Big Tech Censorship or Deal with the Real Problems? – Thomas Frank

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Thomas Frank - Big Tech Censorship or Deal with the Real Problems?

The demand by Democrats for Big Tech to censor right-wing conspiracies on social media is a betrayal of the ideals liberals claim to stand for, says Thomas Frank. The real question is why so many people, particularly in rural America, believe such outlandish lies. Thomas joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news

Transcript

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget at the top of the website, there’s a donate button. If you’re watching on YouTube, there’s a subscribe button.

In a recent piece in The Guardian, Thomas Frank writes:

“In liberal circles these days there is a palpable horror of the uncurated world, of thought spaces flourishing outside the consensus, of unauthorized voices blabbing freely in some arena where there is no moderator to whom someone might be turned in. The remedy for bad speech, we now believe, is not more speech, as per Justice Brandeis’s famous formula, but an “extremism expert” shushing the world.

What an enormous task that shushing will be! American political culture is and always has been a matter of myth and idealism and selective memory. Selling, not studying, is our peculiar national talent. Hollywood, not historians, is who writes our sacred national epics. There were liars-for-hire in this country long before Roger Stone came along. Our politics has been a bath in bullshit since forever. People pitching the dumbest of ideas prosper fantastically in this country if their ideas happen to be what the ruling class would prefer to believe.”

That’s Thomas laughing at his own lines (in the background).

Thomas Frank

I haven’t thought about it for a long time.

Paul Jay

I love when I’m interviewing someone who can really write and all I have to do is read their piece as an introduction. It makes my life so much easier. Anyway, here we go.

“Debunking’ was how the literary left used to respond to America’s Niagara of nonsense. Criticism, analysis, mockery, and protest: these were our weapons. We were rational-minded skeptics, and we had a grand old time deflating creationists, faith healers, puffed-up militarists, and corporate liars of every description. Censorship and blacklisting were, with important exceptions, the weapons of the puritanical right: those were their means of lashing out against rap music or suggestive plays or left-wingers who were gainfully employed. Or these days, left-wingers like us who aren’t so gainfully employed.”

Now joining us to discuss the liberal demand for more censorship is Thomas Frank. He is a political analyst, historian and journalist. He co-founded and edited The Baffler magazine. He’s written several books, including What’s the Matter with Kansas? Listen, Liberal and his most recent is The People, No: A Brief History of Anti Populism. Thanks for joining me, Thomas.

Thomas Fran

Paul Jay. It is great to be here. Here among the canceled.

Paul Jay

So, you accuse this demand for, particularly the big social media companies, the demand that’s come from corporate Democrats and from a lot of the newspapers and much of the liberal political elite to essentially censor Trump’s stuff on the social media?

Thomas Frank

Yeah.

Paul Jay

And you’re saying this is essentially a betrayal of the liberal ideals liberals claim to stand for. So why is this a betrayal?

Thomas Frank

Well, because we’re supposed to be about complete freedom of speech. That’s not just the law in this country. It’s an achievement of the left. This is something that we fought for centuries and now we have it and to give it up just because we suddenly think we can coerce Mark Zuckerberg into shutting down the other side is is insane.

It’s a betrayal, and it’s also a tactical blunder of the first order. It’s not only philosophically wrong, it’s tactically wrong, as a strategic move, it’s idiotic.

Paul Jay

Well, let’s parse the different kind of stuff. There’s Trumpist stuff about the elections.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, it’s nonsense. Trump is an incredible liar.

Paul Jay

But there’s also the stuff, which is completely false, information about vaccination.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, there’s a lot of that out there.

Paul Jay

Is there anything that you think should be closed down? But then, of course, it raises the issue. Yeah. Closed down by who?

Thomas Frank

Exactly, basically in this country political speech is supposed to be the most protected form of speech. This is a place where you have complete freedom to say whatever you want, political speech, and to start saying that no political speech is an area where we need, it’s like obscenity was thirty or forty years ago, right. There are all of these rules about what you could say on the air and there still are about, obscenity.

Well, to start saying that we now have to have rules like that about about political speech is deeply troubling, contrary to the American tradition, and I’m here to tell you, is going to backfire against the left.

Pal, you and I have been in this game for a long time, but maybe not long enough to remember that the left is traditionally whenever there is an urge to censor, whenever this gets going, who feels the brunt of it?

