Saturday, April 16, 2011

MSNBC, The Democrats and the Pepsi Challenge

Over the months since I first moved to my current location in Bellingham, WA, I've spent many cumulative hours of watching "The Ed Show" and other similarly predictable shows on MSNBC Normally, this isn't the type of thing I'd willingly watch on TV. The fact that I've done so despite my preferences is attributable to the fact that I'm currently the house guest of a "progressive" who loves that network, despite the fact that what the network offers a steady diet of Mostly Snarky and Needlessly Biased Commentary, not anything which could even remotely be described as objective, intelligent journalism.

It occurred to me one evening that watching Ed Schulz ( was very similar to watching an old TV ad for Pepsi (except, of course, that the old Pepsi ads had a whole lot less shouting in them, and a whole lot more good taste).

Many years ago, Pepsi had a TV ad campaign it called the "Pepsi Challenge". They would set up a table in a supermarket, along with a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a couple of glasses of cola,  and a camera operator and a person with a microphone, in order to find out how well each brand did in comparison with the other brand during each "taste test".

It's been pointed out many times that one reason Pepsi consistently did better than Coke was that it was generally a bit sweeter than Coke (which is precisely why Coke decided to create the "new Coke", until the marketplace told them that in fact, they should have stuck with doing their thing their way, because what those Pepsi ads didn't reveal was that there was a substantial number of people who actually preferred the taste of Coke, not the slightly sweeter taste of Pepsi. (My own mother told me that she preferred the taste of Coke. Personally, even though I could detect a difference, I found it to be a pretty subtle difference. If I'd had any preference at all, I'd have said that I preferred RC Cola, but even there, I thought that it was a pretty trivial difference, about which I was anything but passionate. What I mostly hated was the cloying aftertaste of the "diet" versions of those various colas.. Why didn't Pepsi's"taste tests" address that issue? Because, hey, there was money to be made, even though many scientists later persuasively argued that diet drinks were utterly ineffective at combatting obesity.)

The folks in charge of Coca Cola wouldn't have wasted their time trying to win the taste test wars if they had dared to question the premise on which those Pepsi ads were based.

First of all, the premise was that the test was a fair test. On the surface, the Pepsi ads were designed to make their "test" seem fair and unbiased, and they might have been fair if Pepsi had been committed to the goal of presenting the results of all of their tests in a fair and unbalanced manner, whether the results of the tests had favored Pepsi or not. But Pepsi was in complete control of what happened to the developed film they'd created during those tests. If it had turned out that the tests favored Coke, Pepsi didn't have any particular legal obligation to publicly release ads which featured the test results which were unfavorable to Pepsi .If those "tests" had favored the Coke over Pepsi, logic would tell you that Pepsi would have quietly buried the results by choosing to put those rolls of developed film in the nearest "circular file", also known as a trash can. The success of those ads when they were running regularly relied almost totally on the willingness of extremely gullible TV viewers to assume that since the tests were conducted with "real people" in a real world environment, the tests portrayed in those ads were therefore "scientific" and unbiased. But there are all kinds of ways to lie covertly without doing so in ways which can be proved to be false and deceitful, especially when one is dealing with film (or video) which can be edited in ways which distort the truth.

There are also ways to produce the results one wants to get and therefore misrepresent the truth, simply by polling people whose probable preferences are already well known. For instance, if Pepsi had already run various marketing tests in certain areas of the country (and I'd bet that they had done so), they would have known which areas were most likely to give them the results they wanted. Therefore, such ads would have been deceptive, even if those folks were speaking from the bottom of their hearts with regard to their own personal preferences.

Even without any subsequent chicanery in the editing room, Pepsi could have distorted the truth simply by conducting their "tests" in environments or neighborhoods where Coke was at a known statistical disadvantage, and where Pepsi's marketers could therefore predict with a fair amount of reliability that they would prevail during those taste tests.

All of this reminds me of how Ed Schultz handles controversial issues on his show. He does have guests on his show, it's true, but the vast majority of them have clearly been cherry picked precisely because of their sycophantic predilictions, meaning that they are boot lickers who will say just about anything in exchange for having their egos stroked by Schultz. In other words, just as Pepsi's methodology was a type of propaganda, and therefore untrustworthy, the same could be said for Ed Schultz's methodology.  In both cases, it's a "filtered reality": when we are in need of the "unadulterated truth", we get someone else's idea of the truth instead.

