In this issue of Banter M:
Life, Death and TV News– Chez Pazienza recalls the day two members of his news team were killed in a helicopter accident, and why journalists must keep doing their jobs despite the inherent dangers.
How Cornel West Could Sabotage Bernie Sanders– Ben Cohen discusses the dangers a polarizing media figure like Cornel West presents to Bernie Sander’s already improbable Presidential bid.
The WDBJ Shooting and How Alex Jones Exploits the Gullible Paranoia of His Audience– Bob Cesca uncovers the deeply manipulative techniques Alex Jones uses to brain wash his audience in times of disaster.
Life, Death and TV News
by Chez Pazienza
On the afternoon of Friday, March 3rd, 2ooo, I was sitting in the main news conference room of WTVJ — the NBC-owned TV station in Miami — shooting the shit with my assignment editor, a great guy and fellow television misanthrope named Scott Walterman. This particular conference room was lovingly known as the fishbowl since it was basically a large alcove just off the newsroom separated from it by sliding glass doors. The view from inside it was of the whole operation while the view from outside during any of the usual daily news meetings seemed to be of a bunch of bored and brain dead fish just sitting there. We had just wrapped up our afternoon meeting and I had my feet on the conference table; Walterman was at the other end. We were basically stalling in an effort to avoid actually beginning our shift proper. That’s when it happened.
At the far end of the conference room was a series of TVs tuned to each of the local channels, including ours. Suddenly, one after the other, the programming on each of those TVs stopped, the familiar attention-getting “Breaking News” graphics screamed across the screens and every station opened onto a shot of a pile of burning wreckage in the middle of a local suburb. At first glance, it looked to be a small plane crash, which would obviously be a pretty decent story. As each channel fixated on the fire, thought, ourchannel seemed to remain blissfully unaware, at least judging by the fact that we were still in regular programming. Every other major station in the South Florida area was covering this thing, while we just rolled on like nothing was happening. Every one of those TVs in the conference room — all in a row — showed helicopter shots of the fiery wreckage, while ours was giving viewers nothing more than a whole lottaRosie.
After waiting for us to catch up for a minute or so, I finally threw open the doors of the conference room, stepped out into the newsroom and barked, “Where the hell is our chopper?” I figured we were simply missing the story, which was inexcusable. The response I got, however, still chills me to this day. One of our senior producers turned around, his face stark white, and said, “We can’t find it.” It took me a second to process this response and then another second to fully grasp the implications of it. Once it hit me, I turned around and looked back at the TVs in the conference room — at all those images of the burning husk of a small aircraft — and mouthed a barely audible, “Oh, Jesus.” It took only a few more minutes to confirm our fears: that was our chopper that had crashed, and inside the wreckage were the bodies of ace photographer Rob Pierce and pilot Ruben Rivero. After that, our newsroom barely kept it together. You cover a lot of death and destruction in the news business but there’s something ironic about how hard it finally hits you when the victims are members of your own family.
I’m friends with so many people from so many different TV networks and stations on social media and you heard that word come up a lot yesterday: family. In the wake of the on-air murders of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, a lot of TV news people came together on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to express sympathy and mourning but more than that to stand in solidarity with the men and women of a relatively small station in market 67. The reason for this is that every person who works in local news understands what it’s like to work a morning shift. Every reporter has been Alison Parker at one point and every news photog has been Adam Ward. Every newsroom in America has people who sit bored in a control room at 6:30 in the morning, barely awake, while a completely mundane live interview rolls in front of them. Every station has reporters who are used to doing mundane live interviews, the kind where the thought of living or dying couldn’t be further from their minds. Alison Parker and Adam Ward weren’t live from Iraq. Hell, they weren’t even live from a dangerous part of town. They were talking to a woman named Vicki Gardner, the executive director of something called the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, which I start to fall asleep just thinking about. This wasn’t the kind of story you risk your life on. Alison Parker wasn’t Christiane Amanpour.