Well, it’s people like you and me. It always is. I mean, you look back at World War I in America anyway, I don’t know what it was like in Canada, but in America, this is this is a very dark period for freedom of speech. Wars always are because the Constitution is effectively suspended, and during World War One, they passed a sedition law which made criticizing the war illegal. Now they go after a lot of ethnic Germans who were saying, you know a lot of people thought World War One was a bad idea. I don’t know about in Canada, but here in America, a lot of people thought World War I.

Paul Jay

Same thing here. In fact, in Quebec, there was practically an uprising against the draft.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, can I just say World War One was a really bad idea? That’s just my own personal opinion.

Anyhow, a lot of the opponents of World War One were trade unionists at the IWW, Eugene Debs, people like this. And so who do they wind up enforcing the law against?

It’s all of these radicals on the left and they just throw these people into prison willy nilly. They just start persecuting them. It’s the most incredible thing, and then, of course, it happens again during the Red Scare in the 1950s and up into the 1960s. This is the last sort of great period of censorship and blacklisting of cancel culture, if you will. And who’s the target of it? It’s basically anybody with unorthodox views gets called a communist.

And you’ve got to remember, Paul, there are a lot of liberals, well-meaning liberals, by the way, who played into that in the early days. They’re like, yeah communism is a really bad idea. A lot of, again, a lot of union leaders and stuff like that.

Paul Jay

Well McCarthy takes place under a Democratic Party president.

Thomas Frank

Well, also Eisenhower, there was Truman. It was a transitional period.

Started with Truman.

Truman didn’t like it, but Truman was afraid of him, and so Truman was playing along with it. Truman was an anti-communist, that didn’t help him, and then by the end of these people have gone completely berserk and they’re calling Eisenhower a communist. I’m talking about the John Birch Society here. Whenever you unleash a censorship regime, which is what is happening now, it’s always going to be people on the left who who get it, who get punished.

You think you’re going to be able to shut down the right, and by the way, we shouldn’t even want to do that. It’s a terrible idea to think that we have the right answer to everything, and we can institute some sort of regime where we can, for example, this idea that some forms of error are misinformation, and we should crackdown on misinformation. The very people who say this all the time, and this is one of the weird things about this, Paul Jay, is that it tends to be the news media that says this.

Well, the news media gets things wrong all the time. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The New York Times, these people. Have you ever let me ask you this? Have you ever read a news story written about a subject that you personally knew a lot about? Of course, you have and did they get everything right? Of course, they didn’t.

Paul Jay

I mean I know a few examples where they actually got deliberately the opposite.

Thomas Frank

But is that misinformation, I mean, where do we go to get that corrected?

I don’t think any Trumpist misinformation had as negative consequences as Judith Miller promoting the Iraq war.

Bingo. There you go. Or you think of the whole Vietnam War was done on a made-up thing, the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Not made up, but we still to this day don’t really know what happened, but it was wildly exaggerated.

There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of examples of this, where the government is able to play the media to get them to repeat whatever official canard they want. Well, that’s misinformation, too. I mean, that’s like, as you just said, much more consequential misinformation. If we’re going to set up a regime where we’re going to crack down on some right-wing jerk peddling a conspiracy theory, OK, are we also going to crack down in The New York Times for getting us into the Iraq war?

It is basically endless once you start saying that declaring war on falsehood. Look, conspiracy theories annoy me, too, but so do Hollywood movies. They’re full of shit. They deceive people left and right. So does advertising. This is a culture that runs on fantasy, and to say that we’re going to crack down on the genre known as fiction.

Do you see where this is going, Paul? It’s not only impossible, it’s a terrible thing to want to do. I can’t see how it can be done in a way that doesn’t accomplish what you’re saying really violate democratic rights to speak?

Paul Jay

Yeah, I get the urge people have that when there’s really deliberate falsehoods that spread widely on social media.

Thomas Frank

There’s a whole industry in Washington, D.C. There’s a whole industry that does this.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but the thing is, number one, the crowd that this is speaking to that are persuaded by whether it’s QAnon or something else. They will find another way to get it. So, like in practical terms, it’s actually not going to be that effective. But the bigger question and I think the more profound question which gets back to a lot of stuff you’ve been writing about over the last years, is why the hell do so many people believe this nonsense? That’s the more important question.

Thomas Frank

That’s fascinating, and it is true that social media has made it possible for these things to go. The cycles have accelerated. Conspiracy theories come and go much more rapidly than they did in the past. That is that is all very true. I’m the last guy to deny it. Just between you and me, I hate and despise social media. I just can’t stand it. In fact, opening paragraph of the essay that I wrote for The Guardian is about me at a Clinton Foundation event in 2015, not that long ago.

