There may be a thousand reasons that CNN, the Most Trusted Name in News, has become the cable news channel of last resort. Viewers turn to CNN when there’s some sort of massive natural disaster or a new war, or when an airliner mysteriously disappears, because CNN is there first and they’re thorough and they stick with the story long after Fox News and MSNBC have moved on to politics, or moved back to politics, with their stories of who is shouting nasty things at whom, at the moment. CNN, however, is the bulldog that won’t let go of that bone, or your leg. That’s hard news. The rest is angry people insulting each other, to no good end, because those arguments never end. Someone passing some important legislation would be hard news, as would be some important legislation going down in flames, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen much these days. The last bit of landmark legislation came up for a vote in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, and it somehow passed – and then in the 2010 midterms the Tea Party cohort of the Republican Party swept to power in the House, and Ted Cruz made it to the Senate, and they put an end to the doing-things nonsense.
That’s a problem for CNN. There hasn’t been any significant legislation introduced since then. There’s no point. In 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, and that would have sailed through the House and been off to Obama’s desk for his signature, if it had come up for a vote on the floor of the House. It didn’t. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, gets to decide what will be allowed to reach the floor, for a vote, and he didn’t want the outraged Tea Part crowd to lynch him, so he said the House would come up with its own immigration legislation, something far better than the Senate crap.
Everyone knew that was bullshit. John Boehner did nothing, so CNN had no hard news to report. How many ways can you say that today, in Washington, nothing happened, as with every single day since the 2010 midterms? How do you also breathlessly report that nothing is likely to happen anytime soon, or ever? Sure there will be endless House votes to repeal Obamacare, and Boehner has just decided to sue Obama of its implementation, but nothing will come of that, nor will Obama be impeached. There are no impeachable offenses, so that means you can report on the unprecedented gridlock, and discuss its causes, but that’s like reporting that the sky is blue, and why it is. Viewers tune out. CNN needs actual hard news – they’re quite good at covering that – but they’re in a pickle now. The network was designed for the unusual – real news. That’s not the age in which we live.
CNN also failed to recognize that there’s a culture war raging and viewers choose sides. The CNN crew is full of quite pleasant but anodyne people. Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon are gay, but they don’t push it. Fox News’ Shepard Smith, however, seems to have decided to come out of the closet – and Roger Ailes told him that he’d do no such thing.
No one is quite sure that actually happened – it’s only quite believable. That’s because Fox News is the network of young and leggy blond bombshells – but ladylike and submissive – surrounded by angry old white men who dismiss their silliness, or shout them down if they have to, or tell them how pretty they look today. The Fox News women smile shyly at that. They know their place. The drop-dead gorgeous Megan Kelly is, however, still working on that concept. She was a pretty good lawyer who turned into a pretty good journalist and can forget her role in the grand scheme of things. There was that time she told Karl Rove he was full of shit – and proved it – but otherwise she seems to know her place.
Viewers get that. Fox News is where you go to be comforted by entering a world of fifties patriarchy, of male dominance and female submissiveness. It’s like watching the early episodes of Mad Men, or a dark and threatening episode of Father Knows Best, one that they never dared air – where Jim Anderson ridicules and humiliates his daughter, Betty “Princess” Anderson, for a full half-hour, because father knows best. It’s a fifties thing.
MSNBC is a sixties thing of course – assertive earthy ethnic women like Joy-Ann Reid and Melissa Harris Perry surrounded by hyper-intelligent young geeky males of indeterminate sexuality, like Chris Hayes with his boyish enthusiasm and piping little voice. He knows his stuff, but this is a sixties commune, and one of their new hosts is Ronan Farrow – the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. He does have an impressive public service background, in government, and he’s a lawyer too, but it’s hard to remember that, and he still looks like a little kid. The only old hand over there is Chris Matthews, who seems to act as a goofy summer-camp counselor to them all. He gets an idea in his head and just keeps talking about it, listening to no one, thinking his one new odd idea is amazingly insightful. It never is.
