Saturday, May 12, 2012

BC2012: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane by John Amato and David Neiwert

This is another one I picked up from Borders when they went out of business. In many ways, Over the Cliff is the book that John Avlon's Wingnuts could have been, had he abandoned the ridiculous premise that the far left is anything like the far right, as if Keith Olbermann has had anywhere near the popularity and influence of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Over the Cliff devotes many pages to Beck and the Teabaggers, as well as the resurgence of the radical right wing groups (militias, American Nazis, Operation Rescue, and the like) that had quieted down somewhat after President Clinton left office.

Amato and Neiwert, the founder and managing editor respectively of the Crooks & Liars blog, are the ideal authors of a book like this because their site has been documenting the nuttiness of the right-wing media for many years. Like me, they are especially amused and perplexed by the way Beck and others call Obama a fascist and a communist -- often in the same sentence -- despite those being at opposite ends of the political spectrum! They also discuss the fake outrage that the right-wing media conjure through deliberate misinterpretation. For example, when the Missouri State Police issued a document warning their officers about the threat of violence from far-right activists, commentators on FoxNews claimed that the government was declaring war on conservatives (ironically, whenever a far-right person flips out and commits crimes, the greater right-wing media disassociate themselves from that person).

The authors reiterate an important point about the media that Daniel Gardner covered in depth in The Science of Fear: they love stories that fit into a larger narrative. This drives them to over-cover stories that fit and under-report or completely ignore those that do not. Gardner gave school shootings as an example. In the wake of Jonesboro and later Columbine, it seemed like every time a kid brought a weapon to school it was big news (in fact, such incidents were actually occurring less often, so the media coverage misled the public to think the opposite of what was really happening). Amato and Neiwert attribute the media's under-reporting of right-wing domestic terrorism to this phenomenon -- the larger narrative in the early 21st century has been Islamic terrorism, so domestic terrorists are ignored or brushed aside as lone nuts.

I enjoyed Over the Cliff and found it worthwhile. At the same time, however, it reminded me of all the bullshit we're going to be hearing this summer and fall approaching the election. That makes me want to bury my head in the sand until November.