Hillary Clinton was getting ready to run for president. She hadn’t declared yet, but it was early in 2015 and she was there. She talked a lot, and all these other people came up on the stage and again, gave different presentations, and one of the points that they emphasized the most was this kind of cyber utopianism. This idea that social media had given a voice to the powerless and social media was overthrowing dictatorial regimes all over the world and all of this kind of bullshit. I’ve always hated that stuff that nonsense, rose colored glasses about what Silicon Valley is doing.

But it’s fascinating to me that these people have now swung to entirely the opposite point of view. And they’re pressuring social media to crack down on their opponents. And by the way, they’re really doing this. The Democrats in Congress do this all the time. They just did it again the other day. They have these hearings where they basically threaten the Silicon Valley CEOs with various forms of regulation unless they find a way to crack down on whatever form of speech they want.

What’s interesting is they should be cracking down on Silicon Valley. These are monopolies. These are really harmful companies with these algorithms that are terrible. They’ve deliberately designed it to make you unhappy, to feed your paranoia, or your mental disease or whatever it is.

These are really, really, really bad companies, and they do deserve to be regulated and they do deserve to be cracked up, broken up.

But what the Democrats are saying is not that. They’re saying, no, we want you to go after Republicans.

Paul Jay

They’re empowering them. They’re giving them the right to decide as private companies that cannot be really touched by. On theAnalysis, they took down one of our videos, and I found out something interesting from a viewer. I think it sounds legitimate. I can’t verify it, but our clip when we told the story of January six, I had a little clip of Trump calling the elections a fraud. Yeah.

Thomas Frank

Did you and I talk about this?

Paul Jay

Yeah, we talked about it. The YouTube algorithm, takes that story down because Trump is saying it’s a fraud without any context, because I know our video was condemning it, but listen to this, apparently, if you’re a mainstream broadcaster and in other words, if you get more than so many million views a month than you were allowed to run the exact same clip that I could. So, they’re deciding who’s a news organization and who isn’t based on an algorithm. So, they get to decide the funnel of information.

Thomas Frank

And they took you down. They shut you up. You got shushed. The extremism experts went to town on Paul Jay. Sorry.

Paul Jay

Well, it was sort of funny. I want to go back to this question. These people calling for censorship instead of facing up to why so many millions of people believe this stuff, which has to do with the deterioration of the public education system, especially in rural America, but not only, the complete lack of understanding of history among so much of the population and the economic deprivation of rural America that have made people desperate.

Thomas Frank

Well, also let’s throw out there the complete destruction of the newspaper industry. So, you go to any of these small towns and they don’t have a paper anymore. I mean, even big cities like I’m from Kansas City, the population is two million people. The Kansas City Star, which was once one of the great newspapers of America, now only comes out six days a week. It’s printed in Iowa. I think their staff is like 12 people.

The actual reporters for the paper. It’s really, really, really sad and if you go to a smaller city, you just don’t have anything. They’ve got nothing. There is no authoritative source of news, and of course, conspiracy theory runs rampant.

There’s also this sense in which the expert class, and I use that term all the time, that sort of professional managerial elite have really failed middle America have really failed this country, and instead of saying looking in the mirror and saying, damn, what have we done wrong?

Why are people turning to these crazy theories? They’re like, no, let’s just shut them up. Let’s just make those people shut up. Let’s make them shut up and listen to us. The experts. There is this idolatry of the expert among Democrats that I find really disturbing. That if only we can shore up the social position of the credentialed expert. Of credentialed expertise, if only we can buttress that and force everybody else to shut their goddamn mouths. Then we can solve all our problems.

That’s not only censorship, it’s deeply anti-democratic, and also, it’s not going to solve the problem. You’re never going to solve the problem unless you take away the vote. Unless you take away democracy itself, you’re never going to. This is a problem that is impossible to solve, and here’s what’s the worst thing about it Paul Jay.

It’s this complete misunderstanding of the right, the right-wing grievance complex. You remember I wrote a book called What’s the Matter with Kansas? And this was my great sort of enlightenment when I was writing that book is that these people who are voting for a party that serves the powerful and makes the powerful more powerful makes the rich richer. That’s what the Republicans were back then, right?

The people who are their rank and file. These working-class, these sort of salt of the earth people in Kansas, they do this because they themselves feel aggrieved, not because they feel powerful, not because they identify with the rich, because they hate the rich, because they hate, their lives and they hate being bossed around.

And there’s this weird way in which the Republicans take these legitimate class-based grievances and turn them against these people’s interests. This is what they do. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re very good at it, but you go in there and start censoring people and say you’re going to censor people and do it right out in the open. Oh, my God, we are playing right into their hands. This is the biggest political blunder I have ever seen.

