The Cynical Immorality Of Sean Hannity & Much Of Conservative Media

After WWI ended, the phrase "I was just following orders" was rightfully discarded as a valid excuse for following leaders you knew to be immoral. In some ways, making that choice was ethically worse than being a person who committed evil acts without having the self-awareness to be understand the consequences. There is a special place in hell for people who select expedience over conscience.

There are rare moments in life when you are confronted with a clear moral choice. Do you follow the path of least resistance, knowing the consequences mean damage to the greater good? Do you follow the party line, no matter what the costs to your soul? Is being powerful and wealthy more important than doing what you know is right? Do you have the moral certitude to publicly be counted when doing so might lessen your fame?

These are choices many in the Conservative media will be facing in the coming weeks as the Donald Trump presidency continues to rip apart the cultural fabric that holds this country together. Everyone from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on down will have to peer deep in their hearts and ask themselves the core questions that will define their legacy. "Is my heart filled with nothing but hatred for the Left? Am I willing to follow the Trump Administration to the brink of chaos just to retain my power and fame with Conservatives? Is there nothing Donald Trump and his administration can do that will even briefly cause me to question my decision to pour my unrestrained ambition into the battle against his foes?"

If you listen to very much Conservative talk radio, you frequently hear several common arguments in support of whatever political news story is dominating the conversation that day. The Left hates America. President Obama is heading up a shadow government that seeks to destroy Donald Trump. The news media is corrupt and in bed with the Democrats. Any federal worker not approved by the new president is suspect. You can't trust scientists. Every aspect of America is politicized, from academia to Hollywood. 

Everyone is wrong but us. But not just wrong. Evil and corrupt.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a good piece yesterday about the Trump Administration's decision to just act as if facts didn't matter. It's not just saying one thing and doing another. It's a seemingly endless string of decisions to willfully lie in order to retain power:

There is Conway’s off-the-wall depiction above of the purpose of congressional investigations. Meanwhile, when Trump got called out for the lie that he won the popular vote but for millions who voted illegally, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, using the vow of probes as a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable. On Friday, Sean Spicer greeted the good February jobs report by claiming that the numbers “may have been phony in the past” — when they reflected job growth during the Obama presidency that Trump derided as fictional — but now they’re “very real.” Government data is real only when Trump says it is. Everyone had a good laugh over this, but at the risk of being very earnest, government data is supposed to inform policymaking.

Much has been made in the professional political press about the Trump Administration's willingness to lie in order to stay on the right side of an issue. But what's drawn less attention is the willingness of so many in the Conservative media to repeat the insane claims and then double-down by arguing that anyone who disputes the stories are liars and frauds. It's the Conservative movement's equivalent of the jealous boyfriend who tries to dominate the very soul his love even when he's caught cheating. "Are you going to believe me, or what you can see with your own eyes?"

It would easy to attack Sean Hannity, who has evolved in recent weeks into the Tokyo Rose of the Trump Administration. He hates the press, he attacks the Left, he repeats every outrageous claim from the White House as if his life depended on you believing it. His unwillingness to acknowledge even the slightest mistake by Donald Trump is both impressive and sad. I pity Sean Hannity. Because I believe he has no real moral compass at this point and truly believes every word he says. And in the end, it's that lack of self-awareness that will doom him. It's difficult to hear him rant about the "snowflakes" without recalling that scene from the movie "Network," in which a marginalized Howard Beale is left screaming out his rage to an audience who doesn't care anymore.

Rush Limbaugh's role in this circus is much darker, because it's clear at least some of the time that he's just doing a sophisticated radio version of trolling. Yes, he wants to see Trump succeed and he might even agree with some of the policies. But his ultimate success has always come from using his impressive broadcast skills to rile up the other side. It's cynical and dark and it's an approach that ultimately will leave him a soulless shell of a man. But he seems willing to pay that cost and his cynical decision to support Trump because it's good for business elevates his immorality to a unique level.

I don't care at all about the pack of smug, trolling young Conservatives who have found themselves increasingly popular in a Trump Administration. These people worry less about politics and ethics than about having some fun at the expense of their opponents. If this were the Revolutionary War, these sad clowns would be writing missives criticizing the grammar of James Madison or laughing about the clumsiness of Benjamin Franklin. These folks are gadflys, without any real political beliefs beyond what they need to say in public in order to continue hovering close to the limelight.

I started this piece writing about the choices some Conservatives will have to make. Some of the ones who will have to search deep down in their souls are the mid-level talk show hosts. The Conservative members of the political commentariat and Republican politicians of all levels. What will they do as they are faced with an increasingly erratic Administration? Is protecting the framework of the United States more important than their careers?

