Thursday, August 30, 2012

Episode 10: The Greater Fool

Just as the final News Night we will see this season began, so shall I, with Dorothy Cooper. Dorothy Cooper is a real person who resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And, that was her real picture, and she was written about in the Chattanooga Times Free Press (note the date of the article, October 5th, the timing is explained away by the nurse being the source) when she was unable to obtain the free voter I.D. that Tennessee provides. Yes, I said free. She tried to get the free I.D. in early October of last year, but because of having a different last name than what is on her birth certificate she initially ran into a bit of a glitch. She still could have voted absentee with no issues. However, after returning with her marriage certificate later that month, she received her voter I.D., well in advance of Tennessee's March 6th, 2012 primary, and was able to vote without issue. I'm pretty sure they picked the wrong example. Plus, in my research, I didn't find a single state whose voter I.D. law did not allow for either a free voter I.D., the ability to simply sign an affidavit to attest to your identity, or to have access to an absentee ballot.

The rest of the information thrown at us, and there is a ton of it this time, is quick hitting and meant to smash the Tea Party, and possibly Republicans as a whole, hard. The show used some quotes that were apparently meant to show that Tea Partiers hated Americans. Most of this is rhetoric that is meant to excite the Republican base against our current president or the Democrats as a whole. It's normal for both sides to do this with regards to the opposing party. It's fine to point it out, but as proof that the Tea Party hates Americans it is weak. Grover Norquist's quote is about shrinking our government, which is an ideological tenet of the right, not about hating Americans or the American government. Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky gets a good amount of face time in this show. His statement that the Republican goal should be to ensure that President Obama is a single term president is fairly par for the course for the party who doesn't have a sitting president. He also says a little more in a slightly longer cut of the video. It's all good drama, and they are real quotes that are kept in context.

When we get to the concept of the Tea Party constantly claiming that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, the quotes they choose are a little more suspect. First, I would like to address the use of the quotes of our Founding Fathers. The quote attributed to John Adams from the Treaty of Tripoli is used out of context and somewhat misattributed. The original treaty was written in Arabic and translated by Joel Barlow, the U.S. emissary to the Barbary States. John Adams signed it when it was brought back to the United States, but they were not his words (although the words of the document signed are legally attributed to those who sign). The whole of Article XI of the treaty is as follows:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen[Muslim],-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

You can also read the whole text of the treaty here.

Second, and even more interesting in its ability to work against their point under scrutiny, is the use of the Thomas Jefferson quote. The quote they use is from the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that Jefferson wrote in 1777. The statute is one of the three accomplishments, alongside writing the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia, that Jefferson wanted in his epitaph. The whole line reads as follows, "That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry," and is a part of a document that actually finds a very Christian defense for the separation of church and state. Don't believe me? Just read the first three words (but preferably the whole) of the statute here.

The comment by John McCain is also taken out of context. In the clip they show, he is answering the question, "Most Americans believe the Constitution established a Christian nation. Do you agree?" His answer is initially, "I would probably have to say, yes, that the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation." But, he goes on, "But I say that, again, in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, 'I only welcome Christians,' okay. We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know they are in a country founded on Christian principles." The rest of this part of the interview, done for a Christian website, can be found here.

Finally, I feel I must address a truly egregious error on the part of this show. Name-calling is one thing. Calling the Tea Party members Republicans In Name Only is fair and has a basis in reality. When you call any group not involved in genocide, terrorism, and human trafficking the "American Taliban" you have crossed the line.  The list he showed before he made the statement does not support this assertion nearly well enough once you really get into what the Taliban is and does throughout the Middle East. I couldn't care less about what the Tea Party movement really stands for, but this is not an acceptable thing to call any group that I know of with any real following in this country today.

With all the quotes in the episode, I feel I should leave you with one final quote that I feel was the best of the season:
 Pussy-ass coward-ass pussified pussies. – Charlie Skinner

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


  1. I had a feeling a lot of the quotes were taken out of context . Especially since the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson quotes were sentence fragments. I don't lean left or right and don't have an overly positive view of the tea party post bush era but it's becoming harder to enjoy the show with it being so obviously left winged. I really like the characters and the plotlines but somehow within the ten episodes span of time there wasn't one democrat that said something or did something as bad a Michelle Bachman and company. The characters are trying to create a news show that has no other purpose but trying to properly inform the viewer/voters with the most important information, but the longer it goes on it seems like hbo and the writers have no interest in that themselves. Hopefully the new writers manage to find a better balence on the the information they use or misuse. I love the blog so keep up the good work and I'll be looking forward to next season.

  2. Enjoy your blog. This program like all the others need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it does address some issues. Any party that consistently tries to control women's rights and behavior is dangerous and needs to be watched. Any party that tries to insinuate religion in every facet of life (their idea of proper religion) is troubling whether you label it "American Taliban" or "McCarthyism" ,it is very scary.

  3. Have to agree with Cynthia (Love the last name, Zillion). Please keep up this blog. I am trying to like the show (1) and this blog helps with the facts or "facts" the writers come up with.
    "We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand."-James Watt, Reagan Sec of Int
    The American Taliban tag is appropriate. When your policy stance is: anti-logic, anti-science, anti-women's rights, anti-gay rights, anti-foreigners, anti-compromise, anti-modernism (they all talk about the good old days), anti-personal rights, and anti-acceptance, you earn the title American Taliban.

    (1) the approach to the "news" is drama enough, I don't need the high schoolish "who's hooking-up now" aspect. Plus, I never met a person that talks as if they are reading an Aaron Sorkin script

  4. Brian, I just found this blog and read some of your other posts. Thank you for attempting to fact check this show- it is necessary. I neither support the Tea Party nor the Occupy movement, nor Democrats or Republicans, but at times it appears "Newsnight" is too much like Current TV or MSNBC (but with high ratings).

    Although the show does play loose with the facts sometimes, I feel it serves a greater good to at least encourage viewers to question the standard talking points from mainstream media, political blogs, and AM radio and to hold them up to a higher standard.

  5. I love this show, but it's obvious, as some already said, that there are sometimes more opinions than facts. I think it was especially obvious in Will's list of tea party American 'traits'. Thank you so much for fact checking and for doing a good job pointing out when the show goes a bit too far. I look forward to future posts!

  6. Make no mistake that most of the founding fathers were not Christian and push the fact that the country was NOT founded on Christian morals/teachings.

    Several from Ben Franklin:

    Lighthouses are more useful than churches.

    I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented my self from Christian assemblies.

    The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason

    John Adams:

    The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles.

    The quote above from the treaty still stands...there is no misinterpreting it:

    The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.

    Christianity neither is nor ever was part of common law.

    I encourage all to read up on our founding fathers (I find that most Americans are shockingly ignorant to who they really were) to understand who they were and what they stood for. I think many people would be surprised

  7. I just finished watching all of the first season and then found this site. I was happy to see that someone had spent some time looking into some of the facts but honestly bummed because there were a lot of questions I didn't find answers to. If I ask them in the comments for each episode would you take the time to look into them?

  8. Steve, I'll do my best to answer any questions you have. Sometimes I leave things out because they don't set off my B.S. detector even though they may be half truths or slanted. Other times I find things that are true but don't comment directly on them. I welcome any questions you may have. Also, if you post a bunch of questions on a few different episodes I may be able to address them all in one blog post as a "what I left out of season 1" thing for before season 2. Thanks for reading!

  9. I am glad I found this blog. I started watching the show in hopes of finding an intelligent drama that takes a serious look our government and the media. Unfortunately I have found only another opinion piece which is pushing a progressive agenda. That is ok. I am sure this show is driven by a real "Rease" and that progressives enjoy HBO more than I do. I am forced to watch non news, because there is nothing else. But I don't have spend my time watching made up news, especially with a definite agenda to slant the story in a particular way. I will read your blog to find out how the story goes, but I will never watch another episode of The Newsroom.