Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Rare "Man Bites Dog" Moment

    • Posted on Mar 07, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    My Feb. 16 Column, “We Deserve Better than Fox News” caused a bit of a stir. No surprise there; people who stay with Fox News feel attacked, it seems, every time someone points out the flaws in their sources, their selection of stories, or their on-air personalities.  


    But there was one rather amazing turnaround in a reader, and that only happens once in a solar eclipse.  When it does, like the man bites dog story, it deserves attention.

    So here is the angry first email, received a few days after the column appeared.  I won’t mention any names to save embarrassment. 

    Here it is, and I’ve broken it into paragraphs for ease of reading: 

     Hey Calwelti,  it has been a week since you wrote that fabulous piece about Fox News in the Courier and I am sure your inbox has been buzzing. I hope to add to it.

     You seemed frustrated that, while Obama has 99% of the media in his back pocket, he doesn't have Fox news. He waxes on about it whenever he is given the chance and it appears as though you picked it up on it for your column.

     You reference a couple of books that one other person besides yourself has read. We aren't exactly talking best seller material here are we? I will have to take your word for what was in them because I am not going to waste the money.

     You mentioned having watched Fox from time to time. Do you cheer when they make an effort to give the liberal side of things? Allen Combs, Bob Beckel? Numerous other libs that struggle, in vain, to make their feeble points. Embarrassing to see them get skewered time and time again for them, like you, their voices carry no reason what so ever. No logic, no rationale, no nothing except a bitter tone of hating conservatives and everything that they stand for.

    You really should watch Fox on a regular basis. You will learn some useful things. You will learn that our President has lied to us about Bengahzi, targeting conservative groups using the IRS, Solindra and green energy and on and on, and  fill in the blank. The man is a pathological liar.

     Is there something in your DNA that makes you ignore all the things that this President has done against the American people? It is extremely hard to understand how people like you, or other libs, can support this guy given all he has done and what he is doing to our country. Worst president ever? This guy, your guy, will come down as EPIC worst ever.

     

    One thing I have got to credit you for is that you have some big stones. To come out and call thousands of Courier readers ignorant takes big ones. Especially given the fact that we taxpayers pay for your lavish retirement as a former professor.

     And, while you were working, it is such a comfort to know that part of the check I wrote for my daughter going to UNI ended up in your pocket. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. To get called ignorant makes me feel so good for the money I am spending.

     I see that you are a part time writer. Hope the rest of your stuff is better than the crap you put in the Courier.

     I gave up on “real” replies a long time ago, since they end up in pissing matches—kind of a duel of sources and logic nitpicking.   I do resist personal attacks, so the attack on my profession was a low blow, as was his calling my writing “crap.”  Everyone writes a little crap, I’m well aware, me no more than most.  

    So I replied only. ‘Hope you feel better.” 

    hen three or four days later, and I kid you not, this arrived: 

     

    Hey Cawelti, I sent you an email the other day regarding your column on Fox News. Have been thinking about it and wanted to apologize for flying off the handle at you. I had a bad day, this weather stinks (everyone is on edge I swear), yada, yada. I should have let it roll off my back. I did not and I apologize for my words.

    I did not read your reply, which I saw early Monday morning as I was leaving for the gym. I did not really care what you said in reply as I felt bad for what I had said shortly after sending it. Anything you would had said back to me would not have made a difference. Ever throw one out there and wish you had not?

    I hope we can agree to disagree on the policies that are affecting our country. We are getting pulled apart from both sides. It is sad, and alarming, to see. We need to work together. I will continue to watch Fox news and try not to throw things at the TV when Obama is on. Ha. I may even expand my horizons and watch some NBC News. Ouch. You? Watch a little more Fox to see what the conservatives are thinking and expand your horizons. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial page if you get a chance. They do a good of job getting under what is going on behind both sides of this political junk.

    Regarding your writing, you had a piece in the Courier, sometime around the holidays, that was really, really good. Something about things that matter. Almost sent you a note telling you how good it was. Would like to do so now. We need more of that.

    Knock me over with a  feather, eh?  A complement, no less, too. 

    I wrote a real reply: 

    Well, thanks, _____.  Appreciate your apology, and all I replied was "Hope you feel better."  And I still hope that--your apology helped with that, I'm sure. And I completely agree with your second letter's substance--we are being pulled apart.  And we can surely agree to disagree.  At heart, we probably disagree about the role and size of government--and that's an honest argument that has been going on since 1776.  Honorable people differ on that, and probably always will.   