Ten years from now, we will all have to ask ourselves what we were willing to give up to confront this madness. All of us on the Left have our demons to battle and costs to pay to make things right.

But maybe THE question of the next two years for Conservatives will be a simple one. Were you willing to stand up for what is right for the country? No matter what the personal costs?

Today On Conservative Talk Radio: 03/07/2017

Each day I listen to random conservative talk radio shows to get a sense of the mood of conservative voters. And to get a heads-up on what the "Fox & Friends" morning show will be discussing tomorrow. 

This page gets updated throughout the day and you can click here to subscribe to receive an email version at the end of each business day.

Glenn Beck Just Gives Up

One of the fascinating things about listening to Glenn Beck's Morning Zoo is that you never know which Beck is going to show up that day. Is it the politically conservative firebrand? The deep-thinking religious pundit? Or, as was the case today, is it the veteran talker who just can't believe the weirdness of today's world?

This morning show started with a clip of  Congresswoman Maxine Waters more or less confirming that the Obama Administration. Or, maybe not. But her comments were so muddled and confusing that Beck and Co. were just flummoxed. They threw up their hands and spent most of the remaining half hour talking about cheating on your spouse with Netflix.

There was an interesting discussion about a recent study that showed the percentage of people who believed a politician who didn't have a Biblical worldview could still be a good leader had skyrocketed since 2011. Maybe a good example of the Trump effect?

All In With The New Health Care Plan

Mike Gallagher loves the new GOP Health Care plan. Based on his show today, he's struggling to find anything wrong with the plan. Except maybe that it doesn't include some pet Conservative ideas such as selling health care plans across state lines. 

Gallagher interviewed Vice President Pence at the top of today's show and I haven't seen anyone toss so many softballs since I played catch with my young son. Listening to the conversation, you might believe that this is a plan that will improve everyone's health care options while creating absolutely no downside.

There was some discussion by Gallagher after the interview about the need to be patient with people who might worry they will lose their health care. Oh, he apparently doesn't believe that's a valid concern. He just thinks the plan's supporters have to be patient as they explain to voters how wrong they are about the plan.

In Gallagher's discussion, you can hear the pro-Trump Care talking points evolving. The tax penalty for not having insurance is waived (although he slips over the 30% monthly premium penalty if you go 60 days without health care). He touts the tax credit and the cuts in premium subsidies without explaining how a future tax credit will help someone afford a health plan today. He mentions that anyone with a pre-existing condition can still get coverage, without mentioning rates for that coverage will skyrocket. And he skips over the fact that the GOP plan reinstates the lifetime coverage limit. A move which will mean that patients with expensive medical issues - from cancer to heart disease - will find their coverage going away in the middle of treatment.

There's nothing wrong with being an advocate for Trumpcare. But the danger is that you gloss over the compromises necessary to make any plan viable. This is the type of lying by omission that  caused problems for the ACA once it began to be rolled out to the country.

Pay No Attention To The Details Behind The Screen

It's easy to forget just how good of a broadcaster Rush Limbaugh can be when he shrugs off the bluster and self-importance and just communicates, He's arguably the best radio broadcaster of his generation and his biggest gift is his ability to cobble together a bunch of vaguely connected facts into a reasonable-sounding conspiracy theory. More than once, I've listened to some pet theory of his and found myself getting caught up in the possibilities. At least, until the segment is over and start recalling the actual facts of the story. Listening to Limbaugh, I often feel like a dog being distracted by a flashlight flickering across the floor. I'm distracted, but only until the light is turned off and reality returns.

I had a bit of that feeling today, as I listened to Rush wax poetic about the Trump claims about his campaign being wiretapped. Limbaugh spent ten minutes throwing out a bunch of semi-connected facts about the story and after awhile it was almost possible to believe that it was all the result of some overly complicated political con job by the Democrats.

As he talked about wiretapping, he referenced the new Wikileaks drop of CIA files. He notes that one file claimed the CIA could spoof the hacking style of a number of countries, including Russia and China. "Hmm...Russia?" He ponders. "So, if someone was hacked, they might think it was Russian hackers when it was really the CIA?" He lets the thought hang there, then bounces back between thoughts about the Trump story and the Wikileaks news. He never quite has the stones to argue the CIA might have been behind the DNC hacks that were attributed to the Russians. But he leaves the thought out there and almost dares listeners to make the connection. Limbaugh is a genius, albeit a manipulative one.

