Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Paranoia, Bushism & Blogs

In ``The Paranoid Style of Politics,'' by Richard Hofstader, describes the fundamental mentality that drove right-wing thinking of the 1950s and early 1960s. He shows that this mentality is imbedded in American culture and, while it may ebb or flow, it never vanishes.

He was dead right and his thoughts on the subject open a window to understanding the explosion of right-wing paranoia in the blogosphere. What Hofstader's analysis did not foretell is that the paranoid style would penetrate to as close to the mainstream as it has, fueled partly by the Internet and partly by the increasingly narrow, increasingly right-wing ownership of U.S. news media.

The paranoid mindset associates criticism with disloyalty. Thus right-wing bloggers accuse the U.S. news media of hating America and of wanting to see America lose the war in Iraq.

Conservative blog Riding Sun, for example, drew throngs of readers from other right-wing blogs after Gaijinbiker, the site's blogmaster, scanned in the cover a Japanese-language Newsweek magazine cover showing the American flag in the trash.

Gaijinbiker wrote that what concerned him most about the cover was that it differed from the one published in America. That cover featured photos three prospective Academy Award winners and, in fact, the magazine didn't even publish the flag cover story in America. The conclusion of Gaijinbiker and others was that Newsweek "hates" America and wants to drag the country down abroad, but is afraid to do so in the U.S. because readers will react.

The article in question focused on polling data showing America's popularity around the world had sunk to all-time lows. In at least one way, Gaijinbiker's analysis is correct. Newsweek was probably "afraid" to publish such a story in the U.S.
To the paranoid, this fear represents a kind of ''stab in the back,'' since criticism, however factual, is seen as a sign of dislike and disloyalty.

Missing from the storm of outrage was any concern about what Newsweek's unwillingness to print the article says about the state of journalism in America. Here you have a blatant case of self-censorship. And is Newsweek censoring out good news about the U.S.? Is it censoring out the conservative point of view? No, it's self-censoring what could fairly be described as a left-of-center viewpoint.

Just as the paranoid feels threatened even by people who try to help him, so many right wing bloggers saw Newsweek's self-censorship as an example of its "anti-American" liberal bias.

A right-wing acquaintance who insists the NY Times is a "radical leftist" publication forwarded me an article saying that South Korea's troops in Iraq had been attacked for the first time since the start of the war.

He claimed the news was evidence that things are not as bad in Iraq as I had suggested they were. How so? His reasoning was that the fact that the troops had been there for almost two years without being attacked was evidence that the war was not spinning out of control.

It didn't occur to him that the attack seemed to suggest that the war is widening, rather than coming under control. To the paranoid, the lack of evidence is a sign that the evidence has been concealed and counterevidence, however persuasive, merely forms a backdrop for whatever sliver of edification can be drawn from the information.

Thus for this same right-winger, a report noting that the Bush administration has failed to punish any intelligence professional for getting the facts wrong on WMD is somehow evidence that Bush didn't lie in the runup to the Iraq war.

His interpretation this time is that, since the report showed that the intelligence analysts had failed to provide accurate analysis, this showed that Bush was merely passing on to the American public was his intelligence source had concluded. Never mind that the report was newsworthy only because it raised questions about Bush's motives in promoting some analysts who provided faulty information and failed to punish any.

No comments: