Tag Archives: msnbc

The Bundy Ranch: race, immigration, terrorism, and power

TW: racism, racist criminalization, anti-immmigrant racism, islamophobia, gun violence

Before we get into the heat of it again, I want to apologize for my long and unannounced absence. Life can get hectic, and writing about politics can be uniquely frustrating. One of the things I hope to do on this site is illuminate patterns in how many people approach and respond to certain issues, allowing those interested in improving things to anticipate their opposition. Unfortunately, that causes me to often feel like I’m needlessly repeating the same analysis, to the point that it gets stale, or even abstracted and confusing to someone who hasn’t been reading my posts here for months on end.

I’ll even admit I sometimes get concerned that I’m spotting connections that aren’t there or are less important than the context around them. Or maybe that my own biases are causing me to pick on people or otherwise get rather hyperbolically invested in a certain way of looking at an issue. A bit paradoxically, I’ve even been afraid of simultaneously showing off which news sources I prefer while more or less picking a fight with the journalists that I guess could be called my “favorites”.

So, hopefully I can avoid doing that when I say that Chris Hayes seems to have avoided looking at a crucial wrinkle in the recent controversy surrounding the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

bundy_ranch_stand_off_april_12_2014_by_pm_beers
(The owner of the Bundy Ranch near Bunkerville in southern Nevada, has refused to pay fees for the use of adjacent federal lands for grazing since 1993. After a decade of court litigation and accumulating fines, the Bureau of Land Management attempted to repossess the ranch’s cattle these past few weeks, culminating in an armed stand-off. Image from here.)

Chris Hayes covered this initially from a variety of angles, but most interestingly invited Nevada State Senator Michele Fiore, a Bundy Ranch supporter of sorts, to speak on the developments. You can see the video of their exchange here.

Fiore immediately summarizes her perspective as one that rejects the governments response to the Bundy case as essentially heavy-handed, but very quickly makes it clear that she doesn’t disapprove of the government having those powers for supposedly distinct situations. She explained, “Generally when my-  when our federal government comes in armed, we expect a bigger problem, maybe terrorist crossing the border, not an unpaid bill”. She later clarified, “If we literally sent our federal government to the borders to secure them against terrorists crossing, hey I got that, but they want to come here with arms because cows are grazing?”

Her perspective is, essentially informed by the idea that not only is the Bundy Ranch not a problem, but it is not a problem because of inescapable comparisons – to a violent other, understood as different from the speaker probably in terms of race, religion, and national status. The idea of who qualifies as a terrorist, as the balking over calling the Bundy Ranch supporters domestic terrorists shows, is difficult to separate from toxic ideas about exactly those ways of distinguishing people, and the political systems that have elevated White people, practitioners of “Western” religious traditions, and US citizens over others. Fiore and others expressing that viewpoint basically want to play a rigged game.

This is a pattern of thought I’ve been talking about for a while now. Especially in contexts that could be described as having to do with “security”, a new way of thinking about those issues has begun to emerge, which is often called “libertarian” or a new sort of “third way“. It’s often discussed as challenging established power, but when examined closely it prioritizes limiting state power and only in selective ways. Typically, the restrictions that remain are designed to be brought up in a racially and ethnically neutral way, but that reflect biases and prejudices that will allow a backdoor profiling to occur. The implicit idea behind these politics is that state surveillance and aggression need to be curbed, in order to better concentrate on the correct populations (this is the part where the person arguing for them winks or says, “you know“).

Now, the question is, how can people wanting to point that out respond to that? Hayes later explained his decision to invite on Fiore, saying that he wanted to create a place where people can interrogate her ideas and better understand her potential disagreements. I applaud that goal, but I have to say, he unfortunately failed in the moment to get her to address the existence of non-violent people of color who are subject to very militarized state aggression that she doesn’t care about.

