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Neutered Intellect

Dr. Keith Ablow is making some wild statements these days on FOX News. Does he really believe them?

As one who champions reason above all else, it can be a little painful when someone I admire behaves irrationally. It brings me no joy to “call out” someone who shares many of my own sensibilities, and whom I would much rather agree with.

I remember the first time I had ever seen Dr. Ablow. My wife and I were watching an episode of the now defunct Tyra Banks show, which, on that day centered around the merits of relationships which negotiated non monogamy. As swingers, we fully expected yet another biased, fact challenged representation of “the lifestyle” based on society’s pre-disposed affinity for ill-fated monogamy, and a condemnation of all things secular. Indeed, that is how the show was shaping up. That is, until Dr. Ablow arrived.

On the stage were two couples. One, a swinger couple clearly in love and sitting comfortable and relaxed, while their “Vanilla” counterparts sat angry and emotionally disconnected. As the audience predictably denounced the swingers, Banks –an intellectual windsock– acquiesced to their disapproval despite the obvious example of who the happier couple was. It was Ablow who took the stage and pointed out everyone’s hypocrisy. It was Ablow, who, to my knowledge, became the first person in a televised network venue to defend libertine sensibilities, and favor relationship truth over irrational hyperbole. It was Ablow who braved contradicting conventional thought, even though it was the more difficult path.

He made a fan that day.

Eventually, Dr. Keith Ablow would get his own daytime talk show, which did not last very long. Not one to engage in the circus atmosphere that drives that genre, Dr. Keith’s brand of lucid thought and his empathetic approach to people’s travails could not compete with his competition’s boorish sensationalism in a commercial environment. To his credit, Ablow seemed, unwilling to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people for profit. It bothered me that Ablow, a *REAL* forensic psychiatrist, an intellectual, and someone who seemed to reject tabloid over-simplification was languishing in obscurity when bigoted, self indulgent dullards like “Dr.” Phil McGraw had achieved international fame and fortune based on ignominious precepts, and who feigned expertise by dispensing warmed over platitudes.

Later, I joined Dr. Keith’s website, “Living the Truth”, based on his book, and moreover, his approach to healing through empathy. “Doc”, as we affectionately referred to him would host semi regular chat sessions, which often had less than a dozen people in them. It was intimate, especially for a medium as vast as the internet. But he was gracious, funny, charming, and brilliant. It was there that he and I interacted. Sometimes we’d agree, and sometimes not. But it was always amicable. And it was in one of these chats where Dr. Keith offered an unsolicited act of kindness to me. I will never forget that, which is why I feel compelled to do the same for him, now. So…

Dear Dr. Keith,
As someone who both respects and admires you, I feel compelled to tell you that you’re behaving like an asshole.

I understand the frustration you must have felt watching your dim witted contemporaries like “Dr.” Laura achieve financial prosperity when you outranked them by a significant amount of I.Q. points, if not, more than just a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder. I understand what it feels like to be passed over in favor of people less qualified. So with that, I also understand that even when someone as psychotically delusional as your friend Glenn Beck came with an offer to rescue you from obscurity, you had to jump at it. But the character you’ve been playing on FOX News has gotten out of hand.

Wasn’t there a way for you to suggest that an ad featuring a Mom painting her sons toenails pink — while is in itself no big deal– might be a small part of a larger sociological dynamic which may be hurtful. Was it not possible to rationally discuss the societal benefits of more defined gender roles without the hyperbolic blather? Is this how you would truly address a patient if they were to come to you with this? I suspect not. But is this how your employers at FOX directed you to respond? I suspect so.

Would FOX News allow you to point your high powered perception at a Conservative Republican? Surely Dr. Ablow, you recognize the irresponsible –if not the overtly bigoted– psychological practices exhibited by Marcus and Michelle Bachman… and how destructive “reparative” therapy (a practice the American Psychological Association has deemed ineffective and unsafe) is to young gay people. Surely they are due scrutiny from someone with your background. Clearly, some of Marcus Bachman’s effeminate characteristics might lead someone to rationally conclude that his hatred of Gays is nothing short of self-loathing brought on by denial of his true sexual orientation. Dr. Ablow, you’ve made more irresponsible diagnoses about liberals from more casual observations. But would FOX News permit you to publically speak the truth regarding the Bachman’s? It’s doubtful.

Then there was your recent feud with HBO’s Bill Maher over comments he made about abstinence spokesperson Bristol Palin, and her assertions about how she lost her virginity. She claims in her book to not remember the drunken sex had with her fiancée the previous night, and that she was taken advantage of while passed out. There is a word for that, and it’s called rape. Realizing that her statements have legal repercussions, she has backed off the severity of her claims and tried to downplay them. Apparently, Bristol never knew that wine coolers had alcohol in them. Maher, a comic (whether you find him funny or not) made fun of her, and the vapid Palin intellect.

