Tag Archives: truth

News Has Become a Geico Commercial

cavemanGreat advertising works because the advertisers uncannily understand the psychological dynamics of the moment even before it is commonly recognized. Take for example the “Great Answer” series of Geico commercials. In these commercials, a person is put in an impossibly tough spot to which they reply that Geico can save you 15% or more on insurance. This is comically accepted by everyone as a “great answer.”

In “Objection,” faced with insurmountable evidence against him in a courtroom, a thief defends himself with the line (see here).

And in “Undercover Agent” an inept undercover agent avoids certain death at the hands of the mob using a similar line (see here).

Then in “He-Man vs Skeletor” the villain escapes amid gleeful laughter after delivering the punch line (see here).

Finally in “Meteor Crash,” when faced with the imminent destruction of the Earth, the General in charge proclaims that Geico is the answer (see here).

Silly as these are, I sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Geico commercial. When we watch news interviews, we essentially see an unending stream of farcical Geico  commercials. The Geico advertising team gets this at some level. That’s why these commercials are not merely funny but they relate, they resonate, they ring true.

Except being subjected to an endless stream of Geico-esque answers to real, important questions that affect our lives and affect the planet is not funny.

When watching news interviews during the day, the nightly news shows, or shows like Meet the Press or Face the Nation over the weekend, the hosts try to ask meaningful and important questions. But the guests invariably reply with “Geico can save you 15% or more” type answers.

Host: Given all the incontrovertible evidence that your tax plan is designed only to benefit the rich, how can you justify it?

Paul Ryan: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Host: Every independent analysis concludes that your tax plan will explode the deficit which you claimed is the biggest threat to our nation. How do you respond?

Kevin McCarthy: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Host: You claim that by giving huge tax breaks to big business and ultra-rich individuals, your tax plan will create jobs and increase wages. Yet this promise has been made many times before and it has never proved true. Why should it work this time?

Sarah Sanders: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Some people would simply call this “good messaging.” But at some point, good messaging becomes formal or informal collusion in a campaign of misinformation. We are way past the point of innocent and healthy message discipline now. We are moving into carefully crafted propaganda territory.

Here’s the thing. If the person you are interviewing has no shame, no compunction about misrepresenting and “spinning” to absurd extremes, no trace of integrity with regard to facts or truth, then you really cannot and should not talk to them. It used to be that most politicians had some baseline of integrity and self-respect, some desire to be truthful, and some capacity to be embarrassed or ashamed. But no more. While this lack of intellectual and moral integrity has been growing for a long time, particularly on the Right, Donald Trump has normalized this to such an extreme that even the most disingenuous scripted politicians can rationalize they are being relatively forthright and reasoned.

Today we are confronted by immediate and immensely important threats like climate change, wealth inequality, automation, and guns. Yet just like the General in “The Meteor” commercial, even when faced by existential challenges, all that our politicians are willing to respond with is the equivalent of “Geico can save you 15% or more.”

My message to Chuck Todd, John Dickerson, and all the rest of you news interviewers is … just give up already. Your guests have just gotten too good at avoiding answering anything fully or honestly. You are wasting your time and our time. You won’t catch them in a candid moment or a self-contradiction any more. I appreciate that you cannot push harder than you do, so you should just focus on reporting facts and providing independent analysis. Yes, independent analysis may not rate as high as partisan vollyball matches in which canned messages get knocked back and forth. Nonpartisan analysts may not draw the audiences of big-name politicians and spokespersons who cackle like Skeletor as they deflect your questions. But at least you would be using that otherwise wasted airtime with real reporting with real value for the nation and the world.

Or you can just continue to serve as the straight-men and women for those “Geico will save you 15% or more” punch lines. Just know that we are not laughing.

The Original Artists

I still remember with no special fondness the very moment I lost my innocence. I cannot actually possibly forget the singular incident that dashed my faith in my fellow human beings on the cruel rocks of betrayal. My psyche still bears of scars of that dark day when I became painfully conscious of the depth of depravity of my fellow man.

Some say it is only an urban myth, but it happened just this way…

It was the early 70’s and I was a young teen, intently watching I Dream of Jeannie on my 9-inch black and white portable television, occasionally adjusting the single antenna to minimize the ghosting and rolling of the screen, when I heard it. Like a Siren’s Call all, of my favorite pop songs, one after the other, were coming out of my television rather than from my little 9v transistor radio.

Order now, do it quick while supplies last, the announcer was urging me. Get all of your favorite hits in one fantastic album set by The Original Artists! For only $9.99! You’d pay over $50 to get all these incredible hit singles on 45’s! And they are guaranteed authentic hits by The Original Artists!

I frantically adjusted the antenna to better scrutinize the unbelievable offer on the screen. All hits are certified by The Original Artists, it affirmed proudly. It scrolled all the titles along with their artists – Kind of a Drag by The Buckinghams. Check! Incredible as it seemed to get all these amazing hits in one LP set, there it was in black and white. And did we mention that they are all by The Original Artists!?! The announcer even warned me be be careful, not to be fooled by cheap substitutes and demand only The Original Artists.

RecordPlayerNeedless to say, I gathered up much of my precious savings and rushed off to the local drug store to buy a money order for $9.99 plus Shipping and Handling, found a stamp, and sent it off. Several weeks later, there it was. My new collection of songs by The Original Artists. I tore it open like it was Christmas morning and dragged my little portable record player out from the closet, flipped open the lid, started the platter spinning, carefully put the record on, set the needle, and sat back to immerse myself in rapturous music.

Except the first song didn’t sound like I remembered it. Then the second sounded an awful lot like the first. Another sing-songy, washed-out, indistinguishably generic regurgitation of the first song. And on they went. Every song a muzak version of the original. Even on my crappy little portable record player it was obvious something was wrong.

Realization came slowly, it tap-tap-tapped at my brain patiently waiting to be let in. Eventually I entertained a small suspicion. Is this really the original artists? But the cover here says clearly that all songs are by The Original Artists…. oh wait…

Yes, shocked and horrified reader, that was the moment that changed me forever. Never again would I accept anything at face value. For evermore thereafter if it sounded too good to be true I assumed it probably was not true.

That formative event forever doomed me to take a second, third, and even a fourth look at laws and legislative actions that sound too good to be true. The Employee Free Choice Act? Hmm. The Internet Freedom Act?? Wait a second. Citizen’s United??? Now come on! When I hear these kind of names The Original Artists counsel me.

Perhaps The Original Artists did me a favor. Maybe in fact they were on a thankless humanitarian mission to teach all kids to be somewhat skeptical, to be a bit dubious about claims, to check their assumptions, confirm their facts, and question the lying truths told by legislators. Maybe it is only thanks to The Original Artists that I became an atheist and an scientist and try my best not to mislead others with spin and clever words that are technically true but intentionally false.

So thanks The Original Artists. Everything that happens to us, welcome or not, makes us who we are. And I for one would not want to be anyone else. $9.99 plus Shipping and Handling was in reality a true bargain.