Boehner taps Rep. Trey Gowdy to lead Benghazi select committee (Washington Post)
House votes to hold ex-IRS official in contempt (AP via msn.com)
The possibility of me ever having anything to do with televised news shows is next to none, but it’s a field I study a lot because of the impact that the prime time news shows have not just on politics, but America as a whole. Although hosts provide the “face” of a show, and sometimes do a great deal of work, the bulk of the work is done by the show’s staff. One of the most powerful staff positions you can hold on one of these shows, particularly in terms of influencing the show’s content, is that of the segment producer. In this age of never ever having credits at the end of a news show, these producers don’t often get public credit for the work they do, but it’s important to understand their role in these shows, even if you don’t care for the mechanics of how television shows get made.
As their name suggests, segment producers are responsible for the production of one particular part of the show, starting with the A-block at the start of the show, then the B-block after the first commercial break (or, more often these days, set of commercial breaks), and so on. Segment producers have to do a lot of research to discover good stories for the show to cover, which they then pitch to the show’s host at an early-day meeting. The host then decides which of these stories will be the A-block story, the B-block story, and so on. The segment producers then figure out who the host should interview for the show, book the guest (either someone involved with the story or one of the show’s regular talking heads), interview the guest ahead of time, then write up the interview for the host, who not only knows what questions to ask the guest, but what answers to expect. Unless breaking news is being covered, most of the interviews you see on both news and entertainment shows were actually conducted hours in advance, and what you see on television is essentially a recapitulation of that interview. (One of the reasons James Lipton needs those huge stacks of blue cards on Inside the Actors Studio is because he doesn’t conduct pre-interviews, and what you see on Bravo is cut down from an interview that usually goes on for five or more hours.)
A good segment producer, although they are unlikely to be acknowledged during a show’s broadcast, can do a lot to elevate both the quality and the prestige of a show, so it’s important for a news network to be able to recruit and keep segment producers who can keep providing content for a show night after night. Fox News just hit the segment producer jackpot, because the Republicans in the House of Representatives have clearly decided that their primary task for the foreseeable future is to serve merely as a content producer for the network’s motley menagerie of Angry White Hosts.
It is one of the most damning indictments of the current condition of modern America that we have reached a point where serving as an elected official is seen not as the highest aspiration one can strive towards, but rather as a mere stepping stone to the real seat of political power these days: A talking head on one of these networks, either as a host or a regular guest, and with a few cushy side gigs serving on the boards of political “think tanks.” Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this kind of avarice to be sure, but with the way the right-wing media machine has mushroomed over the past twenty-five years, and with elected Republicans no longer just playing lip service to far-right talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but actually putting their radical ideas into legislation, it was perhaps to be expected that House Republicans would bring the gears of government to a near-halt so they can focus all their energies on providing video clips for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media machine to keep pushing their concocted narratives about the Benghazi attack and the IRS “scandal.”
Whatever legitimate questions remain to be answered about what happened on 2012.09.11 at the American Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, they have been lost in far-right fever dreams of President Obama and Hillary Clinton somehow seeing the attack on drone cameras on that fateful night and gleefully smiling as innocent Americans died while they did nothing to save them because, you know, Obama hates America (and so does Hillary). Long after the only “news” story that even vaguely corroborated the “Obama let Americans die” fantasy was thoroughly debunked (and gee, wouldn’t you know, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was giving advice to the reporter, Lara Logan, as she worked on the story), the far-right media machine continues to downplay or ignore the debunking so they can keep their audience’s bloodlust at blindingly high levels. At this point the far-right has been programmed like Pavlovian mice to react with fiery outrage at the very mention of the word Benghazi, so when elected Republicans talk about Benghazi they don’t have to claim that President Obama allowed Americans to die in Benghazi, or Hillary Clinton should have done more to protect the Americans in Benghazi, or Obama’s “real” birth certificate was in the building that burned up in Benghazi, or Benghazi Hillary is Benghazi trying to cover Benghazi something up Benghazi about Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi Whitewater Benghazi Clinton Impeachment Lewinsky Benghazi Benghazi Vince Foster Benghazi. (Why do I get the feeling Fox News is about to call and offer me a copywriting job?) The wet dream “proof Obama hates America” stories are hardwired into conservatives’ brains now, and the word “Benghazi” is a neat little three-syllable trigger to get them all salivating with unbridled rage against those Enemies of Freedom, Obama and Hillary.