His even later analysis (with Michael Eric Dyson) is interesting, but fails to call out the fact that she seems to know what she’s doing – she raised the comparison before he did. There is worth in pointing out (to people who simply aren’t aware of it) that the Bundy Ranch probably wouldn’t still exist if people of color had pulled that stunt, but that doesn’t directly address that that’s exactly how Fiore (and those who agree with her) seems to think it should be. Dyson helpfully points out something quite powerful:

“When people have guns who we think should not have guns, our sense of the social order is- is dramatically changed. Think about the big brouhaha occasioned by Thelma and Louise. Here are two women who took up a few guns and had,you know, if you will, a kind of reverie, and of course ultimate, the potential, suicide. But there was more violence in the first five minutes of Lethal Weapon 1, than in that entire movie, but because women, who are the ordinary victims of gun play, are now the agents of gun play, this is seen as toppling the social order. And when race, and gender, and class, and generation get involved, it begins to change our perception of who legitimately has a gun.”

But Hayes responds to that by asking how liberals (here seeming to mean people who hope to challenge that sort of thinking about who is and who isn’t a threat) should react to that distinction working towards a peaceful solution. He was offered up eloquent commentary on the same sort of distinction that Fiore obviously had working from the beginning of her argument for the Bundy Ranch’s perspective, and rather than pushing his guest to make it even more relevant to the arguments he supposedly had on to engage with, he countered it.

Hayes said in fact, that he’s concerned that the good in the government’s (temporary?) backing off has “gotten lost in this”. That’s admirable, and perhaps we should take a moment to be glad when these sorts of situations are resolved peacefully. That said, Hayes didn’t unfortunately seem as concerned about losing his own thread with analyzing exactly what type of unequal policies Fiore was advocating, and which has for the time being been reflected in how the government has treated the situation at the Bundy Ranch.

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I couldn’t say it any better myself

If you’ve followed me for a while now, you probably know that I’m not above reading the riot act to Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, or the two of them simultaneously, but today’s back-to-back broadcast of Haye’s All In and Maddow’s show covered an impressive range of issues with a level of depth that every channel and every show should emulate.

So I’ll give them that.

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The image of the country “we are becoming”

In the wake of the 2012 Presidential Election, I wrote about Paul Krugman’s explanation that that election was something of an extension and expansion on the themes in the 2008 elections. Among other indications, it was a symbol that the idea of the United States as an open and diverse society was not merely a fluke of the 2008 electoral cycle, but an increasingly integral part of the country.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep sight of that within what I’ve called the “unreality” of politics here. It’s difficult sometimes to remember how utterly unrepresentative much of the media and the politics in the US actually are. To that point, there’s been two major explorations of how wide that gap is in the past two weeks.

comparison of Sunday shows proportionate representation of White men - all greater than 60% aside from Up with Chris Hayes which is 41%
(The comparison of the Sunday shows’ demographics, from here.)

Media Matters recently released this chart showing how Up with Chris Hayes more accurately depicts the actual demographic reality in the United States, especially when compared to other Sunday shows. The problem of overrepresenting male and White perspectives, unfortunately, is merely one that Hayes’ show has challenged in anyway, not one that his show has actually actively resolved. It’s worth noting that while 41 percent of his guests are White men (compared to 39 percent of the overall population), only 37 percent of his guests are women. Again, this is significantly higher than other shows – but the fact that Up is an outlier, while it still so chronically underrepresents women of all races, is cause for concern.

Likewise, as I’ve pointed out before with regards to MSNBC’s coverage, people of color and women are not the only groups systemically locked out of discussions on policies and attitudes that most directly impact them. Still, in spite of its failings, this is chart fairly concisely shows just how out of touch most broadcasts are with who US residents actually are – in terms of just race and gender alone.

But what’s particularly interesting is that a large swathe of the country is moving towards pluralism on such issues even while hindered by a media that rarely allows all of those “others” to air their concerns or perspectives. Nate Silver a few days ago pointed out that aside from Republicans, the United States is rapidly becoming more accepting of marriage equality. The research he cites breaks it down in terms of both partisan identity and general political identity.

