.

The exception is United Flight 93, which crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I think there’s a possibility it was shot down by a USAF fighter jet. According to the 9/11 Commission Report a shootdown order was issued to the Air Force, which had at least one jet close enough to intercept the airliner before the crash. In addition, local media reported that the plane’s engine was found miles away from the crash site. Engines don’t bounce that far.

There was almost certainly a revolt aboard the flight. But the 9/11 Commission Report never confirms that the passengers gained access to the cockpit: “The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door…The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down…”

Sounds strange to me. As far as we know, the cockpit door remained locked. The hijackers knew they were going to die. Why would they give up their mission before they were forced to do so?

Of course, I don’t know what happened aboard Flight 93. I’m no expert.

I do know that most 9/11 Truther narratives don’t make sense. For example, how could workers rig up the World Trade Center for a controlled demolition—a months-long project that would require miles of cable, tens of thousands of pounds of explosives, hundreds of workers—without being noticed by the 50,000 people who worked there?

What I really don’t understand is the movement’s motivations. What do Truthers want?

For the sake of argument let’s assume that the four 9/11 planes were found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, confirming that they never hit their targets. Like in the TV show “Lost.” Are Truthers naïve enough to think there would be a revolution?

“Our government has lied to us about the events of 9/11,” Truther Frank Agamemnon said last year on Russia Today TV. “And if the truth came out about it, maybe the wars would stop.”

I don’t think so. Americans didn’t rise up when Bush stole the 2000 election. They didn’t care when WMDs failed to turn up in Iraq. We did nothing about Abu Ghraib or legalized torture or a president who says he has the right to assassinate each and every one of us, even if we’re innocent of any crime. Even if 9/11 did prove to be an inside job, I predict the national reaction would be:

“Huh.”

Truthers aren’t crazy. Not most of them, anyway. They’ve glommed on to the simple (crazy) fact that there has never been a real investigation of the September 11th attacks—a query led not by a politician like former New Jersey governor Tom Kean but by incorruptible scholars and respected experts independent of the world of politics, including those from other nations. And even Kean reported that the Bush Administration dragged their feet and failed to cooperate.

Since 9/11 the media has ignored Truthers or dismissed them as wild-eyed lunatics. As we saw with the Obama birth certificate issue, however, brushing people off merely raises more questions and prolongs the discussion.

On a number of pressing issues in recent years, the federal government has refused transparency, much less a real investigation that would have enabled people to move past 9/11. After Obama took office, for instance, he announced that there would be no prosecutions or investigations of torture in Iraq or at Guantánamo under Bush.

The evolving accounts of Osama bin Laden’s death seemed ideally tailored to create the suspicion that big secrets were being covered up. First we heard that Osama came out guns blazing, then he merely had a gun, then he was unarmed, finally he was executed after he had been handcuffed. As for disposing of the body at sea, well, a certain amount of skepticism naturally follows the lack of a corpse.

The Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch narratives followed similar trajectories.

Why does the federal government feed the conspiracy theorists? Maybe it’s unintentional, but probably not. I think the U.S. has become like a Third World dictatorship: the more they keep us guessing, the smarter they seem, and the more we’ll fear them.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Call to Action: Write Your Congressperson and Senator!

Many in the media are gearing up for the 2008 presidential campaign, relegating the illegitimate, corrupt, murderous liars of the Bush Administration–with their 28 percent approval rating–to the status of yesterday’s news. But there’s still plenty of time for Bush and his monstrous cronies to do plenty of damage. For the next two years, if given the chance, they will kill hundreds of thousands more Iraqis and Afghans, thousands more American soldiers and waste billions of our taxdollars…and that’s if they don’t start another war, against Iran.

There’s only one way to prevent even more carnage, and that’s impeachment. And there’s only one way impeachment is going to happen, even with a Democratic Congress: a smoking gun so ugly, so undeniable that even Republicans will be forced to call for the entire wretched crew’s heads.

We now have the opportunity to unmask such a smoking gun. And you can help.

The New York Times has published an editorial calling for a Congressional investigation of the Defense Department, which repeatedly claimed that Corporal and former NFL football player Pat Tillman had died while leading a charge against the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan when it knew that, in fact, he had died in a “friendly fire” accident. Tillman’s service had been used by the Army as a recruiting tool for the illegal wars against Afghanistan and Iraq–and his death was used as a noble example young people were supposed to emulate.

From the NYT Editorial: The Pentagon’s investigation of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger who became an administration icon for its war on terror, has left the corporal’s family doubtful that the truth has really come out. Even as the Army reaffirmed its belief that Corporal Tillman deserved a Silver Star for valor, the family denounced the award as “part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster.”
The circumstances of this byzantine case cry out for Congressional hearings to get an independent evaluation of just who pulled the strings to sugar-coat a terrible battlefield accident as an instance of heroism under hostile fire.

The Pentagon’s internal investigation has tagged nine officers, including four generals, for wrongdoing in the cover-up. Naive observers may be satisfied, but anyone who has watched the Bushist gangsters operate since seizing power in 2000 can’t help being cynical. If four generals are the fall guys, how far up must this go?

Here, I’ll say it: All the way to the top. To then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House–Rove, Cheney and/or Bush themselves–were personally briefed or more directly involved in this massive cover-up. If that’s true–and if it isn’t, why have the Bushies been stonewalling a Congressional investigation?–it would justify impeachment (for obstruction of justice and lying, among other “high crimes and misdemeanors” that brought down Nixon).

Only a full-fledged Congressional investigation, replete with full subpoena powers to get the complete record that despite a series of phony self-investigations the Tillman family has repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon, will reveal the full truth and bring these bastards down.

Write to your Congressperson and both of your United States Senators right now–send your letter by snail mail AND fax since those are counted with greater weight than emails–and demand a full investigation of the Tillman cover-up. Make a little history.