Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Conspiracy Theories and Media

I hate even bringing up this issue, because doing so might somehow indicate that I believe that the people on this particular bandwagon have a point or that is even the slightest bit legitimate. Reticence noted, here goes.

It seems that the so called "Birther" movement just won't go away. This is a relatively small but unbelievably vocal group of people who insist that, in spite of ironclad evidence to the contrary, President Obama is not a US citizen and thus not eligible to be President.

What really amazes me about this whole issue is not that fringe groups make thinly veiled racist arguments driven more by paranoia, prejudice, and an unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theories. Living in the South so close to the home base of the KKK, I see that sort of garbage all the time. What really blows my mind is how members of the mainstream media not only give this issue any attention, but some of them are even keeping this story alive.

I'm not just talking about Faux News, either. They just added Glen Beck to their stable of nut jobs, which tells you all you need to know about their priorities. I'm talking about CNN, the network that claims to pride itself on staying above the partisan fray.

CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, a well known xenophobe (see his almost nightly attacks on undocumented laborers) is one of the chief proponents of the "birther" conspiracy theory (side note: Jon Stewart, as he often does, superbly illustrates the absurdity of this whole thing). In an interview with Politico, CNN President Jon Klein sidestepped any responsibility for this yellow journalism masquerading as legitimate, impartial journalism, by claiming that what Dobbs says on his radio show, part of a different media company, is of no concern to CNN.

I don't believe that for a second. If Dobbs or any other on-air personality at CNN or any other network got a DUI or was accused of a violent crime, the network would suspend them, if not outright fire them. We need look no further than Don Imus or Charles Barkley for proof of that. Saying "This person did X act outside of our airwaves" would not be acceptable, because networks live and die by the public perception of their on-air talent.

Dobbs draws big ratings, hence CNN can charge more to run ads on his show. The same goes for incendiary talking heads like Glen Beck, Keith Olberman, and Bill O'Reiley. As long as the sponsors are happy, they can go on saying any incendiary thing they want. The more outrageous the better, because it keeps us all tuning in.

The majority of us who are sick of this kind of thing passing for legitimate news do have some recourse, however. We can simply turn off the TV, thus negatively affecting the ratings of these talking heads. If we're so inclined we could even contact these networks or even their advertisers and tell them that we expect better of them if they are going to be our voice.

Taking a few minutes to speak up might do us all a lot of good.


Joe said...

By "undocumented laborers," you mean illegal aliens, right?

Please don't ignore the plentiful examples of conservative voices who have already identified the "birth" movement for the nonsense it is. Even The American Spectator has come out strongly against it.

I applaud your willingness to call the "birth" movement what it is - irrational and foolish - but wonder how many liberals (sorry, "progressives") felt similarly about anti-Bush "movements," like the "9/11 Truthers?"

Matt Kelley said...

I agree with you, Joe. There are very silly voices on both sides. I've written before about fringe leftist voices who don't represent the majority of progressives.

Thanks for reading and for your feedback.