The Talking Dog

March 17, 2012, Don't mess with the Man

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Alrightie then.

Those who don matador outfits and take out red capes to go bull-fighting against sacred bovines would do well to recognize the risky nature of the business. When doing so under the seemingly protective cloak of "big media" legitimacy, sacred-cow-fighters must realize the possibility that Money will fight back-- and let's face it: Money fights dirty.

Remember that Money liked George W. Bush, a lot. Bush repaid them with tax cuts, 99% of which pretty much went to the 1%, the deficit went to the moon, and the rest takes us to where we are now. Anyway...

I suspect that fewer Americans than you would think can even remember who Dan Rather is, let alone how his daring to take on a sacred cow (in this case, the fundamentally true story of George W. Bush's use of political influence to evade service in the Vietnam War by joining the Texas Air National Guard, and then, largely evading service even in that), resulted in a kerfuffle over collateral details in the story that were never proven untrue either. This in turn resulted in Rather's abruptly stepping down from his CBS news anchor position just before the '04 election (and to Money, we say "your horse naturally won").

Similarly, we recall a situation where a rather perverse view of "process" also seemed to benefit Bush, via another media rollover-- to wit, the fundamental truth of the actual story was sound (unquestionably true, actually)-- but the "personal views" of the journalist-- caused a walk-back. In that case, it was a somewhat unusual incident involving our friend Andy Worthington, whereby a front-page story run in the New York Times concerned an Afghan national who, without doubt, died in U.S. custody at Guantanamo had to be "clarified" because of Andy's "personal views" (i.e., his "controversial" views that GTMO is an ongoing abomination... and of course, he has a well-documented book and web-site on the subject.)

The latest event involving taking on one of Money's sacred cows comes from what had been, until perhaps this weekend, one of the few bright spots on National Pandering Radio (NPR), the "This American Life" program, which, in one fell swoop, threw all of its credibility away in a facile attempt to preserve its credibility. A bit more on the story here, which, in brief, involved monologue-ist [and fellow Brooklynite] Mike Daisey doing one of his signature bits, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which dared OBSERVE that the most profitable and valuable corporation in the history of the world, Apple Computer (which has essentially blessed us with cool toys and little else)... relies on Chinese factories that employ highly inhumane and exploitative working conditions. This proposition, of course, as are the other propositions set forth above, is "true"... in the way the war-mongering work of The New York Times reporter Judith Miller... is not.

And yet "fundamental truth" isn't the point-- what matters (that, is, when it needs to matter) is "the weaselly defense lawyer" truth-- the ability to invoke "reasonable doubt" (or unreasonable doubt) not by challenging the story, but some collateral details in the story. In Daisey's case, the issue was not whether or not Foxconn workers under contract to American corporations (including and especially Apple) were as young as 12 or 13, worked long hours and did horribly repetitive tasks and occasionally suffered chemical poisonings (this is admitted fact)... Daisey's "mistakes" involved purporting to insert personal observation of these well-documented facts, based on essentially a drive by visit to Chinese factories, where he supposedly met workers telling him of these conditions. Except he kind of didn't (or in one case, based it on observing a worker who looked 13 to him, rather than asking the worker.) Alright-- so Mike is exaggerating: he should have been clearer that he was "imagining" the workers telling him this [as a matter of artistic license, one supposes] rather than pretending (even if rhetorically) that he was "a journalist". But... honestly... so what? Why isn't it the story's fundamental accuracy what matters? Heh.

The difference, boys and girls, is not some "meta-discussion" of the dichotomy between journalism and art (Mike Daisey's own response). It's much more troubling (and hint: "it's not about process.") It's really a simple lesson observed by media critic Eric Boehlert during my interview with him:

There are unspoken rules out there: do a story critical of Bush, if things get tough and blow up, you may lose your job, and your show may be canceled.

Or, quite frankly, do any story critical of any of Money's Most Sacred Cows. And so it is crystal clear what happened here: a story ran on a major Establishment media arm, National Pandering Radio, which is utterly dependent on corporate money to exist, and Money didn't like a story and simply threatened to pull the plug (whether, as I suspect, quite overtly, or perhaps with some degree of subtlety... but the result is the same... I don't really care that the cover story will be some "discovery" by "another journalist"... "plllllllease.")... Journalistic integrity mon derriere.

Anyway, "voila!"... Americans can go, now all cleansed and guiltless, back to their Apple toys, knowing that the story of their manufacture by ostensible slave labor in Dickensian working conditions has been duly "discredited" via some hand-wringing and "journalistic integrity." After all, Apple is one of the most widely held companies in the portfolios of the powerful, not to mention, a company that is sitting on more cash than the United States Treasury.

In short, Mike Daisey, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature. YOU WILL ATONE."

As for the rest of us... well, those who doubted that NPR was part and parcel of the same Establishment press as, say, Fox News (only in a more sober tone)... have less reason to doubt it. The Business of America is BIG Business. And there is no OTHER business of America. In fact, if it's NOT about dollars, it's UN-AMERICAN. Honestly, Mike, Apple MAKES MONEY AND COOL STUFF. Who cares how they do it?

This has been... "Don't mess with the Man." We mean it, man.