A 21st Century Fairness Doctrine and the Big Lie's Big, Bad Faith
Welcome to the first Bad Faith Times question and answer session. It's truly a landmark event. Everyone is saying so.
I'll do these every so often, depending on the #news and the impact of bad faith politics on current events. You can participate in these little Q&As by becoming a treasured Bad Faith Times member.
Let's get started with your existential crises.
Owen J says...
I don't know how much you follow UK politics, but the national press holds huge power here - particularly The Daily Mail and The Sun newspapers, both owned by billionaires. And our politicians generally bend over backwards to try to appeal to them. The previous leader of theLabour party, Jeremy Corbyn, was a rare instance of someone who wasn't interested in appealing to them, and as a result they basically ran character assassination stories on him for 5+ years.
The current leader of the Labour party has (disappointingly, from my point of view) gone out of his way to try to get them onside but to no avail. He has been pressured into promising to resign if the police retrospectively find that he broke COVID rules, whereas Prime Minister Boris Johnson has actually been fined by the police for a similar infraction but is staying in his post. Johnson was largely installed as prime minister by the right-wing press, seemingly because he was the best candidate to beat Corbyn, but it seems like they still have a love/hate relationship with just how blatantly corrupt and idiotic Johnson is.From what I understand about US politics, these newspapers are probably your equivalent of Fox News in terms of cultural significance and the ability to influence the nation's political agenda.
Particularly with you having been a journalist, I was interested in your view of whether the left should do something differently in the UK from in the US. Any tips to avoid despair over politics also appreciated!
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Denny: Asking me for tips on how to avoid despair is like asking Tom Brady about his favorite bread or strawberry or anything normal people eat. Neither of us will have much to offer.
I recall being irrationally excited about Corbyn's Labour Party exceeding all expectations in the 2017 House of Commons elections because Corbyn – against the advice of "respectable" British liberals – took a hard and fast stance with a left-wing manifesto published shortly before the election. Like Bernie Sanders in the US, Corbyn did not run from the socialist label. He embraced it, and in his pre-election manifesto, he pledged to fight for a laundry list of policies that would improve material conditions for millions of people in the UK.
Corbyn said he would seek to lower water costs by re-nationalizing the water industry, abolish all college tuition fees, provide free housing for the poor, give free lunches to school children, implement a free childcare program, end an outrageous freeze on welfare benefits, and pay for it all by taxing the ultra-wealthy until blood poured from their eyeballs. His plan was positively titillating to anyone who pines for justice in the Age of Injustice.
Corbyn's plan was unapologetically pro-people and in complete good faith. I loved it. It was a salve for those of us who knew Bernie would've won easily in 2016 (Hell, Martin O'Malley would've won 370 electoral votes against Trump, the second worst presidential candidate in history. The lesson here is that the Democratic Party would much rather have Trump in power than Bernie).
Corbyn did not ignore young people or pay hollow lip service to their needs; he centered his campaign on helping young folks navigate the travails of End Stage capitalism and all its myriad horrors, including, of course, crushing austerity put in place by the nation's elite. And it worked beautifully. Corbyn's politics drove young people to the polls and helped deny the Tories a clear legislative majority. He did all this with the right-wing British press wagging their fingers at Corbyn and his lieutenants for daring to do good things for working people.
Corbyn's success was quickly and horrifyingly undone by Rupert Murdoch's far-right media machine, which in the UK comes in print form rather than the idiot box, as it does in the States. Bad-faith political attacks were launched in droves against Corbyn and his closest allies. Most of the smears painted Corbyn's crew as raving antisemites plotting against Jewish folks both inside and outside the Kingdom. It was all nonsense.
The attacks were almost entirely based on Corbyn's (correct and reasonable) criticism of Israel's West Bank apartheid and its generations of brutality against and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. I'm sure the right would have smeared Bernie, who would've been the nation's first Jewish president, as a rabid antisemite for his criticism of Israel. There are no boundaries to the bad-faith game.