And yet Alison Parker is now dead, her life ended by some wack-job with a Glock and a grudge while she was out on the kind of story no news reporter in America fears. The same goes for her photographer, Adam Ward. Covering the news can be a dangerous job; covering the story Parker and Ward were, for a relatively small market station just as the sun was coming up, absolutely shouldn’t have been. I’ve worked at stations where tragedy has happened and someone has died. I’ve lost five colleagues and friends in the news business: three in helicopter crashes, one in Iraq and one — my best friend — in a car crash. I know very well what it’s like to have to continue doing the news when someone within your family is dead andthat’sthe news. I’ve had to shut down my emotions completely and operate only on autopilot — more than once. But for the life of me I can’t even begin to fathom what the employees of WDBJ are going through right now. There’s tragedy — and then there’s outright shock, outright horror on an unimaginable scale. Watching your friends and coworkers shot dead on live television is something that no doubt stays with you.
Newsrooms are odd places. They’re pirate ships full of people who work too hard and drink too much. They represent one of the few places where misfits and misanthropes can still come together professionally and thrive without facing too much criticism. They’re high-stress environments which means that they’re volatile and they can draw volatile people, a fact that’s on the one hand laudable because volatile people sometimes make the best journalists — as Matt Taibbi once said perfectly, as a journalistic organization you need people who are willing to punch holes in walls to get the job done — but on the other hand is frightening when you consider that the man who killed Parker and Ward was adangerouslyvolatile asshole who used to work at WDBJ. He was an unstable monster who apparently steadily nursed a sense of entitlement and persecution complex that would sink a ship. He was fired from WDBJ two full years ago but obviously carried a grudge that just wouldn’t go away. Not only did he have to kill Alison Parker and Adam Ward, he had to make sure everyone saw it and understood the grave injustice that had been committed against him — the injustice two people apparently had to die to make right. The videos and freezes circulating right now convey a kind of madness and horror I can’t imagine any friend or loved one ever being able to get past. This man, this lunatic, stood next to a distracted news crew — focused completely on their job — drew a gun, pointed it at unaware Alison Parker and shot her over and over again then did the same to Adam Ward. It’s mind-boggling that this can happen in a supposedly civilized country.
Now, in the wake of this, a workplace used to bringing news — often bad news — to the masses has to cope with its own terrible news. To be honest, I have no idea how the hell they’re going to be able to do it. I don’t know how anyone at WDBJ was able to put a newscast on the air on Wednesday, other than to understand that there are always people within any newsroom who can compartmentalize awfulness in the name of doing what needs to be done. There were several of us who did that in the wake of the chopper crash that killed two beloved colleagues in 2000; we were simply the sort of journalists who had the maybe contemptible ability to shut down in the name of the show. The show must go on — and during a crisis or tragedy that impacts your newsroom personally that’s especially true. No matter what the tragedy, whether it’s the murder of coworkers or an accident that reminds you that as journalists you’re not immortal or terrorists flying into buildings right up the street from you, killing thousands in the city you call home, you have to keep reporting the news. You have to keep doing your job no matter what. That’s the dedication that’s required to be a journalist — and it will eat you alive sometimes, that you can chew up and swallow panic and horror because you have to.
I don’t envy the men and women of WDBJ right now because, to a less comfort-shattering extent, I’ve been where they are. But I respect the hell out of them because they’re still doing what needs to be done in the wake of a nightmare that’s going to haunt them forever. They deserve a monumental amount of appreciation from the community they serve and from those of us who’ve been in the news business and who continue to. In the face of tragedy they’re doing the most important thing they can do right now: their jobs.
How Cornel West Could Sabotage Bernie Sanders
by Ben Cohen
Cornel West was once a great man. His razor sharp intellect, brilliant insight and mesmerizing lyricism played a vital role in articulating the black experience in America. He spoke to black, white, Asian, Hispanics alike, treating them all as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, gently pushing, cajoling and scolding America to better herself and overcome its painful racial history.