Schultz clearly knows that, and he milks it for all it's worth. On rare occasions, he will invite his political opponents onto the show, but even then, it's usually pretty clear that he asked them to appear on the show precisely because he was confident that it would be easy to openly ridicule them, with little or no fear that they would be well-informed adversaries who would promptly and expertly put him in his place. It amazes me that people play into his hands as often as they do, but then again, it never ceases to amaze me when I consider the number of people who have gladly endured the humiliation of appearing to millions of TV viewers on shows hosted by people such as Maury Povich and "Judge Judy" (who I suspect got her law degree and her arrogant and abrasive personality out of a cereal box) and Jerry Springer (the king of sleaze). Schultz deals with more issues of national importance, but when I think about how he's treated some of his conservative guests, with extreme disrespect, I think he's pretty much in the same camp.

Schultz is not particularly averse to trying to shout loudly enough to drown out his guests if he dislikes what they have to say. In my books, that makes him a bully, not a competent journalist. However, to give credit where credit is due, at least Schultz doesn't end each show by throwing a handful of loose papers at the audience, as Keith Olbermann did before management at MSNBC showed Keith the door! Wow, talk about juvenile behavior which would embarrass most 5-year olds.! I guess that's what liberals do when they run out of cliches with which to avoid actually addressing the issues.

If worse comes to worst, and if Ed's guests prove to be less predictable than Ed clearly thought they would be, he can always completely ignore them when they dare to dispute him, as one of his guests did the other day when she was unwilling to say what he clearly expected and wanted her to say. A more intelligent man would realize that he'd just been revealed for the manipulator he is, and such a man might have even been humble enough to apologize for his presumptuousness, but not our Ed. No sir! He went on to make a total ass of himself without skipping a beat.

What now passes for TV journalism would have struck the journalists of the sixties and seventies as laughable, or possibly as cause for a day of national mourning. It's just another example of how things in this country are going downhill. Maybe it makes me seem like a cranky old man for me to say such a thing, but I'm only two years younger than Ed, and he's more than a little bit cranky himself, especially for someone who acknowledged just the other day that he was in the top 2% of the country's richest people!

I'm financially destitute, and people like Schultz have (by dominating the media) deprived me and others like me of a real voice. Unlike Mr. Schultz, I have good reason to be a little bit cranky, when I consider the deceptive ways in which I've been regularly "dissed" by people like Schultz, even though such people have only rarely bothered to ask me my opinions. What, exactly, is his excuse?

By the way, since Ed supposedly has great empathy for impoverished people such as myself, why does he feel that he needs to be coerced by the government into doing the right thing to help poor people like me? He seems to think that we should be impressed by his willingness to be taxed at a very high rate, but I ask: What's to stop him from sharing his wealth with the poor voluntarily? Hey, if he wants to demonstrate his sincerity with regard to his alleged concern for the poor by sharing some of that wealth with me, so that I can be assured of not having to sleep under the nearest overpass if I should lose my housing during the next year, I'm an easy person to find. (My e-mail address is mwp1212[AT] He merely needs to send me an e-mail message to the effect that he wants to share his wealth with me.

Nah, that would be too easy, and it would deprive liberals of the feeling of power which is their actual objective whenever they argue that the only proper way to address the needs of the poor is to rely on government action.

Speaking as one such American, I don't much care how folks choose to help me when I'm down and out, as I am to some extent even now. I just care that it gets done (which is precisely why I recently created an online community I call the Need Meeters' Network). Or one of the reasons, at any rate, since I do genuinely believe that that network has the potential to help a lot of people, not just me.

When one is able to totally control the conditions in which one faces down the opposition, then it's easy to take them down (or more accurately, to put them down). So easy, and in fact tempting, that Ed has a regular feature called "The Take Down". (Gosh, why do you suppose that so many conservatives have a negative opinion of the media? Could it be that so many so-called journalists have become little more than shills for the Democratic party, which is less interested in solving problems than in winning the next election?)

Not long ago, MSNBC argued that America needed a return to "civility" in the political arena, not so subtly implying that the blame for the decline in such civility belonged solely to Republicans. Well, I acknowledge that some Republicans need to be taught better manners. Their point was not lost on me.  Yet it was going way overboard when they implied that all or most Republicans were somehow responsible for the horrible shooting down in New Mexico. (Even a cursory examination of the facts revealed that the shooter was motivated by his mental illness, not by any strong commitment to any political party.) How, exactly, does taking cheap shots help America to return to civility? When it comes to cheap shots, it seems to me that both parties are equally guilty.