And we’re going to pay for it. And the history books 50 years from now are going to talk about the stupidity of this. It’s a McCarthyism of the left. This is so dumb. I mean, if it goes any further and I think it will go further, I think it’ll go quite a bit further or maybe it won’t. Maybe Joe Biden’s going to fix everything, and everything is going to go back to normal when Covid is done. That’s what I’m hoping it is.

Paul Jay

Well, you can hope but I don’t think so. There’s an interesting phrase that that was used. I think her name is Karen Armstrong. She’s the nun that writes about Buddha and Jesus and other people, but she has a great phrase in one of her books. She says, “During the time of the decline of empire, people lose their ideological moorings”. And I think that’s what’s, first of all, it’s happened generally across the country, but it’s really happened in rural America.

And so, either you cling to a sort of real fundamentalist religious conception, which at least gives you something to hold on to, or you go into crazy conspiracy theories, and I agree with you, the censorship from social media that the Democrats are asking for just reinforces the idea of this great conspiracy against the American people to hide the truth, and that the truth is whatever the latest conspiracy is.

Thomas Frank

There’s also a kind of a dereliction of duty, if you want, by the Democrats here. I mean, people like me have been making him and pointing out what’s wrong with the Democratic Party for a long time. Paul, I’m not the first one to do this stuff.

There’s other people have been saying the same thing for a long time. It’s easy to confirm for yourself go out and do the research and you can see how America is falling apart and how the Democrats and liberal elite generally have failed to do anything about it.

And instead of doing, obviously the right thing, which is rule on behalf of ordinary Americans, make their lives better, don’t let de-industrialization go any further, don’t wreck people’s lives anymore, don’t ruin the economy, don’t let monopolies destroy everyone’s livelihood. You can go right down the list. Instead of doing that they come up with these excuses.

The most obvious one is after the 2016 election, when Hillary loses to this incredible bastard, this incredible bigot asshole, Donald Trump, and instead of saying, what the hell did we do wrong? Like, aha, it’s the Russians, it’s a conspiracy theory of their own, right, but what’s interesting about it is the way that they tactically retreat in such a way that they never have to question their own priors, they never have to question their own beliefs.

They never have to call out anything that they themselves have done. They never have to ask any questions. They never have to look in the mirror basically. And this just extends it. If you just reached out to those people.

Maybe they wouldn’t be voting for this asshole, maybe you wouldn’t be losing these elections, maybe they wouldn’t be believing these conspiracy theories instead of what’s actually.

Paul Jay

There is there is an organization I was just doing some reading about it today. I knew of it before. I think it’s called People’s Action, and they are doing what you’re saying. Before Covid, they were going door to door in rural America and talking to people. I should say, listen, they emphasize this. They start with listening to people who were especially focused on people that voted for Obama and then voted for Trump.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, I know guys like that. There are members of my family that did that.

Paul Jay

And they’re complaining as much as you are about how little traction what they’re doing is getting from the leadership of the Democratic Party, but let me add a big but here.

I think the corporate leadership, the main leadership of the Democratic Party, is doing exactly what they should be doing in their own interests because they are an extension of Wall Street.

Thomas Frank

They are now.

Paul Jay

Well, when weren’t they?

Thomas Frank

Well, that trend, you go back to the Reagan era. I mean, Reagan was the overwhelming favorite of Wall Street and so was George W. Bush but with Obama, if you look at the fundraising totals, I mean, there were always Democrats who were Wall Street Democrats always, and there’s also big oil democrats.

Paul Jay

Where I was headed with this, is that to think that these corporate Democrats, except in weird circumstances and I think we’re kind of in one now because of the pandemic, Wall Street actually wants a big infrastructure project and wants a big infusion of cash and wants direct payments to people. So, there’s a very weird moment in history.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, they’re in a crazy bull market right now, but that doesn’t make any sense.

Paul Jay

But to me the bigger question is what the real progressives, the real left in the United States, and I have to say, it’s not just the United States, it’s Canada. And frankly, most other countries, too, and practically everywhere. Why is the left so weak? Talking about this organization that is going door to door talking to rural people.

Thomas Frank

Well, you know the answer to that. The main force behind the left was was the labor movement. First of all, there’s been this this dissociation between them and the Democratic Party, and second of all, they’re so weak, in America anyways. I mean, the labor movement has just been beaten to the ground there. What is the union density rate in America?

