Friday, August 7, 2015

The FOX News primary

Brett Baier, left, seen cross-examining poll-leader Donald Trump
at FOX News' August 6th GOP Debate; 
Today, as Roger Ailes basks in the glory of last night's GOP debate, the rest of America is left to contemplate their place in American politics. For the non-FOX media and the political operators that make up the "Washington Cartel" decried by Ted Cruz, this means yet another reappraisal of how much control a divided GOP has lost over itself. And for the general American public, it's with some combination of glee, schadenfreude and despair that they realize they are in for an entire season of debates and presidential election coverage precisely engineered to satiate the hunger and whims of the Republican Party and the conservative consumer.

This coverage is unlike any we have seen before. It is motivated not simply by increased ratings and creating exciting programming, but by a desire to shape the race and be seen as an undeniable force within the GOP and American politics. The setting of the debate inside a sports stadium is a hint as to the new heights the network and its leader mean to achieve. As the show got underway, it became clear that this grandiose vision extends not just to production values, but an aim to be seen as playing the decisive role in the 2016 election.

The New York Times is right when it notes that the three hosts of last night's program were not indifferent to the candidates, but it fails to note that their aggression was not blind. Roger Ailes did not assemble ten candidates on stage simply to host a televised mass-shaming of politicians. Rather, last night was the unveiling of a remarkably ambitious plan to influence the GOP nomination. It was already clear that he intends to shape the pace at which the GOP field is winnowed in order to maximize drama and entertainment. Yet the moderators' act showed that he has higher aims- to elevate some candidates and suppress others, no matter how heavy-handed this requires FOX News to be.

As the Times notes, Ailes gave a firm kill order on Donald Trump. This was obvious even to the uninitiated, not just with the first question asking if he is secretly planning to give the election to Hillary Clinton, but by the ammunition they brought on his history of misogynistic comments and the prosecutorial vigor with which they cross-examined his claim that he had "bought" politicians. For his part, Trump did as well as could be expected under those conditions- far better than Jeb Bush in response to his critical (yet less-pointed) questions.

But FOX lent a helping hand to others. Carly Fiorina was promoted before the start of the debate as having "opened a can" of whoop-ass; later, she was mentioned during the debate not just by the moderators but with the only video clip of the earlier "second-tier" debate. And although he was largely unable to capitalize on the opportunities, John Kasich was lobbed softballs down the middle. An initial question about his expansion of Medicaid was unavoidable, but Megyn Kelly was kind enough to mention his use of faith in explaining his position. Later, Chris Wallace asked him a question about how he would fare in a general election against Hillary Clinton- a question emphasizing Kasich's main strength in the nomination contest:

It's not just that this question gave Kasich an opportunity to highlight his electability (a mark he largely missed) or that Wallace's careful wording underlined the fact that he was picturing- and asking others to picture- Kasich as the nominee  But he also teed Kasich up to effectively score points off of conservatives' hatred of Clinton. He not just gave Kasich an opportunity, but offered a template for the way to profit from this anger in how the way he referred to Clinton. "SHE will come after the nominee", "SHE" will say this and she will lie about that. By offering examples for him to echo, Wallace gave Kasich the chance to stir the ugliest element of Clinton-opposition without opening himself to accusations of sexism. Another favorable question went to Kasich later on in the night, when hosts asked him how he would respond to his child being gay, asking him to explain a kinder, gentler conservatism.

There were other moments where Ailes' pushed the nomination contest along. The pairing of Chris Christie and Rand Paul on the civil liberties question, for example, led to a predictably cutthroat exchange as these two men, starved for attention and airtime, tried to outdo one another. Christie punctured the crusader image Paul cultivated with his filibuster of the Patriot Act, tossing it aside as "hot air," to the chuckles of the audience. Paul reminded people of Christie's hug of President Obama. Roger Ailes couldn't have known exactly what would happen when he had Megyn Kelly kick the knife into the gladiator's arena, but there was certainly the potential of severe damage being inflicted upon one or both candidates- and it's easy to understand why that would be desirable.

The field must necessarily be parred down from sixteen to one and it's in FOX News' interest to wring every drop of entertainment out of each candidate before the nomination is decided. The more lead changes there are, the more exciting the race is. The more upsets to the conventional wisdom- failures by Bush and Paul and other candidates that have been seen as leading contenders since last fall- the more exciting the race. But excitement and ratings isn't enough- Ailes and FOX have a personal and professional quest to be seen as the force driving this party primary. When recently speaking of his embattled position inside the larger media empire, Roger Ailes explained why he would never be fired: "Rupert needs me to elect the next president". For him, this contest is the culmination of almost two-decades of wildly successful work to combine politics and entertainment through FOX News. For Roger Ailes, this is legacy building.

Understanding these dual aims explains much of what happened in last night's debate. Its why, outside of the already-tarnished Jeb Bush, moderators sidestepped the front-runners. The party hasn't reached a consensus about their preference between Rubio, Cruz and Walker. If FOX put its weight behind or against one of these candidates and was repudiated by the party it would destroy the narrative Roger Ailes hopes to build about the 2016 election: that it was a wild, dramatic race that FOX News won for the Republicans.