That’s not the point of course. You go to MSNBC for your sixties fix, or to check out their resident babe Alex Wagner – but her mother’s Burmese and her father’s from Iowa. That means she doesn’t fit the Fox News mold – she’s too dark and exotic-looking even if she is graceful and open and quite stunning – and she’s now engaged to Barack Obama’s personal chef. That’s quite a crew over there, and quite a different world.
CNN cannot compete with this. They have no “world” to offer their viewers. All they have is the news, when there is any. They’re doomed, but molds were made to be broken, and that just happened again at Fox News:
Megyn Kelly’s interview Thursday with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro veered into wildly accusatory territory, and the Fox News anchor said she had no interest in perpetuating the extreme sentiment.
The most notable moment of the interview came when Shapiro, a columnist for Breitbart and TruthRevolt, offered an incendiary explanation for the Obama administration’s response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Their deaths, as well as the murder of a young Palestinian boy, have sparked renewed violence between Israel and Hamas, and Kelly wanted to know if there was “anything we could have done to try to stop this from escalating.”
She shouldn’t have asked that:
Shapiro denounced the administration for not threatening to withdraw aid from Palestine after the kidnapping and condemned President Obama for saying “Israel should act with restraint with regards to the people who had kidnapped and killed these boys.”
(Obama actually said that “all parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.”)
“This is an anti-Israel administration. It’s the first administration in American history that is obviously anti-Israel,” Shapiro said. “It is borderline a Jew-hating administration.”
Kelly then forgot that on her news network everything that Obama does in wrong, so we got this:
“Wow,” Kelly said. “That’s strong.”
Kelly pushed back further, pointing out that Israel’s Iron Dome, the country’s air defense system, has been “largely funded in part by the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars, under President Barack Obama.”
“Well, the President of the United States still is going to sign over money to Israel because it’s politically unpalatable not to do so,” Shapiro responded. “But that doesn’t mean that the President of the United States can’t undermine Israel’s ability to take out the people that are going after it.”
Shapiro said that Obama hates Jews. Shapiro had already said that in a column the previous week – The Jew-Hating Obama Administration – without that “borderline” word. That might be why Fox News booked him in the first place, but Kelly then took to social media to say she was sorry she didn’t slap down Shapiro more forcefully. She was upset, but of course the idea is out there now, which was the idea in the first place. Kelly was just a tool in getting that idea into circulation. She seemed a bit confused about that. She forgot her place.
That’s understandable, because the current exploding near-war between Israel and the Palestinians is, like all wars of vengeance, all about dominance and submission. Fifties folks get that. Sixties folks don’t. Fifties folks want Israel to sneer at and then dismiss and then humiliate the Palestinians – Netanyahu knows best – and sixties folks think that the Palestinians may have a point. Each world will see this differently, just as the same two sides saw the Vietnam War long ago. There it was Nixon knows best – shut up, sit down, and ship out – in the days when Roger Ailes was a media advisor to Richard Nixon, long before Ailes ran Fox News. He was on the side of patriarchal authority even then. What do you say to someone who says the other side might have a point, and we could be wrong, and wants to discuss that? America, Love It or Leave It! Megan Kelly didn’t get the memo.
But something strange is going on here. J. J. Goldberg has discovered that the official story of what happened after those three Israeli yeshiva students were kidnapped was not what it seemed:
Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.
It was a convenient outrage-generating fiction that justified all sorts of nastiness, but there’s more:
It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch – more a crime family than a clandestine organization – had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.
Should that bother anyone? No – or sit down and shut up – but that sets off Andrew Sullivan:
So Netanyahu knew that the kidnapping wasn’t by Hamas proper, insisted that it was anyway, withheld the truth about the boys’ deaths in order to sustain a massive process of collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank, and then unleashed yet another brutal, lop-sided pulverization of Gaza. This is not a rational regime; and it is not a civilized government. J .J. Goldberg notes the Israeli military’s profound ambivalence about where Netanyahu is taking the country, along with the religious fanatics and racist haters who propel him forward.
