Leslie Savan

Fox News Blow Up: Is Roger Ailes in Serious Trouble?

Many of us on the left have long harbored a fantasy about Fox News, and for a moment this week it seemed it just might come true.

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How Fox News Created a Monster

Anyone who read 1984 in high school should know that the target of propaganda can turn on a dime. But we tend to forget this lesson whenever the media’s real-life Big Bros crank out their version of “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” as they’ve being doing of late.

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What We Can Learn From Cable's Most Popular Show, "The Walking Dead"

The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their email newsletters here.

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Does Mitt Romney Even Want to be President?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

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What Mitt Romney’s Body Language Is Trying to Tell Us

Lots of people have talked about how Mitt Romney comes off like a robot. Some, like Chris Matthews, home in on Mitt’s odd way with words (“The trees are the right height”), suggesting that Mitt has yet to master an Earth-based language. Others focus on finding the right metaphor: Is Mitt a “wimp” and a “weenie,” as Mike Tomasky writes in Newsweek, or is he instead a “weasel,” as Chris Weigant maintains in Huff Post?

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Why the Era May Be Over for Blowhard Right-Wing Extremists

 The following article first appeared on the Web site of the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters.

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How Glenn Beck Threatens Fox News and the Conservative Agenda

The following article first appeared in The Nation magazine. For more great content from The Nation, sign up for their email newsletters here.

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Should the Media Stop Talking About Sarah Palin?

This week has seen an extraordinary backlash to Sarah Palin. I’m not talking about her sinking poll numbers -- I’m talking about the number of journalists who've declared that they’re sick of covering her, some even pledging to no longer mention her name. Palin’s every tweet and video are not news, the beef goes; she’s no longer a public official, and treating her like one just encourages her to spout off more. “[G]o write about something else instead,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat advised other journos on Sunday. In today’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank called on others in the news media to repeat after him: “I hereby pledge that, beginning on Feb 1, 2011, I will not mention Sarah Palin -- in print, online or on television -- for one month.”

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Are Fox Ratings Dropping As Tea Party Election Fails Stack Up?

Could it be that the nation’s infatuation with Fox News is slowly, slowly coming to an end? Looking at long-term cable ratings, you might surmise that on its way to the Tea Party, Fox has indeed jumped a shark or two.

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Right Wing Red Meat in Cruel April

After lauding CNN for its in-depth Haiti and stimulus coverage in a previous post (CNN Un-Dobbed!), I'm disheartened that the channel that finally found the backbone to dump Lou Dobbs has decided to redobb up on the angry white man punditry, this time with RedState.com's Erick Erickson. Erickson had barely signed up as a CNN contributor when he let rip some vio-sympatico spoutings about grabbing a shotgun to scare big government off his lawn. It would be unfortunate for CNN to stand by its man, as it so far has, any time of the year, but especially now, during the cruelest, militia-crazed month of April.

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Will Fox News Destroy the Republican Party?

Over the past week or so, stories about conservative hypocrisies have been popping up in mainstream media like cute kitten videos on the internets. There was the Vatican blaming the news media for the pedophilia practiced by priests; the Republicans blaming the violence against Democrats on the Democrats themselves; Sarah Palin, intoning that "violence isn't the answer," studding a map with gunsights to target the Dems who should be gotten rid of come November; and, of course, fundraisers for the family values party trying to expense-account their visit to that faux-lesbian, bondage-themed nightclub in West Hollywood. It almost made you think the conservative movement was about to collapse under the weight of its own delusions.

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The Ugly Racism of the Right Will Be Their Undoing

It'd be nice to think that the recent surge in overtly racist rhetoric on the right has been a case of random opportunism, provoked by the coincidence of a wealthy black Harvard professor yelling at a white cop who arrested him in his own home. Like, who could've predicted that the professor would be a friend of the Harvard law school graduate who is president, or that president would then say on camera that the cops acted "stupidly"? Or that the incident would happen just as Congress was going into a clinch over health care reform?

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Neocons Are Clueless About Iran

The democracy movement in Iran has thrown Republican ideologues into such a tizzy of circular logic that they're stepping on their own dicta.

