Thursday, July 09, 2009

Don't even think about ending ground here

Some thoughts about Fox News and the rewriting of history and current affairs, but first this candidate for Mondegreen of the Year, thanks to Sean Hannity:

WINSTON CHURCHILL: We shall fight down the beaches. We shall fight down those ending ground. We shall never surrender.

Surely if you're going to ridicule that sneaking Maoist Al Gore for daring to invoke Sir Winston, you must think enough of the old coot to have heard, oh, something like "fight on the landing grounds" somewhere in the dim, dark past?

The Gore-Churchill thing is a story for Hannity, of course, because it's been a big deal around the right-wing wankosphere. Here's how Fox handled it Tuesday:

Al Gore: Climate-Change Fight Like Battle Against Nazis
Al Gore on Tuesday compared the battle against climate change with the struggle against the Nazis.

Wondering why you didn't see that in your favorite source of news? Two reasons suggest themselves:
1) The craven librul media are covering up for one of their idols again!
2) It never happened. Al Gore didn't compare climate change to Hitler -- at least, not outside the fevered little minds of the Murdoch press.

I'm going with Door No. 2. This is another case in which some elements of the (ahem) British media have taken a few light liberties with what went on, meaning that by the time it reaches Fox territory, no one's going to go back and do any verifying. There's no need to -- it's in the Times!

Except, of course, that it isn't -- in the Times, that is. Odd, the link says "likens climate change to battle against Nazis," but the Times article online has the tamer -- and actually true -- "Al Gore invokes spirit of Churchill in battle against climate change." Nor does Gore seem to invoke the H-word in the text:

Speaking in Oxford at the Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment, sponsored by The Times, Mr Gore said: “Winston Churchill aroused this nation in heroic fashion to save civilisation in World War Two. We have everything we need except political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Mr Gore admitted that it was difficult to persuade the public that the threat from climate change was as urgent as that from Hitler.

How much of that he "admitted" is open to debate. The hosts don't seem to have posted a transcript, but Gore doesn't say any such thing in the video at the Times site, and there's no further indication (I'm looking at reports from the Scotsman and Press Association as well) that Gore brought Hitler into things. And when some public whackjob invokes Hitler, it's standard journalistic practice to provide a supporting quote or two (as the Guardian does here). Absent some such evidence, I'm inclined to categorize the admission as primarily rhetorical stretch on the writer's part -- but it's the sort that allows Fox to produce an out-and-out lie without actually having to, you know, lie or anything.

It's hardly unusual to catch Fox making stuff up about people it doesn't like, but there's a bit of delightful irony in this one. For one, Hannity is a spear carrier for a political faction that excelled in hijacking Churchill for its own purposes. Here's the New York Post in February 2003:

Tony Blair's not the first British leader to risk political disaster by saying things his people weren't ready to hear. Winston Churchill, in the mid-1930s, repeatedly warned that Germany was re-arming, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and would eventually march across Europe once more. For that he was hooted down in Parliament and ridiculed, even by his own party, as a demagogic alarmist.

Well, sorta. But Churchill, a realist,
was talking about a large continental power that had reached air parity with Britain by 1935 and was soon to surpass it -- not a onetime regional power in the Middle East whose airspace was effectively owned by its antagonists. It's hard to imagine Churchill demanding an invasion of Iraq in 2003, because Churchill was not an idiot.

Which brings us to the second point. Churchill wasn't just ridiculed by "his own party" (to the extent that was true in the first place; for a notional exile, he retained a very high level of access); he was an object of scorn for the American right. The cartoon above,* from Bertie McCormick's Chicago Tribune, is a typical depiction: Churchill is ready to let anyone else's boys die -- that'll be yours, Mr. and Mrs. America -- in the interest of some obscure European tribal war that we're well advised to stay out of. Nor was Col. McCormick alone. His Patterson cousins, who owned the largest papers in New York and Washington, were as virulently anti-Roosevelt and anti-intervention as he was. If the Big American Media look "liberal" today, that's partly because they were so monolithically right-wing for much of their history.

Sean Hannity isn't the kind of guy who would have been comforting Churchill in the Tory wilderness; his ilk were in the isolationist camp until the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. Supporting the troops? When the Reuben James was sunk, they were writing the "We asked for it" heds in the Tribune. It's a pity Churchill -- no mean hand with the ad hominem attack -- isn't around to tee Hannity up for the lying gasbag that he is.

* Nov. 4, 1941. The cartoonist, Carey Orr, later won a Pulitzer; one of his post-Pearl Harbor cartoons provided the main title for John Dower's outstanding "War Without Mercy: Race and power in the Pacific war."

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