One thinks of Shapiro on Fox News, and Sullivan adds this:
And yes, yes, and yes again to the notion that Hamas should not be firing rockets into Israel at all, let alone at civilians directly, even though they have incurred no casualties and have bounced off the Iron Dome when they encroached too far into Israel proper. But in this instance, there is no equivalence. One side deliberately and deceptively instigated absolutely unjustified collective punishment of an entire population, and pre-meditated, whipped up nationalistic and racist elements to back them up. They then went on to bombard Gaza – and many civilians – into another submission – after a period of relative calm and peace. The result is another disproportionate slaughter: around 100 Palestinians dead so far, and no Israelis. If you see nothing wrong with this, your moral compass is out of whack.
That is also what the antiwar left was saying over here in the mid to late sixties, for all the good it dd. Sullivan also notes tha Obama and other world leaders have offered to broker a ceasefire, but Netanyahu has made it clear he’s not interested – not one bit. Netanyahu knows best and Obama hates Jews.
Sullivan also notes that an unnamed Israeli official tells Raphael Ahrens that the whole point of the bombardment this time is to permanently dismantle Hamas’s ability to strike Israel, which is was like every time before:
“It is quite possible that Hamas would agree to an immediate ceasefire – we’re hitting them hard, they want the situation to cool down,” the senior official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity. Brokering a ceasefire with Hamas would have been possible a week or a two ago, but an agreement that would leave in place the group’s offensive capacities not what Israel wants, the official said.
“Today, we’re not interested in a Band-Aid. We don’t want to give Hamas just a timeout to rest, regroup and recharge batteries, and then next week or in two weeks they start again to shoot rockets at Israel. Such a quick-fix solution is not something we’re interested in.” While refusing to discuss concrete steps the Israel Defense Forces plan to take in the coming hours and days, the official said that the government is discussing a ground invasion of Gaza “very seriously.”
Can we do one damned thing about this? Robert Naiman thinks that perhaps we can:
The United States government has many levers on Netanyahu. Of course the U.S. gives Netanyahu billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars a year, but while it would be politically difficult (to put it mildly) to cut off U.S. military aid – the Obama Administration could not bring itself to cut off military aid to the Egyptian military coup, even when clearly required to do so by U.S. law – the Administration has many other, more subtle levers on Netanyahu that it could deploy without giving AIPAC, the ADL [Anti-Defamation League] and their allies a convenient target for counterattack.
The Administration could raise the volume of its public criticism of Netanyahu. The Administration could let it be known that it might refrain from vetoing a U.N. resolution that condemned Netanyahu. The Administration could “leak” that it is deepening efforts to engage Hamas politically, and then issue a non-denial denial when these efforts are criticized. The Administration knows full well that it has all these levers and more. All it lacks is sufficient public political pressure to use them to force an end to the killing.
Sullivan thinks that’s nonsense:
Most of the political pressure will come from those defending this latest slaughter built on a knowingly false pretext. Know despair.
We do tend to get things wrong, but it’s not just Israel. It’s the other wars in the Middle East that we have also generated, and Andrew Bacevich offers this:
No single explanation exists for why the War for the Greater Middle East began and why it persists. But religion figures as a central element. Secularized American elites either cannot grasp or are unwilling to accept this. So they contrive alternative explanations such as “terrorism,” a justification that impedes understanding. Our leaders can proclaim their high regard for Islam until they are blue in the face. They can insist over and over that we are not at war with Islam. Their claims will fall on deaf ears through much of the Greater Middle East.
Whatever Washington’s intentions, we are engaged in a religious war. That is, the ongoing war has an ineradicable religious dimension. That’s the way a few hundred million Muslims see it and their seeing it in those terms makes it so. The beginning of wisdom is found not in denying that the war is about religion but in acknowledging that war cannot provide an antidote to the fix we have foolishly gotten ourselves into.
Does the Islamic world pose something of a problem for the United States? You bet, in all sorts of ways. But after more than three decades of trying, it’s pretty clear that the application of military power is unlikely to provide a solution. The solution, if there is one, will be found by looking beyond the military realm – which just might be the biggest lesson our experience with the War for the Greater Middle East ought to teach.
We didn’t learn that with Vietnam. Why would we learn that now? But much of this depends on where you get your news, from the Fox News fifties or the MSNBC sixties, or from boring CNN that dutifully reports events, over and over, and shrugs? And can we do something to liberate Megan Kelly? She deserves better.