    So thanks again, and I might use your letter on my web site (the apology) without attribution to illustrate how much we probably do agree and need to work together to solve problems. 

    Here's hoping for an end to this horrible winter.   I'm grumpy too.  

     *******************************************************

    I’ve received no further reply, and don’t expect to, but at least we’re parting without the anger and personal attacks. 

    For me, this apology stands as a ray of hope—that people can overcome the divisive tone that pervades Fox (not the others, except occasionally MSNBC, granted) and rise above it.

    We do disagree, but only on a few principles, and we can discuss those rationally with no personal attacks—and maybe all learn something.  

     

     


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  • We Deserve Better than Fox News

    • Posted on Feb 16, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier column.   Two recent books on Fox News led me to a logical conclusion:  Fox News is completely and hopelessly biased, far more than other media outlets.   We deserve better.   

    *********************************

     

    I’ve gathered information for this column from two recent books:  David Brock’s “The Fox Effect:  How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine”  (2012) and Gabriel Sherman’s “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” (2014).  

    Both books deserve serious attention, if only to refute.  If you watch Fox News, you owe it to yourself to understand its history and outlook.  If you find Fox News unbalanced and unfair, both books offer powerful support.  

    Thinking Americans—whether liberal or conservative—have every reason to feel deeply, constantly, seriously dissatisfied.  

    Consider:  (1) Watching Fox News/Nation degrades your knowledge of our world.  Granted,  a few hits of Hannity or O’Reilly now and then won’t hurt, but regularly believing Fox pundits’ assertions only makes you ignorant.   Brock points out that “Polls consistently find Fox News viewers among the most ignorant on a variety of issues.” 

    He goes on to list several bits of misinformation that Fox viewers tell pollsters they believe because they heard it on Fox.   Moreover, “the University of Maryland released a study finding that Fox News viewers were the most misinformed audience of any major news network.”    

    According to that study, 91 percent of Fox viewers believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs, 72 percent believe the health reform law will increase the deficit, 72 percent believe the economy is getting worse, 63 percent believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts, 56 percent believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout. It goes on.  

    And Fox viewers constantly get told that Obama has become a dictator because of his constant use of executive orders.  The truth:  Obama has issued the fewest executive orders of any president, certainly including G.W. Bush.  (168 to 291). 

    I strong believe in checking with a variety of sources on all assertions from media, but especially anything from Fox News.  By the way, if you think the “mainstream media” is just as bad, you’ve already been Fox-newsed.  

    2.  Fox’s pundits and its biased news amounts to paranoid and melodramatic nonsense much of the time, thanks to boss Roger Ailes.  Ailes, the founder and overseer of Fox, behaves as if the whole world is out to get him, and runs his news outfit like any paranoid would—obsessed with grand conspiracies, filled with fear and hatred of anyone who opposes his wacky ideas.

    As Sherman points out, “Through Fox, Ailes helped polarize the American electorate, drawing sharp, with-us-or-against-us lines, demonizing foes, preaching against compromise.”   At least some of our current gridlock goes back to hard right groups who leap off the deep end at the very mention of compromise.

     Brock’s book enhances that point, “Ailes’s paranoid style and its resulting aggressive and over-the-top reactions create a climate of fear among current and former employees. [a biographer of Rupert Murdoch] observed, ‘Everybody outside Fox News and Inside News Corp. is afraid of Roger Ailes.”

    3.  The best reason to question Fox?  Personal health, both mental and physical. Taking  Fox’s distorted worldview seriously will make you as paranoid and angry as they are. Fox viewers become victims of “confirmation bias,” meaning they get told only what they want and need to believe.    

    They assert that Obama is a socialist, then only show stories that supposedly prove it.  Or the “worst president ever.”   That opinion is simply ridiculous, but not to those who only watch Fox News.   That’s all they hear and know.  

    In a surprisingly short time, steady viewers see evidence of Fox’s absurdities everywhere.  Any ideas to the contrary get put in the “enemy” camp. 

    They grow to distrust anyone who brings up opposing ideas, and end up stressed out, furious, and impossible to talk to about anything but weather and sports.  That’s where we are now, thanks partly to Ailes and Fox News.  

     We all deserve better.  

               

     

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