Comparison of marriage equality support since 2001 between political groupsComparison of marriage equality support since 2001 between political parties
(Click to enlarge. Pew Research shows long terms increases in support for marriage equality among different political parties and identities over the past decade, from here.)

It’s intriguing to see how support for marriage equality has been steadily gaining support for years – some of them under the notoriously prejudiced Bush Administration. Likewise, although both the increase is smaller and the results less impressive, this is something that’s even improved among Republicans and conservatives.

There’s something in actually visually seeing that fact – that some segments of the media are actually becoming more representative in terms of race and gender and that the polling shows as well that we’re growing more inclusive as a country.

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Two strikes, MSNBC

Much as I maligned Dan Savage’s discussion with Chris Hayes a few months ago, I have to give him credit – he at least asked an openly queer person to analyze and comment on policies and attitudes that impact queer people. Last Friday, while Alex Wagner was filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell, that was sorely lacking as MSNBC juxtaposed Rob Portman’s new public support for marriage equality with the most vocal voices at the on-going Conservative Political Action Conference. Instead of hearing a very specific gay man (who, of course, is cisgender, White, and an upper class celebrity) speak as though he represented the entire queer community, we actually had MSNBC ask for commentary from either closeted or straight people on one straight man’s opinions on queer people and associated policies. Oh dear.

There was, at the least, a variety of perspectives presented. I agreed fairly strongly with Ari Melber’s point that the Rob Portman’s “evolution” to a queer-friendly perspective is underwhelming in that it took one of his children being queer for him to even consider changing his publicly supported policies (and then took him two years to do so – because this should really be about whether he’s comfortable). Ana Marie Cox, who has been subjected to false allegations of having had an affair with a woman but didn’t comment as to her own sexuality in denying them, retorted, “I don’t think it’s necessarily sad that this is what it took Portman to change to his mind. I’m a supporter of marriage equality – I’ll take what I can get.”

The meaning of that statement cannot be divorced from Cox’s primarily undisclosed sexual orientation. If, though previously married to a man, Cox identifies as queer in some way, her disagreement comes from a very specific place. She is deciding that policies that impact her, which she wants altered in a specific way, are important enough that while Portman’s support might decenter people like her from the discussion, she’s willing to accept that as a price for political change. On the other hand, if she identifies as straight, this sentence is pretty damning. In that case, this was a declaration that as a supporter for that policy she has the right to determine what support for it is valid and what is not – that such decisions aren’t the exclusive property of those directly affected by it. In a literal sense, she would be giving herself permission to determine the shape and form of activism and policy-outcomes that don’t directly impact her, essentially speaking over the voices of actually affected queer people.

Before we cheer on Ari Melber or even Alex Wagner for avoiding such potential foot-in-mouth statements, it’s worth noting that not only were both of them party to this (presumably straight-only) discussion focused on straight people’s feelings about legal recognition of queer families, but they’ve been connected to other such discussions in the past. Melber, while sitting in for Wagner on her usual afternoon show, led a discussion at the end of last year on then Senator Chuck Hagel’s anti-gay comments in the context of his eventually successful installment as Defense Secretary. Like this (ostensibly straight-dominated) analysis of Portman’s opinions on his gay son, that panel was also entirely composed of straight or closeted people. To be charitable to MSNBC, it’s not like they have a resident expert on the intersections between their own queer activism and military policy (oh wait).

Naturally enough, the panel included Catherine Crier, who explained that Hagel’s commentary occurred so long ago as to be meaningless. After all, it was the Clinton administration! Back then dubstep didn’t even exist! And Crier was backhandedly hinting about how Janet Reno was a lesbian! If anyone’s an expert on whether that matters, it’s definitely Crier.

