Street art by Banksy
Street art by Banksy
WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, 2017 10:06 AM PDT
In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox News’ “Fox News Sunday,” collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial — the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.
Total Climate coverage on broadcast networks cratered in 2016
Combined climate coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and “Fox News Sunday” decreased significantly from 2015 to 2016, despite ample opportunity to cover climate change
In 2016, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “Fox News Sunday”* aired a combined 50 minutes of climate coverage on their evening and Sunday news programs, which was 96 minutes less than in 2015 — a drop of about 66 percent.*Fox Broadcast Co. does not air a nightly news program
As was the case in 2015, ABC aired the least amount of climate coverage in 2016, covering the topic for just six minutes, about seven minutes less than in 2015. All the other major networks also significantly reduced their coverage from the previous year, with NBC showing the biggest decrease (from 50 minutes in 2015 to 10 minutes in 2016), followed by Fox (39 minutes in 2015 to seven minutes in 2016) and CBS (from 45 minutes in 2015 to 27 minutes in 2016).
Networks had ample opportunity to cover climate change in 2016
Despite the pronounced decline in climate coverage, the networks had ample opportunity to cover climate change in 2016. As The New York Times reported, in 2016, climate change took on “a prominence it has never before had in a presidential general election” given the stark contrast between the candidates’ views. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a long track record of climate denial and differed with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on a range of important climate issues, including the Paris climate agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and the continued use of coal as an energy source, with Trump pledging that he would put coal miners “back to work” and Clinton proposing a plan that would help coal communities transition to clean energy. Additionally, there were also a host of non-election climate stories worthy of coverage in 2016, including extreme weather events tied to climate change, like Hurricane Matthew and the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana (which the American Red Cross described as “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy”); the signing of the Paris climate agreement and the U.N. climate summit in Morocco; the official announcement from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2015 was the hottest year on record by far; and investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by misleading the public on climate change. [The New York Times, 8/1/16; Media Matters, 5/26/16; The Huffington Post, 9/8/16; DonaldJTrump.com, 9/15/16; Media Matters, 3/15/16, 10/7/16, 8/17/16; The Huffington Post, 4/22/16; The Guardian, 4/22/16; InsideClimate News, 11/3/16; The New York Times, 1/20/16; InsideClimate News, 12/28/16]
ABC, CBS, NBC, And Fox failed to discuss climate-related ramifications of a Clinton or Trump presidency until after the election
ABC, CBS, NBC, and “Fox News Sunday” did not air a single segment informing viewers of what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies or issues under a Trump or Clinton administration. While these outlets did devote a significant amount of coverage to Trump’s presidency, airing 25 segments informing viewers about the ramifications or actions of a Trump administration as they relate to climate change, all of these segments aired after the election. Examples of post-election coverage include a “PBS NewsHour” segment about Trump’s selection of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pruitt’s history of climate denial and ties to the fossil fuel industry; a “CBS Evening News” segment about Trump appointing climate denier Myron Ebell to his EPA transition team; and an “NBC Nightly News” report on Trump’s promise to roll back President Barack Obama’s executive actions on climate change. [PBS NewsHour, 12/7/16; CBS Evening News, 11/15/16; NBC Nightly News, 11/9/16**]
**We included citations of specific shows when we described the content of a segment. We did not include show citations for general tallies. We linked to episodes that were available online but listed only the date for those that were not.
“PBS NewsHour” was the only show to discuss climate ramifications of a Clinton or Trump presidency prior to the election
“PBS NewsHour”*** was the only show in our study that examined what impact a Trump or a Clinton presidency would have on climate-related issues and policies before the election. On the September 7 edition of “PBS NewsHour”, correspondent William Brangham discussed “what a Clinton or Trump administration might mean with regards to climate change” with The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney. And a September 22 segment explored “what the early days of a Trump presidency might look like” and featured Judy Woodruff interviewing Evan Osnos of The New Yorker about whether Trump would renounce the Paris climate agreement. [PBS NewsHour, 9/22/16, 9/7/16]
***Unlike the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC that air for a half hour seven days a week, “PBS NewsHour” airs five days a week and is a half hour longer.
