The Sorensen Monologues

If Watergate Happened With Today’s Media

I was busy gestating during the Watergate crisis, and not paying much attention to the news, but hopefully this re-creation will resonate with people who lived through it. This comic was of course inspired by the Nunes memo, about which an objective headline might look something like: “Republicans release piece of garbage intended to mislead public about the Russia investigation.”

An amazing and highly-relevant detail that should be household knowledge but that I learned only this week: the origins of Fox News can be traced back to the Nixon White House. The Nixon administration wanted more favorable coverage in the media and hatched the idea of creating a pro-GOP news network. Roger Ailes offered to do it, though it took some 25 years for the network to actually materialize. Via the late Gawker (which was sued out of business by billionaire Trump backer Peter Thiel):

But according to a remarkable document buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the intellectual forerunner for Fox News was a nakedly partisan 1970 plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the “prejudices of network news” and deliver “pro-administration” stories to heartland television viewers.

The memo—called, simply enough, “A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News”— is included in a 318-page cache of documents detailing Ailes’ work for both the Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations that we obtained from the Nixon and Bush presidential libraries.

Flash forward to February 1, 2018. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera tells Sean Hannity “Nixon never would have been forced to resign if you existed in your current state back in 1972, ’73, ’74.” (Hat tip to Daily Kos commenter MiketheLiberal who alerted me to this development, which I’d missed).

Between the corrupt Fox and an intimidated/lobotomized mainstream media deathly afraid of showing “liberal bias,” we have a crisis of journalistic ethics on our hands, one that deeply threatens American democracy and, ultimately, the freedom of the press itself.

(Full disclosure: I currently do editing work for the company that used to publish Gawker.)

 

 

 



The next cryptocurrencies

As I was penciling this, Paul Krugman’s latest column on the Bitcoin bubble went up. Krugman makes some of the same points I make in the cartoon.

For more on the incredible energy use that goes into mining Bitcoin, this Arstechnica piece is a good place to start. This site has some eyebrow-raising stats, such as the fact that the number of U.S. households that could be powered by Bitcoin is 4,252,394. To quote from this Motherboard article making the Denmark comparison:

Even in the optimistic scenario, just mining one bitcoin in 2020 would require a shocking 5,500 kWh, or about half the annual electricity consumption of an American household. And even if we assume that by that time only half of that electricity is generated by fossil fuels, still over 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide would be emitted per bitcoin mined. It makes you wonder whether bitcoin could still be called a virtual currency, when the physical effects could become so tangible.

Emphasis mine. It’s extremely ironic, then, that a currency this inefficient and destructive to the planet — it’s mostly powered by Chinese coal-burning plants, according to Digiconomist — has become the darling of Libertarian utopianists who think they’re creating a futuristic paradise.



The Corruption Cycle

Lost in the shuffle of recent headlines about shutdowns and porn stars is the fact that Republicans are eviscerating Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A case in point.

I’m going to quote from myself here, from a post I wrote last April:

It’s not big or small government that I care about; it’s smart or stupid. In other words, it’s about policy, not “the government.” Once you start doing away with government, or the idea that government regulation is necessary, you grant more power to corporations and Wall Street. Government exists as a check on abuses of power by moneyed interests. While government can be corrupt to varying degrees, the fashionably cynical belief that all government is inherently corrupt is an idea that enables corruption.

The primary way to end government corruption is through campaign finance reform and publicly-funded elections. Anti-government libertarians have not supported candidates or policies that would lead to this outcome. Gorsuch will uphold Citizens United, ensuring future corruption of politicians by moneyed interests, furthering the right-wing ideology that government is inherently corrupt. And so the cycle continues.

We tend to talk about politics in terms of individual personalities.  But I think it’s more useful to look at the broken system of incentives, which invariably compromises even well-meaning public officials to some degree. (I’m talking about Dems here; the entire Republican party is nothing but a scam at this point.) This is not to say we can’t point fingers at specific people, but the problem is systemic. And nothing is going to change without the Supreme Court.

Sadly, much of our mediascape is now terribly corrupted as well, with Fox being almost pure disinformation; I’m not sure how you begin to fix this, but campaign finance is a start.



Worse Than Idiocracy

I realize I’m hardly the first person to make an analogy between the Trump administration and Idiocracy (one of my favorite movies of all time, let it be known). While doing some Googling, I found that Cracked made the case for Idiocracy being superior to our current state of affairs. But given Trump’s recent comments and porn star revelations, it seemed a direct comparison with Camacho was in order, one that went beyond merely pointing out their similar lack of qualifications and flamboyance. And the verdict is: I’ll take Camacho, thanks!



