Asking if House of Cards is Realistic Is the Wrong Question.

Sunday Night on Virtually Speaking Digby and I talked about the Leonard Nimoy’s passing and how fiction and fictional characters can shape people’s attitudes.  (podcast link here.)

Today some friends who work in the world of politics were discussing House of Cards. Some loved it, some hated it.  I don’t really move in those specific circles so before the discussion I wanted to know, “Is it realistic?”
A professional musician friend asked,

Does anyone really expect a TV show about politics to be a more realistic representation of that life and that process than the Monkees represented a life of trying to make it as a young band in theirs?


This seems like such an obvious point I realized that I was NOT asking the question that the producers and writers of the show were asking themselves, which is, “Is it entertaining?

Last night I watched a movie called “Harmontown” about the creator of Community, Dan Harmon. He talked about his deep desire to entertain people. He craved the satisfaction he got knowing his writing made people laugh, smile or feel better.

I watch a lot of fiction on tv. I also read a lot of fiction. I sometimes forget that my attitudes are shaped by people whose goal is to entertain.

If people think that it’s a “message movie” it will often turn them off. “I don’t want people to ram their message down my throat!” they say, even if they might agree with the message. When the question, “Is it entertaining?” is answered first, any message it might also have slides in more subtly and perhaps more effectively.

A message that writers of TV and movies have been sending for a long time is torture is effective. On tv and movies they show it is effective in getting non-false, new information in a short time.  They show the threat of torture is effective. It has become so ingrained in our thinking that when confronted with the reality of torture, reality is questioned, not the fiction.

The fiction that we see in our movies and TV shows are designed to be entertaining. Torture, and the threat of torture, serve the needs of the writers in these cases. It can make the story more dramatic, horrifying, gruesome, sexy and even funny. Its use serves a major goal of fiction, entertainment.

Torture’s use can move the story forward, show character traits, tap into viewer or readers empathy or fear.

When the Senate report on torture came out showing that actionable intelligence was not obtained by torture, it seemed to go against what we knew from fiction or what we read and heard about from the “real” world and “the dark side” that Cheney talked about.

This “non-fiction” about torture is coming from a media that gets their info from an entire group of people in the CIA whose job it was to push the lie that torture got them intel.

Interestingly for some media, torture not working goes against their “common sense.” A sense based on school yard experience and low tolerance for pain.

“I would totally spill the beans if I was tortured!” They might say. This assumes they knew about the beans in the first place.

“I would torture if we needed that bomb location.” They would say on their TV show. This assumes the person they are torturing knows the bomb location, is just like us and not someone who would rather die than “spill the beans.”

So the question is, if fiction better mirrored the reality of torture, would it still be entertaining? I don’t mean fun or likable, but entertaining in its broadest sense.

I haven’t seen American Sniper, but I understand that it is an entertaining movie. I think about another entertaining film from Clint Eastwood, one that had a killer as a lead character. A movie that helped change attitudes toward a fictional character we believed we knew.

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.

Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

The fictional movies and TV shows that flip the idea of a “heroic torturer” and effectiveness of torture on its head might be out there, but they aren’t coming through with the same power as other fictions.

If these ideas do start showing up in our fiction, I believe the writers can make them as useful to their stories as their previous ideas on torture, and just as entertaining.

3 Easy Steps to Change the Media’s Views on War & Torture

These days I’m like Mr. Spock in the dark, parallel universe of Star Trek. I see our leadership going down the wrong path regarding the use of war and torture. It’s an illogical, fear-based path, and it’s presented as the only alternative.

Therefore I’ve come up with some fun, easy steps to change that.

In our country fear rules people and acquiring resources has trumped all ethical considerations.  The power structure and media viewpoint has rejected non-violent solutions as weak and ineffective. The discussion of other solutions are mocked,  marginalized and the proponents cast as naive or terrorists lovers.

In the Mirror Mirror universe Captain Kirk challenged the waste of lives, potential, resources and time of an Empire that ruled by fear and violence.

The goateed Mr. Spock could see the illogic of that Empire but says, “One man cannot summon the future.”  Kirk replies, “But one man can change the present.”

There are powerful groups and people who support war and torture. They are smart, organized, well-funded and know how to use strategic propaganda and specific appeals to ego, power and corporate monetary gain to get what they want.