The post-election conversation pivoted from Corbyn's grand plans to improve life for Britons to Corbyn as the one true successor to Hitler. Because political discourse in most western nations is entirely dictated by the right. Whatever they want to talk about we will talk about. There are no major leftist media outlets capable of controlling the discourse, probably because there are no leftist billionaires with the appetite to fund a news outlet that might craft discourse that would lead to higher taxes on their mountains of bloody money. The right, from Europe to the US to Australia and Brazil and Hungary and Canada, has a death grip on what will be discussed and how it will be discussed.
If at any point in this column you say the words "but CNN," punch yourself directly in the eye socket.
Since the left can't create its own billionaire to form a left-wing propaganda station, I think the best hope would be an all-out legislative push to reestablish the Fairness Doctrine, updating the policy to suppress right-wing misinformation and hate speech spewed into American homes from finely-tuned democracy destroyers like Fox News and OANN. Doing so would cost considerable political capital and require a coordinated campaign that could combat the lies and bad faith of the right.
The Fairness Doctrine, a victim of Ronald Reagan's fascist revolution, was crafted in the 1940s by a determined coalition of New Deal legislators, labor union officials, and grassroots activists concerned about the toxic combination of concentrated corporate power within a commercialized national media system. They presciently understood that massive commercial media outlets could quickly and easily erode democratic society if not properly regulated. The oligarchical media ecosystem of the early 20th century had to be broken up if pro-democracy reforms were going to be implemented and not subject to the whims of uber-wealthy media magnates; even some conservatives were on board. Fairness Doctrine advocates knew the staying power of New Deal reforms depended on a media system that could not be taken over by business interests dead set on turning the populace against economic policies that lifted millions out of poverty. The doctrine was a way to keep the body politick free of the right's poison.
Like today, a handful of extraordinarily rich men controlled America's media. And like today, they hated democracy. Private ownership of media is anathema to a healthy democratic society. The two cannot coexist.
Reagan in the late 1980s oversaw the end of the Fairness Doctrine even as congressional Republicans joined Democrats to try to codify the doctrine into law. The hope was to safeguard it against repeal for any and all monsters who inherited the Oval Office after Reagan. The doctrine turned to ash a Reagan veto and far-right radio and TV exploded in the 90s and early 2000s. It was all according to plan. Radical right-wing viewpoints that had been isolated to the dangerous fringes of U.S. politics were blasted into the cars and homes of every American. Joe Schmo went from griping about a new tax to looking over his shoulder for agents of the Grand Globalist Conspiracy to Kill Your Children And End America.
The death of the Fairness Doctrine gave birth to Fox News, like a jackal birthing Damian from The Omen. Without Fox News, George W. Bush would not have won the 2000 election. Without Fox News, the Iraq War would not have happened. Donald Trump would own an XFL team. Marjorie Taylor Greene would be serving time for beating up a Walmart cashier. Ron DeSantis would be defending child predators in court.
The result of killing the Fairness Doctrine is cosplay Klansmen Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham adopting neo-nazi talking points and telling tens of millions of Baby Boomers that brown and black immigrants are storming the nation's shores, intent on replacing every last white person. Maybe this isn't the endpoint. Maybe Carlson will one day outright call for lynchings. It would be his First Amendment right, after all.
A New Fairness Doctrine would go a long way in sucking the poison out of the media ecosystem. What would a 21st century version of the doctrine look like? I suppose it could be re-instituted the same way it was before Reagan killed it, since – incredibly – no court had ever ruled the doctrine unconstitutional. Tweaks and updates to the policy, however, would prove crucial if the federal government is going to address the seemingly intractable problem of algorithms deciding which news stories people do and do not see on the internet. These laser-focused news stories have the effect of distorting reality – destroying it, really – and making us all insane with outrage. Social media platforms have been designed to maximize our outrage every waking moment of every day. When we're outraged, we click. And when we click, they make money. It's a perverse system with perverse incentives, like any capitalist venture.