MSNBC regularly employs acrimonious, self aggrandizing idiots like Ed, who are less interested in fairness or deep thinking than in promoting the Democratic "brand" with such ridiculously overheated rhetoric that one would think that every Republican on the face of the earth was a clone of the Devil. MSNBC would have a lot more credibility if that network's employees practiced what they preached.

A very rich clone, I might add, since the rhetoric which regularly spews from Ed Schultz seems to rely upon stereotypes to the effect that financially impoverished Republicans such as myself simply do not exist. (I assure Mr. Schultz that I am very real, even though he clearly wishes that such was not the case.) Like most of his cronies, Schultz almost never seems to acknowledge that a substantial number of Republicans such as myself consist of people who vote Republican for reasons having a lot less to do with economic considerations than with the fact that Republicans have historically opposed legal abortion, because they understand that the legitimacy of any government relies on whether or not that government consistently treats all human beings as if all people are indeed created equal. Treating people in some age groups as if they have a right to government protection from those who would wish to kill them, while treating others (specifically the unborn) as if they have no such right, is irrational, and utterly inconsistent with the values which we claim makes America so great.

Not only that, but a failure to consistently defend the value of human life in all of its manifestations is a failure which ultimately undermines all human rights. It does little good for someone to defend my right to free speech, my right to freedom of religion and other important but comparatively minor rights, unless that person also defends my right to be protected from others who would seek to kill me. If one is free to murder others and thereby deprive them of the right to live, then he can (by killing them) simultaneously deprive them of the ability to exercise any other rights they may have. Because it is such a fundamental right, the right to life is arguably the most important right of all. Those who deprive others of the right to life for reasons as flimsy as those which have been cited by defenders of legal abortion may not realize it, but they are engaged in an enterprise which ultimately jeopardizes every other right they might conceivably enjoy in the future.

The instinct for self-preservation has always been manifest by intense desire to protect one's progeny, even amongst lower life forms such as grizzly bears. (Many bear attacks against humans are attributable to their desire to protect their cubs.) There is something extremely unnatural about people who act in a manner which is the opposite of what one would expect from people who care about self-preservation.

If this were solely a matter of their own survival as individuals, then one might argue that they had a right to jeopardize their own survival or the perpetuation of the human species. But the issue has been misrepresented, by people who speciously argue that a woman has the right to control her own body. Such an argument is specious, indeed ludicrous, when one considers that the bodies people usually seek to kill at the local abortion clinic are not theirs.  A child is a stewardship, not a mere possession to do with what one will. (Talk about an extreme manifestation of the capitalistic impulse! Ayn Rand would be proud.)

Once a woman becomes pregnant, the question is not whether or not she will become a parent. Biologically, she already is a parent, so she already is a parent (as is the man who inseminated her); the only question is whether or not the two parents will maturely accept the fact that parenthood comes with certain responsibilities.

Ed and his cronies at MSNBC regularly refer to "the people" during their evening diatribes. Which people are they talking about, exactly? Funny, I don't recall going to them and asking them to speak for me. Last time I checked, I was a person. But of course, you have to keep in mind when such people use such phrases as "the people" that they don't feel any guilt when they treat millions of unborn children as if such unborn children are not real people whose lives are worthy of consideration. So basically, "people" is a term they feel free to redefine in whatever manner they deem politically expedient for the party. And if they think that it's expedient to promote stereotypes which ignore the diversity (one of their favorite words) of the Republican party, then who are the American people to think for themselves? If Ed Schultz insists on seeing me as one of those "rich Republicans", then who am I to point out that I've suffered as much from this poor economy as anyone else? Who am I to suggest that people so self-centered that they make all of their political decisions solely or primarily on the basis of how it affects their own pocketbooks are people unworthy of leadership positions, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats? Who am I to suggest that we will all face God on the judgment day, or to suggest that it is unwise to neglect that consideration when making life choices which may very well influence God's judgment of each of us on that day?

Maybe, when it comes to civility (not to mention humility), people such as Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and others at MSNBC need to practice what they preach. But I'm not seeing it yet on MSNBC, and I doubt that I will anytime soon.

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