T shirt which reads - 'just another straight person for gay rights'
(Not pictured: an explanation of who gets to define what gay rights are and what the best or appropriate means for advancing them are.)

In a nutshell, this has happened twice. At least in the past few months, on two occasions has MSNBC put together a panel of exclusively straight (or closeted) people to talk about policies and attitudes that straight people have imposed on or developed about queer people. From this (perceptively) straights-only zone, twice now comments from people who haven’t publicly identified as queer have declared that a statement by a straight person aren’t nearly as problematic as some people view it to be. It’s wrong when this happens with regards to race, and the same dynamic is problematic when it happens with regard to sexual orientation.

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Would petitioning be too heteronormative too?

TW: heterosexism, pathologization of queerness, HIV/AIDS

So if you follow me on tumblr, you’ve probably already seen this quote which I reblogged and then spent a possibly unwarranted amount of time picking apart. I can’t find a source for this lengthy point about heternormativity and what both the means and ends of queer activism are that isn’t tied to that original tumblr post, so it may be a bit uncharitable to credit this to MSNBC show host Melissa Harris-Perry:

For me, queer theory is the emblematic example of how we say the value of what queer politics brings is a challenge to what is the normal. And it’s of course what that whole angst is about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and marriage equality. On the one hand, those are basic citizenship rights, right? You always know that there’s some second-class citizenship going on in military policy and marriage policy, right? If you’re looking for second-class citizenship, look in those things and you’ll often find it. So it’s a very reasonable set of political strategies, but the problem is also a very normative set of political strategies, right? It’s not about, ‘We have a right to be queer and create different kinds of communities and different definitions of family.’ It’s about, ‘Look how much just like you we can be; look how respectable we can be, see; we can have our families look just like your families, and we can serve in the military just like you; and so look how straight we can be!’ Rather than, “Look how queer we can be and look at how valuable it is to take queerness and open up the very definition of what constitutes respectable and normal.

While this specific point lacks and airtight attribution to her, it does fit within a class of argument that she’s made many times before. More than a year ago, she explained in an interview, “full inclusion into the American project of lesbian, gay and transgender people should not just mean, ‘Oh, good, now you can assimilate.’ It should mean that we have to challenge all of our assumptions as well. Expanding the citizenry ought to expand what the country is.” That’s a rather important point to make, but unfortunately incomplete.

In both these cases, Harris-Perry frames heterosexism near exclusively as marginality imposed on queer people and their families. She asks repeatedly about what’s understood to be normal, who is included, and who’s defined as family. Those are necessary parts of a conversation that needs to be had in the United States (and ultimately every part of the world in some form or other), but the explanation on tumblr that purportedly originated with her makes that the entire struggle of queer people. There’s another important fact to how normalcy is created – queer people are pathologized.

The idea of queer people as infectiously dangerous is hardly new – legally recognizing their kinship structures apparently taints the entire institution, there’s the constant arguments about “recruitment”, and concern for the children that often seems to bleed into fears of them becoming queer themselves eventually. Still, it seems remiss to discuss the dynamic without mentioning AIDS – the disease that to an eerie extent still defines queer men in our culture.

Silence = Death poster
(Government assistance to end what was effectively a plague had to be advocated for, because it was perceived as simply another dimension of how pathogenic queerness was, from here.)

So there is indeed a risk involved in queer people erasing their distinctiveness in order to assimilate into the still heteronormative culture of the United States, but to complain that queer people are preoccupied with explaining, “how much just like [straight people they] can be” comes from a place of privilege. One expression of that privilege is not having the US government treat your blood as infectious and dangerous to a degree that no other population’s is. The struggle for queer liberation, much like the on-going struggle for Black liberation, remains to some extent a struggle to be seen as valid, effective contributors to society, which is honestly incompatible with the vision of queer people as either pathogens or irresponsibly pathogen-infested.