Which in turn led to your hackneyed diagnosis about Bill Maher’s hatred of all women based on his liberal lampooning of the estrogenic psychosis that accords some conservative women like Palin and Bachman. It was apparent to anyone who can do basic algebra that FOX News directed you to defend the honor of the Palin’s, as Bristol’s Mom Sarah is a fellow FOX employee. Did you offer a similar diagnosis when your financial benefactor Glenn Beck made personal jokes about Meghan McCain? Did you take your pal to task when he pretended to throw up into a trash at her expense? Really? Bill Maher’s comment about Bristol Palin were “vile”… and Glenn Beck’s comments about Meghan McCain were perfectly acceptable? Weren’t you the same guy who used to laugh it up on the Howard Stern Show? So when a friend makes misogynistic jokes about women, it’s all in good fun, but when a liberal does it, it compels you to channel your inner Gloria Steinem?

I have, in the past, also chastised Bill Maher for such partisan indulgences. It was not very long ago when I publically bashed Mr. Maher for placing the blame on the Arizona shooting squarely on the shoulders of the Republican party, while sitting next to his friend, Russell Simmons, who directly profits from the imagery created by urban gun violence. As I do with you, I like Bill Maher. But like you, he too can be an asshole.

But the assertion you made about Maher on the “Fox & Friends” show were ridiculous. You claim that Bill Maher has no affiliation with life? This coming from a guy who supports the Republican position on War and Health care? You connect hatred of women with his “anti-religion” stance, when the reality is –as you are well aware– there is nothing more patriarchal and women hating than religious scripture. Then you had the nerve to misquote Maher’s comments after 9-11. While comedians can always hide behind their “art”, as a Psychiatrist, your credibility is dependent on your integrity. Perhaps it’s time that you employ some. I know you’re capable.

Speaking of your friend and co-author Glenn Beck, are he and his outlandish statements also beyond psychological criticism? Are all those Nazi dots he connects in his paranoid mind the determinations of someone rational? Are his revisionist, inaccurate history lessons not worthy of being tempered with a psychological intervention from a friend? Are his assertions about God sending messages through natural disasters not in need of a little rational perspective?

At the risk of appearing immodest, Doc, I also have a decent following of my own. As such, I’ve received more than a few E-mails from former “Living the Truth” regulars who were wondering what has become of the man we knew? What happened to the luminous, empathetic soul who we knew from LTT and replaced him with a fear mongering FOX News doppelganger? As that woman told President Obama at the Town Hall meeting not too long ago, “Frankly, I’m tired of defending you”.

Dr. Keith, there are two types of people who can tell someone when they’re being an asshole… Enemies, and Friends. I hope you understand that I am the latter. I’m not sure if you realize how silly you sound to rational people. I believe that Fox News has hired you to give them some much needed credibility, but I’m afraid that it has come at the expense of your own. I hope the paycheck is worth it. In the meantime, the folks who know you from before you drank the FOX Kool-Aid will try to remember the man we knew.

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The Watchers

Men of great integrity, like our founders, probably could have never seen this coming. It would have been counter-intuitive for them. It’s doubtful that the builders of our nation could have ever imagined so many journalists compromising their integrity and betraying those who put their trust in the press for their personal interests.

When the founders of our country wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution, they did so with the understanding that the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of our government all needed to be watched over by an uninhibited free press. It was reasoned that with journalists scrutinizing the comings and goings in our political system, it would –among other things– guard against collusion amongst our elected officials, and protect legislators from themselves by applying consequences for giving into temptation. The philosophy was that with the threat of public exposure, the repercussions of corruption would outweigh the risk.

However with the advent of political lobbying on behalf of the media, the relationship between the free press, and our two major political parties has itself become collusive. Access to Washington has been exchanged for non neutrality. Both Republicans and Democrats now have editorialists feigning impartiality, and networks that act more like public relations firms, on their respective party’s payrolls.

But it gets even worse…

There was a time in the not too distant past when politics and entertainment were two totally separate media venues. There has –to some extent– always been an understanding that important socio/political issues needed to be regarded as such, and not be irresponsibly lumped in with Hollywood gossip and reality TV. But with our Twittering politicians showing themselves to be the socially autistic buffoons that they truly are, they’ve sadly obscured much of that distinction. Many of our legislators have become unwittingly comical caricatures of who they were trying to present themselves to be, and as such have exposed their jugulars to an opportunistic media. With up to the minute news available 24/7, we Americans are now barraged with political theater… be it comedy, tragedy, or in most cases, awe inspiring stupidity.

Which brings us to the present state of “News-ertainment”.

As a result of the collusive relationship between the nation’s top two parties and the networks that do their bidding, facts are often skewed — if not manufactured– in order to promote an agenda. This, of course, is not actual news reporting. But those doing the reporting, and their respective networks would have us believe otherwise. Rather than presenting unbiased facts with a professional, emotional detachment… News “personalities” now try to entertain with vapid, semi humorous, slanted observations, which in turn they hope will either amuse us or incite a vitriolic reaction. Cable news hosts rarely report on their own party’s verbal faux pas, platform inconsistencies, irrational hyperbole, or personal indiscretions nearly to the extent that they do their competition. The current trend is ratings via myopic indignation.