Please Use Your Inside Voice

I'll be honest. I don't often listen to Mark Levin. Partly it's due to timing. Here in the Twin Cities, his show airs during evening primetime hours and I'm generally either spending time with my family or watching television.

But I also find him difficult to listen to on a regular basis. If Rush or even Sean are conservative memes wrapped up inside solid broadcasting skills, Levin is conservative talk radio's equivalent of that Woody Harrelson character in the movie "2012." You know, the ranting conspiracy goofball broadcasting live from his RV as he dodges the government forces out to get us all. Levin isn't a conspiracy monger, but he's just as passionately self-centered about the reasons why we're teetering close to a political apocalypse.

Levin screams, he whispers in quiet asides and often speaks in long-winded arguments that mash 50 points into one long, confusing explanation. He is angry, but his rage is primarily directed at the people who don't understand him. He's the Smeagol of talk radio, talking as much to himself as to the audience.

While Levin's show can be great performance art, he was likely off of most people's radar until last week, when his theory about the Obama Administration's possible wiretapping of Trump Tower caught the attention of the President and eventually the world. And I think it's fair to say that Levin is as much enraged by the scrutiny as appreciative of the extra attention.

Tuesday evening's show began with a very long examination of the proposed Trumpcare/GOP health plan, which Levin described as "RINO-care." I won't go through all the things he finds objectionable. But he essentially seems to believe that the health care system worked just fine a decade ago, so why did Obama have to go and change it? He dismisses the need for twentysomethings to have the chance to stay on their parent's healthcare plans. He explains that lifetime caps are crazy, because that might mean some illegal immigrant with $10 million worth of problems would be able to get coverage. He doesn't bring up the more likely scenario, in which someone undergoing cancer treatment suddenly discovers their coverage cap has been hit in the middle of their chemo treatment. According to Levin, if you hit your coverage cap, you should just go to your insurance provider and ask them to waive the restriction. A move which is so detached from reality and the way the healthcare system works that it almost sounds like a joke.

But Levin is saving his biggest rants for the media, whom he believes continue to misrepresent his work on the Trump story. He goes through example after example of pieces he believes unfairly attack him or his theory about the wiretaps. He continues to focus on the fact that his theory is based in large part on the reporting of major news outlets, often screaming that the criticisms are pointless, since he didn't do the original reporting. After a half hour of this, it's still not clear whether he's purposely misrepresenting the criticism or truly doesn't understand the pushback. The many journalist's criticizing his original piece don't have a problem with the original reporting. They generally think his timeline is misleading and/or ill-informed. A distinction which seems to be beyond the grasp of Levin.

I know that Levin has an audience and his fans obviously enjoy his politically dystopian worldview. But like Michael Savage, Levin is someone I have trouble listening to on a regular basis. He's too angry, too dismissive and too dark for regular consumption. At least for me.

Check back in tomorrow.......

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Where Donald Trump Gets His News, Presented In Four Tweets

There is this general feeling among media watchers that President Donald Trump gets a lot of the "facts" he tweets about directly from watching TV shows like "Fox & Friends." While that causality is sometimes difficult to prove, allow me to provide today's example, presented in four tweets.

As an FYI, the story referenced in the Tweets comes from The Gateway Pundit, which has breathlessly added "Trump Tweets Our Numbers!" to the story.

Today On Conservative Talk Radio: 03/06/2017

Each day I listen to random conservative talk radio shows to get a sense of the mood of conservative voters. And to get a heads-up on what the "Fox & Friends" morning show will be discussing tomorrow. 

This page gets updated throughout the day and you can click here to subscribe to receive an email version at the end of each business day.

The Calm Voice Of The Conspiracy-Minded

As you might expect from previous shows, Rush Limbaugh was deep in the weeds of the alleged Trump wiretap stories in today's show. He spent an entire half-hour recounting the various twists and turns of the story, using Mark Levin's timeline as the explanation for what supposedly happened.

He spends a fair amount of time on one aspect of the story. He says that much of the proof of Obama's involvement is proven by the timing of the FISA requests. He also argues that the original request (which was rejected) was a criminal case request, which would be outside the influence of the Obama White House. But the second, successful FISA request was labeled as a national security issue and that allowed Obama to guide the investigation.

Limbaugh does what he does best in this argument. He takes a couple of more-or-less true facts, then stretches and exaggerates them into a wide-ranging conspiracy theory that sounds credible if you don't go back and unpack the argument. Oh, it doesn't hold together, but most listeners aren't sitting in front of a stack of documentation and newspapers. He can misrepresent an article or tie disparate facts together with a few "doesn't it make sense" comments and weave together a credible, although entirely imaginary conspiracy theory.