If you want to be part of the struggle against those views, I’d recommend doing something other than wondering if there’s too much focus on same-sex and same-gender marriage, and instead supporting efforts to end policies that treat queerness as synonymous with being infected. A few friends of mine are trying to end one such policy. Will you sign their petition?

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The year trans* rights made the mainstream

GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has historically been a mixed bag in terms of the seriousness with which they’ve approached the needs of transgender and genderqueer people compared to cisgender lesbian, gay, or otherwise queer people. That said, their rundown of “trans stories” of 2013 is enlightening and shows some of the progress the organization has made.

With Melissa Harris-Perry’s coverage of Cece McDonald’s trial on MSNBC, the Washington DC Office of Human Rights’ (or OHR) pro-trans* visibility campaign, and Argentina’s political decision to allow citizens to decide what their gender identity should be listed as on their identification cards without traditional third party oversight (the first such national policy ever), this has been a landmark year for trans* visibility. There are many flawed policies and hostile attitudes that harm and restrict trans* individuals the world over, but it seems that in several ways the groundwork for establishing a better future has been laid.


(A translated advertisement of the new policies that was produced in Argentina, from here.)

The world has begun changing because of the hard work of many trans* activists, and that’s something we should celebrate.

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Some quick thoughts on the dangers of our post-truth media

TW: references to slut-shaming rhetoric and classist anti-choice legislation

David Roberts has already the heavy lifting for me on this topic, what with his invention of the term “post-truth politics”, his documentation of how the shift towards it has destabilized our political system, and most recently how journalists face the age-old choice between collaboration with or resistance to this new political mode. As Roberts excellently summarizes it:

“Do [journalists] call them as they see them and get labeled ‘biased’ and ‘partisan’? Or do they follow the lead of The Washington Post’s The Fix and cover politics like a theater critic assessing performances? That’s been the default mode for Politico-style journalists (like, say, Mark Halperin) for a long time. It’s safe and comfortable. There’s rarely any penalty for getting things wrong. You can rise quite high among the ranks of Very Serious People in that mode. But for those like Ezra, rankled by facts, irritated by conscience, it’s not a very attractive route.”

While I think this is a great explanation of the choice that virtually all journalists today face – between advancement and decency, power and duty – it misses that not only are journalists competing for a small number of superior positions, but also their reporting impacts the feasibility of the system that rewards only a small minority of journalists. For that tiny group and those who hope to become one of them, reporting that is critical of this power structure, even of seemingly unrelated parts of it, is a threat to their elite or would-be elite status.

That’s why articles like Alessandra Stanley’s criticism of fact checking of the Republican National Convention (RNC) are written. In it, she compares MSNBC’s coverage of the RNC to a brothel, ostensibly for promoting liberal alternatives to the politics of the RNC or unduly criticizing the Romney campaign. Her coup de grâce concerns Melissa Harris-Perry’s apparently lack of decorum or detachment when she noted that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell supported medically unnecessary and paid out-of-pocket trans-vaginal ultrasounds to gain access to an abortion. Contextualizing the RNC and its many flaws is apparently disturbingly unserious, and Ms Stanley has felt compelled to bash MSNBC for making the choice.

That’s the secondary struggle faced by journalists today – not only do they have to turn down the most lucrative positions in their field if they want to say what needs to be said, but they have to weather criticism from even the New York Times writer for televised ceremonies and programs for saying it. Even she is so invested in the existing journalism market that she cannot allow MSNBC’s hostility to a series of liars lying to them to go by without some judgment. Journalists committed to reporting the truth have to battle against the social and economic influences corrupting their field and the journalists corrupted by them.

But there’s also reason to hope here. There’s a reason the owners of the media have shrunk it down to a mere five major companies – a single concerted effort to criticize the power structure that has allowed the media oligopoly to develop could destroy it. Those companies need a media consensus to ignore the unsavory practices that affect reporters and their career opportunities. A single major channel, like MSNBC, breaking from the pack is sufficient to promote reforming the system and replacing these negative influences.

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