Tyndall report found no discussion of climate change in issues coverage during campaign
The Tyndall Report, which tracks the broadcast networks’ weeknight newscasts, analyzed election-related issues coverage on the major networks’ weeknight newscasts and found no issues coverage devoted to climate change in 2016 up through October 25. The Tyndall Report defines election-related issues coverage as that which “takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates’ platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.” [The Intercept, 2/24/17; Media Matters, 10/26/16; Tyndall Report, 10/25/16]
Networks aired a disproportionate amount of climate coverage after Election Day
In the roughly 45 weeks before the November 8 election, the networks aired a total of 55 segments about climate change — roughly one per week. After the election, the networks aired 32 climate-related segments over approximately seven weeks till the end of the year — about five stories per week.
Networks ignored links between climate change and national security and rarely addressed economic and public health impacts, but some detailed impacts on extreme weather and plants and wildlife
Networks did not air a single segment on link to national security
Numerous military and intelligence organizations have sounded the alarm on climate change’s connection to national security. A September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community stated, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” And following Trump’s election victory, “a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders sent Trump’s transition team a briefing book urging the president-elect to consider climate change as a grave threat to national security,” E&E News reported. Yet the national security implications of climate change never came up in any of the networks’ climate coverage for 2016. [Media Matters, 1/13/17; Scientific American, 11/15/16]
PBS was the only network to address economic impacts of climate change
PBS was the only network to report on the economic impacts of climate change. Two segments about Washington state’s carbon tax ballot initiative that aired on the April 21 and October 20 editions of “PBS NewsHour” featured the president of the Washington State Labor Council explaining that Washington’s shellfish industry “has left the state and gone to Hawaii because the acid levels in the ocean has risen so much.” And on the November 17 edition of “PBS NewsHour”, correspondent William Brangham reported that 365 American companies “have written to the president-elect imploring him to uphold the Paris accords and warning — quote — ‘Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.’” [PBS NewsHour, 4/21/16, 10/20/16, 11/17/16]
Networks rarely addressed how climate change impacts public health
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Climate Assessment have all concluded that climate change has a significant influence on human health and disease. And as 2016 saw the first local spread of the Zika virus in the continental United States, Climate Signals found that “climate change creates new risks for human exposure to vector-borne diseases such as Zika, particularly in the United States where rising heat and humidity are increasing the number of days annually in which disease vectors thrive.” However, only two segments on “NBC Nightly News” dealt with the link between climate change and public health — no other network covered the issue. In a January 18 report about the spread of Zika, correspondent Tom Costello noted, “Researchers are also studying whether climate change and El Nino are causing certain mosquitoes populations to grow.” And a July 4 report about a massive algae bloom creating a toxic emergency in Florida featured correspondent Gabe Gutierrez explaining, “The debate is raging over what`s to blame for this latest growth, but scientists say there are many factors including population growth and climate change.” [World Health Organization, accessed 3/21/17; CDC.gov, accessed 3/21/17; National Climate Assessment, accessed 3/21/17; Climate Signals, 8/23/16; NBC Nightly News, 1/18/16, 7/4/16]
CBS and ABC rarely covered climate link to extreme weather, while NBC and Fox ignored it completely
2016 saw no shortages of extreme weather events influenced by climate change, with Hurricane Matthew making landfall on the East Coast; wildfires — which have become a consistent threat thanks, in part, to climate change — charring more than 100,000 acres in seven states in the Southeast; and record rainfall and flooding in Louisiana causing what the American Red Cross called “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy.” Yet NBC and Fox never addressed the link between climate change and extreme weather, while CBS did so in four segments and ABC did so in just one segment. By contrast, “PBS NewsHour” aired eight segments dealing with the link between climate change and extreme weather. [The Weather Channel, 10/9/16; Media Matters, 10/6/16; The New York Times, 11/29/16; Climate Central, 11/23/16; Media Matters, 8/17/16]
PBS led the networks in stories detailing climate impacts on plants and wildlife
PBS provided the most coverage of climate impacts on plants and wildlife (six segments), followed by CBS and NBC (three segments each), and ABC (one segment). Examples of this reporting included a “Climate Diaries” segment on “CBS Evening News” about how climate change is “taking a toll on endangered mountain gorillas” in Central Africa by making their food supply less predictable and forcing human populations searching for water into their territory and an “NBC Nightly News” segment about how Yellowstone grizzlies are threatened because one of their food sources — seeds from whitebark pine trees — has been decimated by climate change. Another example was a “PBS NewsHour” segment reporting that “two-fifths of bees, butterflies, and related pollinating species are heading toward extinction” thanks to “a range of factors, ranging from pesticide use to climate change to habitat loss.” [CBS Evening News, 11/17/16; NBC Nightly News, 5/22/16; PBS NewsHour, 2/26/16]