Later, Limbaugh recounts the long list of items he argues the Obama Administration lied about in the past: Fast & Furious, Hillary's emails, etc. In the end, he claims that based on the past, it's far more likely that Obama ordered the wiretaps than he didn't. In that comment, he reveals the crux of the Conservative argument for the wiretap story. "It's just the type of thing Obama would have done." An argument that wouldn't win the day in an episode of "Law & Order," much less in a real-life court. But it keeps his supporters wound up.

Then there's one last tidbit Rush throws out to "feed the drive-by media beast." He postulates that perhaps the infamous tarmac meeting between Bill Clinton and then Attorney General Loretta Lynch wasn't about Hillary's emails. Maybe it was about these wiretaps, because the Justice Department approved the second FISA request a week later. It's a titillating factoid, but he wisely doesn't dive into fleshing out the allegation. It's pretty clear he doesn't believe it, even as he says it. Because otherwise, Limbaugh is arguing that all of this is some wide-ranging conspiracy that spans the Obama Administration, the Clinton campaign, the Justice Department and the media.

But that over-arching argument is the crux of the conservative thesis for the wiretap story. Obama could never be trusted, the Left couldn't accept the rise of Trump and the danger to their power. They are trying to destroy Trump & this wiretap story is proof. This theory serves two complimentary purposes for the Trump Administration. It's a hot-button issue that rallies the base of supporters who still loathe everything the Obama Administration stood for during its eight-year run. But it also helps solidify support from wavering supporters who might be distressed by some of Trump's other moves. It's a way of making it tougher for Democrats to peel off Trump voters in the future and while that's good politics, I'm not sure it's that great of a move for the state of the union.

More coming.....

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3 Stories From The Heartland: 02/16/2017

Each day we highlight three local news stories from the heartland that deserve some national attention.

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1) Alabama House Approves 'Sanctuary Campus' Bill

Generally speaking, legislation designed to counter an idea being pushed by a petition is a bad idea. But the Alabama House has approved legislation that would allow the attorney general to pull state funds from colleges and universities not in compliance with immigration laws:

Williams said last week that a student movement at the University of Alabama Huntsville to declare it a sanctuary campus inspired the bill. A UAH official said last week that a someone circulated a petition on that issue and that a rally in its support drew four students. Williams Tuesday spoke broadly of campuses on the Pacific coast during the two-hour debate.

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, accused Republicans of pursuing a “political agenda” before addressing the state’s needs, such as funding for Medicaid, prisons and law enforcement.

“We ought to be getting on the budget,” he said. “I’m surprised this will be the first thing we bring up in this session when we have all these problems.”

2) Too Fat For Workers' Comp: Greg Staffa's Sad But All-Too-Common Story

Most people are familiar with the idea of workers compensation. While the programs vary a bit state-to-state, the general approach is that if you're hurt at work, your employer is responsible for your resulting medical bills and perhaps for some percentage of lost wages. But it turns out, qualifying for workers compensation can be difficult. You have to prove that your medical problems are the result of your job and your claim can be denied for a lot of reasons. Including just being too fat to determine whether your injuries are the result of a job or just a few too many orders of jalapeno poppers.

Northwest wasn’t sure. The company sent Staffa to Dr. Bradley Helms, a specialist in “physical medicine and rehabilitation.”

Helms later reported his charge was a “pleasant, well dressed and groomed gentleman.” And fat. “Moderately obese,” Helms documented in one passage — so much so that “his body habitus” made it “virtually impossible” to detect his muscular injuries.

Staffa calls Helms’ work-up “the fat report.” Northwest’s claims adjuster, Liberty Mutual, used the diagnosis to blame Staffa’s “underlying and personal condition” for any lingering issues. His workers’ comp claim was denied.

Staffa thought he’d be in line for a less strenuous job supervising and answering phones, a common occurrence under an “accommodations” program between his union and the airline. But Northwest laid him off.

3) Was Trump Really A Top Student At Wharton? His Classmates Say Not So Much

President Donald Trump has often discussed his time at the Wharton Business School and has stated in several interviews that he finished "first in his school." Two student reporters at The Daily Pennsylvanian looked into his claims and discovered that not only did he not finish first in his class. He didn't even make the Dean's List:

Given that there are 366 listed 1968 Wharton graduates on QuakerNet, Penn’s alumni database, the Dean’s List of 56 students represents approximately the top 15 percent of the class. The omission of Trump’s name suggests that his academic record at Penn was not as outstanding as he has claimed.


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