The thought of reading one more of Ross Douthat’s essay… or saved by Politico’s @jackshafer!

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The very thought of reading one more of Ross Douthat’s meditations, conjured in a mind packed with exhausted Aquinian Theology, tinctured in AI, unidentified flying objects, hallucinogens …

The first paragraphs of his latest essay:

Headline: The Return of the Magicians

March 2, 2023

Mr. Douthat is too young to recall that 1960 bestseller by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels ‘The Morning of the Magicians: Introduction to Fantastic Realism’?

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself writing columns that touch on the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, the mystery of unidentified flying objects haunting American skies and the enthusiasm in certain circles for taking mind-altering substances that yield a feeling, illusory or not, of contact with supernatural-seeming entities.

These are very different stories, in a way. The A.I. revolution belongs to the realm of serious and lavishly funded science. The U.F.O. phenomenon hovers on the paranormal and pseudoscientific fringe. The spiritual dimensions explored by users of drugs like DMT belong primarily to the terrain of psychology and religion — either as manifestations of some sort of Jungian unconscious or else, well, as actual spiritual dimensions.

But there is a shared spirit in these stories, a common impulse to the quests: the desire to encounter or invent some sort of nonhuman consciousness that might help us toward leaps that we can’t make on our own.

This impulse is an ancient one: The idea that one might bind a djinn, create a golem or manipulate a god or fairy to do your bidding is inscribed deep in the human imagination. Once upon a time this magician’s art seemed like a plausible rival to scientific technique, or a complementary means of mastery over nature; indeed, the scientist and the magician were often overlapping figures in the early modern imagination, blurring together in vocations like alchemy and characters like Dr. Faustus.

But I was saved by this essay at Politico by Jack Shafer, which was meant to be serious, but offered many comic moments.

Headline: Opinion | Rupert Murdoch Rides the Trump Tiger — and Gets Eaten

Sub-headline: The Dominion lawsuit has exposed the powerlessness of the Fox News titan.

An article of faith among modern media observers preaches that Rupert Murdoch can manipulate American politics in any direction he wants through the broadcasts of his lucrative media property, the Fox News Channel. This article of faith, which Democrats share with their children to give them nightmares and Republicans share with theirs as a cautionary tale, has given Murdoch king-maker status over the years as he has directed his channel to reward his supplicants and punish his enemies.

But on closer examination, and especially in light of the testimony released in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News for its coverage of the “stolen” presidential election of 2020, Murdoch isn’t always the master puppeteer he’s reputed to be. In Murdoch’s own words, delivered in Dominion suit depositions, he describes himself as frightened by the power Donald Trump holds over the Fox audience. He portrays himself, accurately in this case, as the supreme authority at his network but unable to control his prime-time anchors who endorsed Trump’s lie of a stolen election. And he regrets not interceding — which he says was within his power — to keep stolen-election fabulists like Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell from repeatedly appearing on his shows, even though some Fox executives and anchors were gagging, off-screen, on Giuliani and Powell’s wild-eyed theories.

This paragraph offers earlier comments that Jack Shafer made about the evolving Trump/Murdoch wobbly alliance:

But as I’ve written before, Murdoch has failed again and again to elect a president of his choice. In the 2016 campaign, he opposed Trump, tweeting in July 2015, a month after Trump announced, “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” Trump was so furious at Fox coverage at one point, and with then-host Megyn Kelly, that he retaliated by skipping the Fox primary debate. Moreover, Murdoch opposed Trump’s signature positions on immigrants, the Muslim ban and trade. Only after Trump paved a sure path to the nomination did Murdoch start sucking up to Trump, and he sucked hard.

Some excerpts reveal Rupert Murdoch, as the hapless victim of his viewers, his ‘on air talent’ and various political actors who makeup the Trump Cadre. A selection:

Murdoch’s fear of a Trump temper tantrum became palpable after the Capitol Hill riot, as an email exchange between Murdoch and former Republican House Speaker and Fox Corporation board member Paul D. Ryan attests. In it, Murdoch claims that Hannity, a Trump stalwart, had been “privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers.” It’s obvious here that Murdoch was mapping his fear of losing viewers onto Hannity, as a single instruction to the host to tell the truth about Trump’s claims would have put things straight.

When a former Fox executive told Murdoch in a Jan. 8, 2021, email that “Fox News needs a course correction” on Trump, Murdoch replied, “Fox News very busy pivoting. … We want to make Trump a non person.” A few days later, Murdoch expanded in another email to his son. The network was “pivoting as fast as possible” away from Trump, but after four years of conditioning its audience to worship the president, Murdoch was aware that the decondition process would be hairy. “We have to lead our viewer which is not as easy as it might seem,” Murdoch wrote.

“Nobody wants Trump as an enemy,” Murdoch said in a deposition, still bruised from his tiger ride. “We all know that Trump has a big following. If he says, ‘Don’t watch Fox News, maybe some don’t.’”

Murdoch’s pursuit of power and money, and his deft combination of the two, has always been a naked secret for those who care to inquire. These latest court filings only strip the top layer of epidermis from his hide and expose his venal essence. As late as Jan. 26, 2021, Murdoch was still so fearful of Trump that he had not executed the pivot and was still allowing stolen-election crackpot (and loyal Fox advertiser) Mike “MyPillow” Lindell a platform on the network’s Tucker Carlson Tonight show. Why allow it? Murdoch was asked. Presumably cashing Lindell’s fat checks in his mind’s eye, Murdoch replied, “It is not red or blue, it is green.”

Queer Atheist

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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