Understanding Explanations

Well, this is interesting:

Tea party activists have been very adamant that their movement, which started with spontaneous public protests in 2009, has nothing at all in common with Occupy Wall Street. Tea partiers insist that OWS doesn’t really speak for regular Americans – the way they say their movement does. But now comes data, albeit rather unscientific, that offers evidence that Americans are much more interested in OWS than they ever were in the tea party. The Google Politics and Elections team has teased out some comparisons between tea party-related Google searches and OWS searches to see which group had more demand at their peaks.

The results? “Occupy Wall Street” has been a far more popular search term than “tea party.”

And the data follows. The ratio is thirteen to two – no contest. But the news coverage is another matter entirely:

Despite big leads in polls and search traffic for Occupy Wall Street, it is almost in a dead heat with the Tea Party for the volume of news coverage. Using Advanced Search in Google News we found that between October 7 and last week, Occupy Wall Street only barely bests the Tea Party when we examine the number of news pieces covering each movement: 29,000 to 22,000.

People are interested in the Occupy Wall Street movement – perhaps sensing they are part of that Ninety-Nine Percent getting shut out of things now – and the volume of news coverage indicates that the news folks wish they weren’t so interested, as it just isn’t fair. The Tea Party thing was cool, and you could report on that – after all that whole movement was practically sponsored by Fox News, when Glenn Beck was with them, and given its theoretical underpinning by the crew at CNBC – with their Rick Santelli being the wise core philosopher. The whole thing came prepackaged. All you had to do is riff on one of the many segments Roger Ailes had produced for the Koch brothers, or quote CNBC’s Rick Santelli or Larry Kudlow. And that was that.

And now this far more popular Occupy Wall Street movement comes along – spreading far and wide, carrying a whiff of something like the French Revolution, if you substitute Wall Street and the Hamptons for Versailles. You do need to cover this. This is big. And if it really is like the French Revolution, even in a small way, it could be the story of the century. July 14, 1789, was not just another slow news day in Paris.

So that’s the dilemma. But without a model to use, a cheat-sheet on just how to frame the issues, and even how to frame the shots, it is far harder to explain just what is going on, at least in neat and clean packages that fit between the commercials. This is the sort of thing that must drive news folks crazy. These Occupy Wall Street folks don’t even seem to have a leader. In fact, this thing is growing so fast and spreading so wide it may be that it actually cannot have a leader – it may be a truly populist movement, of the people, generally. And if that is the case, as it seems to be, who the hell are you supposed to interview?

That is a problem – you need an angle on this biggest news story of our times. You need a hook. And in this case you need the man who can provide that – Michael Moore. And that’s the hook that Martin Wolk uses in this piece – Michael Moore Confesses: I Am The 1 Percent – which seems to be intended to show that this whole Occupy Wall Street thing is pure bullshit because Michael Moore himself makes a lot of money:

Anti-capitalist film director Michael Moore has drawn fire in recent days for standing with the Occupy Wall Street protesters while failing to acknowledge that he is part of the “1 percent,” not the 99 percent.

Now the director of “Capitalism: A Love Story” and other documentaries has come clean and admitted that he is indeed among the nation’s wealthiest citizens, but without providing details of just how rich he is.

So there, you damned hippies! And this of course refers to Moore’s Life Among the 1% – posted at his blog, where Moore opens with the tale of how he made his first millions when he sold the distribution rights to his 1989 breakthrough hit documentary Roger & Me – his first millions were three million dollars, next to nothing by Hollywood standards. But documentaries are like that. It’s a niche market.

Even so, Martin Wolk knows a hypocrite when he sees one:

At the time of his $3 million windfall, Moore says he was just getting by on unemployment payments of $98 a week. So what did he do with his newfound wealth? Moore says he “proudly” paid nearly $1 million in taxes, used $1 million to establish a charitable foundation and spent the other $1 million on a new car, payments on a New York City apartment and more donations, including helping to rebuild a church that had been burned down in his hometown of Flint, Mich.

What Moore says here seems to have offended Martin Wolk:

I told the guy who did my 1040 not to declare any deductions other than the mortgage and to pay the full federal, state and city tax rate. I proudly contributed nearly 1 million dollars for the privilege of being a citizen of this great country.

This is why Wolk put that word, proudly, in the usual irony-quotes. And then we get this:

“What remained went into a simple, low-interest savings account,” Moore said. “I made the decision that I would never buy a share of stock” – a resolution he said this week that he has kept to this day. Of course Moore went on to become among the most successful documentary filmmakers in Hollywood. While “Roger & Me” made $6 million in box office receipts, later movies made far more, capped by his 2004 film “Fahrenheit 9/11” excoriating the Bush administration’s response to terrorism, which grossed over $222 million, according to IMDB.com.