Somewhere along the road, Cornel West stopped being Cornel West and a nasty, bitter parody of his former self emerged. Armed with the same loquaciousness and rhetorical power, West began to use his formidable skills to denigrate and insult anyone who did not agree with him. This appeared to stem from a perceived betrayal by President Obama, a one time ally who insulted West by not inviting him to his coronation in 2008. Wrote West of the incident:
I couldn’t get a ticket for my mother and my brother…We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.
So much for West, the man of the people. After this rather trivial ‘betrayal’ West began to insult Obama at every given opportunity, labeling him a “black mascot of Wall St Oligarchs”, the “first niggerized black president” and a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface”. To hear this type of rhetoric coming from a man who rose to fame through his sharp, but ultimately inclusive and loving sermons was a shock to long time supporters and close friends. West’s astonishing bitterness towards Obama also manifested itself in furious anger against any other prominent black American who chose to support the President or disagree with West. He labeled black media figures “prostitutes”, “bootlickers” and “house negroes”, grotesque insults that revealed more about the new Cornel West than anything else, and provided a sorry insight into a man consumed by his own ego and gnawing identity crisis.
The end of Cornel West as a serious figure in American politics – both black and mainstream – was completed in a painfully personal, honest takedown by former friend and ally Eric Dyson. West had repeatedly insulted Dyson, accusing him of selling out and prostituting himself along with Al Sharpton, a man he labelled a “bona fide house negro of the Obama plantation”. After remaining quiet through West’s disgusting, racialized insults, Dyson finally hit back with a total evisceration inThe New Republic. Dyson’s almost 10,000 word excoriation of West’s tragic downfall was so brutal and complete that West did not, and could not properly respond.
“West’s narcissism in this matter is not exemplified by his sense of being jilted but in the way he has personalized his grief,” wrote Dyson. “And the longer West has nursed his resentment, the more he has revealed parts of himself that even he may not understand or be able to explain, since political disappointment in a politician’s behavior rarely provokes such torrents of passion, such protracted, dastardly, and sadly, such self-destructive hate.”
It was a public flaying of a public intellectual who had abused his position and contributed to the continued racialization of politics in America at precisely the wrong moment in history. “West is still a Man of Ideas, but those ideas today are a vain and unimaginative repackaging of his earlier hits,” continued Dyson. “He hasn’t published without aid of a co-writer a single scholarly book since Keeping Faith, which appeared in 1993, the same year asRace Matters. West has repeatedly tried to recapture the glory of that slim classic by imitating the 1960s-era rhythm and blues singers he loves so much: Make another song that sounds just like the one that topped the charts. In 2004, West published Democracy Matters, an obvious recycling of both the title and themes of his work a decade earlier.”
Dyson was completely right – the revival of 1960’s radicalism in the 21st century was about as useful as the computer used to land the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the moon in 1969. While America is still a structurally racist society with deeply problematic policing problems, the language needed to create change in a far more culturally complex, modernized society did not consist of calling people “prostitutes”, “bootlickers” and “house negroes”. Dyson and other black intellectuals have recognized this evolution and have attempted to craft their language and media presence accordingly. One could certainly disagree with their approach, but to accuse them of selling out their own race was rightfully seen as a step too far, and West paid the price in a humiliating exposure of his severely diminished intellectual prowess.
West is still active in politics, but has been shunned by the mainstream and pushed ever further towards the fringes. While his supporters may claim that there is no point in engaging with mainstream America, the consequences of disappearing from the national dialogue means you have no way of altering the country’s consciousness or engaging in the gritty work of incremental change. West shows up at events, insults Obama and other black intellectuals he hates, and isparaded on talk showsto inadvertently help turn the mainstream off of issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s certainly a way to keep himself in the limelight, but it doesn’t help anyone other than West himself.
