Monday, March 2, 2009

Santelli's Faux Rant: Rightwing Noise Machine and Manufactured "News"

Like me, you may have wondered how Rick Santelli’s CNBC “tea party” rant some days back became an instant media hit (here). From the moment I saw the clip on the nightly news that evening, I had questions.

For one thing, the story was the lead story on the station I happened to tune into, though plenty of other stories demanded far more attention that day. For another thing, the news broadcast was my first inkling of the rant. I had been reading news online all day, without a peep about this story the news was suddenly telling me I should regard as earth-shaking.

The news featured interviews with folks across the country. The rant seemed, well, immediately organized, instantly transmitted to receptive outlets everywhere. Manufactured, that is to say . . . .

If you’ve had any of those inklings about Santelli's tea party, you’ll be very interested in Barry Ritholtz’s 28 February “Rick Santelli’s Planned Rant?”(here). Ritholtz discusses a recent article in Playboy magazine which asks how a minor-league t.v. figure like Santelli suddenly found his rant launched into a “nationwide rightwing blog sensation.”

Playboy’s answer? What we saw in the Santelli rant and its instant transmission to right-wing sites across the world was an attempt to pull “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign.” That attempt involves players whose faces should be familiar to many of us now: the “Republican rightwing machine,” with its “PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called ‘astroturfing’); and “bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders.”

The Playboy investigation of what happened when Santelli pulled his tea-party stunt notes that within hours, a site called, with a YouTube video of the Santelli rant, went live. But the site had been registered back in August 2008. By Zach Christensen, a Republican activist and producer for the right-wing Chicago radio talk-show host Milt Rosenberg.
Playboy’s conclusion:

In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.

If you’re interested in wild conspiracy theories about carefully planned, carefully seeded media stories designed to dig away at the new administration, with big Republican right-wing money and big Republican right-wing operatives all over the place in the background of these orchestrated media events (here), take a look at Barry Ritholtz’s posting and the excerpts from the Playboy article it includes. As you do so, keep in mind, though, that this is just another of those crazy conspiracy tales where, if you see the obvious and point it out, you're probably just imagining what you're seeing. Don't trust your eyes—trust those who still think they're making a procative and compelling point when they tell you're a conspiracy-theory nut.

Because if you do trust your own eyes, you might see the following: the Rovian playbook remains firmly in place for the Republican right in the U.S. They will do anything and everything to manufacture media tempests to try to unsettle the new administration and to stir up discontent with it.

The goal of this little Santelli tempest was to spur a pseudo-populist “revolt” against the stimulus plan. The goal of the little tempest surrounding Bishop Martino is to get the Catholic war drums beating against him.

And they’ll keep trying these strategies anywhere they can, as long as they appear successful. It’s a game of probing each soft spot in the new administration the right thinks it may have identified, and then rolling out a pseudo media event to see if a story that can breach that soft spot will develop strength.

One problem, though: the Santelli trick just didn’t work. There was an immediate frenzy, and then everything died down. People are flat tired of Rovian tricks—of essentially dumb, time-wasting, mind-numbing tricks premised on the presupposition that we are mindless drones who can be whipped into a froth by cynical political activists counting on us to react and not to think. People are concerned about real issues right now—like buying groceries, paying rent, finding a way to pay a doctor’s bill—and not the ideological hot-button issues that are all the Rovian right has going for it.

The Santelli story never got legs, and the Martino story isn’t getting legs, either. It has run like wildfire all through the predictable right-wing Catholic (read: Republican) blogs. But it’s stuck there. The media aren’t picking up on this story, as they didn’t pick up on the Santelli rant after the first day or so.

This leaves our friends on the right fuming with anger, as my excerpts from Brent Bozell's utterances about Obama's victory and the media in yesterday's posting demonstrates (here). The old tricks just aren’t working so effectively any more. The Rovian playbook seems, well, more than a tad bit dated.

Maybe it’s time to try something new. Like thinking. Like reading. Like talking to those you dismiss as loony conspiracy nuts or as foes of (your) orthodoxy. Usually, when people experience defeat, as the right decisively did in the last election, they take one of two courses following their defeat. They can learn from the defeat and become wiser (and better) folks.

Or they can keep replicating the self-defeating, essentially stupid strategies that got them into trouble in the first place. And as they do so, they shrink into tiny, fragmented sectarian, ideologically driven groups, each of which claims to have the only possible true optic on reality—and each as irrelevant to the social mainstream as the other.

What will it be with our brothers and sisters of the Catholic right now, I wonder?

H/T John Aravosis at America Blog for the link to Barry Ritholtz's blog (here).