That would certainly put him among the top 1 percent of earners (the current threshold is about $350,000 a year), although Moore said his income varies quite a bit from year to year…

But here’s the problem. Wolk points out that Moore does not mention how many more homes and cars he has bought in the past twenty-two years, and Walk wants to know, as people should know such things, because of this:

And he has not mellowed in his opposition to the capitalist system, saying it “exploits the vast majority so that the few at the top can enrich themselves more.”

So there you have it. Ignore these people protesting all over. Consider Michael Moore.

Or you could read what Moore actually wrote:

Twenty-two years ago this coming Tuesday, I stood with a group of factory workers, students and the unemployed in the middle of the downtown of my birthplace, Flint, Michigan, to announce that the Hollywood studio, Warner Bros., had purchased the world rights to distribute my first movie, Roger & Me. A reporter asked me, “How much did you sell it for?”

And he was proud to say it was three million dollars, and that wasn’t a problem:

A cheer went up from the union guys surrounding me. It was absolutely unheard of for one of us in the working class of Flint (or anywhere) to receive such a sum of money unless one of us had either robbed a bank or, by luck, won the Michigan lottery. On that sunny November day in 1989, it was like I had won the lottery – and the people I had lived and struggled with in Michigan were thrilled with my success. It was like, one of us had made it, one of us finally had good fortune smile upon us.

And this is what Wolk ignored:

When you are from the working class you root for each other, and when one of you does well, the others are beaming with pride – not just for that one person’s success, but for the fact that the team had somehow won, beating the system that was brutal and unforgiving and which ran a game that was rigged against us. We knew the rules, and those rules said that we factory town rats do not get to make movies or be on TV talk shows or have our voice heard on any national stage. We were to shut up, keep our heads down, and get back to work. If by some miracle one of us escaped and commandeered a mass audience and some loot to boot – well, holy mother of God, watch out! A bully pulpit and enough cash to raise a ruckus – that was an incendiary combination – and it only spelled trouble for those at the top.

That is a different story, and it’s a story based on another premise:

I believed the concept of making money off your money had created a greedy, lazy class who didn’t produce any product, just misery and fear among the populace. They invented ways to buy out companies and then shut them down. They dreamed up schemes to play with people’s pension funds as if it were their own money. They demanded companies keep posting record profits (which was accomplished by firing thousands and eliminating health benefits for those who remained). I made the decision that if I was going to earn a living, it would be done from my own sweat and ideas and creativity. I would produce something tangible, something others could own or be entertained by or learn from. My work would create employment for others, good employment with middle class wages and full health benefits.

I went on to make more movies, produce TV series and write books. I never started a project with the thought, “I wonder how much money I can make at this?” And by never letting money be the motivating force for anything, I simply did exactly what I wanted to do.

In fact, he was, in the opinion of some, a lousy capitalist. But he simply knows that drives folks on the right crazy:

How did someone from the left get such a wide mainstream audience?! This just isn’t supposed to happen (Noam Chomsky, sadly, will not be booked on The View today, and Howard Zinn, shockingly, didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list until after he died). That’s how the media machine is rigged – you are not supposed to hear from those who would completely change the system to something much better. Only wimpy liberals who urge caution and compromise and mild reforms get to have their say on the op-ed pages or Sunday morning chat shows.

Somehow, I found a crack through the wall and made it through.

And there is also this:

I do very well – and for a documentary filmmaker, I do extremely well. That, too, drives conservatives bonkers. “You’re rich because of capitalism!” they scream at me. Um, no. Didn’t you take Econ 101? Capitalism is a system, a pyramid scheme of sorts – that exploits the vast majority so that the few at the top can enrich themselves more. I make my money the old school, honest way by making things. Some years I earn a boatload of cash. Other years, like last year, I don’t have a job (no movie, no book) and so I make a lot less.

And there are the other questions:

“How can you claim to be for the poor when you are the opposite of poor?” It’s like asking: “You’ve never had sex with another man – how can you be for gay marriage?!” I guess the same way that an all-male Congress voted to give women the vote, or scores of white people marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. (I can hear these righties yelling back through history: “Hey! You’re not black! You’re not being lynched! Why are you with the blacks?!”). It is precisely this disconnect that prevents Republicans from understanding why anyone would give of their time or money to help out those less fortunate. It is simply something their brain cannot process. “Kanye West makes millions! What’s he doing at Occupy Wall Street?!”

Exactly – he’s down there demanding that his taxes be raised. That, to a right-winger, is the definition of insanity. To everyone else, we are grateful that people like him stand up, even if and especially because it is against his own personal financial interest. It is specifically what that Bible those conservatives wave around demands of those who are well off.

