To be clear, I don’t believe the author of this recommendation was slighting the blog in any way, but was instead reflecting a very common perception about a great many liberal bloggers. As I thought about this assessment of Shakespeare’s Sister, I was admittedly perplexed; I don’t particularly feel like a conspiracy theorist, as I am loathe to rely solely on rumor or speculation, despite the fact that blogging (especially on a scale as small as mine) requires no real journalistic ethics. My sources are not anonymous or mysterious; I have no access to cloaked informants or insider information. I use news as reported by major, respected newspapers, the AP, Reuters—if this can be dismissed as unverifiable, I can’t imagine what is required to establish the veracity of reported information.
I don’t feel obligated to defend the work done at Shakespeare’s Sister, however, as much as I do to point out the reason why so many liberal bloggers are pegged as conspiracy theorists. The mainstream media is doing such a piss poor job that it makes anyone who reports on the follies of the administration seem like a conspiracy theorist by comparison.
The Bush Administration has repeatedly demonstrated a contempt for the truth when it gets in the way of promoting their ideologically-driven policies. That is a statement of fact. A look at FactCheck.org, a “nonpartisan, nonprofit, ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics,” reveals an undeniable willingness to disseminate misinformation as a means to an end. On Tax Cuts, Education Reform, Social Security—all key policies of the Bush Administration—honesty is a readily expendable commodity. Indeed, their own “playbook” for promoting Social Security included the following passage:
The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away. (p33)Such disingenuous politicking is not, unfortunately, exclusive to the Bush Administration. Policy-makers on both the Left and the Right have utilized similar underhanded tactics before, and they will no doubt do so again. What makes the Bush Administration unique is their shameless insistence on partisanship from an ostensibly objective media—undermining the credibility of any media outlet that does not strictly adhere to the party line with charges of liberal bias. The media’s unprecedented complicity with this unreasonable (and undemocratic) expectation has allowed the GOP to use a strategy of lies to promote their policies unfettered.
The Bush Administration also has no compunction about utilizing propaganda to advance their agenda. This is also a statement of fact. The Government Accountability Office has, by request of Democrats, investigated multiple instances of media manipulation, including bogus TV news segments created by the administration to peddle both the new Medicare law and the administration’s education program, a study rating individual journalists on their “favorability” to Republican education policies, and the payment to journalist Armstrong Williams to promote “No Child Left Behind.” Journalists Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus were also paid to promote the President’s marriage initiative.
The recent revelations about Jeff Gannon/J.D. Guckert, a White House Press Corps reporter with dubious credentials and a checkered past, who received his pass under a false name, was regularly called upon by Scott McClellan to ask the President partisan questions (thereby reducing opportunities for objective—or tough—questions that might have come from unplanted journalists), and was likely given an internal CIA memo revealing the name of operative Valerie Plame, are also indicative of the White House’s role in attempting to further propagandize the media.
Yet connecting these dots is relegated to the realm of conspiracy theory, as the mainstream media seems reluctant to do so. What such judgments ignore, however, is the fact that the media have every incentive to avoid connecting these dots, as it shines quite an unflattering light on their collusion in withholding the truth about this administration’s unethical practices from the American people.
Conspiracies are, by their definition, covert, and so perhaps by their surrender to the administration’s wishes of unquestioning compliance, the media have made many of the Bush gang’s machinations conspiracies. They have also made themselves useful tools in a far-reaching propaganda campaign; the reluctance to comment on the accuracy of any of the administration’s claims shows no less a disdain for the truth than those who made the fallacious claims in the first place. Propaganda works best, after all, when it comes under the guise of objectivity, and commandeering the perceived objectivity of the media through intimidation was an integral part of the administration’s strategy. Quietly and slowly relinquishing that objectivity was demonstrative of the media’s acquiescence to fulfilling the role of covert propagandists, and instigated both the general mistrust of any media source and the phenomenon of relegating truth-seekers to the realm of conspiracy theorists.
There was a time when pointing out blatantly obvious political maneuvering would not have warranted charges of being a conspiracy theorist. We used to have a healthy mistrust of our government; we assumed that the flaws of humankind weren’t checked at the doorways of the White House and the Pentagon. When the shit hit the fan, we assumed that the people involved might do less than ethical things in the pursuit of self-preservation. Now to suggest such a thing is to be deemed a paranoiac. It is as though we have been asked, and, inexplicably, collectively agreed, to rid ourselves of common sense and our very understanding of human nature.
Such willful ignorance, such readiness to suppress our instincts and abilities for critical thought, such easy compliance with the suggestions that we should obediently believe what we the administration tells us about themselves and denounce those who don’t as traitors…these are not the healthy attributes of a genuine democracy, and they are not indicators of freedom.
If I am a conspiracy theorist, if my sources are perceived as unreliable, it is the fault of a cowed and impotent media and a manipulative, deceitful administration who care little for what’s right if it impinges upon what they want—an administration who couldn’t be happier that someone like me is seen as little more than a wacky conspiracy theorist with unconfirmable information.
This is a but a symptom of a larger disease. Left indefinitely untreated, it will eventually mean the death of the American Democracy.