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Lifting the Curtain On the Past Half Decade: Much Noise, Little Substance

GELFAND’S WORLD--Any year that ends on the news that George Pataki is dropping out of the presidential race can't be all bad. If nothing else, it provides an easy line for scores of underpaid comedy writers. I don't have to write the Pataki line, because my readers are of superior talent and can write their own. Beyond Pataki, we have lots of other things to look back on with a smile. 

We have much to reminisce about. Not only that -- if you were one of the minority who argued that the new millennium actually started on January 1, 2001 instead of 2000 (remember those people?) – then, this December 31, 2015 represents the end of the first half of the new decade. 

I started writing this column on another site a little more than a decade ago. My original subject was the media, in particular the ways it could manipulate public opinion unfairly or inappropriately. At the time, talk radio was a powerhouse of right wing fury, and everybody to the left and center was rendered confused and seemingly powerless to resist. There has been some change in the balance of power since then, but it wasn't through the normal political channels. 

The rise of right wing talk radio was the result of the abolition of something called the Fairness Doctrine, which had required balance in the way controversial subjects were presented by the broadcast media. Without the Fairness Doctrine in force, it became possible for Rush Limbaugh to communicate conservative doctrine for 15 hours a week, each and every week. There was no legal recourse, as there would have been previously. 

The year 2015 is notable for the fact that Rush Limbaugh (photo above) has lost power and prestige. KFI dumped Limbaugh, as did other big city stations. That doesn't mean that talk radio ceased to exist or that it became more balanced. It's still dominated by right wingers, and it still has millions of listeners. 

But something else was going on over the past decade that has made my columns of 2004 and 2005 seem archaic. People got the ability to talk back. They don't talk back to KFI or KABC directly, but they talk to each other. There are millions of people who text back and forth about every conceivable subject. 

In this, the second half of the first decade of the new millennium, communication has become 2-way. Maybe that's an understatement. Instead of 2-way, let's call it multi-way, or million-way. 

Whatever we name it, this open access network of networks that we so inadequately call social media has gone beyond being a subject to write about, much less a story for end-of-the-year columns. It is the basis of our new reality. If we are the fish, then it is now the water we exist in without even noticing or remembering. 

With millions of people reconnecting after decades of being unconnected, and with the birth of millions of online interest groups, how could our society remain the same? Here's one example of what I mean: Back in the first half of the 2000s, liberals recognized the power of talk radio to do them damage, and they debated what to do about it. I can remember long discussions in which the advice was to try to trick the radio station so that you could get on and say something contrary to the usual conservative views. In brief, you were supposed to make up some story to try to sell to the screener (that's the person who answers the phone), and then you could explain why we shouldn't reelect George W Bush. It didn't work very well. 

What's interesting about this reminiscence is that nobody would even think about this tactic nowadays. If you have a disagreement with Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, there is the internet and there is your smart phone. People invented websites and they learned to communicate by Facebook and Twitter. 

The usual response of the curmudgeonly intellectual to the existence of Twitter is to be curmudgeonly intellectual, that is to say, snooty and above it all. But beyond the Twitter followers of Justin Bieber, there is a whole societal revolution that has provided us the counterforce that we were looking for so much in 2005. 

And that's my windup to this half decade. We have much to be thankful for. We have information sources that right the wrongs and correct the lies, and do a better job of it than most newspapers ever did. 

We ought to thank Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com. We ought to thank Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. We even should thank Salon.com, which was one of the first liberal internet sites. It sort of fell by the wayside for a while, but has come back with new talent and dynamic thrust. There is a blog with the unlikely title of Lawyers Guns & Money which does some of the best work in terms of describing how workers are routinely abused not only overseas, but right here at home. We have a collection of blogs that provide scientific rationality in an era of nonsensical gossip about things health related. 

And perhaps you the readers and my writing colleagues, along with me, should tip the hat and lift a cup to Mark Siegel and Ken Draper for CityWatch LA.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016