It’s something like seven. No, it’s something like six percent in the private sector. I mean, it’s incredibly low. They’ve got nothing. With that gone, you’ve got all the traditional bulwark underpinning of the left, has evaporated, and it’s getting harder to even understand economic issues on the left anymore.

Paul Jay

Well, I think this model of people going to rural America or people from. We shouldn’t also think rural America is one block of people. I mean, there’s a lot of big progressive people in rural America. I just got this video from this woman that lives in rural Wisconsin. She wrote me a note and I asked her to make a video, and she lives in a small town, mostly Trump voters, and she made a video about why she thinks people have abandoned the Democratic Party or the other way around.

She says the Democratic Party abandoned them, and I’m going to run that video probably alongside running this interview, but what happened in the civil rights movement, to some extent, the idea of a real campaign to go and talk and listen to rural America and make that a big piece of a progressive political agenda. Yeah.

Thomas Frank

So now you’re getting me close to the P word, populism, because the populists are the original radicals in American life, these are the original group that demanded government intervention in the economy on behalf of working people. It was a trans racial movement of working-class people. They were farmers. They were led by farmers, and that’s who the rank and file were, and farmers in the 19th century could be really radical, and every now and then you’d have this sort of uprising among the farmers. Farmers were obviously the biggest occupational group in America. Even in the 1980s more than half the population of America was still farmers. And they.

Their interests were opposed to the interests of banks just automatically because farmers are borrowers, they’re debtors, and there’s this sort of built-in hostility there. That’s gone, farmers are a very, very small part of the population now, and they don’t tend to hate banks as much as they used to, but they do hate monopolies. Anyhow, but farmers can be radical and people in small towns can be radical. We know it because it’s happened before.

Paul Jay

The woman that sent me the video, which, as I said, I’m going to play, she says the elites in the cities just don’t see us when they talk about flyover. Yeah, they really don’t see us, and as much as it was bullshit, she says Trump seems to see us.

Yeah, that’s right, “seems” is the operative word there, but there were all sorts of ways that he did that. I mean, just look at what he did. He talked about the trade agreements. That was that was really smart. That hurt Clinton really bad. He talked about the opioid epidemic and he did that in a way that resonated for people.

I mean, everybody knew that was a terrible problem, right, but somehow Trump was able to capitalize on it. There are all sorts of ways that he was able to do that, go back and look at it. It’s not just the bigotry. I mean, there’s obviously a certain audience for that in America, that loves that crap, but it’s obvious there’s more to it than just that, because, the famous Obama.

Paul Jay

Let’s go back to the censorship thing. In Canada, and almost every advanced country capitalist country and many of the developing countries, they actually do have laws against hate speech. It’s a very common law. United States is one of the outliers not to have it.

What’s your view on that? Now, most of the laws do not have punishment for, say, the social media company. If an individual goes on in one way or the other and commits hate speech, whether it’s on social media or in print or in some other way, it’s that individual who’s accountable and could be charged.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, well, I obviously a very American view on that, First Amendment, that’s one of the ways in which we are a profoundly democratic country, the sort of free speech absolutism, and the sort of doctrine here in America is that unless you are. I mean, there are rules about speech.

You and I are journalists. We know about defamation. Right. That’s you can get sued for libeling someone, and if you threaten imminent violence. I don’t remember the exact term, but the Supreme Court has defined it, and that’s the standard in America, and hate speech does not apparently, unless you’re directly threatening someone, threatening imminent harm to someone, that’s the rule, it can’t be outlawed.

Paul Jay

Which allows for outright Nazi propaganda as long as they don’t specifically threaten someone. See I’m in favor of that kind of law.

I think if it’s used against very narrowly the way it’s defined incitement for hatred against an identifiable group, and I know in the Canadian situation, the law has been used very, very rarely, but it has been like there was one Nazi guy who was very active in the global Nazi movement, he was charged under this. In Germany they have a law that goes a little further. The German law is closer to what the Democrats are calling for. This is from 2017.

Thomas Frank

Well, the problem is they can’t do it legally. The Constitution prevents them from passing a law like that. So what they’re trying to do is coerce Silicon Valley into doing it for them, and that’s kind of an iffy strategy, and I believe they’ll probably get in trouble with the courts just by doing that, just by threatening to punish social media if they don’t start cracking down, even that is illegal. They can’t do that either, but we’ll see, nobody has stepped in to stop them yet. We’ll find out.

So, what if there was a well-financed campaign of outright racist propaganda pushed on social media in a big way? Without a direct threat of violence against anyone, but I don’t want to say that would be the Koch brothers, because I don’t think they would actually do that, but I don’t know Robert Mercer, somebody.