Unfortunately, we Americans have become desensitized to the corrupt alliance of government and media. We have become so cynical and jaded that we have come to accept that greed trumps integrity… so the original purpose of having a news media unencumbered by censorship has become bastardized by advertising revenue. Many of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Yet many more of us fail to recognize the problem at all.

However there has been an interesting dynamic introduced to the news media over the past few years which was born from the overt, and sometimes even purposely misleading bias of Cable News. Because many of those who were charged with protecting our political system via journalistic integrity have abandoned that task in favor of ego driven dogmatism and ratings inspired bombast, that job has been largely left unfilled. As such, those reporting on our political process are in need of third party scrutiny themselves.

The watchers are now being watched. The powerless have a voice.

Exposing political and news inaccuracies, comedians like John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert have stepped in to inject oxygen into the socio/political integrity vaccuum and expose the present state of cable news journalism for what it is… fraudulent editorializing worthy of ridicule. And unlike the talking meat puppets on cable news who fail miserably at their comical endeavors, Stewart and Colbert are as funny as they are astute. Although they both obviously have personal political leanings, unlike their counterparts who claim to be unbiased journalists, Stewart and Colbert are not shy to expose politicians from either party, or news anchors from any network for behaving like intellectually attenuated dolts.

Just as corrupt politicians once feared the news media…. the corrupt news media now fears Stewart and Colbert.

I was on the Washington Mall when Stewart and Colbert held their “Rally to Restore Sanity”. I witnessed roughly two hundred thousand people gather in front of stage near the Capitol building and extend all the way back to the Lincoln memorial. I was able to see firsthand how the void created by the news media was being filled by a uniquely American mechanism… reason given expression through satire.

…and while we’re watching, aand laughing at the expense of ignominious politicians, and less than credible journalists… let’s try to remember what gave birth to this medium in the first place.

Damned if you Do: How fiscal talk amounts to nothing more than cheap theater.

Do we cut spending, or raise taxes? That is the question that every inept congressperson prattles an inane commentary about daily on cable news. The reactions to which, depending on any particular viewer’s political affiliation, can range from acclaim to outrage. Like rubes, we Americans find ourselves willing participants in the vitriolic theater which has become of our socio/political discourse, and encourage it through under-informed cheer leading, and our desire to not feel so helpless. However if one allows themselves to not be swayed by their own political leanings –let alone their personal biases– it becomes clear that the rehearsed, sound bite induced platitudes which our legislative representatives spew into our living rooms are more about campaigning than actual governing.

It’s politics as pro wrestling.

But perhaps even more unfortunate, is that many more Americans have become overwhelmed by the enormity of the present fiscal disaster –as well as ongoing global strife — and have cashed out of the political process entirely. As if we are witnessing the adult equivalent of hiding under the covers, people’s instinct for self preservation has caused many to retreat into a dummied down fantasy world of reality TV and libidinous internet interaction. Having had enough of the banal bombast that they hear every day from those purporting themselves as our representatives, many have understandably lost faith in the political process. So they vote for American Idol instead.

Consequently, we are left with a populace that’s either unwilling, or unable to emotionally invest in the political system.

Which brings us to our news entertainers, our political televangelists and their so-called solutions to our economic woes. As Benjamin Disraeli once so astutely commented, “There are three kinds of lies, Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.” Regarding the present fiscal crisis, politicians from both parties have reduced their economic platform to lyrical sound bites. Hoping to appeal to the average Americans senses of fairness and vengeance, both democrats and republicans convolute statistical information so as to create a false reality which makes their cause appear more righteous. While it’s true that we do need to “cut spending” and/or ” increase revenue,” virtually every politician has the ability to produce statistical information that will make their assertions appear valid, and to portray their opponents as special interest pawns . The reality is that neither party is truly interested in addressing the deficit, or has any desire to turn around the economy. If they did, they would concern themselves with facts over rhetoric.

But as John Adams once said, “Facts are Stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes or our inclinations, it cannot alter the state of facts, or evidence.” The facts are that neither reducing domestic spending and/or raising taxes are not going to have the effect on the deficit or the economy that either party claims. The facts are, that if less money filters to states and local municipalities, and if previously subsidized social programs become de-funded, that they’ll have to raise revenue imposing other types of financial burdens. The middle class is going to pay regardless. The facts are that no one is willing to defy their party and talk reason on where and how our tax dollars are already being spent. All of this over-simplified economic blather is simply theater, designed to petition our angst and curry favor.

Much of the present state of American politics –not to mention the public’s perception of it– is the result of “news” organizations having shifted their business models from fact based journalism to ratings driven editorializing. So where it concerns either party’s economic platform, the focus of our elected officials is no longer to represent those who elected them into office, rather it is to make their opponents appear less electable. It has all become entertainment, resulting in most Americans having developed a cynical understanding that regardless of who they vote for, the middle class is going to bear the burden.

So go ahead, my fellow Americans, and root on your party’s premiere entertainers and their economic platform. Sit in your economic kettle as the heat gets turned up. Should we cut spending or raise taxes? The truth is that unless someone on our political landscape has the courage to address the more significant portions of how our existing tax dollars are already being spent…we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.