Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bill O'Reilly: an examplarary of the paranoid style

From The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism ...

The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.

Finally, the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.
On Monday I quoted Orwell from an article he wrote in 1944. I'll now quote another section of it before I get to O'Reilly.

Another thing that that inquiry, if it ever takes place, will have to deal with is the magical properties of names. Nearly all human beings feel that a thing becomes different if you call it by a different name.
So now onto O'Reilly. A study at the University of Indiana recently released found that

Bill O'Reilly may proclaim at the beginning of his program that viewers are entering the "No Spin Zone," but a new study by Indiana University media researchers found that the Fox News personality consistently paints certain people and groups as villains and others as victims to present the world, as he sees it, through political rhetoric.

The IU researchers found that O'Reilly called a person or a group a derogatory name once every 6.8 seconds, on average, or nearly nine times every minute during the editorials that open his program each night.

"It's obvious he's very big into calling people names, and he's very big into glittering generalities," said Mike Conway, assistant professor in the IU School of Journalism. "He's not very subtle. He's going to call people names, or he's going to paint something in a positive way, often without any real evidence to support that viewpoint."
If you look at the link you'll see that the press release notes that the study used the propaganda analysis techniques that were developed in the '30s and are featured at Propaganda Critic (more on that in a moment.) The study also found that O'Reilly is a "heavier and less nuanced user of the propaganda devices than [WWII anti-Semite radio demagogue Father Charles] Coughlin." Go ahead, take a look at the link, pay attention to the key findings where they empirically break down O'Reilly's use of propaganda. I'll wait.

So what did O'Reilly have to say about that? This. That's right, the entire extent of his rebuttal to the study was to claim that it is another part of the nefarious international billionaire financier "S-P" George Soros conspiracy to smear and attack O'Reilly (See here for footage and more commentary from Newshounds). O'Reilly concluded:

So once again it's beyond a reasonable doubt that the radical left Soros has built a very smooth propaganda machine that has direct access to both the ABC and NBC television networks. Think about that. That is power.
To see that, again, O'Reilly was completely wrong in his allegations that Soros is the evil mastermind funding these "S-P" attacks on himself, you can check this Media Matters response.
So O'Reilly thinks that the charge that he name-calls and engages in propaganda is an "S-P" conspiracy funded by Soros. Hm. That's interesting, let's look at something I wrote over a year ago in response to Glenn Greenwald commenting on the tactic of labeling someone "liberal" or "leftist" and then acting as if that in itself was some sort of an argument against the person:

The reason why it is so very important to highlight this sophistic argumentation tactic is because it has been used so extensively that it is now generally accepted as a legitimate refutation of an individual's argument. Look no further than Bill O'Reilly - a man with a massive tv audience - who constantly is dismissing the ideas or views of someone as far leftist, liberal, Communist, secular progressive, etc. without regard to what the content of their views really are or without answering their arguments, for a case in point.

This tactic is actually the propaganda technique of name-calling:

The name-calling technique links a person, or idea, to a negative symbol. The propagandist who uses this technique hopes that the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence.
Full disclosure - I have not ever received a dime from George Soros. As you can see, I lacked the resources of the IU study to do rigorous empirical analysis of O'Reilly's program, but I was able to recognize what is blatantly obvious - that O'Reilly is a propagandist. So this in itself refutes O'Reilly's conspiracy theory ... or at least it would for a non-paranoid individual. O'Reilly would likely just say I'm an "S-P" hater and dismiss me, too. Indeed, I'm sure he would consider me an "S-P" since I've been a member of the ACLU (which O'Reilly has called a "fascist" organization) , Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Council for Secular Humanism, WWF, etc. - which fits O'Reilly's profile of a "S-P".

In the previous post I wrote about the paranoid style of Bill O'Reilly I noted:

O'Reilly has been pushing his meme that traditional Americans (aka conservative Christian Americans) are under assault from radical far-left socialist Secular Progressives. And his paranoid mind has seen fit to announce that secular progressive George Soros is the Evil mastermind behind this nefarious S-P cabal.

Now one of the things that I plan on blogging about once I regain my mind is the development of paranoid "right-wing" authoritarian memes over the course of the 2oth century and up until today. I touched upon this previously in this post where I noted what appeared to be the evolution of the War On Christmas meme, where you see the demonological scapegoating evolving as such:


But the thing is that in the paleofascist groups that remain among us (Stormfront, for example) all three of the above are synonymous. And guess what, George Soros just so happens to be ethinically Jewish, so O'Reilly's paranoid conspiracy would fit perfectly into the hate-literature of the extremists which he claims to detest (and for what's it worth, I believe he does detest them.)

What I think we see here is what Ludwig Wittgenstein (and Orwell) warned of. The use of language to hide the consequences of our beliefs from us. O'Reilly's S-P conspiracy, appears to me, to be little less than a politically correct version of the aforementioned Jewish and Communist conspiracies that have dominated the "right-wing" mind for the last century (with especially disastrous consequences when those conspiracies were put in practice in Nazi Germany).
Which brings me back to the point of Orwell quote at the beginning of this post about something being different if it is given a different name. The only difference I can tell between O'Reilly's paranoid conspiracy and the paranoid conspiracy of the anti-Semites or Birchers is a change of name. Instead of saying its a "Jewish" or "Communist" conspiracy O'Reilly says its an "S-P" conspiracy.

But does that some how make it less bigoted? Yes, of course O'Reilly isn't directing his bigotry at Jews, but instead the "S-P". But stereotyping and using propaganda to demonize a class of Americans is bigotry. The fact that O'Reilly has invented a new label to demonologically scapegoat does not change the fact that what he is disseminating has been the dominant paranoid right-wing hate-mongering meme for almost 100 years now.

