Right-wing accusations that the mainstream news media is liberal, if not left-wing, predate Bruce Tinsley, whose “Mallard Fillmore” comic strip appears daily in Conservative-leaning media. Tinsley’s contribution to what has been a constant propaganda theme since the Viet Nam War era is to create a parallel cartoon universe peopled by a regular set of absurd caricatures who participate in a daily drama built on lies, exaggerations and false premises.
Some of Tinsley’s recurring characters include a liberal/left-wing news reporter, newscaster, news director, caveman, teacher, educational administrator and university professor (since another myth perpetrated by Tinsley is that our educational establishment is left-wing). These people spout off exaggerations of left- wing opinions and obvious absurdities into which Tinsley sprinkles a good bit of lying. The topics come from the usual right-wing breviary: global warming, unions, public schools, the “language” police, any and all taxation, affirmative action, attempts to influence citizens to eat a healthier diet and any type of government regulation.
Satire has long used exaggerated forms of social and political types, but what turns “Mallard Fillmore” into pure propaganda is that his satire does not reflect reality, but creates an alternative world that often has little to do with what is actually happening in the real one. Because the detail in the lies and exaggerations is so precise, it’s impossible to tell when Tinsley is “just kidding” and when he is quoting something that someone actually has said or might say.
Yesterday’s “Mallard Fillmore” strip perfectly exemplifies the Tinsley approach. Our hero, a standard issue cartoon duck, is watching television in his cozy armchair. Meanwhile, a newscaster is speaking from the television set. Here is what the TV newscaster says:
“It’s been a wild year in weather, from a super-hot summer caused by man-made global warming…to last winter’s record-cold temperatures due to natural cyclical patterns…”
The expression on the duck’s face says it all: The newscaster is another manipulative expert trying to convince us of the existence of global warming through false reasoning. We are supposed to conclude that the news media is part of a global warming hoax.
But the reality of the situation is much different: As I have noted a number of times in OpEdge, the mainstream news media go out of their way to undercut the science behind global warming. For example, a search of “hot weather global warming” on Google News produces a mere 143 stories, virtually all of which say that one summer does not make a global warming trend. In contrast, the freakishly cold winter of 2009-2010 produced a number of false assertions that the cold proved that the earth was not warming.
The false heart of Tinsley’s misrepresentation of the news media’s advocacy of global warming is his centering of the strip on TV news. Most of the news about weather comes from TV weather personalities. A study a few years back by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that only about half of approximately 570 television weathercasters surveyed believe that global warming is occurring, and fewer than a third believe that climate change is caused by human activities. It’s far more likely that the real version of the imaginary news anchor in the comic strip would make a snide side remark questioning global warming than use limited anecdotal evidence to defend the concept. (FYI, only half of all TV weather personalities are meteorologists and none are climatologists; none are experts in long-term climate trends.)
So, it’s a complete lie, but it feeds into the myth of “liberal” media bias in a funny and memorable way. It is also easy to view the strip as a reflection of reality, and thus it can be used as secondary evidence by the benighted know-nothings who propose that climate change is not occurring in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence gathered over more than a century.
Tinsley’s strategy then is to create a situation that looks like a traditional satire of reality (right down to anthropomorphizing cute animals) but is in fact based on myths. In this case, the myth is that the news media is actively promoting a false idea. The reality is that the idea is true, but that much of the news media is impeding its dissemination by publicizing the distortions and illogical reasoning of those opposed to the idea.