Specific climate-related policies received sparse coverage outside of PBS
The Clean Power Plan was almost completely ignored on Sunday shows and received sparse coverage on Nightly News shows
The broadcast networks provided scant coverage of the Clean Power Plan even though Trump had promised during the campaign to eliminate the policy. The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and serves as the linchpin of President Obama’s program to meet the nation’s emissions reduction obligation under the Paris agreement. “Fox News Sunday” was the only Sunday show to feature a climate-related segment on the Clean Power Plan, in which Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane claimed that the Democrats’ focus on the plan is an example of how “environmentalism in a crucial way worked against the Democratic Party this year,” because Trump carried coal-dependent states in the election. But contrary to Lane’s claim, numerous polls conducted in the run-up to the election indicated that a majority of Americans consider climate change an important issue and favor government action to address it. On nightly news shows, ABC was the only network that did not air a climate-related segment on the plan, while PBS NewsHour covered the Clean Power Plan the most (seven segments), followed by CBS Evening News (three segments) and “NBC Nightly News” (two segments). [DonaldJTrump.com, 9/15/16; The White House, 8/3/15; The New York Times, 3/2/16; Fox News Sunday, 11/13/16; Media Matters, 11/29/16]
PBS far outpaced networks in coverage of U.N. climate agreement and summits
In 2016, world leaders met on Earth Day for the signing ceremony of the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 nations and later again in Morocco for talks about implementing the climate accord. In Trump’s first major speech on energy policy, in May, he vowed that he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement. But after the election he told The New York Times, “I have an open mind to it.” Despite these developments, PBS was the only network to devote significant coverage to the U.N. climate agreement and U.N. climate-related summits, doing so in 21 segments, while CBS aired five segments, NBC and ABC aired just three, and Fox aired just two. [USA Today, 4/22/16; The New York Times, 12/12/15; InsideClimate News, 11/3/16; BBC.com, 5/27/16; DonaldJTrump.com, 5/26/16; The New York Times, 11/23/16]
CBS, NBC and Fox addressed the climate impacts of the Keystone XL Pipeline only once, while ABC and PBS failed to do so at all
During the campaign, Clinton and Trump staked out opposing positions on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil that is 17 percent dirtier than average and would “increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming” from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Yet there was a dearth of coverage on Keystone XL’s link to climate change, with CBS, NBC, and Fox each airing just one segment that connected Keystone XL to climate change and ABC and PBS ignoring the topic completely. The networks also ignored Keystone XL more broadly — airing just four additional non-climate-related segments on the pipeline. [Business Insider, 9/25/16; Media Matters, 1/15/15]
Fox was the only network to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline in a climate context
The Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American tribes, as well as environmental activists, protested against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016, citing, among other concerns, the impact a continued buildup of oil infrastructure would have on climate change. Yet Fox was the sole network to cover the Dakota Access pipeline in a climate context. On the December 11 edition of “Fox News Sunday”, host Chris Wallace previewed his upcoming interview with Trump by saying that he would “ask [Trump] to clear up exactly where he stands on climate change.” After returning from a commercial break, Wallace said to the Trump, “Let me ask you a couple specific questions. Will you still pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which has been signed by more than 100 countries to reduce carbon emissions? Will you restart the Dakota Access pipeline, which the Army just stopped?” To which Trump replied that he was “studying” the Paris climate agreement and would “have [Dakota Access] solved very quickly” when he takes office. ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS did air multiple segments on the Dakota Access pipeline (airing eight, 10, four, and 10 segments, respectively), but none of these segments linked it to climate change. [MPR News, 12/7/16; Time, 12/1/16, 10/28/16; Fox News Sunday, 12/11/16]
Major networks completely ignored the “Exxon Knew” story
Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon-funded organizations helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward in what became known as the “Exxon knew” scandal. The reports prompted the attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon, as well as countersuits from Exxon and subpoenas from members of Congress in defense of Exxon. Yet none of the networks covered any of these developments over the course of 2016. [Media Matters, 9/1/16; InsideClimate News, 12/28/16]
CBS, Fox and PBS uncritically aired climate science denial in 2016 — all of which came from Trump or Trump officials
CBS, Fox and PBS aired a combined five segments that included unrebutted climate science denial in 2016 — all from Trump or Trump officials
In 2016, “CBS Evening News”, “PBS NewsHour”, and “Fox News Sunday” aired a combined five segments that misled audiences by featuring climate science denial. Half of “Fox News Sunday”’s climate-related segments included climate denial. In every instance, it was Trump or Trump officials promoting denial.