But while part of the performance was reading the tea-leaves and enacting the party's wishes on television, another was putting the FOX stamp on the primary battle- generating twists in the race that have an undeniable origin to moments on FOX News. The imposition of a population bottleneck on the field via poll-based selection criteria (which will be duplicated and intensified in the next debate as well). The promotion of Carly Fiorina to the top tier. The first spotlight on John Kasich (whose lead over Rick Perry in the 10th spot was enhanced by a last-minute change by FOX of the polls used to calculate its rankings.).

This will be a long process and last night was only the first episode. We know how Ailes intends the show to end- with a Republican president he and FOX News is credited with installing. The middle will be a series of ups and downs- and with the party divided, there is more opportunity for FOX to be the impetus of these shifts.

The invisible primary is over. The FOX News primary has begun.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blog transition

Good morning all. While I enjoy the hypothetical speech format, it's really been more of a roadblock to blogging than a conduit. It made sense when I wanted to receive academic credit for writing posts, but that time has passed. I may come back and do some occasionally, but the theme of this blog will start to evolve.

In the meantime, prepare for a deluge of backlogged thoughts and a looser writing style!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veterans for Dan French

Dear Veteran,

My name is Specialist Gary Gould and I’m a proud veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While I was overseas I constantly thought of the world I left behind. My service demanded that I live in many different locations, but I always considered Dutchess County home. Nothing means more to me, which is why I’m writing to you today.

War gives you perspective on what’s important and what you care about. It makes you realize what a true friend is and the importance of loyalty. My friend Dan French was there when I shipped off, but more importantly he was there when I came back. Anybody who has served knows that a homecoming is about more than parades and celebrations and Dan seemed to grasp that better than anyone else. Some people tried talking to me about what I had been through- Dan listened. He stayed by my side throughout my entire experience. He had been the first one to write, the first to show up when I needed him, and he is the last to leave.

This loyalty wasn’t unusual for Dan; it’s what everybody who knows him has come to expect. Dan is a loving husband-to-be and a devoted son. After the death of his father Dan did his duty and returned home to take care of his family. He put his life on hold, something that couldn’t have been easy, but for Dan there was no hesitation.

This Tuesday Dan is on the ballot to become our next County Executive. Dutchess County needs a leader, and I know from my service that good leadership can only come from a person of strong character. When I was young my father always told me that wisdom could be found either through years of studies or a single day on the battlefield. Dan French has spent the years needed to learn how to properly run a government. He’s a committed public servant, not another career politician. 

There’s nobody I would trust more to do what’s right for this county than Dan French. I know from my own experience that a vote for him is a vote for a good man. He’s been there for me, for his family, and I know that he’ll be there for Dutchess County. I urge you to consider him this Election Day.

Spc. Gary Gould

Monday, August 8, 2011

U.S. downgrade worse for S&P than Treasury rates?

Just as I supposed yesterday, the stock of Standard and Poor's parent company, McGraw Hill has taken quite a beating today- much worse than Treasury bonds. Yields on Treasury bonds are actually down today (that's a good thing, for those of you not up on your bond trading; the riskier the investment the more interest investors want on their loans) because of a sell off of stocks. McGraw Hill on the other hand, is down almost 9% at the time I'm writing this.

The point is, S&P downgraded the United States and everybody's realizing how unimportant this agency is. This is the group that said toxic Subprime Mortgage-Backed CDOs were AAA. They've lost their reputation and any relevance they had. Like I said yesterday, I think pointing this out diminishes the opportunity the President has to punish Republicans for their role in the downgrade. However, there are some Democrats in swing districts that could benefit from pointing out how insignificant this has turned out to be.

It's incorrect to say that this is going to have no effect on the United States. A lot of things affect treasury bonds, and the rates didn't go down today because something good happened. It's because something worse happened somewhere else and investors think US bonds are a safe place to put their money. Eventually though, this will result in slightly more interest on the government's debt. These numbers just reaffirm that things aren't as bad as some might think and that one rating agency doesn't have the power we might think it does.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Statement on the Downgrade of U.S. Treasury Bonds

President Obama released a statement on the downgrade of U.S. Treasury bonds that failed to mention Republicans or place any blame for S&P’s decision. To continue pretending both sides are to blame is dishonest and misses an opportunity to hold the GOP responsible for its actions. The following is what I think the President should have said. To read more of my notes on this speech, click here.

Good evening,

Moments ago, Standard and Poor’s released a report detailing their opinion on the credit worthiness of the United States. In the past century our debt has grown to become considered the safest investment in the world- an unofficial global currency. It has been so strong that, instead of cash, banks instead choose to hold our treasury bills. Today’s announcement puts that in jeopardy.  For the first time since this system began, our country’s credit rating has been downgraded by one of the major agencies. This is an unprecedented event and a sign of just how far our political system has fallen. It is an indictment not of the capabilities of the American people to work and build wealth, but of their government’s ability to responsibly collect and spend.