Friday, February 22, 2013

Adventures in identification (Part: I'm losing count)

They never cease to amaze me, Texas Lock Step Political Media.  Perhaps this perpetual amazement is a sign of irrational optimism I'm not sure. But every time I check my news feeds I'm dismayed that the arbiters of what passes for truth in Texas politics have gone and done it again.  I'm not sure where in Austin they are meeting to discuss how to identify ideological groups, or what they're drinking when they do meet, but whatever the drink it must have some ability to diminish one's ability for free thinking and intellectual honesty.

How else can you explain Wednesday's constant mis-identification of the Progressive advocacy group Texas Freedom Network from multiple sources, all using what is basically the same descriptor?  If not outright colluding they have to at least be sharing notes right?

First up is Dallas Morning News reporter Christy Hoppe, who has never met a group she considers progressive, choosing to punt, by not identifying them at all, except by name.  Can you imagine her doing the same for the Conservative Texas Right to Life?  Of course not.  It's quite possible that Hoppe either missed the meeting or didn't get the message, because two other reporters in Texas certainly did.  Both The Austin American Statesman's Chuck Lindell and Hearst Corp's Peggy Fikac decided that the groups' self-description as a "watch-dog monitoring far-right issues" was sufficient enough to give readers a clear picture of a group co-founded by Democratic Party activist, progressive and wanna-be (by many Democrats) future Texas (D)Gubernatorial candidate Cecile Richards. That's like saying PeTA is a group that monitors animal issues.  While technically accurate it omits a hell of a lot.  Even the former alternative news publication, and now glorified gossip blog Houston Press Hair Balls had the decency to call the group left-leaning, and even that's wrong.  "Left leaning" is all soft and fuzzy, indicating a type of PR driven Bill Clinton 3rd way approach.  It's the kind of stuff that indicates this is a group that would support work-fare reforms in return for concessions on the minimum wage.

Of course, it's not really all that balanced to identify them to the left of Lenin either.  The fact is most committed communists aren't really communists these days, and the ideals of socialism have been buried underneath the shouting of Hannity and Co. Nor is this group really liberal, a term which has no real meaning any longer as far as modern political practitioners.  Nope, what the group is, is solidly progressive.  Progressive without apology I might add.  And that's OK, because I think it fair for the media to point out when a group is progressive in idealism. Of course, Progressivism has it's own baggage to carry around. Most people think of it as liberalism, which it is most certainly not. While liberalism and progressivism do share some common goals, the "how" between the two is decidedly different. While a classical liberal would be a fan of free trade and a fair and free economy, the progressive is more likely to be populist and controlling.  Where liberalism is/was all about equality (and no Republicans, you are not the linear descendants of liberalism so stop it.) progressivism is actually very elitist in nature.  It assumes that progressive ideals are somehow elevated above others and that only the enlightened few can rule the masses. In a way, it's a humanist yen to theocracy's yang. This, in part, explains why the progressive movement is so hostile to the religious right, both groups want to place their godhead on the throne.

The problem is not with progressivism then, but in how the media are defining progressive groups. In other words, instead of calling them left-leaning how about owning up to the truth by calling them the "progressive Texas Freedom Network"  then follow that up by correctly identifying the "conservative Heritage Foundation" and just leave it at that.  Drop all of the "far-right" or "center-left" nonsense and just call them what they are.

Because here's the problem:  Within the political spectrum "social conservatives", "fiscal conservatives", "social progressives" and "fiscal progressives" are now pretty much all mainstream. (Quick note: being in the minority does not make someone "outside of the mainstream" that's a stupid, silly argument proffered up by partisan spin-doctors who understand that J-school grads with no grasp of real life are going to buy it) By refusing to classify progressive groups as progressive and by classifying everything to the right of Blue Dog ideology as "far-right" Texas' lock step political media is doing the state yet another disservice. It's the type of reporting that leads to the acceptance of ideas like amending the Constitution to limit free speech and the idea that certain Presidents are the nation's daddy. It also does the unfortunate work of allowing marginal candidates to claim their opponents are somehow "outside the mainstream" despite seeing 60% support in pre-election polls.

None of this should be taken as questioning the validity of the poll in question, but it does mean that the group's agenda has to be taken into consideration.  If the progressive greens can disparage polls commissioned by the Oil and Gas industry as biased because of the funding then why can't the other side be offered the same opportunity?  In many cases, it's because the reporters in question have been allowed to get away with burying uncomfortable facts about causes with which they hold some sympathy. If you're so partisan and simple as to believe bias lies in only bashing Republicans and hold up every negative article toward the Democrats as proof of case bias doesn't exist then all of this I just said will fly over your level of understanding.  If you're a Republican who's retreated to the world of Fox News and talk radio you're probably going to miss this point as well.

The secret is not just to insist that all progressive groups are labelled as such, but to insist that conservative groups are as well.  If the media can't get the basic facts such as ideological position correct (and I'm not talking about the silly "non-partisan" disclaimers here, but true ideology) then they might as well give it up and dedicate all of their resources to side-boob shots and star-catching.  Texas media consumers will just have to retreat to the Newsish sites and apply the appropriate filters.

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