Other nightly news segments on PBS, CBS and NBC also included climate science denial, but reporters pushed back on those claims, noting that they conflicted with established climate science
Segments on PBS, CBS, and NBC nightly news shows also included climate denial, but reporters noted that that these statements were at odds with established climate science.
Because hosts or correspondents on these programs noted that the statements in question contradicted mainstream climate science, they were not counted as denial in our study.
Climate scientists were completely absent from ABC’s “World News Tonight” . . . again
For the second consecutive year, ABC’s “World News Tonight” did not feature a single scientist in its climate coverage
ABC’s “World News Tonight” did not feature a single scientist in its climate coverage for the second year in a row. By contrast, “NBC Nightly News” and “CBS Evening News” featured five and six scientists, respectively, and PBS NewsHour featured 18.
Sunday shows did not feature a single scientist in climate-related coverage
After featuring just two scientists over a five-year period from 2009 to 2013, the Sunday shows featured seven scientists in 2014 alone, and then backslid in 2015, quoting or interviewing just two scientists (4 percent of all Sunday show guests). In 2016, that backslide continued, with the Sunday shows featuring no scientists in their climate-related coverage.
PBS and CBS frequently aired coverage related to climate-related scientific research, while NBC and ABC did so less often
PBS and CBS far outpaced their counterparts in the number of segments focusing on climate-related scientific research that they aired on nightly news shows. “PBS NewsHour” aired 10 segments on climate-related scientific research, including a segment that featured scientists explaining climate change’s influence on wildfires in Southern California and flooding in Louisiana; “CBS Evening News” aired seven segments on climate-related research, including a segment featuring interviews with scientists who discovered unprecedented rates of sea ice melt in the Arctic Circle. Conversely, “NBC Nightly News” aired just three segments on climate-related research, and ABC’s World News Tonight aired just two. None of the Sunday shows featured any segments on climate-related scientific research. [PBS NewsHour, 8/17/16; CBS Evening News, 3/4/16]
Sunday shows’ climate coverage dropped by 85 percent
Every network’s Sunday show significantly decreased its climate coverage
After dropping slightly from a high of 81 minutes of coverage in 2014 to 73 minutes in 2015, the Sunday shows’ climate coverage dropped 85 percent to just 11 minutes of coverage in 2016 — the third-lowest amount in the eight-year time frame Media Matters has examined. Every network saw significant declines in Sunday show coverage, with Fox leading the way (down 32 minutes from the previous year), followed by NBC (down 17 minutes), CBS (down 10 minutes), and ABC (down four minutes).
Bernie Sanders brought up climate change four times as much as hosts did on ABC, CBS and NBC Sunday shows
On every Sunday show except “Fox News Sunday”, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., brought up climate change significantly more often than the hosts themselves did. ABC’s This Week, CBS’ “Face the Nation”, and NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a combined five segments in which the hosts brought up climate change, while Bernie Sanders brought up climate change 21 times during his appearances on those shows. Because our study counted only those segments where a media figure brought up or discussed climate change, those 21 segments were not counted in this study’s overall network tallies.
Nightly news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC aired roughly half as much climate coverage as they did in 2015
“NBC Nightly News” and “CBS Evening News” significantly decreased climate coverage, and ABC once again lagged behind network counterparts
The nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC collectively decreased their climate coverage from approximately 73 minutes in 2015 to just over 39 minutes in 2016 — a drop of 46 percent. “NBC Nightly News” had the biggest drop in climate coverage, decreasing by about 22 minutes, followed by “CBS Evening News”, which had a drop of approximately nine minutes. ABC’s “World News Tonight”, which aired significantly less climate coverage than its competitors in 2014 and 2015, once again continued its downward trend, dropping even further from roughly seven minutes of climate coverage in 2015 to just four minutes in 2016.
For second year in a row, PBS aired more climate coverage than all other nightly news programs combined
For the second consecutive year, “PBS NewsHour” aired more segments addressing climate change than the other nightly news shows combined. “PBS NewsHour” aired 46 climate-related segments, while ABC (five), CBS (19), and NBC (12) aired a combined 36 climate-related nightly news segments. However, PBS NewsHour’s climate coverage decreased from 2015, when the network aired 58 climate-related segments.