Thomas Frank

So there’s plenty of people who do stuff like that. Yeah, absolutely. So I don’t know, Paul. I mean, I assume that that Silicon Valley companies are not the state. They can do whatever they want. That is that is the fact.

Paul Jay

Well, maybe that’s the answer is that they shouldn’t have that kind of clout in the culture.

Thomas Frank

When when you sign up for your account, you agree to not do all of these things, you agree to not threaten people. You agree to not defame people, but they can’t be held responsible. This is the weird the loophole in the law that was passed back in the 1990s.

So, you can’t sue Facebook if somebody threatens you on Facebook, by the way, which has happened to me, isn’t that the craziest damn thing?

I got a death threat on Facebook once, the nuttiest thing, and I can’t hold Facebook accountable for that. Well, I mean, nothing happened, so I can’t hold anybody accountable.

Paul Jay

So, let’s explore what would be a model that would be reasonable. Like you talked about regulation. You talked about breaking them up.

Thomas Frank

Yeah.

Paul Jay

I mean, is there a democratic way to keep overt racist and fascist stuff out of this? I think that word overt is very important because a lot of people might think something is racist and it’s a matter of interpretation or argument.

Thomas Frank

I know what you mean, because that’s what all of these Supreme Court decisions and these big ACLU cases, that’s always what it’s about over the last 20 or 30 years, like the Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois, and the Supreme Court, the current sort of Supreme Court standard for free speech came after a leader of the Ku Klux Klan gave some incredibly vile speech somewhere in Ohio and went to jail right. He was threatening people, but in an abstract sort of way, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

These are always the test cases in America, but social media obviously has has different standards, but the standards have to be really broad. What disturbs me is the Democrats trying to get them to rewrite the algorithm, to punish their political opponents. I have very little sympathy for Nazis or the Clan or any of these. I don’t really care what happens to them.

Paul Jay

Well, there’s an interesting commission I think it was British, but bunch of Europeans were involved to come up with recommendations, and I thought one of their recommendations was actually really good. To make YouTube’s and all the social media have to make their algorithms public. How do they decide what to suppress, what not to suppress?

Thomas Frank

Interesting idea.

Paul Jay

Make that a matter of public disclosure, and that would be an interesting law. It would be constitutional. I think they could yell proprietary, but I think the public interest would trump it, make them disclose how they’re deciding things, like how does theAnalysis get caught in something that’s supposed to be suppressing?

Thomas Frank

It would also be awesome if there was some way to appeal things, like when you find these newspapers and TV channels like CNN that constantly talk about misinformation and the dangers of misinformation. OK, fair enough. What about when they make a mistake and we have a perfect example that the whole Russiagate thing. It went on for four years and it was crazy and it all turned out to be, not all of it, but about 90 percent of it turned out to be based on mistakes, on groundless fears, or exaggerations, that were pumped up by the media. OK, how do we hold them accountable? What’s the mechanism for causing them to be held accountable?

Paul Jay

What would you like to see?

Thomas Frank

I have no idea. I mean you could write a letter to the editor.

Paul Jay

Well, you could have some kind of tribunal, maybe with no actual authority, like not binding, because you don’t want some tribunal to be able to decide this is true and that isn’t, but maybe a public forum that has to get media coverage where you could actually have debates and investigation like you don’t even have balanced. What is it since Reagan? You don’t even have fair balance.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, the Fairness Doctrine. Yeah, you don’t even have that. Even if we did, they still wouldn’t let you on TV in America, Paul.

Paul Jay

Well, they wouldn’t let you on either. 

I used to do radio. I used to do college radio. You’re right I haven’t been on TV in America in a quite a long time. An actual broadcast TV I have not been on in years. I’ve been on Bill Maher. He had me on about six, seven months ago. Other than that, nothing. I haven’t been on MSNBC in four years, five years since the beginning of all this. And I haven’t been on CNN.,I was on CNN right up until Trump got elected, and then after that, it dried up. They lost interest in me.

Paul Jay

Because the critique of liberalism is outside the lines of what you’re allowed to talk about.

Thomas Frank

Yes. I have a funny story about that, about the mainstream media in America. And I can’t tell you who said this, but they said it to someone that was trying to get me on a broadcast network in America, let’s just put it that way, and they said to this person who is like trying to promote Thomas Frank and like, come on you should have him to come on and talk about Listen, Liberal, this book criticizing the Democratic Party and they said, I’m not going to tell you who it was, but they said it’s OK to criticize the Republicans from the left and it’s OK to criticize the Democrats from the right, but you can’t criticize the Democrats from the left. That was their standard, so I fell outside the parameters of the acceptable. You can’t criticize the Democrats from the left. How about that? Paul Jay.