Well, try to get all that in a neat and clean package that fits between the commercials. Michael Moore made a lot of money. Statistically he is part of the One Percent. And he’s glad to pay his taxes, and to speak out against the system, in which he doesn’t exactly participate. He doesn’t use his money to make more money. He uses it to subvert a situation where many have been subverting the actual system by rigging the game. And he likes an old saying that may explain his amusement at having all this money handed to him – “The capitalist will sell you the rope to hang himself with if he thinks he can make a buck off it.”

And that is what is happening here. How do you report that? Maybe it’s too complicated.

But that’s only one side of things. If this is at least a little something like the French Revolution, if you substitute Wall Street and the Hamptons for Versailles, you need to know what’s going on at Versailles, in the halls of power. And in this case that’s not Wall Street or the Hamptons, that’s down in Washington. And there the defenders of Louis and Marie and the rest have a problem that has nothing to do with what Michael Moore does with the money he has made. In fact, Alexander Burns in Politico gives us a sneak peek at George F. Will’s Sunday column, an angry column where he vents his outrage at the growing Republican-establishment consensus that Mitt Romney would be an acceptable, electable nominee:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable, he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate: Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the tea party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from “data”…

Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for THIS?

Burns:

Even as Republicans come around to the idea that Romney may be their strongest opponent for President Obama, many are still convinced that a Romney presidency would represent a historic missed opportunity for the right. George Will may be the most important establishment voice to come out and say so directly.

But there’s also Brian Beutler:

Not data?!!!

Yes, data. Conservatives don’t like Romney in part because he lets facts and events influence his views. This is unacceptable. So as Republicans come around to the idea that he may be the party’s best hope in 2012, conservative hold outs are trying to prevent the Romney consensus from taking hold.

And there’s Paul Krugman:

I sometimes like to say that modern conservatism isn’t an attempt to turn the clock back to the Gilded Age – it’s an attempt to roll things back to before the Enlightenment, with all that godless talk about numbers and evidence and all that. Doesn’t sound that silly now, does it?

Never mind Darwin – let’s go after Newton!

Yes, George Will may regret ever scoffing at the idea of actual data. But the Republicans are discouraged, and Jonathan Chait sees this:

The cause of their ennui is plain enough. Romney is running a purely results-based campaign against President Obama. His message is simply that things are bad and Obama hasn’t made them better. (Slogan: “Obama isn’t working.”) Romney’s theme elides why things are bad and says very little about what he intends to do to make them better, other than the fact that he, Mitt Romney, is the man to do it. He soft-peddles the hard-core anti-Keynesianism, Randian ideas that have animated the right. He can’t make a principled argument as to why the Affordable Care Act violated freedom because everybody knows he doesn’t believe it. Rather than defend the idea that rich people pay too much taxes and poor people pay too little, Romney is promising to help the middle class and ignore the rich.

But you do what you must:

His reasons for doing so are plain enough. The latest CBS/New York Times poll shows the degree to which economic class remains a liability for the GOP. The public assessment of how Obama treats different classes is highly balanced – 28 percent say he favors the rich, 23 percent say he favors the middle class, 17 percent say he favors the poor, and 21 percent say he treats all groups equally. But as for Republicans in Congress, 69 percent say they favor the rich. The poll likewise shows now-familiar support for increased measures to stimulate the economy and for higher taxes on the rich.

It seems Romney knows he has some explaining to do to the general electorate. Unlike Marie Antoinette, he may actually know what going on the streets:

Romney’s campaign treats conservatism as an obstacle to his reelection. He wants to get through the primary with his ideological flexibility intact, unencumbered by unpopular commitments. He offers the right the least amount of substantive commitment, packaged in the maximum emotional packaging.

He has the general election in mind, not the narrow Tea Party Republican base, and they have their own special problem:

Conservatives want to win above all, but it’s not the only thing they want. They want to win a philosophically oriented campaign. They want to believe that Americans are voting for their party because they agree with it, not just because the other party was in office during an economic free fall. …

The travails of the Obama administration convinced Republicans they might strive for something more – a thorough and open ideological repudiation of the last century of government. Romney is offering them a more likely win, but a less thrilling prize.

Well, if by a thorough and open ideological repudiation of the last century of government you mean all of what FDR set up – Social Security and banking regulations and the SEC and FDIC and unemployment insurance – and all of that LBJ Great Society stuff – Medicare and Medicaid and all that civil rights legislation – and the stuff that Nixon set up, like the EPA – that’ll be a hard sell. But the nation seems to be ripe for a thorough and open ideological repudiation of the last century of government – a capitalist system rigged for the rich few that screws everyone else. The news media may have a hard time explaining what is going on with that, but it is going on, and someone has some explaining to do.

And Michael Moore already did his explaining, even if reporters decided that they had no idea what he was saying. Who’s next?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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