A 21st Century Fairness Doctrine would limit or outright prohibit the use of these algorithms on major social media sites. These platforms can in fact do that just. It's what Facebook did after the Republican insurrection, ratcheting down the number of inflammatory and untrue news stories on people's timelines. When Facebook users stopped clicking at the same rates, the company made an immediate about-face and brought back the brain breaker algorithm. It turns out people are better able scroll past standard newsy NPR headlines than a headline from AmericanPatriot1776.net warning readers about Haitian immigrants with fucking lasers on their fucking heads.
A 21st Century Fairness Doctrine is the only way to limit what can and can't be said on the airwaves as a matter of policy. Not every political viewpoint is legitimate, and no democratic system can function properly if most of its citizens have been transformed into zombies ruled by fear and hate of the other. Free speech doesn't mean your grandmother, scrolling her Facebook feed, has to be brain poisoned by some unbathed, jobless, depressed 22 year old wearing an Auschwitz t-shirt in his mother's basement.
Removing the power of bad faith in media would be as important – perhaps more important – than stacking the federal courts to blunt judicial bad faith.
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Adam L says...
Perhaps Bad Faith is already outdated, because it seems the veil with which Bad Faith actors shroud themselves no longer exists.
Just look at the comment by the presumptive GOP gubernatorial (great word) candidate in Pennsylvania regarding overturning elections, or the insane whisper of outlawing all forms of contraception. I guess my question is: What's worse, bad faith politics, or outright cheating? Do you think Dark MAGA is ready to show itself? Lastly, Bowie as Warhol in "Basquiat" - yay or nay?
Denny: Big Lie candidates winning their primaries might seem like a new chapter in republic-killing conservatism, but there's a load of bad faith underneath their open embrace of ignoring election results and punishing any and all political opponents.
It's a bad-faith belief system that makes it necessary to overturn and fair and free election. The voting machines were rigged by Hugo Chavez's ghost or Deep State leftists organized a last-minute influx of Democratic votes or corrupt, Soros-funded polling officials strategically withheld Republican votes while double counting Democratic votes, or including votes for cartoon characters and the dead (All of these are mainstream Republican arguments for why Donald Trump lost reelection).
So what's the solution to such a problem, assuming all of the above arguments are factual? The only solution, conveniently enough for Republican candidates, is to reject the results of such an election. Follow the thread for a bit and you'll land on the plan hatched by John Eastman – Trump's lawyer – to piece together "alternate" elector slates from states won by a Democratic candidate. The real elector slates are corrupt, fake, illegitimate. We have to counter this, the argument goes. With the ocean of Big Lie bad faith transmuted into good faith political beliefs for every Republican voter in the country, the overturning of elections becomes the only legitimate course of action.
Doug Mastriano, the Trump-backed Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate, is a literal insurrectionist. He was among those at the Capitol on January 6 whose explicit goal was to murder anyone who validated Joe Biden's electoral victory in the 2020 presidential election. In a sane nation, Mastriano would be rotting in prison with every other traitor who attended the insurrection. In our insane nation, he has a chance to govern one of the most critical swing states and singlehandedly change the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. Thanks to the GOP's algorithmically perfect gerrymandering schemes, Mastriano would face no pushback from a state legislature dominated by Republicans.
A victory for Mastriano in November would mean Biden – or whoever runs on the Democratic presidential ticket – cannot win Pennsylvania. The 2024 Democratic nominee couldn't win Georgia or Arizona either thanks to Republican policy that safeguard against those states turning blue. The 2024 election is all but determined; the only question is whether the victor will be Donald Tump or Ron DeSantis.
The Big Lie about 2020 election fraud is the Moby Dick of bad faith politics. It will swallow us whole if we let it.
As for David Bowie playing Andy Warhol in the 1996 indie film "Basquiat," no thank you. Most of Bowie's movies were wretched – the man himself admitted as much. For a good chuckle and a break from your doom scrolling, read about pre-Ziggy Bowie in 1971 serenading Warhol, who absolutely fucking hated it.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13 for maximum alienation.