Well, I got to know Gore Vidal pretty well, I interviewed him a bunch of times before he died and sort of became his friend.

Thomas Frank

You even put out a book with Gore Vidal.

Paul Jay

Yeah, in fact that’s the book that Julian Assange was carrying. That became a big story, but Gore, who was a global literary celebrity and massive television star like in 1968 during the Democratic Party convention, when the streets were ablaze.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, he used to be on TV all the time. He would be on Johnny Carson’s show. 

Paul Jay

And then as he more and more critiqued the leadership of the Democratic Party, he starts to get off American television, and even as such a star, when I got to know him the last two or three years of his life, he wasn’t on mainstream TV at all. His house constantly had European television crews coming in and out.

Thomas Frank

I’m on European TV all the time by the way, that’s not a problem. They’re very interested in America and what’s going on here, but American TV is no, they’re not interested. I take that back. There was this guy in Baltimore. I used to go up to this guy’s TV studio in Baltimore, and I would be on that all the time. I had trouble with the parking meters there. The parking meters were a headache.

Paul Jay

Haha, talking about my former life. All right, so in terms of dealing with the QAnon and the kind of real false narratives, and they’re demonstratively false, and the most important one, of course, is climate change denial, climate science denial, which is by far the most consequential misinformation. 

Thomas Frank

How do you beat something like that? In my opinion the right side of these debates ought to be the side that wins, and if they don’t, I think there’s something wrong with the way you’re presenting your side. To me, that is just like everybody knows climate change is happening. We’re talking about farmers a minute ago. Don’t tell me farmers don’t know this. Of course they know it.

We were talking about Kansas City a minute ago, I’m from Kansas City. It used to snow a lot in Kansas City in the wintertime. Now, when you go there and it snows, they don’t know what to do. They’re like, oh, my God, it’s snowing. It’s like, yeah, it is. It’s Kansas City. It snows. It never snows there anymore. Everyone knows climate change is happening. If you can’t talk to people about something that everyone knows is taking place, there’s something wrong with the way you’re framing it, the way you’re presenting these facts. This is not my subject, I haven’t really studied it a whole lot, but the same thing is true with Covid.

 I think uniquely among the nations, we Americans made Covid into a culture war, which is absolutely fascinating to me, like why? Why would we do this? 

Paul Jay

I got to say, it’s not uniquely. It’s happening in Brazil. It’s even happening to some extent in Canada. It’s happening in Europe. The same kind of rightist populist kind of politics. I don’t even understand why vaccination and masks became an issue for the right.

Thomas Frank

And they could have played it the other way and I think it’s to their incredible regret that they played it the way that they did. I mean, had Trump stepped up and been a real leader during Covid, he probably would have been reelected. The fact that he was such a dunce, a fool, and a terrible leader, telling people they should inject bleach. Do you remember that? I mean, the idiotic things that he said, that’s a big part of the reason why he lost. Guys like Steve Bannon were on this very early trying to get him to take a hard line about it. It’s not worth going into.

I’m just saying it didn’t have to unfold in the way that it did, and it’s all of the, by the way, it’s a subject I want to write about someday. I’m just so sick of politics. I’ve just had enough of it, but how Covid became a culture war is really fascinating to me, and I don’t think it’s that simple to say, well, these people are stupid, and they don’t understand science. That’s not the answer. It’s a little more complicated than that, but I don’t have it. I can’t give you the answer right now.

Paul Jay

Well, it has to do with this profound distrust in government, which is not new.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, there’s that, but it’s also, if you ask me, it’s always about social class, and it’s not just this distrust of government because government was Trump at the time.

Paul Jay

This goes back to Reagan, too. Reagan’s big slogan was, government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem, but there’s another thing happening which we better pay attention to, because I think a lot of the left and progressives don’t watch as much Tucker Carlson and right-wing media as I do and maybe some others, but the people like Tucker Carlson, like Bannon, they are taking over the anti-corporatist rhetoric.

Thomas Frank

Yes. Why are they doing that? And the answer is because they can, because we aren’t there to stop them. There aren’t voices like mine on the left media such as it is, and so they’re able to do it. Yes, this is happening. There is a shifting of the tectonic plates going on in America right now. This is what I wrote about for Le Monde Diplomatique.

I mean, it’s not written about in America, but just 10 years ago when you talked about the Republican Party, the one fact you needed to know is that this was the party of the rich. Well, that’s not the case anymore.

