Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Front Page

Which came first -- journalists turning into to a bunch of sideshow barkers because the only thing Americans want is to be entertained or Americans losing any semblance of reality because the once noble profession of journalism has turned into nothing more than a conduit to sell Tide and Toyotas?

Once thought of as the guardians of democracy, equality, fairness, checks and balance (with figures like Cronkite, Murrow, Rice, Pyle, Bourke-White, Pulitzer), the fourth estate has (d)evolved into a bunch of bobble-headed bimbos reading propaganda off a TelePrompTer on Fox News. And if they are not reading someone else's agenda -- you have snake oil salesman like Glenn Beck -- who claim they aren't journalists -- spewing hate and lies under the cover of a misnomer called Fox News.

Journalism has a long and storied tradition in the United States. The first newspaper published in the Colonies was Publick Occurences in 1690. Today there are thousands of outlets for journalists - blogs, the tubes of the internets, radio, ever-struggling print newspapesr and the most influential of them all -- still -- television. One of the primary reasons this country has been able to flourish and develop far and above other societies has been the presence of a strong, accountable and influential press.

For a minute let's just forget coverage of business, sports, humanities, international, education, health, science, arts, and food as part of the generic heading of news. The credibility and quality of content for these particular subjects (as well as many others) has declined dramatically in an age of infinite choice and cannibalized audiences. But none of those topics compare to the absolute trashing and degraded treatment that political and government coverage has taken.

What was once one of the nation's strongest checks on power and corruption in the world's freest democracy, journalism has morphed into a lazy man's sport of quoting polls, hawking books, promoting agendas and handicapping horse races -- races that might even be years in the future.

Turn into any of the punditoria shows for any amount of time and you are sure to be a witness to the Road Map to 2012. It is over two years until the next presidential election -- and already every single journalistpundit has been giving odds and establishing strategies for the people they have deemed most likely to.

No matter how far and fast the economy is collapsing, no matter how many people are out of work, no matter how many bridges collapse, and no matter how many people cannot afford health care - there is never enough time to report about the comings and goings of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and now Joe "the Senator" Miller. Talking about how these guys can (or will) win is fun and exciting. Talking about kids with cancer and people being thrown out of their houses is boring and depressing.

Fun and exciting sell Tide and Toyotas. Boring and depressing make people turn the channel.

I guess if you have to compete with American Idol, The Bachelor, The Real World, Project Runway, Cupcake Wars or a real housewife for those limited and valuable eyeballs -- the only way to get attention is to make journalism more like a combination of The Gong Show and the $1.98 Beauty Show. Quality is no longer job one. Getting Jaye P. Morgan or Rip Taylor to laugh their asses off is.

Sarah Palin and her descamisados are not news -- they are a cult void of ideas and no thought. The Palinistas derive their cohesiveness from hate and subliminal racism. The fact that Palin may be and intellectual zero and one of the stupidest pieces of shit to ever enter this kabuki theater matters little to "news" organizations, Sarah Palin generates ratings. Whether it is her looks, her lunacy or her lack of intelligence -- showing that farbissenah punim on the teevee sells. When something sells it is the media's best interest to keep that hawker in full public view. The Teabaggers are not a true political movement - they are a bunch of people united by their anger and empty rhetoric towards things they simply do not comprehend or realize are important and necessary to their own lives. The fact that they are propped up by a bunch of rich businessmen who do have a vested interest in changing the status quo again does not matter to "news" organizations. What matters is they yell loud enough and have enough offensive signs. And people tune in.

Being both groups are easy generators of eyeballs, the media covers them with the fervor of real news instead of digging for the empty shell of real ideas and political management.

The failure for the press to expose the vacuous nature of Palin and the Teabaggers is only one aspect of political journalism that has harmed American society. Look at all the current candidates who refuse to debate in public (Steve King and Jan Brewer to name two), who refuse to be interviewed by any medium other than Fox News (Rand Paul and Sharron Angel), and will only appear in front of friendly and pre-selected audiences. Some sort of unwritten code in American political journalism has been permanently broken. And the press seems at a loss as to what to do about it.

And how have the "real" journalists handle this new reality - instead of calling out Brewer, Palin and Paul - they cover Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods and call it journalism.  Oh and read press releases from the candidates as if they are facts.

The politicians have beaten the journalists at their own game -- the politicians know it, the public knows it -- only the journalists haven't quite figured it out. Journalists used to be savvy about their strategies and smart about their tactics when they went looking for the story. The victory was uncovering the truth, not selling the most Toyotas. Today people like Palin, Romney, Paul, Rubio, King, Boner, and McConnell have been taught to master anti-journalism skills and make the press work for them. They have been able to stack the deck and play the journalists to their advantage.

With the fourth estate having little teeth, smart politicians (or politicians with smart advisors) have become blatant in their contempt and disregard for the press. They can (and will) lie their asses off knowing there will simply be no accountability anymore. These politicians feel empowered by the timidity of the press. They don't have to debate, they don't have to put themselves through any tough questioning, they don't even have to have any ideas. They just have to act like the Unknown Comic or Gene Gene the Dancing Machine from The Gong Show and they get their 15 minutes over and over and over again.

And the saddest part is that much of the country welcomes, rather than mourns, the loss of something so critical to our progress.

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