How to you overcome these groups, people and their . . . → Read More: 3 Easy Steps to Change the Media’s Views on War & Torture

Torture Supporters have Better PR and Marketing People

On the most beautiful sunny day of the year in San Francisco I took a train to the East Bay then walked up a hill into a windowless room to listen to five experts talk about torture.  This was my idea of a good time, and possibly the reason I’m a laugh riot at parties.

It was a symposium titled:

Torture, Security, and Law The Senate intelligence committee report The involvement of psychologists and lawyers Holding ourselves accountability

It was held at Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley School of Law which is the current home of distinguished scholar John Yoo.

I went to hear the progress of bringing accountability to the people who encouraged, legalized and normalized torture in America. I was also hoping for a path to accountability for those who tortured.

I was very disappointed

I was not alone in my feeling. The panel members expressed their own disappointment with their progress. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer talked about his problems getting documents out of the government or getting the voices of the people tortured to be heard by the public. He was fighting to get images of their torture seen but keeps getting blocked.

What was especially frustrating was hearing . . . → Read More: Torture Supporters have Better PR and Marketing People

Where are the Anti-war Experts on my TV, Radio and Papers?

Yesterday Digby mentioned that Chris Matthews was hungering for some war action.

Obama pushing for an Authorized Use of Military Force agreement to go after ISIS might make Matthews happy, but I wonder whom he and the other news/talk opinion shows will book to talk about other alternatives?

Media Matters just put out an extensive report about The State of Sunday Morning Political Talk Shows.  The results won’t surprise you. White men dominate. While I haven’t gone through the entire report, the other theme that I’m seeing is a pro-war bias of guests.

One of my friends in the radio biz talked about pro-AUMF guests being pushed at her. I asked, “Are you also getting anti-war guests pushed and promoted to you?” She wasn’t.

I’ve pointed out this issue before many times, not all experts are created equal. Not all messages have a well-funded team pushing them. I’ve asked in several forums. “Who are the anti-war go to guests? Why aren’t they in the conversations? What will it take to get them in the conversations?”

The recent Brian Williams suspension revealed that lying was winked at and promoted when it had a pro-war agenda. The punishment was for the lying, . . . → Read More: Where are the Anti-war Experts on my TV, Radio and Papers?

NBC’s News Brand Includes a Responsibility to be Truthful

Breaking: From NBC News president Deborah Turness

We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. Link to memo here

This is an important step and I want to point out the reasons that they say they did it.

As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.

Note how he is called a “Managing Editor?” That’s the kind of title you give a journalist. He’s not the “top content creator and anchor.” This is about their view of how a journalist working for them should act.

NBC has now gone on record that a responsibility to be truthful is part of the job description for anchors. Turness has said this in print, so its got the support of powerful people behind her.

Now compare to Fox News, a company they won a case in Florida that ruled they didn’t have to legally tell the truth. Yet Fox News still gets get all the rights and privileges of a “press entity” (a . . . → Read More: NBC’s News Brand Includes a Responsibility to be Truthful

What Was In the Purse Neil Armstrong’s Widow Found in Their Closet?

After Neil Armstrong’s death his widow, Carol, discovered a white, cloth bag in a closet, containing flight and space related artifacts.

The curator of the Apollo collection at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum determined the items were lunar surface equipment carried in Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Eagle. The bag they were in was nicknamed a McDivitt Purse, named that way in honor of Apollo 9 Commander Jim McDivitt.

Of special note is the 16mm movie camera with its 10mm lens.

The camera was mounted behind the right forward window of the lunar module and was used to film the final phase of the descent to the lunar surface, the landing, as well as Neil Armstrong‘s and Buzz Aldrin‘s activities on the lunar surface including taking the first samples of lunar soil and planting the US flag.

–NASA Lunar Surface Journal

The items are now at the National Air and Space Museum for preservation, research and eventual public display. The are classified as a loan from the Neil Armstrong family because of a law passed in 2012 that grants certain U.S. astronauts “full ownership rights” to their space artifacts.

The law states that America’s early space pioneers and moon voyagers . . . → Read More: What Was In the Purse Neil Armstrong’s Widow Found in Their Closet?