CBS and NBC nightly news shows have stepped up climate coverage in early months of 2017
In 2017 so far, “CBS Evening News” has already aired more than half the amount of climate coverage it did in all of 2016
In the first few months of 2017, “CBS Evening News” has already aired about 17 minutes of climate-related coverage, just eight minutes less than the show aired for all of 2016. In fact, “CBS Evening News” aired nearly half as much climate coverage as it did in all of 2016 in just one week of 2017; this coverage was during a series of climate-related reports from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series. [Media Matters, 2/13/17]
In early months of 2017, “NBC Nightly News” has already aired nearly half as much climate coverage as it did in all of 2016
In just over two months, “NBC Nightly News” has already aired about five minutes of climate-related coverage, roughly half as much as the show aired for all of 2016.
This report analyzes coverage of “climate change” or “global warming” between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016, on four Sunday news shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday) and four nightly news programs (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) based on Nexis transcripts. Fox Broadcasting Co. airs Fox News Sunday but does not air a nightly news equivalent; Fox News is a separate cable channel. PBS NewsHour is a half-hour longer than its network nightly news counterparts, but it airs five days a week, compared to seven days a week for the other nightly news shows (PBS NewsHour Weekend was not included in this analysis). In one instance, Nexis categorized a segment that did not mention “climate change” or “global warming” as being about climate change; because the segment provided other clear indications that it was indeed about climate change, it was included. To identify the number of segments networks aired on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, we used the search terms Keystone w/20 pipe! And Dakota w/20 pipe!.
Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure) about climate change impacts or actions. The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists. The study also does not include teasers if they were for segments that aired later on the same program. We acquired time stamps from iQ media and applied them generously for nightly news segments when the overall topic was related to climate change. For instance, if a nightly news segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. However, if a significant portion of the segment was not related to climate change, such as a report on the pope giving a speech about climate change, immigration, religious freedom, and outreach to Cuba, only the portions of the segment that discussed climate change were counted. For the Sunday shows, which often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we used only the relevant portion of such conversations. All coverage figures have been rounded to the nearest minute. Because PBS NewsHour is an hour-long show and the other networks’ nightly news programs are half-hour shows, our analysis compared PBS NewsHour’s climate coverage to other nightly news programs’ coverage in terms of topics covered and number of segments, but not in terms of number of minutes.
Research intern Katherine Hess and Sarah Wasko contributed to this study.
She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”
The two-party system was easy to understand.
Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.
Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.
So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?
I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.
“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observesNew York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”
Yes they do.
Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.
Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.
What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?
As far as I can tell, nada.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.
When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?
The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?
Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.
“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.
Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.
When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?
Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.
Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.
Street art by CaOs Peligrosos, “Emberá” for Festival de Artes Plasticas in Medellin, Colombia
Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. So for seven decades, he fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.
He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for.
Thinking of him, I think of Pushkin’s telling of the old fairytale of The Fisherman and the Golden Fish. After being caught in the old fisherman’s net, the golden fish speaks up and offers wishes in return for being thrown back in the sea. The fisherman asks him for nothing, though later he tells his wife of his chance encounter with the magical creature. The fisherman’s wife sends him back to ask for a new washtub for her, and then a second time to ask for a cottage to replace their hovel, and the wishes are granted, and then as she grows prouder and greedier, she sends him to ask that she become a wealthy person in a mansion with servants she abuses, and then she sends her husband back. The old man comes and grovels before the fish, caught between the shame of the requests and the appetite of his wife, and she becomes tsarina and has her boyards and nobles drive the husband from her palace. You could call the husband consciousness—the awareness of others and of oneself in relation to others—and the wife craving.
Finally she wishes to be supreme over the seas and over the fish itself, endlessly uttering wishes, and the old man goes back to the sea to tell the fish—to complain to the fish—of this latest round of wishes. The fish this time doesn’t even speak, just flashes its tail, and the old man turns around to see on the shore his wife with her broken washtub at their old hovel. Overreach is perilous, says this Russian tale; enough is enough. And too much is nothing.
The child who became the most powerful man in the world, or at least occupied the real estate occupied by a series of those men, had run a family business and then starred in an unreality show based on the fiction that he was a stately emperor of enterprise, rather than a buffoon barging along anyhow, and each was a hall of mirrors made to flatter his sense of self, the self that was his one edifice he kept raising higher and higher and never abandoned.
I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.
