Veit Medick

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In the time before centralized mass media, a whole host of traveling cons and medicine-show mountebanks could pull wool and push potions. During the era of centralized mass media, it was occasionally possible to work the masses in a big way, but mostly gatekeepers batted down these lies. In our age of decentralized communications, which began with President Reagan signing away the Fairness Doctrine and became fully entrenched with cable news and the Internet, the sideshow, now residing in the center ring, has never fooled more people who should know better.

One of the Barnums of this bizarre moment is right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, a compulsive eater and apeshit peddler of strange conspiracy theories that usually have an anti-government or bigoted bent. He is the kind of kook who would have been calling into late-night radio shows about UFOs in decades past, only to be hung up on by annoyed hosts. Today his strange fake-news impulses have provided him with a direct line to a White House led by a President who would have been laughed off the campaign trail in any reasonably decent and enlightened age. 

All of this has been enabled by a new form of hyper-democracy that resists checks and balances, in which every idea is equal true or not. It’s a scary moment in which anything–anything–is possible.

From Veit Medick’s great Spiegel profile of Jones, a Texas-sized F.O.T. (Friend of Trump):

Jones is stunned that not all Americans share his panicked view of the “jihadists.” Indeed, he believes the threat is so great that it would be best not to allow anyone at all to enter the United States anymore.

“Please forget the Statue of Liberty,” Jones says during a break. “It’s a symbol of propaganda. We should stop worshipping it and bending down to every Third World population that shows up with TB and leprosy.”

‘Foot Soldiers in the Trump Revolution’

Jones now plans to open an office in Washington. He says might hire 10 people to report on the White House, almost like a traditional media organization. He will be getting help from Roger Stone, a radical adviser to the president, who wrote a book in which he described former President Bill Clinton as a serial rapist without providing any proof. Under a deal reached between the two men, Stone began hosting the Alex Jones show for one hour a week a short time ago. “Elitists may laugh at his politics,” Stone says, but “Alex Jones is reaching millions of people, and they are the foot soldiers in the Trump revolution.”

It’s afternoon, and Jones is walking through the studio, his adrenaline level high and his blood sugar low. He needs to get something to eat. Platters of BBQ – chicken, beef and sausages – are set out on a table in the conference room. “Good barbecue,” says Jones. “You tasted it already?” 

He piles up food onto a plastic plate, and then he suddenly takes off his shirt without explanation. With his bare torso, he sits there and shovels meat into his mouth, a caricature of manliness, but also a show of power to the reporter sitting in front of him. He can do as he pleases.

Then Jones gets up and holds out a sausage. “Wanna suck?” he asks.•

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CUBA. 1959. Raul CASTRO at a baseball game between the Barbudos and the National Police Department.

HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Cuban President Raul Castro talk before the start of an exposition game between the Cuban national team and the Major League Baseball team Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Estado Latinoamericano March 22, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This is the first time a sittng president has visited Cuba in 88 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Friendships are fragile things.

In his just-concluded trip to Cuba, President Obama met with Che Guevara’s ghost but was denied Fidel Castro in the flesh. Brother Raoul, now running the show more or less, was likewise refused a conflict-free visit by his American counterpart, who shook with one hand and pointed accusingly with the other. The most tense moment of a trip that ended well occurred in the Grand Theater in Havana. From Veit Medick in Spiegel:

The theater became quieter when Obama began to address more sensitive issues, such as political constraints and the lack of a private economy in Cuba. It was a bit much for Castro, but a necessary evil. After all, the Cubans also made their points during the visit. Obama had to pose for a photograph in front of an image of Che Guevara, he had to make appearances in the Palace of the Revolution, and during a joint press conference, Castro tried to lift the president’s arm into the air to form a victory salute. Now it was Castro’s turn.