But a consquence of O'Reilly pushing his version of the meme is that it helps to get the idea into circulation ... it helps to pave the road for the more extremist strands of the meme to begin circulating in the open and to make their way into the mainstream. Indeed, as they already have.

On Wednesday, Mr. Neiwert wrote a post entitled New World Order Redux in which he blogged about Glenn Beck saying that Al Gore's advocacy on behalf of combatting global warming was part of a one world gov't conspiracy that employs tactics that are the same as Hitler's. Neiwert commented:

[T]here's the underlying story that Beck is weaving here: "The goal is the United Nations running the world." Gee, where have we heard that before? Ah, that's right: the American far right -- specifically, the John Birch Society and the militia/Patriot movement. The whole "New World Order" conspiracy theory was predicated on the risible claim that the United Nations was intended to create a One World Government (or, in the neo-Nazi version, Zionist Occupied Government).

And as anyone with a knowledge of the history of these conspiracy theories knows, they are deeply rooted in the very same "Jewish conspiracy" theory promoted by a number of anti-Semites in the early half of the 20th century -- most notoriously by Hitler, but also by such American figures as Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin. Indeed, the anti-Semitic tendencies of both the Birchers and the militiamen has also been well-documented.

So Beck is attempting a neat trick here -- broadcasting and mainstreaming the far-right belief in a sinister U.N. conspiracy to enslave mankind, while simultaneously casting that supposed conspiracy as identical to the very forces that historically have persecuted the people scapegoated by such theories. It's Newspeak, of course: Beck is at once nullifying our understanding of the Holocaust and its meaning and the nature of the effort to confront global warming, muting the reality of mass murder even as he twists science to mean something it never did.

Notice that Neiwert traces the meme back to Father Coughlin (the very same person to whom the IU study found O'Reilly's propaganda tactics similar too). And in the comments section there I noted that Debbie Schlussel had said that Media Matters is "Nazi funded" and that George Soros helped the Nazis perpetuate the Holocaust. I wrote sarcastically:

It's impossible to keep up with all this. International S-P world order conspiracy mastermind George Soros is actually a Nazi. That's what the conservative movement is fighting. A one world S-P/liberal/atheist/Nazi attempt to establish a one world gov't. No doubt that global warming may have even been hatched by sinister nefarious S-P (ethnically jewish) mastermind George Soros as part of his plot to open borders to allow Satans Marxist [Mexican] minions to destroy America and Christianity in order to usher in the brave new world of Soros World order. Bill O'Reilly in his book Culture Warrrior identified George Lakoff as the Orwellian newspeak guru of the S-P movement, and in Whose Freedom lakoff talks about the "framing" (O'Reilly says framing is newspeak) of global warming. It all fits together!
But to better illlustrate the point, let's take a look at this older post where I discussed the hidden strain of anti-Semitism that courses through the "war on American values" meme that circulates the conservative movement in various forms. You can see in that post that I contrast a paleofascist version of the meme to various versions of it from other movement pundits, including Bill O'Reilly. They are all essentially the same, minus the overt anti-Semetism of the paleofascist supremacist. I'm going to quote the same O'Reilly quote that I quoted in that post

It's hard to be optimistic when fundamental creeds like America's Judeo-Christian philosophy, like competitive capitalism, like responsibility for one's actions are all under fire by the likes of George Soros and other "open society people."

Even the optimism of President Reagan would be challenged by organizations like the ACLU, the NAACP, and some large urban newspapers who want to tear down traditional America and replace it with a secular entitlement-driven system.

Look back at the start of the post and notice that this sentiment pretty much encapsulates Hofstadter's identification of what comprises contemporary right-wing thought. It is my contention that as hateful and bigoted as it was to spread conspiracy theories about Jews, it is equally hateful and bigoted to spread virtually the same conspiracy theories about "S-P"s. This is actually a topic that I will write about more in the future.

At the end of that post I wondered "Perhaps these people might rethink their views if they noticed how similar it sounds to the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the past." But after reading The Authoritarians I would now say the answer is no. These individuals can see wrong in other people, but they are incapable of seeing wrongness in themselves when they commit the same actions. Double standards and hypocrisy are the norm for these folks. As Altemeyer states:

research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and--to top it all off--a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.
Bloggers Note - This is the interim post I came up with. I was actually working on a larger series of posts on this subject, but couldn't resist the urge to comment on O'Reilly's reaction to the IU study. Hopefully, doing this post will help me sort my thoughts and focus my attention so that my other posts will be more coherent and better developed.


Sheldon said...

"Indeed, I'm sure he would consider me an "S-P" since I've been a member of the ACLU..."

This is the one thing I give credit to O'Reilly's for. The coining of the term "secular-progressive". Its kind of growing on me.

Hume's Ghost said...

I'd like to see someone ask O'Reilly what the alternative to a secular and progressive society is?

This is what baffles me about him (and our culture): how can a man this ignorant wield so much influence?

America was founded as a secular gov't, and the Founders who were products of the Enlightenment believed fervently in the idea of progress by use of human reason.

What would a non secular progressive society look like? Taliban Afghanistan and feudal Medievel Europe come to mind.

Anonymous said...

The alternative to a secular and progressive society? A superstitious and regressive one.

Anonymous said...

I know that the U.K. has reasonable libel laws. I think we need the same. I'm all for freedom of speech, but in a media saturated society, this freedom is now routinely and radically abused. There need to be some reasonable and fair "checks and balances". Let's 'em fight out the worse free speech tropes in the law courts instead of in the media. Either this or bring back dueling.