West has now decided that he wants to public endorse and support Bernie Sanders for President, tweeting this earlier in the week:
I endorse Brother @BernieSanders because he is a long-distance runner with integrity in the struggle for justice for over 50 years
While the ultra Left no doubt think this is a wonderful thing, it could well turn out to be one of the more dangerous twists in Sander’s campaign in its already improbable trajectory.
While Black Lives Matter activists desperately need their voices to be heard, and more importantly, for their cause to be taken seriously by the political establishment, this can only happen once Democrats are elected into office at every level of government. While some may say this thinking means ‘selling out’ and giving up on hope, it would be prudent to remember what happened during the Bush administration, and recall the astonishing levels of obstructionism by Republicans in Congress and the Senate throughout Obama’s presidency. Republicans haven’t just opposed progressive politics, they have committed literal acts of treason to sabotage any policies that could help the poor, prevent corporate corruption or change government to work better for every day people. While it is depressing to know that corporate Democrats are the only thing standing in the way of the truly insane Republicans vying for office, the reality is thatthey really arethe only power bloc left stopping the monkeys taking control of the machinations of government.
Cornel West and his diehard leftist fans are willing to burn progressivism to the ground if they cannot get their way, and his demands on Sanders will make political viability an impossible task.
There is a chance, albeit a small one, that Bernie Sanders could win the Democratic nomination. If this were to happen, America would finally have a viable Democrat who would try to enact truly progressive policies when in office. While Obama has been a brilliant at pulling America back to the center through his pragmatism, his actual politics are centrist and moderate and no where near someone like Sanders, who self identifies as a Social Democrat. It is unclear whether Sanders would be able to get anything done while in office, but by presenting a radical alternative to the extreme neoliberal politics of the GOP, he may be able to slowly drag America away from the corrosive crony capitalism that has turned the country into a virtual oligarchy.
This is something worth fighting for.
If West truly believes that Bernie Sanders would be good for the country, he needs to stay as far away from him as possible. No endorsements, no requests to speak with him and no vengeful insults should Sanders campaign team rebuff his overtures. Any association with West makes Sanders a sitting target in the general election, where moderate Republicans who would consider voting for Sanders over someone like Donald Trump, could be swayed by his allegiance to agitators like West. President Obama’s entire presidential campaign was almost derailed because he went to the same church as Reverend Wright and sat on the same board as former radical 70’s activist Bill Ayers for a couple of years in Chicago. West is a toxic figure in American politics these days, and anyone associating with him in public will be vilified through guilt by association. This is not a risk Sanders will take, and his team will urge him not to have anything to do with him.
Sadly, West will probably take this the same way he took Obama’s public distancing from him: incredibly personally. Because while issues like Black Lives Matter, poverty, wealth inequality and corporate corruption are important to Cornel West, they are not as important as Cornel West is to Cornel West.
The WDBJ Shooting and How Alex Jones Exploits the Gullible Paranoia of His Audience
by Bob Cesca
Whenever there’s a tragedy making national headlines, be it a bombing or a mass shooting or even a series of tornadoes in the Midwest, a series of events occur in its aftermath — each one dropping into place with relative predictability. For example, the cable news networks invariably roll out their graphics and music packages in order to brand the tragedy, offering viewers a recognizable signal to return to their televisions from the bathroom or the kitchen in time for the latest update.
More predictable than most, however, is the emergence of radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones whose entire media empire is centered around shoehorning every tragic event into his series of wacky conspiracy theories. At the very least, Jones will appear on Twitter or via a special video report on InfoWars.com to offer his gloomy-yet-unhinged take on the event.
Often, Jones elaborates on how the story is a false flag operation meant to deceive and activate the public at large. Sandy Hook, for example, was a false flag to stir up popular support for radical gun control laws. Ghoulishly, Jones thinks the government would murder 20 kindergarteners in order tonot pass any laws at all regarding gun control, which is precisely how it went. Not a single law was passed. Not a single gun grabbed.
