Saturday, January 26, 2008

Media bullshit

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You've seen it on Jon Stewart, who tells it like it is night after night, and the good people at Hullabaloo make the same point:

By historical standards, this has been an unfailingly nice primary, and only recently have tempers flared. There have been some whispers from surrogates, some opposition research dropped into the papers, and some out-of-character behavior from a former President, but in general, that's politics, and it's not being played at a particularly cutthroat level. And Barack Obama seems to understand that this is a slap-fight compared to what we'll see in the fall from the Republicans.

The media -- and specifically the 24/7 news media -- want drama and are out for blood. And so their coverage of the campaign focuses not on the issues, not on the policy proposals of the major candidates, but on dirt, or what they perceive to be dirt, or on their own manufactured dirt:

The media is trying to push a narrative that this is the nastiest Democratic primary in history, and that it's causing an irreparable rift within the party that will never be patched up. They love the conflict and they're writing breathless articles about how the Clintons are "double-teaming" Obama and how everybody hates each other and the fate of the Democratic Party hangs in the balance.

The only thing nasty about this primary is the coverage of it, which has over-hyped every back-and-forth charge, and in particular over-hyped this so-called "rift." It's like the media heads into every campaign season as a tabula rasa, without the memory of any past performance in other primaries.

The media play this up, but their consumers also lap it up -- which is, in part, why they play it up in the first place. They and their consumers don't want to think seriously about say, economic stimulus packages or global warming or even Iraq. It's so much easier to focus on the supposed drama of it all: Clinton vs. Obama, race, gender, and all that nonsense. Yes, of course, Clinton and Obama are locked in a tense and sometimes bitter campaign. But it's no more tense or bitter than campaigns past, including the recent past.

And, what's more, Clinton and Obama are also locked in a campaign of ideas, of serious policy proposals, a historic campaign that has addressed such issues as the Iraq War, terrorism, the (sagging, even collapsing) economy, health care, social security, the environment, and energy. These are pressing concerns to Americans, and to many who are not, but, again, the media prefer to focus on the horse race, and specifically on the negative aspects of that race, aspects that are blown out of proportion to the point that they come, according to the media, to dominate, even to define, the race itself. So it's not about what the candidates have to say about this issue or that issue but about race and gender and that so-called "rift".

But is there a rift? Not really. To me, the race is healthy and competitive. Both Clinton and Obama, as well as Edwards -- and it was true of the other candidates as well -- are serious and credible presidential candidates. They have their differences, and at times there has been strenuous disagreement, at times even apparent animosity, but the race has not been one of unrelenting and insurmountable conflict between and among the candidates. The media present it that way, but the reality is far from what the media are telling us this campaign has been all about.

What is worse, the media "conflict" narrative has been played up for the Democrats but not for the Republicans. And yet there is far greater "conflict" among the leading Republican candidates, I would argue, than among the leading Democratic ones. The sensationalization of race and gender does not come into play with the Republicans, of course -- and, no doubt, the media love the black man vs. white woman drama, combined with the Democrats-don't-get-along-with-each-other myth -- but the "rifts" are deeper on the Republican side. In general, Democrats tend to address their internal disputes in public, while Republicans prefer to keep their disputes private, putting up a show of unity that suckers the media, but on on the Republican side both the policy differences and the personal animosities are immense and intense this year. But where is the media coverage of those "rifts"? Or of that drama generally?

No, the simultaneously gullible and manipulative media reserve their "breathless articles" for the Democrats, lapping up the Republican spin and otherwise leading their consumers to believe that there is nothing but disharmony, to put it mildly, on the Democratic side.

The media's bog of bullshit seems to be getting deeper and deeper. And the Democrats, like the truth, end up suffering for it.

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