UPDATED Williams Iraq War “Mistake” Led to Praise and Profit

Wednesday Travis J. Tritten at Stars and Stripes did an exclusive story about Brian William’s actual experience while in a helicopter in Iraq in 2003 vs. the narrative that he either helped create or failed to correct in the subsequent years.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.

The quick twitter take is to call Williams a liar, say he should be fired and bring up his daughter in Peter Pan and Girls for some bizarre reason.

That’s fun for one news cycle, but I wondered, “What can we learn from this story and how can we use it for change?”

My first step was to tweet to @Travis_Tritten to thank him and his sources, whom I will call Narrative Busters because Myth Busters is taken.  (I don’t want to call them Whistleblowers because we know what happens to them.)

UPDATE: By Emily Smith and Kenneth Garger  at Murdoch’s money losing NYPost ran this last night: Tom Brokaw wants Brian Williams fired quoting an unnamed source at NBC.  

 “Brokaw wants Williams’ head on a platter,” an NBC . . . → Read More: UPDATED Williams Iraq War “Mistake” Led to Praise and Profit

Who Should Get Their Comeuppance in 2015? How Will You Make It So?

So I’m reading year-end news wrap-ups and I’m thinking, “I want to see some of these sick bastards get their comeuppance next year!”

I’m tired of reading these phrases, “Nobody was fired for…” “Nobody has been prosecuted for…” or “None of the perpetrators are in jail for…” and of course, “Technically it was legal.”

 Who do you want to see get their comeuppance?  Are you doing anything now to make that happen? If it happens, would you be satisfied, or would you want more? I didn’t say justice, but comeuppance. (I like the word, I used to challenge a friend of mine to use it, which was hard since he wrote mostly about CAD/CAM products.)

 In 2015 I want to see photos of perp-walks and hear about sentences that fit the crimes. I want to read about a high-level person going to jail because his abused underlings rolled on him and the prosecutor needed a bigger fish to fry. I want to read stories about the people and systems that weren’t subverted with the right amount of lying, lawyering, lobbying and lucre. 

 I also crave the old-timey ripple effect of justice. When justice is carried out, it is supposed to change . . . → Read More: Who Should Get Their Comeuppance in 2015? How Will You Make It So?

The Media’s Views on War and Torture Aren’t Fixed

As a person who has had his brain physically removed once, mentally transferred twice (not to mention controlled, rebooted and sped up) I think a lot about what influences, controls and re-configures our brains and how we use those methods on others.

I’ve been working on a series of posts on media based on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show, The Newsroom at Crooks and Liars and talking about torture at Hullabaloo, Firedoglake and here.

Besides just analyzing what is happening, I keep thinking, “What is to be done?”

The Newsroom, a fantasy, has shown the external and internal pressures today’s media (esp. TV news) are under. Financial, political, professional, ethical and personal.

In the real world the news media has gone from a public trust to a profit center. They are now part of a “portfolio of companies” dedicated to maximizing shareholder value.

This last week, with the release of the Senate Torture Report, I was remind of what started me on my path to push back on the sickness I saw in right wing media.

We have have tremulous success in de-funding the right wing media using reason, politeness and an understanding of what pressures the right wing media responds to.

I . . . → Read More: The Media’s Views on War and Torture Aren’t Fixed

Here’s What The Media Isn’t Talking About, the Immorality of Torture

I’ve been on the “torture beat” for a long time. It makes me a real drag at dinner parties, so I decided to move those conversations out to the web and to the media.

So much of the current discussion in the media about torture is focusing on, “Does it work?”  There is little focus on, “Is it right?”

People in the media are looking at the legality, but not the morality. Discussing morality makes the mainstream media uncomfortable. To help them out, I’ve been suggesting they talk to Dr. Rebecca Gordon, a philosophy professor at University of San Francisco, who wrote this book:

Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post – 9/11 United States.

(It got great reviews from Torture Magazine! Seriously, there is a Torture Magazine.)

Here she is on Fox News 2 KTVU last night.

This morning she was on the Majority Report with Sam Seder. (Audio link.She starts at 30 minutes in.)

Because she has a depth of knowledge she can talk about the legal and political issues around torture, but especially the moral issues. We need to talk about that. The moral condemnation of acts of torture is not a given today.

Bill O’Reilly thinks . . . → Read More: Here’s What The Media Isn’t Talking About, the Immorality of Torture