Jones also likes to warn how a particular event is the start of the end times. That’s what happened during the stock market decline (and recovery) this week. Jones cautioned his audience to “kick prepping into overdrive.” That’d be prepping for doomsday, by the way. Of course, the stock market is back on track today. But Jones probably sold a crapload of survival seeds and Super Male Vitality to his gullible audience of paranoiacs, so even though he was wrong again, he was actually right — at least his bank account has been enriched.
In the case of weather events, Jones believes President Obama can employ tiny helicopters and planes to move tornadoes and hurricanes around and literally guide them toward small towns in Oklahoma and elsewhere. He’s never shy about mentioning this one to his audience while many of them search the rubble of what was once their homes.
And then there’s the horrifying shooting in Virginia on Wednesday in which two journalists, a soon-to-be married couple, in fact, were gunned down on live television by a disgruntled former co-worker. The gunman then turned his weapon on himself, but before the suspect died from his self-inflicted wound, Jones’ well-known inchoate rage was on full display on Twitter.
Almost right away, Jones hit the racial angle of the shooting, along with a variation on everyone’s favorite NRA bumper-sticker slogan. It’s worth noting that the shooter, in his suicide note, claimed he was getting a jump start on the “race war.” We’ll circle back to this.
Then he inexplicably attacked the White House with a great big lie. Because Jones lies. A lot.
And then it was the media pushing the “race war.” (“2A” is the hashtag for “Second Amendment” issues.)
After that, Jones must’ve gotten worked up into a full-on Super Vitality tantrum because (on Women’s Equality Day, no less) he launched into a bug-eyed attack on Hillary Clinton because she dared to mention reasonable gun control laws.
Wow, Hillary’s a witch, eh? Original. Also, you can’t “listen” to a tweet. It’s text, not audio. But I suspect Jones was screaming the words through his shredded larynx as he typed it from inside his doomsday bunker.
Oh, and then he inexplicably blamed Clinton for starting the “race war,” even though there really isn’t one.
Okay, so about this race war thing. No one’s been fomenting the idea of wars and revolutions inside the U.S. like Alex Jones has. Following the church massacre in Charleston, Jones said it was the beginning of the race war. In that case, it was a racist white kid who was starting it — but as an agent for the government.
“He wasn’t just trying to kill black people, he wanted to stir folks up, or whoever advised him,” Jones said, adding that the “this guy with a chili bowl hair cut guy” looks “mentally disabled” and probably not capable of planning such an event alone.
“We’re being set up,” Childress said.
“This is all a set-up.” Jones agreed: “Oh it is. Look at the priming, look at the preparations…. You can see all of the preparation building towards this, this is the big move, it’s a race war to bring in total chaos and then total federalization with this evil Justice Department, they even got rid of the other attorney general who had baggage, they put the new one in for the political persecutions of conservatives and Christians. They’re dropping the hammer.”
But today, it’s the shooter in Virginia who’s starting the race war. Well, the shooter and Hillary Clinton. And the media. And the government. Oh, and it’s also progressives on Twitter. It’s everyone except Alex Jones, who’s really the only public figure screeching about an impending race war. It’s Alex Jones who encouraged the Oath Keepers to show up fully armed in Ferguson where tensions are already electrified.
The most obscene thing about Jones’ schizophrenic behavior is that it’s likely not even genuine. He’s a carnie barking for the yak woman. He’s exploiting the paranoia of his listeners for fun and profit, and literally nothing he predicted ever actually comes true. Again, remember when the government was coming for our guns after Sandy Hook? That never happened. Remember when there would be martial law after the Boston Marathon bombing? That never happened either. Remember when Jade Helm was going to be a government takeover of Texas? Nope. Didn’t happen. But his people still worship him, while clinging to every word — because Alex Jones is always right, even though he’s always wrong.
So, no, there isn’t going to be a race war after the shooting in Virginia. And there won’t be a race war after the next interracial shooting. Because most people are lightyears more reasonable and rational than Jones thinks they are. It’s just the Jones disciples who are the true fucknuts. And Jones is taking them for a great big ride.