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Media Tries to Sabotage Obamas With Pseudo Stories on Faux Gaffes But No One Buys It

The real question about how Barack and Michelle Obama are being received on their Rolling-G-20-Summit/Euro-Tour '09 has nothing to do with how the Europeans treat them, but all about the American mainstream media itself: What infinitesimal nit will they find to pick about the new president's conduct abroad that can be blown up into a two- to three-day pseudo-international incident?

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Obama Loosens Up on Leno

Oh, it's wonderful when conservatives and their media begin to tsk-tsk over what's "appropriate" behavior for President Obama. "He flies off to Los Angeles tonight to appear on the Jay Leno show," Senator John Kyl sniffed, as if Obama were running off to drown his troubles at the local bar. "He even has time to fill out his NCAA basketball bracket," Senator Lamar Alexander complained, making me wonder, Would they disapprove if they found out that on occasion Obama takes a 20-minute bath instead of a five-minute shower?

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Why Are We Getting All NIMBY on Gitmo?

The most satisfying spectacle of Barack Obama's first days as president has been the way he and his crew have gone about striking the theatrical sets of the terror government to reveal the real America that's been backstage to Bush & Co. all along. But even as the backdrops come down and the kliegs are killed, the mainstream media still wander the stage, reciting the same old lines.

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Why the Corporate Media Ducked the Real Story of Those Flying Shoes

Once there was a time when a viral video hit didn't have to star the president of the United States ducking a shoe, and in those days it went something like this:

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Bush Ditches His Ranch for Ritzier Digs in Dallas

So it's official: George W. Bush is not a cowboy. We pretty much suspected he wasn't when we learned that, for all his bow-legged strutting, the man's afraid of horses. But last week, Bush let the other Lucchese boot drop: He and Laura bought a $2 million, fancy-pants house in Dallas's toniest neighborhood and will soon be high-tailin' it out of that eight-year-old stage set of a "ranch" in Crawford. Any uncleared brush can go clear itself.

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McCain Takes His Party Prisoner

Candidate psychology will out. Last week I wrote about how John McCain seemed to be re-enacting his torture-and-survival experience in Vietnam by repeatedly flip-flopping from Hound of Baskervilles to Scooby Doo on the campaign trail. And Wednesday afternoon, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he actually called the crowd at a McCain-Palin rally "my fellow prisoners."

Hanging from this Freudian slip--that neither he, nor Sarah Palin, nor his daughter Meghan seemed to notice--is a long foxtail of meanings. McCain has written that his experience in Vietnam taught him to dedicate his life to a higher cause than himself alone, giving him a sense of purpose that carried him into politics (and ultimately spawned his campaign slogan, "Country First"). Having been a POW is not just a check mark on his resume or a ticket to a reliable national constituency of veterans. It's his chief qualification for the presidency, not to mention his best retort whenever he's cornered.

But the sad truth is that the Vietnam war has not given its generation a straight bounce in 40 years, and McCain calling supporters his "fellow prisoners" really brings that weirdness home. It suggests that the Arizona senator sees the next three weeks of the campaign as more time in the Hanoi Hilton for him and the Republican party: They will be buffeted and beaten, but if they hold their heads high and refuse an early release, they will be able to come home and marry a beer heiress.

If only.

Billboard Bashing

Enormous, vinyl-mesh billboards -- sometimes covering whole sides of buildings and their windows -- are going up in urban areas all over the nation. A lot of people are grumbling about these "wallscapes," but a group of people organized by Carrie McLaren, an anti-ad activist, are trying to do something about them. On May 27, she and about 30 friends of Stay Free!, her zine about commercial culture, were in New York City's Times Square handing out fake tourist maps.

Leslie Savan: So what's on the maps?

Carrie McLaren: Ostensibly, they're maps of Manhattan, except that the only sites on them are the city's most egregious billboards and other outdoor ad creep. Stay Free! is also launching an online bulletin board that I hope will help people organize around billboard blight.