“They were careless people,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of the rich couple at the heart of The Great Gatsby. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Some of us are surrounded by destructive people who tell us we’re worthless when we’re endlessly valuable, that we’re stupid when we’re smart, that we’re failing even when we succeed. But the opposite of people who drag you down isn’t people who build you up and butter you up. It’s equals who are generous but keep you accountable, true mirrors who reflect back who you are and what you are doing.
“He is, as of this writing, the most mocked man in the world.”We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves. There is a democracy of social discourse, in which we are reminded that as we are beset with desires and fears and feelings, so are others; there was an old woman in Occupy Wall Street I always go back to who said, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” That’s what a democracy of mind and heart, as well as economy and polity, would look like.
This year Hannah Arendt is alarmingly relevant, and her books are selling well, particularly On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She’s been the subject an extraordinary essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books and a conversation between scholar Lyndsey Stonebridge and Krista Tippet on the radio show “On Being.” Stonebridge notes that Arendt advocated for the importance of an inner dialogue with oneself, for a critical splitting in which you interrogate yourself—for a real conversation between the fisherman and his wife you could say: “People who can do that can actually then move on to having conversations with other people and then judging with other people. And what she called ‘the banality of evil’ was the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.”
Some use their power to silence that and live in the void of their own increasingly deteriorating, off-course sense of self and meaning. It’s like going mad on a desert island, only with sycophants and room service. It’s like having a compliant compass that agrees north is whatever you want it to be. The tyrant of a family, the tyrant of a little business or a huge enterprise, the tyrant of a nation. Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it. Or reduces it: narcissists, sociopaths, and egomaniacs are people for whom others don’t exist.
We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.
Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation.
A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.
This one imagined that the power would repose within him and make him great, a Midas touch that would turn all to gold. But the power of the presidency was what it had always been: a system of cooperative relationships, a power that rested on people’s willingness to carry out the orders the president gave, and a willingness that came from that president’s respect for rule of law, truth, and the people. A man who gives an order that is not followed has his powerlessness hung out like dirty laundry. One day earlier this year, one of this president’s minions announced that the president’s power would not be questioned. There are tyrants who might utter such a statement and strike fear into those beneath him, because they have installed enough fear.
A true tyrant does not depend on cooperative power but has a true power of command, enforced by thugs, goons, Stasi, the SS, or death squads. A true tyrant has subordinated the system of government and made it loyal to himself rather than to the system of laws or the ideals of the country. This would-be tyrant didn’t understand that he was in a system where many in government, perhaps most beyond the members of his party in the legislative branch, were loyal to law and principle and not to him. His minion announced the president would not be questioned, and we laughed. He called in, like courtiers, the heads of the FBI, of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence to tell them to suppress evidence, to stop investigations and found that their loyalty was not to him. He found out to his chagrin that we were still something of a democracy, and that the free press could not be so easily stopped, and the public itself refused to be cowed and mocks him earnestly at every turn.
A true tyrant sits beyond the sea in Pushkin’s country. He corrupts elections in his country, eliminates his enemies with bullets, poisons, with mysterious deaths made to look like accidents—he spread fear and bullied the truth successfully, strategically. Though he too had overreached with his intrusions into the American election, and what he had hoped would be invisible caused the whole world to scrutinize him and his actions and history and impact with concern and even fury. Russia may have ruined whatever standing and trust it has, may have exposed itself, with this intervention in the US and then European elections.
The American buffoon’s commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.
He is, as of this writing, the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history; he was mocked in newspapers, on television, in cartoons, was the butt of a million jokes, and his every tweet was instantly met with an onslaught of attacks and insults by ordinary citizens gleeful to be able to speak sharp truth to bloated power.
He is the old fisherman’s wife who wished for everything and sooner or later he will end up with nothing. The wife sitting in front of her hovel was poorer after her series of wishes, because she now owned not only her poverty but her mistakes and her destructive pride, because she might have been otherwise, but brought power and glory crashing down upon her, because she had made her bed badly and was lying in it.
The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.
Written and directed by David Michôd
The Netflix satire War Machine is a forceful work that depicts the futility and madness of war in general and the war in Afghanistan in particular. The film revives a venerable tradition of anti-military and anti-war drama and comedy in the US, which the media and the establishment thought (or hoped) had been thoroughly suppressed and even extinguished.
Written and directed by Australian David Michôd, and produced by and starring Brad Pitt, the film is based on the 2012 non-fiction book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, by the late American journalist Michael Hastings.
