Tag Archives: media

This Amazon Sale on Darth Vader Comics Is Impressive. Most Impressive.

If The Hallway Scene rekindled your Darth Vader love affair, all four volumes of his new comic series are on sale on Kindle today. The first three volumes will only set you back $5 each, while the fourth is marked down to $10. Once you purchase, you’ll be able to read them on basically any device via Comixology.

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Right-Wing Commentators Don’t Even Believe Their Own Bullshit

On Monday night's episode of the Late Show, Stephen Colbert donned a varsity-style USA jacket, lowered his voice about three octaves, and told the audience he was a skeleton wrapped in angry meat. His performance as "Tuck Bedford"––the fictional host of "Brain Fight"––killed on two levels. First, it was a timely and obvious dig at Alex Jones, whose lawyer had just claimed the Infowars host was actually a performance artist. Then there was the obvious nod to the fact that Colbert himself became famous by portraying a right-wing pundit who at one point blurred the lines between fiction and reality.

It's sometimes difficult to remember that when The Colbert Report first came out, its host was so convincing, and the concept was so novel, that some interviewees didn't know what they were signing up for. While Sasha Baren Cohen benefitted from ambushing unsuspecting subjects as Ali G, his successor Colbert was able to famously own some early guests who didn't think that he would ask serious questions.

Last year, author Lee Siegel claimed in the Columbia Journalism Review that Colbert's brand of punditry paved the way for the fake news of today. But Colbert's winks were always obvious, and his core audience always understood his meaning. The most successful conspiracy-mongers working in America today have a different strategy entirely—they say whatever they want, and if they're called on it, they can always claim they were joking. Call it the "Colbert Defense." It's the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card and a way for people who cross the line to never have to take responsibility for their actions.

A particularly blatant example of this came this week during Alex Jones's custody battle with his ex-wife, who claimed Jones was an unfit father because of the insane things he said on his popular radio program, Infowars. In response, Jones's lawyer said the host was just "playing a character," albeit a character who shared the real Alex Jones's name, occupation, and general outlook on life.

Jones is far from the first rabble-rouser to fall back on the Colbert Defense. We first got a whiff of this back in 2011, when Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gave a speech in Tennessee calling for an Mexican border fence that was "20 feet hight with barbed wire" and "electrified." The crowd cheered loudly as he also suggested it would be able to kill Mexicans. After people got pissed, Cain backtracked on Meet the Press, claiming that his comments were just a joke and that "America [needed] to get a sense of humor."

Cain wouldn't be the last right-winger to complain about being taken too literally. During an extremely ill-considered appearance on Colbert, FOX News diatribe machine Bill O'Reilly was asked who would win in a fight between him and fellow FOX host Sean Hannity. "I'm effete. I'm not a tough guy," he said. "This is all an act." Colbert responded with a meta commentary on things to come: "If you're an act, then what am I?"

Since then, political commentary has become increasingly like pro wrestling—except no one breaks kayfabe. And though Colbert's audience was largely liberals who wanted to laugh at the right-wing blowhards the comedian was satirizing, O'Reilly and Jones are playing "characters" that appeal to people who mostly share their views.

This can get very confusing. Rush Limbaugh has been relying on sensationalism and bombast for decades, but almost no one would question whether he believes what he says. In 2008, Glenn Beck moved over from CNN to FOX News and made a splash for being even more provocative. In constantly railing against progressivism a "cancer," he basically invented the kind of punditry that birthed stars like Milo Yiannopoulos, who would later use the same word repeatedly to describe feminism.

Notably, Beck went on full-blown apology tour after realizing he helped create Donald Trump. "I could excuse it, to some degree—I won't—but I could excuse some of it by saying that I was trying to, in some ways, accomplish what Jon Stewart can accomplish: draw huge crowds, make points and then encourage you to do your own homework," he told the New York Times. That fits the pattern of right wingers distancing themselves from their most hateful rhetoric. After Yiannopoulos got fired from his job at Breitbart for appearing to defend pederasty, he claimed that his schtick was a joke.

"The videos do not show what people say they show," he said in a Facebook statement. "I did joke about giving better head as a result of clerical sexual abuse committed against me when I was a teen. If I choose to deal in an edgy way on an internet livestream with a crime I was the victim of that's my prerogative. It's no different to gallows humor from AIDS sufferers."

