God’s really mad at us for electing Trump and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are the proof. At least that’s what a coworker said to me the other day when I came in to work. The actual greeting was: “Hey Chuck, looks like your liberal buddies in Hollywood are saying all these hurricanes are God getting even with us for electing Trump.” Of course I had an immediate, clever, and imaginative response. It went something like, huh?
It seems my colleague, an otherwise descent, caring, conscientious person, unfortunately suffers from informational constipation. He was referring to a story coming straight from the bowels of Fox News. At the time I didn’t know what he was talking about so he informed me. It’s all over Twitter that Hollywood elites were blaming hurricanes on Donald Trumps election. So with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek he asked me: “What did I think about that?”
At this point I should say this is a little game we play at work. I walk through the door. Somebody says something political, usually about Trump. They watch my eyes roll and my head spin. Then we can get on with the rest of the day. It’s kind of a tradition.
After the eye rolling head spinning part of the day was over; we all went about our business and I didn’t give the statement much thought until I got home and decided to look it up. What I found was a Jennifer Lawrence interview where she is promoting her new movie “Mother”.
During the interview she likens her character, a fragile and emotionally abused woman, to nature. In that context, toward the end of the interview, she says the overwhelming scientific consensus is that human participation in climate change is real; and our national response to that reality was to elect Donald Trump. She then goes on to say that recent hurricanes are the “rage” and “wrath” of an abused ecosystem. At no time does she say God is smiting us because of the Trump presidency.
On Fox News Insider the headline read: “Tucker Slams ‘Out of Touch’ Jennifer Lawrence for Linking Hurricanes to Trump”. On the broadcast Tucker Carlson said Jennifer Lawrence had claimed recent weather events are “divine judgement” and America is paying “penance” for electing Donald Trump. It’s not that God is above a little smiting. Anyone whose read the Old Testament could draw the conclusion that smiting is one of his favorite things. It’s just that Ms. Lawrence didn’t actually say that. In fact it was kind of the opposite of that. What she said was, our response to climate change was Donald Trump, not the other way around. Of course to understand this, one has to do more than just recognize the words coming out of her mouth. You have to actually listen to how they go together to form meaning. Not that Tucker Carlson is incapable of appreciating context and nuance; he just chooses not to when it suits his purpose.
And so the story was repeated on other Fox programs, Breitbart, Twitter etc. Now this self perpetuating B.S. becomes news and we can all gather our particular clans in our familiar corners and commence the not listening. This is what we’ve come to? This is what we now call debate?
Here’s my take on the situation we find ourselves in. I’ve been involved in the opinion side of news for over 20 years. I’m probably one of the last people who should opine about the veracity of news coverage, but I’ve been spouting off for a long time so here it comes.
It has been my experience that most news organizations really do try to get it right. They really do try to give you the truth in a clear, concise manner. This comes from a deep seated curiosity (actually nosiness) from the purveyors of this trade. If you watch Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC doing the same story, you will get pretty much the same result. There will probably be a detectable bias in the editing, but that won’t change the facts of the story.
The problem comes from those who put agenda above the truth. This becomes propaganda masquerading as news and unfortunately it is extremely marketable. When Tucker Carlson massages context to a point where it completely changes the meaning in order to reaffirm the views of his audience; he violates an honorable and long standing tradition of nosiness. This is not intended to inform. It’s certainly not an appeal to reasoned debate. This is political bomb throwing and the results are pretty much what you’d expect from a bomb.
The story itself isn’t terribly significant. It’s the statement of a celebrity twisted into a lie to inflame elements of an increasingly flammable country. It exploits and disrespects people who are suffering life altering disasters for no other reason than to set the twitterverse aglow. That’s the most important thing for Carlson and crew. The truth is something to be fashioned into what ever suits their purpose. It’s much easier to be outraged than informed and (here’s the scary part) we, as a society, are all falling for it.
I’d like to close with two quotes: “Cherish… the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them.” The second quote reads: “The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands…” One of these quotes is from Thomas Jefferson. the other Adolph Hitler. I’ll let you decide which is which.