Hastings, only 33 when he died under suspicious circumstances in June 2013, authored “The Runaway General,” the article for Rolling Stone magazine in 2010 that led to the removal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his post as ranking US commanding officer in Afghanistan. War Machine is a fictional account of McChrystal’s tenure in Afghanistan and the events leading up to his firing.
In the movie, Pitt plays a platinum-haired Gen. Glen McMahon who, in 2009, has just been appointed to direct the war in Afghanistan, already in its eighth bloody year. McMahon, according to the narration, arrives fresh from “a successful stint running the secretive special operations killing machine in Iraq.” The narrator, Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), a Rolling Stone journalist, describes the general as “ a throwback to another era,” his hand “bent into a permanent claw, like it was still clutching a World War II cigar.”
With a frozen face and a freakish squint, McMahon runs seven miles before breakfast, sleeps only a few hours a night and has been dubbed “the Lion King, the G-Man, Big Glen and, most commonly, the Glenimal” by his entourage of toadies. Front of that pack is the psychopathic Greg Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall), loosely based on Gen. Michael Flynn—described by a staffer in Hastings’ book as a “rat on acid.” Other members include Cory Staggart (John Magaro) as McMahon’s special operations advisor and Matt Little (Topher Grace) as his as his civilian press consultant.
Michôd’s War Machine presents the war in Afghanistan as a debacle, presided over by lunatics and egomaniacs (in Hastings’ The Operators, the author describes the war as a “clusterfuck” that “defied satisfying analysis”).
The mockery directed against America’s military and geopolitical policies begins at the outset, when the narrator ironizes, “Ah, America. You beacon of composure and proportionate response. You bringer of calm and goodness to the world.”
The conflict is presented as an entirely doomed project. In this regard, the tone is set early on by the journalist-narrator, who refers to “two types of generals in the American military. There are those who believe they can win in the face of all evidence to the contrary. And there are those who know they can’t. Unfortunately for the world, it’s the believers who climb to the top of the ladder.”
The narrator insists on getting “a handle on the madness of modern American war.” He explains that the US military’s “counterinsurgency” strategy (McMahon has his own personalized version—SNORPP, short for Systemic Negation Of Repetitive Procedural Practice) runs up against basic political realities. “When … you’ve just gone and invaded a place that you probably shouldn’t have, you end up fighting against just regular people in regular-people clothes. These guys are what are called insurgents. Basically, they’re just guys who picked up weapons ’cause … so would you, if someone invaded your country. Funnily enough … insurgencies are next to impossible to defeat.”
War Machine’s voice-over points out that the British and French tried to hang on to their “crumbling empires” through counterinsurgency and the efforts failed. “You can’t win the trust of a country by invading it. You can’t build a nation at gunpoint.”
The film’s version of McChrystal/McMahon’s sojourn in Afghanistan includes the general’s conflicts with Obama administration officials over release of his initial assessment (which the officials want to sit on and which he subsequently leaks to the US media) and, based on that assessment, his demands for tens of thousands of additional troops. War Machine devotes a portion of its time and energy to the Afghan war commander’s jaunt across Europe, where he attempts to raise more soldiers from reluctant US allies. It also touches upon his fantasy of winning the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people, with “the unassailable might and power of our ideals.” Helping to pour cold water on that possibility, American officials inform the general that the sole crop the occupying force will permit local farmers to grow is poppies for the heroin trade.
It is not possible or necessary to recount every detail, but certain episodes and themes stand out. They stand out, above all, because they run counter to the official US media and political establishment narrative, which finds almost unanimous expression in film and television. In other words, War Machine punches through the big lie.
One of the more striking and lengthier sequences occurs when McMahon encounters a unit of Marines, just back from rest and rehabilitation in Italy, and who we will meet again. A young black soldier (Lakeith Stanfield) complains to McMahon, “I can’t tell the difference between the people and the enemy. They all look alike to me. I’m pretty sure they’re the same people, sir.” To which the Afghan commander replies, “Sometimes when you’re dealing with an insurgency, you’re not gonna be 100 percent clear on who the enemy is.”
Once McMahon has his troop “surge,” he sets out to organize Operation Moshtarak, aimed at removing the Taliban from the town of Marjah and destroying its influence in Helmand Province (which McMahon has just been told by a British military official is “a lost cause”).
