Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Yellow Journalism and the Rightwing Win from Human Tragedy

When I was a young girl I used to listen to my father and his siblings talk about how they and their immigrant parents were treated in the early part of the 20th Century.  It was a misbegotten belief among many Americans at the time that all Italians, particularly poor and/or unemployed immigrants, were Anarchists.  Loosely linked with the fledgling labor movement – along with Communists, Socialists and anyone else who could be used to discredit the working men trying to organize, Anarchists were some of the most feared terrorists of the day. The Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago and the conviction and subsequent execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927 for the alleged murder of a paymaster in Boston served to cement the idea of swarthy skinned, wild eyed Anarchists with bombs and guns running the streets of America.  Just about any immigrant fit the bill, but Italians were very often type cast in the role of radical terrorist.  Let me say that after studying both cases I remain unconvinced that the eight men convicted in the Chicago riot and Sacco and Vanzetti were in anyway guilty.  They certainly did not receive justice or fair trials.  Let me also say that my family members were never Anarchist, or gangsters come to that.  They were simply hardworking people who fought their way through poverty and bigotry to create a solid middle class life for us all.  Those facts notwithstanding, my grandparents and their offspring were, like so many other Italians, often tarred with the Anarchist brush – a situation which the yellow journalist faction of the Free Press and the Rightwing establishment gloried in and promoted for wealth and power.

The press never talks about its yellow journalistic history, maybe because most of them are yellow journalists today.  The Rightwing, Republicans mostly, never takes responsibility for having mistreated anyone in the past – or present for that matter.  For instance, not too long ago I had a Republican trying to convince me that the attack on the Bonus Army of July 1932 was actually carried out under Franklin Roosevelt’s orders.  FDR wasn’t inaugurated for his first term until March of 1933.  No that was the handiwork of one Herbert Hoover, the Wall Street snuggling, business worshiping, money grubbing, labor hating, 31st President who gave us the Great Depression.

It is often the worst elements in journalism, which today is the largest element in journalism, and the self aggrandizing, self promoting, power hungry political hacks of both parties who turn the human tragedies of riots, murders and assaults to their advantage. Today, the Italians are mainstream citizens. No one calls us Anarchists anymore.  Nobody accuses us of being gangsters either.  Hell, the FBI claims that the mob is dead.  Between you and me, if they believe that, they probably aren’t smart to catch the terrorists.  The scapegoats of choice for talking heads, news commentators, reporters, politicians and political pundits frothing at the mouth with excitement at another international catastrophe are the Muslims, members of the Islamic faith.  That’s right; all Muslims are terrorists either directly or through enabling.  All Muslims support terrorism either financially or through prayer.  Chris Christie, arguably the biggest clown in the Republican presidential clown car, has even linked the plot to three year-old children, Muslim refugees from war ravaged Syria.  How do you like that?

In politics there is a concept known as the Overton Window.  The developer of this theory, Joseph Overton, contended that in any area of public policy a somewhat narrow range of ideas are considered politically viable.  This is not about truth, it is about electability.  The window doesn’t change because of the ideas of politicians, but because of the ideas of the people who elect them. 

I submit that the manipulation of the electorate – here is where our duplicitous, loathsome and corrupt media comes into play – through fear, rage, misinformation and outright deceit can substantially reconfigure, even disfigure, the range of public policies that will be acceptable and render their proponents electable.  Consider: most of the people involved in the Paris assault were French and Belgian Nationals.  Somehow, through media exploitation and political manipulation this fact seems to be lost in the haze of hysteria that is being pumped up hour to hour.  Suddenly, the issue is the Syrian refugees, not homegrown terrorists.  The assertion, although lacking much proof, is that terrorists are hidden among the refugees in overwhelming numbers and are threatening to swamp Europe and America with growing waves of terror.  Yesterday, Cruz and Bush managed to maneuver themselves into position to insert religious bigotry into the Overton Window by insisting that only Christian Syrians be allowed to immigrate to the U.S.  This kind of religious litmus test is absolutely anathema to the principles of our constitutional and secular Republic; and yet it is now within the realm of reasonable public policy on the far Right, Cruz, and in the establishment middle, Bush.

We are in very dangerous times.  Much of our government and most of our media is not to be trusted.  All Muslims are not terrorists.  All Italians are not Anarchists with part-time jobs in the Mafia.  The greatest threats to our freedom today are the death of thought and the murder of truth.  We have a choice.  Will we be complicit either through deliberate action or abdication of our responsibility; or will we stand up and fight back on behalf of our Muslim brothers and sisters – on behalf of all people?

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