Savan: But why target billboards? Don't they make cities more fun? And despite the new technology that can hang them over almost anything, aren't billboards an almost old-fashioned form of advertising -- and rather innocuous when compared to wham-bam TV commercials or the Nike swoosh on a CBS sportscaster's jacket?

McLaren: Not when they're this big. They surround you. You can't turn them off or change the channel. It's the old captive-audience problem. These new billboards are sort of doing to adults what Channel One does to children. Plus, I think they're beginning to create a very weird atmosphere in parts of the city. Here's this 900-foot-wide head, and you're just this tiny little person. They can make you feel powerless.

Savan: So size does matter?

McLaren: Now, yes, because we're not used to seeing gigantic billboards. But people see new kinds of advertising the first time, and then they don't see it anymore. The same thing happened in the '30s with skywriting. New forms of advertising always have diminishing returns. Once you make something huge, everyone else will make it huge. You can feasibly get to the point where you literally block out the entire sky and no ad will be any better off. Even if you love advertising, to be a functional human being, you have to learn how to tune it out.

Savan: Do you think there's anything about vinyl billboards that makes people more likely to tune them out than, say, equally large billboards painted directly on to brick?

McLaren: Because vinyl ads can be changed in a matter of hours, I think they reinforce the idea that everything is temporary, plastic, and disposable. They make the street look like a website. Entire buildings are suddenly deleted. And that can make you more inured to your whole environment.

Savan: But the feeling I get from these ads is that they're urging me to celebrate: We're big! We're bustin' out! We're the manifestation of the blown-up stock market and the dot.coms! Join the bandwagon, or we'll crush you!

McLaren: Well, yes, some of the billboards seem to set up an us-versus-them thing. The people on the vinyl, it's like they're in a cult you don't belong to. They get to have sex and drink all the time.

Savan: There's also a sci-fi quality. They've descended and inhabited our cities, and are probing earthling coolness to sell it back to us.

McLaren: But for the people who actually live behind these ads, it's much worse. Some people have to look through the ad to see out their windows. It's like those "bus wraps" that cover an entire bus: when you look out, everything looks a little grayer and fuzzier. When people complain to their landlord, they can usually get the window portion of the ad cut out. But there are cases like the one on Houston Street in New York where the wall is actually owned by the gas station next door, so these people have no claims to their own windows.

Savan: Where are the authorities in all this?

McLaren: City regulators aren't doing much about excessive signage. For example, Reebok painted more than 200 signs on sidewalks in downtown Manhattan and was never fined. Whereas, if graffiti artists who weren't corporate-sponsored had done the same thing, they'd be fined or even jailed. And anyway, the New York police department is one of the biggest big-billboard users -- it has a 10-story-high recruitment ad at its headquarters.

Savan: But aren't ad-covered buildings just another inevitable step in the advertising arms race? Carrie, you really are a tiny person next to these huge ads. Isn't this effort rather quixotic?

McLaren: People think you're some sort of Gump if you try to fight this stuff. I hear that all that time. But to say that anything is inevitable is to disregard history. Four states have banned billboards, and Rhode Island has banned new billboards. Recently, Dallas has also banned all new billboards, and other cities have proposals or ballot measures seeking major restrictions. Anti-billboard efforts have been among the most effective assaults on advertising.

Lady Bird Johnson made this respectable a long time ago. One of the reasons I'm optimistic is that lots of rich people are on our side. In the past, wealthy people have banned billboards in their own neighborhoods, and let the ads proliferate in poor communities, because they thought those areas were ugly anyway. We're trying to make the argument broader than mere "beautification."

Savan: When we first met, you were defacing those ABC "TV is good" billboard signs at bus stops.

McLaren: That was about the specific message of the ads, not about the intrusiveness of the billboards themselves.

Savan: Well, if you flip ABC's line, you might have "Advertising is bad." Would you agree with that slogan?

McLaren: I'm really not against advertising per se. Like a lot of people, I grew up loving advertising. I had ads up on my wall. But in college, I remember reading about boy scouts selling ad space on their badges. It was really disturbing. That's how I got involved in all this.

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