During the battle of Marjah the death of an Afghan child traumatizes the same black soldier. A Marine sergeant offers money and empty platitudes to the grieving father. Later, a translator repeats a local man’s blunt protest to McMahon, “And every day that you spend here longer, the worse it will be for them [the residents] when you leave. So please, leave now. Please.”
The pointed portrayal of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Ben Kingsley), Washington’s puppet, in War Machine adds a darkly and lively comic note.
In one scene, McMahon feels obliged to seek Karzai’s approval for Operation Moshtarak, and complains to the president, who he has not been able to reach, that he is not behaving “like a leader.”
Karzai-Kingsley responds sagely, but cheerfully, “But I am behaving like a leader. I’m unavailable. I am as unavailable to you as is your own president. Hmm? You have my approval, General. We both know it was never really mine to give. But… I thank you for inviting me to participate in the theater of it all.”
The performances in War Machine reflect genuine thought and commitment. The actors here, for once, are attached to an important reality.
Pitt bears the largest weight in the film, and bears it admirably. He enables us to “get inside the mind [and empty soul] of Glen McMahon,” this madman in whose hands lies the fate of vast numbers of human beings. Much of the role necessarily involves debunking, criticizing, not something American actors have done much of in recent decades. Too often actors want to be loved. Pitt remains unlovable and unattractive virtually throughout, as he should.
The general is a fraud. Supposedly committed to keeping the civilian population alive and sympathetic, he presides over war crimes. He is renowned for his irrepressible energy and determination, but what does that lead to? Destruction, criminality … His “folksy,” “man of the people” demeanor is another charade. As the narrator points out, “Glen was known as a humble man. But humble in that way that says, ‘My humility makes me better than you.’”
Hall gives Pulver-Flynn (“His official title was director of intelligence, but all I saw was a guy with anger management issues whose life had no meaning without Glen.”) his terrifying due. Tilda Swinton, as a pacifistic German politician who questions McMahon’s crude insurgency “arithmetic,” makes a mark during her brief time on screen.
Not everything in War Machine works. There are issues of tone and consistency and pace. The first half of the film is more successful. The European portion, in which we witness the personal idiosyncrasies and misbehavior of McMahon’s team, drags somewhat. Largely secondary issues suddenly arise.
The film does not delve into the larger geopolitical realities behind the war drive in the Middle East and Central Asia. Related to that perhaps, the Netflix movie’s comic, not to say occasionally flippant, element is incompatible at certain moments with the awfulness of the situation. To his credit, Michôd does allow the tragedy to unfold in the film’s culminating scenes, but at times the work suffers from a flatness as it tries to find the proper balance between dark and light.
However, even the failings in War Machine have to be seen in historical and artistic context. Michôd, Pitt and company are traveling in what is relatively uncharted territory in our day. Savagely satirizing and mocking the “glorious” American military, dripping with blood from every pore, has become practically illegal in the US. Widespread popular hostility toward a quarter century of brutal war and toward the politicians and generals who have conducted it finds virtually no outlet in American culture. Here, for once, the pent-up disgust and horror comes through.
Michôd explains in an interview, “The great sadness and the great concern is that we—and by we, I mean the United States and its allies, including my great country, Australia—are not only still at war in Afghanistan, but that this ‘War on Terror’ has expanded now to six or seven other different countries. And it’s shocking to me how seemingly un-newsworthy this stuff is.”
He told another interviewer, “And, at some point, in the process of outlining the movie, I realized that what I wanted to do was not just make a movie about the insanity of war but I wanted to make the movie feel insane. I wanted to create a kind of sharp and pronounced tonal schism between that upper executive level and the boots on the ground in order to make that distinction more pronounced.”
The critics for the most part have been unsettled by War Machine. They pick on certain weaknesses as a means of dismissing the film’s sharp and long-overdue critique. Variety, for instance, snidely refers to Michôd’s film as a “costly flop,” a “big-budget Netflix misfire” and a “colossally miscalculated satire.” A CNN review headline reads, “Brad Pitt’s ‘War Machine’ fizzles on Netflix.”
These are some of the same people who find complexity and depth in the rubbish Hollywood ordinarily churns out, including its exercises in psychotic violence, along with its superhero and comic book movies.
In fact, if the truth be told, the critics and the media generally identify with the US military and its drive for global hegemony. They instinctively react to any exposure of the institutions that protect their stock portfolios and comfortable lives. They are outraged that the universal consensus about the “war on terror,” another enormous falsehood, is broken through.
Street Art by SeaCreative found in Genoa Italy