Paul Jay

The rich or the party of big business.

Thomas Frank

Yeah, they’re changing sides with a few exceptions, like big oil, casinos, things like that.

I don’t think they’re really changing sides, but they’ve learned the rhetoric. As Reagan.

Well, the sides are changing. It’s a very curious shift that’s going. Paul by the way, I have to hang up here in a minute, but I’ve told you about this before, the place that I grew up was this very wealthy part of Kansas City.

My family wasn’t wealthy, but the kids that were on my street, that I went to school with, that I played with, they were the ruling class of the state of Kansas and the city of Kansas City. They owned it, or their families owned it. These were the most Republican people in America. Bob Dole Republicans, Dwight D. Eisenhower Republicans, Nancy Kassebaum Republicans. Those are all people from Kansas.

And Goldwater, they loved Goldwater, my neighborhood went for Goldwater by like 75 percent or something like that. They just went for Biden. I looked it up. It’s the first time that county that I grew up in went for a Democrat since Woodrow Wilson. Over a hundred years they were Republican and now they flipped. That is for me, that is an earthquake, and I went and I dug into the data and looked at my neighborhood, the actual neighborhood where my father still lives.

Biden won every precinct, every single precinct where these very, very, very wealthy people live. This is a shifting of the plates. Something is going on here, and now you look at a map of the state of Kansas and it used to be all red. The Democrats traditionally won one county, which is this very working class urban county right north of where I grew up.

Well, now they win that one and then they win the rich people and then they lose everything else, all the farmers, they get the college town. They get the place where the University of Kansas is. What is going on in this country is incredible, but the ruling class is changing sides. That doesn’t mean that they’re becoming particularly liberal, doesn’t mean that they’re going to start watching Paul Jay. It doesn’t mean they’re going to start putting me on TV or anything like that. It means that they’re. I’m sorry. I’m out of  out of gas here, but, the ruling class is voting for Democrats.

That’s what’s happening, and the ruling class isn’t monolithic. The change has taken place over time. It’s not complete yet. It hasn’t fully happened, but it is happening, and there’s no doubt about it.

That’s one of the lines in this Guardian story that I’m proud of, the Democrats, scold and shush and boss you around like a ruling class, because to a certain degree, that’s what they are.

Paul Jay

All right, thanks for joining us, Thomas.

Thomas Frank

My pleasure.

Paul Jay

Thank you for joining us on theAnalysis news. Don’t forget the donate button, the subscribe button on YouTube and please come back again soon.

3 comments

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  • The reason I have been so critical of theAnalysis.news on Progressive issues is because the important things the citizens need to focus on – when it is probably even too late are the impending takeover of the country. Forget Trump’s Jan 6th coup … the real coup has already been accomplished.

    Thomas Frank interview: 2021-05-03 From the Archive: Author Thomas Frank Delivers Candid Criticism of Democrats
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDkefd6c1y4&t=528s

    Nancy McLean interview: 2021-05-03 From the Archive: Prof. Nancy MacLean on the Koch Network and GOP Election Rigging
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n49aLBITIXU&t=2807s

    Frank has been essentially muzzled by being exiled from the mainstream media ever since his brilliant book “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”

    Both Frank and McLean discussion in detail and at length the long term strategy of the monied interests in the US, and the world …. to wit:

    https://youtu.be/n49aLBITIXU?t=645
    “The goal is to establish a veto-proof super-majority, operating without majority support.”

    The irreversible destruction of democratic government in a covert way and to remove all the public space and interference from the government – including getting rid of public schools, no voting rights, having Senators appointed by legislators instead of by popular vote in the states, of course to remove regulations protecting the environment and rules regarding labor.

    These are issues that are basically fait-accomply – ALREADY, or those that are not are well underway and may not be reversible at this point.

  • I like Thomas Frank, but he doesn’t listen enough. He might think of something new to say if he did. In every recent interview I yell at him to “just SHUT UP and listen!” Is he a liberal? It takes one to know one, I guess.

    • I think Thomas Frank was virtually traumatized when he had a collision with political reality and was virtually banned from pundit status when he wrote his best book “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule” that instead of criticizing Democrats turned his attention to Republicans. It is a brilliant book. That’s why even though he shows up to be interviewed on these shows, the Bill Maher Show last Friday 2021-04-30 and the PeterBCollins archived podcasts that came out today at;

      https://www.youtube.com/c/PeterBCollinspodcast/videos

      Frank keeps talking about how he has quit political commentary writing, which seems to be what he loves and what he is best at.

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