Ben Rhodes, Facebook, and News Manipulation

A New York Times profile of Ben Rhodes inflamed controversy on a number of fronts. First on Ben Rhodes contempt for journalists and his claim that he manipulated reporters to push the Obama Administration’s narrative on the Iran Deal, and secondly on claims of poor reporting. Aside from displaying the arrogance of Ben Rhodes, and possibly the administration, it shows that the primary manipulation of news is still done by people, not by algorithms and not for pageviews.

More traditional news media has been breaking down for some time now and another story highlights the consequences of that. A recent report by Gizmodo displayed the manipulation of trending news topics at Facebook. Facebook has become an important source of news and a primary means of information dissemination for a large part of the Western populace. And now, with the fake news scandal after the election it is obvious that people are the culprit and not merely algorithms.

Pressure to break stories, because the first person or organization to post a story online will get an enormous bump in traffic, has never been greater for journalists. This has led to the fraying of ethics and helps people like Ben Rhodes manipulate the public. So now, as prominent individuals manipulate the traditional media, and unreliable news sources overwhelm social media, the basis for public cooperation in democratic governments is eroding. The prospect of the collapse of democracies is not unthinkable as it may have once been.

"Pricking Media Bubbles" with Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren

There has been a lot of sober, respectful applause (especially from the left) concerning the debate between Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah. Dialogue and discourse is the only way to make conservatives realize they are wrong – this seems to be the argument of many liberal observers. The idea that the left and right inhabit different media landscapes is certainly correct, but bursting those bubbles is not so simple. It certainly seems to make sense: if you want to engage people of different political positions, have their avatars (with large followings) debate.

But it is a sad commentary that Trevor Noah, a comedian, and Tomi Lahren, an enraged commentator  best known for two-minute anti-liberal screeds, are the political right and left’s surrogates. The type of discussion they had lacks the intellectual rigor of true debate, does nothing to bridge the gap between left and right, and exposes the two personalities as purveyors of cynical, insincere outrage. The two figures can come together and calmly discuss issues which, on their own programs, they rail on or against to provide the needed fix of outrage for their audience.

If Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren are avatars for their sides of the political spectrum than they display the shallowness of political opinion. The reactions to the debate have also exposed the hubristic naïveté of the left. To think that a debate like that does anything except raise the profiles of the two actors involved is foolish, it does not bridge political divides. Sustained understanding of universal facts can draw people together and closer to the same opinions. The show also exposed the outraged populism that has consumed the right. Instead of reasoned debate about government spending there is outrage over Black Lives Matter and other social issues, which are societal issues more than governmental.

This was nothing more than an advertisement for the two, and it should not be seen as a model for bringing the country together. The two did nothing to burst media bubbles, but surely inflated their own sense of importance and moral righteousness.

Historical Figures and their Movements

Fidel Castro was a dictator. He got his position by overthrowing a different dictator. This should be noted in the first instance as it is pivotal to analyzing his stance as moral figure in political struggles. The pertinent question after his death, in terms of pop culture and not politics, is: Was Castro a hero for the working class or a decadent absolutist?

When people become famous, or become actors on the world stage, their image eventually becomes disconnected in some way from the controversies of their lives. Ghengis Khan is remembered as a brutal leader who murdered millions of people, but he is also lauded for his brilliant leadership; the merits of the Pax Mongolica and its positive impact on the development of the European Renaissance are also debated by academics. The closest example to Castro and his legacy is Che Guevara, a revolutionary who aided Castro’s rebellion against Batista. Guevara is both a hero of the liberal left and a pop cultural symbol of rebellion. His brutality is glossed over in a moral relativism which equates the sins of the left as the same as he sins of the democracies in the Cold War. If we are being morally honest, we don’t excuse the brutality of any individual or faction, we condemn them all. But for most people, their extent of knowledge of Che Guevara is his ubiquitous photograph on t-shirts. Castro lived to the age where a new generation that had already lost much of their visceral feelings toward his rule. From this perspective he did not reach a level of infamy that would poison his public image.

Public perception of individuals shifts from age to age when more, or less, knowledge is in the public mind about someone; and it especially shifts according to the current social environment. When young American liberals look at Fidel Castro and his legacy they see free healthcare and education, not repression and fear. Castro looks good to this generation, as Cuba has two achievements that wealthy modern America lacks. To an older generation Castro is the evil dictator who conspired with the Soviet Union to threaten the United States. In 50 years Castro will probably be forgotten altogether, not infamous or successful enough to remain in the public consciousness.

Castro was another dictator, no better or worse than any dictator who has ruled in the past. The west venerates democracy, and anyone who shuns democracy is a heretic to the new secular Truth. Castro is having his moment as his legacy is being debated, but he is just another brutal man who will disappear into the folds of history.