“There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba,” Obama said to Castro, who was sitting in the first row. By that point, mostly the Americans were clapping. Those in the Cuban section of the audience, sitting in the right half of the auditorium, apparently didn’t dare to applaud. They had clearly been chosen very carefully, and the speech was being broadcast on national television.

Following a half-hour speech, Obama disappeared after receiving a brief round of applause. Castro stepped onto the balcony again. The mood was tremendous, as the crowd chanted “Raúl! Raúl!” The American delegation looked a little bewildered. Socialism was alive and well, at least a little.

Throughout the state visit, the mood remained as wave-like as it was in the theater — sometimes good, sometimes bad, and then good again. On Sunday, when Raúl Castro did not appear at the airport for the arrival of Obama on Air Force One, some Americans did not seem so pleased. On Monday, the two leaders visited the memorial to freedom fighter Jose Martí, and it almost seemed as if they had been doing this for decades “It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Martí, who gave his life for independence of his homeland,” Obama wrote in the guestbook. The Cubans were satisfied.

At the ensuing press conference in the Palace of the Revolution, when Obama encouraged journalists to ask questions, it was Castro’s turn to look dissatisfied.•

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What a difference a day makes. Just before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump was labeled by Spiegel the “world’s most dangerous man.” If he were to become President, you could make that argument since he is ridiculously unqualified for the job, but the first-in-nation voting put a crimp in his effort. New Hampshire could revise the script again, but on Tuesday morning he seems more Pat Buchanan with hair plugs than Pol Pot.

It’s deplorable that our new media equation used Trump as cheap entertainment, as if it were just one more tacky yet harmless reality show. Even worse are the supposedly serious journalists who depicted him as merely a somewhat irreverent entertainer when he was making fascistic noise in a very important arena. 

That being said, the Spiegel article by Markus Feldenkirchen, Veit Medick and Holger Stark is still really good. An excerpt:

‘It’s a Miracle Trump Didn’t Invent the Selfie’

Michael D’Antonio is sitting in an Applebee’s fast-food restaurant on Long Island, speaking quietly. He’s a cheerful, thoughtful man with a white beard, the polar opposite of Trump. D’Antonio has delved a lot deeper than most others into Donald Trump’s world.

D’Antonio recently wrote a biography of Trump, who was enthusiastic about the project and gave his cooperation — at least initially. Trump granted the author several interviews, which were usually held in his penthouse inside the Trump Tower, behind the kinds of double doors that would normally be used in castles. D’Antonio was granted free access to Trump’s family and associates, and spoke with his grown children and all three of his wives. But when Trump realized that D’Antonio was also one of his critics, he immediately canceled the project.

“What I noticed immediately in my first visit was that there were no books,” says D’Antonio. “A huge palace and not a single book.” He asked Trump whether there was a book that had influenced him. “I would love to read,” Trump replied. “I’ve had many best sellers, as you know, and The Art of the Deal was one of the biggest-selling books of all time.” Soon Trump was talking about The Apprentice. Trump called it “the No. 1 show on television,” a reality TV show in which, in 14 seasons, he played himself and humiliated candidates vying for the privilege of a job within his company. In the interview, Trump spent what seemed like an eternity talking about how fabulous and successful he is, but he didn’t name a single book that he hadn’t written.

“Trump doesn’t read,” D’Antonio says in the restaurant. “He hasn’t absorbed anything serious and profound about American society since his college days. And to be honest, I don’t even think he read in college.” When Trump was asked who his foreign policy advisers were, he replied: “Well, I watch the shows.” He was referring to political talk shows on TV.

In all of the conversations about his life, Trump seemed like a little boy, says D’Antonio. “Like a six-year-old boy who comes home from the playground and can hardly wait to announce that he shot the decisive goal.”

According to D’Antonio, American society revolves around two things: ambition and self-promotion. This is why Trump is one of the most appropriate heroes he can imagine for the country, he adds, noting that no one is more ambitious and narcissistic. “It’s a miracle Trump didn’t invent the selfie.”•

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