The Parallel Universe/No-Go

First, KHQ shows its colors. The first hour of Wednesday’s Lisa Brown v. McMorris Rodgers debate aired live on KHQ, Channel 6. Lisa Brown made the last statement, the debate closed with music, and as the music ended a particularly nasty and inaccurate McMorris Rodgers approved attack ad started up accusing Lisa Brown of being responsible for raising tuition at WSU by 80%. I was at the Bing, but I have listened to the audio. KHQ pretended to a non-partisan presentation. The ad placement, to say nothing of the ad’s content, makes a mockery of impartiality. I urge anyone who saw this attack ad placement to call KHQ to object and to submit a letter to the editor of the Spokesman.

Dear Group,

Last weekend I attended my high school reunion in Wisconsin. Several old friends whispered to me that we were in the most Republican county in the nation. Even so, it was not hard to find former classmates experiencing the same sense of dismay as I am feeling. So much for pervasive redness. 

All conversations were warm and cordial: kids, grandkids, retirement, what keeps one busy, the flood of fragmentary memories of place and people, the classmates who had died, the sense of mortality, of time moving on.

One classmate asked, “Are you still traveling a lot?” We talked a little of Europe and South America, and then he asked, “Isn’t it kind of scary, though, with those ‘no-go zones’?”

If you not have heard of no-go zones, take a moment and google the term. According to this image, there are pockets of population, usually inhabited by immigrants, often Muslims, into which the police have simply given up trying to maintain order. Such areas are often characterized as given over to sharia law. The overall painted image is one of a spreading cancer across the map of Europe (or Michigan or …), a cancer eating away at white christian society. It is an image cut of the same cloth as Trump’s memory of seeing Muslims celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey as they watched the twin towers collapse–a complete fiction. For the Fox news listener or frequent visitor to the right wing internet, “no-go zone” is a trigger term, easily conjuring a frightening image of any unfamiliar place. 

When I heard my classmate’s honest question I knew where I was about to tread. Anyone seriously asking such a question is not going to respond well to a direct challenge of his fact base. I spent a minute describing the ground I have covered in my travels, the foreign-ness of it.. I simply stated that in my experience no-go zones do not exist, that, in fact, I doubt their existence. I said I was suspicious that the concept of no-go zones was far overblown and may have been hatched for political ends. He seemed mildly surprised…and interested. 

The idea of scary “no-go zones” was injected into the public consciousness in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris in January 2015. Fox News first talked up the term, which even CNN picked it up briefly. The mayor of Paris threatened to sue Fox News over their inaccurate portrayal. The threatened suit was a blip in the media, mostly unnoticed. Listeners to mainstream media have rarely heard the term “no-go zone” since the Hebdo shooting. Not so on the right. The opportunity to paint Europe as suffering a slow motion takeover by Muslim immigrants was just too useful to let die. Once introduced by Fox News, right wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh picked up the meme, nurtured it, circulated it. Taking advantage of most Americans limited foreign travel experience it was easy to play up the threat, magnify the fear of “the other.” 

Like “moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” the term “no-go zone” is now code for listeners in the parallel media ecosystem. “No go” is shorthand for “be frightened, be worried” about the other come to take over our country. We listeners to NPR would do well to pay attention to the words and the associated image.

The right wing propaganda machine was painstakingly grown but not quite mature when Trump was elected. Fox News (launched in 1996) is the first example that comes to mind, but Fox is now only a small part of a whole ecosystem that includes Breitbart, the Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Washington Free Beacon, and a broad network of well funded conservative talk radio and many (nominally) “Christian” radio outlets. This media ecosystem provided the platform Trump used to become President. The media ecosystem may not have been fully ripe when Trump and Bannon commandeered it. Many of us were reading National Geographic, watching PBS, and reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and almost willfully unaware of the growth of the right wing propaganda machine, vaguely hoping it contained only a few people on a lunatic fringe. Only when Trump threatened reporters, declared “fake news,” and welcomed sketchy media outlets to take part in White House press conferences did alarms began to ring. 

Now we find ourselves having conversations with former classmates who mention phrases like “moving the embassy to Jerusalem” and “no-go zones” that light up mental images for them, images of which we are mostly ignorant, not having been sufficiently primed. It behooves us to pay attention, to ask for definitions and expansions, and to declare it when our experience and values contradict the ideas presented…face-to-face, time and time again. We are losing our common language. We need to understand not just the words but the images that light up in the minds of the folks with whom we converse.

Knock on doors this weekend and have conversations. This November is our best chance to start on a path to understanding each other again.

Keep to the high ground,