Archives: The Unnatural History of Nontroversy

This originally appeared at Huffington Post on December 10, 2009.

I am still pondering the reaction I got after my most recent HuffPost piece, Climategate and the Life-Cycle of Nontroversy. The story got lots of traffic, but an editor placed it in the “Green” vertical instead of “Media” and I found myself sparring with climate change denialists who wanted to change the subject away from media and toward the details of climategate.

But this is about media, and how it keeps churning out nontroversy: oil companies plus hacks plus mixed nuts = loud, stupid noises. SwiftHack was born in the the wingnutosphere, promoted by right-wing media, and then propelled through the mainstream media stovepipe without any source-checking, even overwhelming the liberal blogosphere for a time.

Don’t tell me that nontroversy doesn’t matter. With nearly as many Americans approving of Palin as Obama, nontroversy really, really matters.

The “liberal media” lacks an immune system to fight these infectious memes — in fact, the news business doesn’t even recognize the sickness. Take “Obama is Hitler,” for instance. On the sign below, you’ll see the word “LaRouchePAC” in the bottom right-hand corner. That would be the organization created by Lyndon LaRouche, whose career is one big ball of mixed-up crazy. LaRouche is perhaps the most uniquely insane person in the history of American politics, espousing bizarre conspiracy theories about the Queen of England and the CIA.

But that doesn’t stop his believers, who form an indescribably strange cult. It’s hard to overstate the insanity required to belong: first, you have to believe in visibly insane things, for instance that Lyndon LaRouche was only convicted of tax evasion and wire fraud because Oliver North brainwashed the judge, jury, and court reporters.

Second, because the traditional political divide entirely disappears with LaRouche. He began on the extreme left, but more out of vogue than anything else; his rhetoric has always been characterized by loopy authoritarianism. The Democratic Party has forever refused to have anything to do with him, and he has bent further to the right with each passing year as he seeks the new “libertarian” identifier.

Perhaps the most famous moment of the health care debate was when Congressman Barney Frank declined to engage a LaRouchie:

That’s just one of the mixed nuts. Much of the rhetoric at town halls this year (as with climate change denial) has its roots in the red-baiting of yesteryear. It has been transmitted through the decades by groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens (get it? CCC=KKK) and publications such as Southern Partisan. The “southern strategy” was one big pandering operation to the worst side of America.

Today, the internet has merely subsumed what used to be a direct-mail propaganda operation: same disgusting hackery, different decade. The formula is simple: just replace the n-word with “welfare queen” or “communist,” replace “miscegenation” with “public option” and rant about ObamaCare as reparations. Then scream: racism? WHAT racism?! YOU’RE the racist, for calling ME racist!

Then we have the Koch Family Foundation, the second largest company in America and the largest single contributor to Americans For Prosperity and Freedomworks — both main astroturfing groups behind the “tea party” movement. They also sponsor Michelle Malkin’s annual HateFest.

Who are the Kochs? Why, none other than the descendants of Fred Koch, charter member of the John Birch Society. For the uninitiated, John Birchers believe the entire government has been infiltrated by a vast, secret communist conspiracy — which they fight by organizing in secret. John Bircherism was born in the apologetics of McCarthyism.

If these crazy ideas sound like stuff Glenn Beck would say, it’s no accident. In fact, it’s exactly where he gets this nonsense. When he called Obama “a racist,” he was channeling the loony inverted-reality of the CCC and related organizations. Beck never disowns the LaRouchies or their bizarre reductio ad Hitlerum in his teabagging promotional rants, either; in fact, he makes the same analogies all the time.

Beck consistently casts Obama as the servant of a sinister, global cabal of oligarhs (sic) intent on installing one-world government. On this score, he’s tapping right into Teh Wacky™ as perfected by talk radio performer Alex Jones, who got upset at Beck for stealing his act. Here’s a good example of Jones on the air; can you see where Beck’s over-the-top, Vap-O-Rub routine finds its inspiration?

Nontroversy now lives in the internet: chat rooms, discussion boards, listserves, and spam are the reservoirs of its infectious memes. It is a shapeless leviathan with very old roots. Beginning with the domination of direct mail and talk radio, a right-wing echo chamber has grown up in the last three decades that conforms to the Projection Principle with secretive, conspiratorial behavior. Indeed, there is no one on Earth chummier with actual communists than Rupert Murdoch, owner of right-wing papers and channels.

All too often, this Faux Noise fear factory spreads its pollution through the media stovepipe. The worst mind-polluters are not Fox News Channel or The Daily Mail, but rather the credulous stenographers of network news and press who “report the controversy” and welcome the input of paid hacks and shills in the pursuit of “reporting both sides.” There simply wasn’t a side until it was invented by kooks and spread by Kochs.

This is Teh Librul Media™ at work.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen over and over and over, most recently with SwiftHack/climategate.

It is the Bush cousin at the Fox decision desk in 2000, then wingnuts getting upset when Keith Olbermann (he of Sunday Night NFL) anchored MSNBC election coverage eight years later.

It is CNN keeping a known shill and slander-artist on the air.

It is the daily circus of right-wing pundits on MSNBC.

It is the Beltway declaring the public option dead at every turn.

It is the media hyping deficit fear over basic economics.

It is the same media that utterly failed America in the selling of the Iraq war.

The media is chock-a-block with “experts” and pundits from a menagerie of Koch-supported foundations, think tanks, and organizations, including the CATO institute. That list includes the Ayn Rand cult. Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose bizarre rant touched off the “tea party movement,” is a proud Objectivist, taking his ideological cues from the science fiction novel Atlas Shrugged.

The teabagging websites that “spontaneously” went up within hours of Santelli’s rant were astroturf creations of Koch-funded organizations; many of the sites advertise Atlas Shrugged and related swag. The fictional ravings of an atheist are a strange bedfellow for the prosperity gospel; Andrew Breitbart’s blog-empire is their hideous offspring.

August would not have been possible without Koch money, and the insipid rhetoric of Fox News is steeped in Koch-promoted ideology. Whereas William Buckley led the conservative intelligentsia to reject the paranoia-fueled insanity of the John Birchers, the Birchers have patiently taken over the conservative movement — and captured the media — by rejecting intellectualism and playing to reactionary prejudices with all manner of insinuation.

Again, it wouldn’t be so bad if the “mainstream” media stopped pretending nontroversy was legitimate news or represented a legitimate point of view. They might just as well bring this guy on the air:

Osborne Ink is a Website of Media Deconstruction

“News that’s fairly liberal but never unbalanced”

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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