See No Evil

This comic was initially inspired by Sheriff David Clarke’s over-the-top tweetstorm last week. He railed against “fake news” and promised to “bitch slap these scum bags.”  “Punch them in the nose & MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD. Nothing gets a bully like LYING LIB MEDIA’S attention better than to give them a taste of their own blood” he added. In earlier times, a prominent supporter of the president making unhinged violent threats against journalists like this might have been perceived as scandalous and embarrassing, but it’s just another day in the Trump era, where this kind of authoritarian rhetoric has been normalized.

Just this last Sunday, hotheaded Trump adviser Stephen Miller had an interview cut off by Jake Tapper on CNN, providing some extra backdrop for the cartoon.



Cartoon Flashback: The Game



Behind the Red White and Blue Curtain

The Republican tax bill — and the way it was passed, in gross violation of democratic norms — resembles the hyper-corruption we typically see in authoritarian kleptocracies. As the cartoon lays out, there are many ways in which the US is moving towards the kind of dystopian state we used to satirize.

It’s not a stretch at all to note these similarities between the authoritarian tactics of the present-day GOP and Russian oligarchs. Yet I’ve noticed a knee-jerk reaction among some readers whenever Russia comes up. Some object because they see concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 elections as somehow overshadowing the fact that America had plenty of problems with its own political system before Russia got involved. To which I respond, duh. This does not obviate the fact that Russia’s efforts were highly effective. If you follow international news, it’s clear that these influence campaigns are a global problem. Of course, this cartoon isn’t even about election interference, except for the panel about Fox spreading BS about the Mueller investigation.

Another hot take that makes me groan is that criticism of Russia in 2017 amounts to “red-baiting” or McCarthyism. These people have their heads stuck up a 20th-century butt. (Don’t think about that too hard.) You see, in 1950s America, the McCarthyites were the people in power. They persecuted essentially powerless actors and writers for having political sympathies largely imagined. Today’s America is a completely different context. The people in power — virtually unchecked power, mind you — are the ones colluding with a repressive, right-wing traditionalist, crony capitalist Russia. If anything, they are the neo-McCarthyites, quashing dissent by charging peaceful protesters with felony rioting, infiltrating leftist activist groups, and implying entire demographic groups are criminals or terrorists.



Cartoon Flashback: Hedge Fund Nation

I neglected to post on Tuesday, as I used a “classic” cartoon this week. But better late than never, and this one is as timely as ever given the looting of the country that just occurred with the sociopathic Republican tax bill.

As I wrote in 2010, when this was first published: “One almost gets the impression from the GOP that something is wrong with you if you’re still doing actual, useful work.”



Mr. and Mrs. Perkins Go Gift Shopping 2017

Regular readers will note that I do one of these every couple years or so. This year, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins find themselves in a strip mall evoking a fascist dystopia. When I was first starting out as a political cartoonist, I did not anticipate having to actually satirize Nazism in America, but here we are.

Since someone is bound to mention it, I am aware of the Cats That Look Like Hitler website, which I discovered in the earlier, somewhat more innocent days of the internet.



The Republican tax bill is Soylent Greenbacks



Cartoon: Trump is… Forever?

I hate to be a downer here, but the attack on our justice system is a five-alarm fire, and I think some people need reminding that not everything can be fixed with the next swing of the political pendulum.

Relevant reading: This Mother Jones article, “How Donald Trump is Remaking the Courts in His Own Image” (which I actually discovered after I had written most of this cartoon, but it makes a perfect companion piece).

Also: this piece on the the court-packing scheme currently being floated by the founder and board chair of the Federalist Society, which guides Trump’s radical judicial picks. They aren’t shy about stating their objective: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”

What can we do? I don’t think we give up hope, but we need a better understanding of presidential elections. We get so bogged down in the petty details of individual personalities, when we’re really voting for a vast sea of public servants, with massive consequences that extend far into the future. (For the record, I’ve been making this point since before 2016.)

Also, the judiciary exists as a vague abstraction for most people — even the word “judiciary” is dry — so the theft of the courts doesn’t exactly burn up social media as much as, say, a story about a powerful media figure whipping out his johnson in professional settings. Not that that’s not important! But like taxes, the law lacks interesting visuals, so we tend to dismiss it as “boring.” I tried to bring it down to earth here a bit with the Trump heads.



Authoritarian Funnies, Kettling Edition

The mass arrests at the Trump inauguration protests (and at other protests around the country) are a breathtaking abuse of power that should leave every American appalled, no matter what their political leanings.

For more on the latest efforts to criminalize protest, read this op-ed column by a woman who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and has spent the last year fighting felony charges. This is also chilling. Did I mention the police were doing body cavity searches that left a photojournalist feeling as though he’d been raped?

I still remember being horrified by the indiscriminate roundups at the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC, when hundreds of people were trapped and unlawfully detained by the NYPD. A decade later, the city settled a lawsuit for $18 million.

 




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Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

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