The Oklahoman

OKC Native Elizabeth Warren Earns National Spotlight

“Now, there's something I've noticed lately. You probably have, too. And it's this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats.”—Bill Clinton in his speech at the Democratic National Convention

Image of Elizabeth Warren

Oklahoma City native Elizabeth Warren delivered a well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, but don’t expect the conservative corporate media here to praise it.

Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor now running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, chaired a Congressional panel beginning in 2008 that oversaw the federal Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and she later helped create the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau.

In essence, she served as a major watchdog for American citizens during one of the country’s worst economic downturns in history, a daunting task she completed with great skill.

Warren, pictured right, grew up with modest means and was raised by working class parents in Oklahoma City. She attended Northwest Classen High School before leaving the state at a young age. She’s a role model—or should be a role model—for thousands of Oklahoma City area students, who also may come from low-income homes.

In one of her speech’s most powerful moments, Warren directly challenged GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s statement on the campaign trail that corporations are people when he offhandedly referred to the legal concept of corporate personhood. “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people,” Warren said. “People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die, and that matters. That matters.”

Warren’s personal story and her success are compelling. Her speech was remarkable. But the local corporate media here, led by The Oklahoman, have pretty much normalized what former President Bill Clinton referred to Wednesday night as the “hate” of the “far right that now controls” the Republican Party. In other words, don’t expect good reviews for Warren’s speech in the local corporate press.

Under the prevailing Oklahoma GOP rubric and its propaganda machines, someone like Warren is an enemy and a left-wing radical because she’s a Democrat and she supports President Barack Obama. It doesn’t matter if she’s a hometown girl or not.

An editorial in The Oklahoman this convention week makes it clear. The downward slide of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is because of President Obama, according to the editorial. What Democrats here need to do, and I guess by extension all Democrats, including Warren, is reject the president of their own political party, it argues. If they do that, then everything will be okay with Democrats.

Of course, the newspaper itself, one of the most conservative in the nation, isn’t to be held accountable for its one-sided, inane and consistent criticism of Obama or, for that matter, Clinton either when he was president. All the hatred for these presidents was generated independently of the right-wing noise machine, right?

Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin is serving as an attack dog for Mitt Romney’s campaign this week in Charlotte as Oklahoma taxpayers pick up some of the tab. Now there’s a hometown girl The Oklahoman can recognize for doing a good job.

The larger picture is this: Even if the GOP does win the presidency this year using the politics of hate and lies, it remains an endangered species in its current form in the long-term because of the growing diversity and cultural tolerance of this country. It will have to move left to survive as a viable political party, even in Oklahoma eventually. But there’s much damage it can do to the country’s social, medical and educational infrastructure in a few short years.

Editorial Suffocation

Image of Ed Shadid from The Lost Ogle

In my last post, I suggested that the editorial page of The Oklahoman might have recently lightened up on the snark and fallacious argumentation.

It was an extremely qualified argument, and I made it only to set up my criticism of a recent editorial that essentially conflated the Oklahoma Lottery and state government. The editorial was a clear example of a false analogy, a type of fallacy used by the newspaper consistently because it doesn’t often argue much with facts and empirical evidence.

Today, I’m taking back even that qualified argument. After reviewing and rethinking the newspaper’s tirades against President Barack Obama and looking at its recent criticism of Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, pictured right, I continue to believe the newspaper’s editorial page relies mostly on “false comparisons, rhetorical subterfuge, omissions, ad hominem attacks and its trademark put-down interjections and needless, snarky intrusions.”

That doesn’t mean the newspaper doesn’t get it right occasionally, but too many of its editorials are lousy and unethical examples of argumentation. There are ways to make certain conservative arguments with integrity, of course, but The Oklahoman primarily relies on rallying the low-information rabble with ideological mush and fear mongering. In the process, they attempt to damage people’s reputations and credibility without remorse.

The newspaper’s hysterical editorials opposing virtually any major action of President Barack Obama are an obvious case in point, and it’s simply not worth rehashing the matter. The newspaper’s recent criticism of Ed Shadid, which follows other criticism, is worth a discussion, however, because it shows just how much The Oklahoman still strays from mainstream journalistic practices.

Shadid, who represents Ward 2, recently suggested Oklahoma City might look into reconsidering the one-eighth of a cent sales tax that is dedicated to The Oklahoma City Zoo operations. The suggestion came within a broader discussion about city revenues. It was clear Shadid, then and now, has never suggested reducing funding for the zoo. His comments were actually related to money surpluses.

The Oklahoman editorial page, however, immediately went on the attack. Note this snarky bit of playground argumentation:

Shadid is questioning the dedicated sales tax of 1/8th of a cent, hinting that it could be better spent on streets, for example, those things that make it easier to drive instead of walk. The Ward 2 council member has a reputation for going against the grain. We didn’t know he wanted to go against the giraffes as well.

Note the ad hominem fallacy that Shadid is “going against the grain,” which tries to marginalize a person that many people believe is one of the city’s most foresighted leaders at the present moment. The “against the giraffes” comment is a typical type of sarcastic editorial interjection used by The Oklahoman in place of sound research and reasoning.

Shadid’s cogent comments about the zoo tax, passed 22 years ago, and the hotel/motel tax, which helps fund the fairgrounds, are clearly outlined here and are designed to produce a discussion, not a foregone conclusion. Shadid, unlike The Oklahoman, uses a heavy dose of numbers and studies, a normal intellectual approach to an issue.