It's doubtful that many people turn to Yiannopoulos or Jones for satire. Certainly the guy who showed up at a DC pizza restaurant with a gun to "investigate" the pizzagate conspiracy that Infowars helped spread didn't think he was watching a comedy program. (Jones later apologized for his coverage of the nonsensical theory.)

Of course, it's one thing if the average Infowars listener doesn't know if he or she is being sold entertainment or news. It's much more terrifying when the president of the United States (himself a Jones fan) is playing the same game where it's unclear how seriously or literally we're supposed to take him. During a campaign event in July, Trump suggested that Russian hackers should go looking for Hillary Clinton's deleted emails, then after an outcry claimed he was being sarcastic.

Maybe he was. But sarcasm and politics don't mix well, and not everyone is equipped with the same joke radar. Colbert, for one, knew this. In a 2006 interview on 60 Minutes, he was asked if his kids watched his show. "Kids can't understand irony or sarcasm," he told Morley Safer. Maybe neither can Jones's audience?

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

Sean Spicer Is Bad for America

This week, famously gaffe-prone White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is in hot water after comparing Adolf Hitler favorably to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and in the process saying that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons—when in fact he gassed millions to death in concentration camps. (As of Wednesday, Spicer was still apologizing.) This is just the latest in a long string of humiliating mistakes from the Trump spokesman. But are Spicer's stumbles just a problem for the administration, or should ordinary people care that the press secretary can't get his foot out of his mouth? Politics writer Eve Peyser and politics editor Harry Cheadle debated that question today. Here's Harry's point:

Sean Spicer, whatever his faults, has a tough job: Every day, he has to go out and explain what the Trump administration is doing and why. Considering that administration is often in conflict with itself and is helmed by people who have a habit of saying things that are flat-out wrong, his task is a difficult one. Spicer started the gig having to defend a ridiculous claim by Donald Trump about the size of his inaugural crowd; his statements on the Republican healthcare plan were denounced by the left and the right; last month he had to back up his boss's bizarre (and still unproven) claim about being wiretapped by Barack Obama. To mangle a Game of Thrones quote, Trump eats and Spicer takes the shit.

As the White House press secretary, Spicer was always going to get raked over the coals by both the media and the Democrats for Trump's unpopular positions and odd tweets. That's the job, of course—he gets nearly $180,000 a year to be the mouthpiece of an administration that has made a muddle of its first three months. Spicer has added to that muddle by constantly committing gaffes, misspeaking, and at time misrepresenting the administration's positions in important ways. That's a problem for White House officials tired of "Spicer Fucks Up Again" headlines, but it's also a problem for the American people.

Read the counterpoint to this article here.

The job of a press secretary is to spin whatever the president does, but even that spin has a purpose—the public deserves an explanation for why missiles were launched, or why a piece of legislation is supported by the White House. Those explanations are going to be self-serving, but they can be a starting point for analysis and debate. So far, the administration hasn't done a good job of describing, for instance, its stance on Syria, which naturally confuses people, and it's at moments like these when Spicer's incoherence is actually dangerous.

Spicer claiming that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons was bad—as was his accidental claim, while apologizing for that gaffe, that Trump was trying to "destabilize" the Middle East—but he's made worse unforced errors. Earlier this week he implied, wrongly, that Trump would attack Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for using barrel bombs, which would be a major shift in policy, since barrel bombs are used daily in that conflict. He later "clarified" that statement, just as he had to "clarify" in January after saying incorrectly that the White House was endorsing an incredibly harsh import tax on goods from Mexico. Or how about the time he repeated a baseless rumor that the British spied on Trump for Obama, then denied that the White House apologized to the UK over the remark?

In all those cases, Spicer failed at the basic level of communicating what the White House was thinking—and that's his one job. Journalists depend on a press secretary who can represent an administration's positions accurately. Foreign governments want to know what the president's policy is on war and peace and trade. The public would presumably like to hear the White House's side of the story, even if that side of the story isn't the whole truth. When Spicer can't get through a press conference without spouting obvious nonsense that he has to take back hours later, he's failing all those constituencies. By adding an extra layer of incompetence to the already fraught relationship between the White House and the mainstream press, Spicer is helping no one, and looking like a moron to boot. Is that really worth paying him $180,000?

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.