Mind you, Republicans are already fundraising off this special committee they just formed to “investigate” what happened in Benghazi. Real classy. Also, throughout Obama’s presidency House Republicans have repeatedly tried to reduce Obama’s requested levels of embassy security funding. Let’s not get into all the embassy attacks that happened during Bush 43′s presidency and the lack of Republican outrage for any of those, or their attempts to stymie Democrats looking into the manipulation of intelligence that led the US into a years-long war in Iraq that resulted in thousands of American troops dying (to say nothing of the tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians), because we’d be here for days sorting all that out. These are facts, and right-wing media has lots of defences at the periphery of its bubble to make sure that no fact gets through to its listeners unless it’s been twisted beyond all recognition into fodder for a conservative talking point. All that matters is the right-wing illusion that the Benghazi attack was proof positive that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hate America and wanted Americans to die, and that’s been so deeply pounded into the heads of the right-wing base that the word “Benghazi” serves as a trigger for their rage. Now, thanks to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and all the rest of them will now have hours of tape of Congresspeople saying the word “Benghazi” every day for as long as this committee meets. (Somehow I have the feeling that it’s going to keep meeting at least through this year’s midterm elections.)
In a similar way, right-wing media seized on the “scandal” at the IRS this past year to hone conservatives’ hatred of all things tax to a razor-sharp point. If you only heard the stories that came out at the start of the scandal, when it came out that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were targeted for special scrutiny by the IRS, then you’ve heard the version of the story that is still playing today within the right-wing media bubble. I was as outraged as anyone when that initial story broke (I even wrote about it, surprise surprise, while I was writing about right-wing media trying to distort what happened in Benghazi), but it soon quickly emerged that the IRS targeted liberal groups as well, and even groups promoting open-source software (among others). There’s not been a shred of evidence produced that the Obama Administration had even the slightest thing to do with any of this targeting, but right-wing media still call it “the Obama Administration’s IRS” to subtly imply that Obama was somehow involved in the decision to target the tax-exemption applications of Tea Party groups.
Rather than try to explain why so many political groups applied for 501(c)(4) status from the IRS after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, I’ll let Lawrence O’Donnell do it for me:
All I will add to that video (and I don’t know why O’Donnell didn’t clarify this in the above segment) is that 501(c)(4) status is different from other tax-exempt statuses in that 501(c)(4) groups don’t have to disclose their donors. It should be easy to see why fatcat donors of all stripes would love these groups, because they could donate tens of millions of dollars to these groups so they can saturate the airwaves with advertising without the voting public knowing who bankrolled the ads. Because of the Eisenhower appointee who singlehandedly, and without authority, changed the definition of groups that qualified for 501(c)(4) status, the IRS was put into an impossible position because it needed to determine whether or not groups filing for the status were actual charities or just political fronts, requiring them to make a decision on politics when the IRS was deliberately set up to be as non-political as possible so as not to become a tool of Washington officials to exact revenge on their enemies.
Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the heart of this “scandal” (and quite possibly the most unfairly maligned person in America today), faced with a deluge of these applications, made a common-sense decision to figure out which applicants needed special scrutiny based on political keywords like “Tea Party” and “Occupy.” The conservatives who have been pumping all the hot air into this “scandal” would, at best, want Lerner to simply let anyone who wants 501(c)(4) status have it. At worst they want Lerner fired and the whole IRS abolished in favour of a sales tax (which would raise taxes on the poor to crippling levels and give the rich a huge tax cut), a flat tax (ditto), or no tax at all (might as well rename the country Murdochia). If there is a scandal in any of this, it is how these political organizations — of all stripes, not just the conservative ones — can dare to claim they are charities and force us as taxpayers to foot the bill for their groups through their non-payment of taxes, and how so many Americans think it is acceptable that Americans shouldn’t be able to figure out just who’s paying for those political attack ads that they see on television a gajillion times an hour. (If you thought the saturation of political ads was bad in 2012, just wait until 2016.)
None of this matters in the right-wing media bubble, though. They just stick with “IRS targeted conservative groups” no matter how outdated and incomplete that statement is, and for the past year Representative Darrell Issa has been forcing Lerner to testify at his Congressional hearings ad nauseum, hearings which almost invariably become the A-block story on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and get regurgitated by right-wing media until the next hearing.
It was bad enough that House Republicans said earlier this year that they were planning on not passing any major legislation this year, and that they’ve passed even more repeals of Obamacare that they know aren’t going to go anywhere. The endless hearings about the IRS “scandal” were already compelling evidence that Republicans had turned the House of Representatives into nothing more than the second Washington studio of Fox News Channel. With this new select committee on Benghazi, they might as well hang Fox News Channel banners on the walls of the House itself.