But, beyond the numbers, here’s a key point Shadid makes:

Let me start by emphasizing that I, nor I believe, any other city councilor, would favor any action which would jeopardize the ongoing operations of the zoo. Our strong public investment has created a world class facility and improved the health and quality of life of our citizens as well as improved our knowledge and appreciation of animals.

The Oklahoman editorial attacking Shadid lacks context and basic integrity. When the newspaper attacks Shadid, it attacks all of us who have stood up against its basic unfairness and shoddy, unethical journalism practices. The editorial also sends the common signal that the newspaper and local corporate power structure will not tolerate discussion of new ideas unless they’ve been first approved by the city elites.

So, to get back to my original point, The Oklahoman continues to publish knee-jerk, fallacious arguments on its editorial page that dumb down the political discourse here. It’s suffocating.

Starving Education

Image of Picasso work

I know I will get some disagreement on this point, but the editorial page of The Oklahoman in recent months has seemed to subtly lessen its reliance on false comparisons, rhetorical subterfuge, omissions, ad hominem attacks and its trademark put-down interjections and needless, snarky intrusions.

Is there an actual attempt underway at consistent logic and argumentation under the new ownership of Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, who took over the newspaper last year? Maybe so. Or maybe it’s just a temporary respite. The newspaper’s anti-Obama hysteria does continue in full throttle, but what does that even mean in this state at this point?

I get the sense the newspaper’s editorial page under the leadership of Christy Gaylord Everest was really just a tribute to her archconservative father, the late Edward L. Gaylord. In short, she probably didn’t care that much, and eventually the newspaper was sold to someone who supposedly cares more about media, though Anschutz’s conservative agenda seems quite clear.

The issue for many of us who are critical of the newspaper is not so much that its editorial page is conservative, but that it doesn’t allow consistent, dissenting views and that its unsigned editorials engage in sophomoric rhetoric. It promotes a mistrust of intellectualism and reasoned debate.

Does The Oklahoman reflect the views of the state’s conservative residents or did it create those views? Of course, the answer is both. What would the state be like politically if the newspaper would have published liberal columnists through the years, especially since the 1980s? It’s a hypothetical question and can never be answered, but I would argue that not only would the state be a much more moderate place politically but also the newspaper itself would be doing better financially.

Note that I used the term “seemed to lessen” in the first paragraph. One example of a decent commentary was an editorial during the tax-cut debate that heavily criticized one plan despite the newspaper’s allegiance to the conservative code, but the qualifier is necessary because the newspaper continues—perhaps less so?—its rhetorical deceit.

That deceit is on full display in a recent editorial published July 6 on NewsOK.com titled “Proposing reduction in Oklahoma lottery mandate is a ticket to controversy.” On the surface, the editorial is about the argument to eliminate the mandate that 35 percent of Oklahoma Lottery proceeds go to education. That would be a “controversy,” according to the newspaper, and that’s true enough. But the editorial’s real argument is to diminish education funding in Oklahoma while supporting the conservative and, really, magical idea that tax cuts increase state revenues.

The editorial argues that the idea to eliminate the mandate “has merit” because it could increase prize money and thus attract more money and thus make even more money available to education. The editorial neatly skips over any type of numerical or logical argumentation on the issue itself. How do the numbers break down? How much more money would education get if the mandate is eliminated? How does that work? Will the 35 percent be lowered to 20 percent, 10 percent? To its credit, the editorial argues that this argument with “merit” might be wrong, anyway, because of the plethora of gambling opportunities these days in the state.

But then comes this whopping false comparison that is both ludicrous and laughable:

Lowering the mandate could spike lottery sales. Of course, that's also true of income taxes — lower rates could encourage greater economic activity and produce increased revenue. Oddly, those who support repealing the lottery education mandate haven't made that connection, even though tax rate reductions might provide far greater revenue benefit for schools.

Follow the logic: Eliminating or reducing the Oklahoma Lottery’s educational contribution mandate is the same as reducing taxes. Good things are probably going to happen.

Here’s my response to this anti-education funding argument:

(1) Comparing the lottery to the state’s tax base is a false analogy. For the record, a lottery is not like a government. To compare the two as if they were the same is rhetorically deceitful. The basic missions of a government-based lottery, which is raising limited money for a government, and the state, which provides core services like education, social services and public safety, are remarkably different. One is a gambling game. The other is the state’s future and the health and overall well-being of its citizens.

(2) Is there no doubt that given the newspaper’s history that the editorial is, in fact, actually arguing for at least the possibility for a reduction in education funding? Note its own qualifications, such tax cuts “might” provide more funding for education. But then it might not, right? Note, as well, that there’s no supporting evidence that shows us reducing taxes in Oklahoma will increase revenues. Conservatives here, including The Oklahoman and Gov. Mary Fallin have simply not made a convincing argument about eliminating or reducing the income tax. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a think tank based in Tulsa, has detailed how important the income tax really is to core services in the state. Why won’t the newspaper argue the tax-cut case with numbers and evidence like OK Policy? How much money will a 1 percent cut in the income tax generate for Oklahoma? How will that money be generated? What specific companies will relocate here because we have a lower income tax rate? The newspaper simply can’t argue the case with any authenticity, and thus we get false analogies.

Eliminating or lowering the educational mandate is extremely controversial, but that’s not what the July 6 editorial is about. It’s about the newspaper’s own robotic indifference to education funding and its own style of deceitful argumentation.

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