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Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Rumor Mill

Glenn Greenwald has some excellent points about how "legitimate" media go about ginning up their little "controversies":

It's a "movement" of one, because all of this comes from James Carville's stray comment placed in TNR (and he's also the only one Kornblut quotes). But now this will be conventional wisdom -- tacitly accepted everywhere and never examined -- that Dean is in trouble, that a major faction of the Democratic Party wants Dean out as DNC Chair, that there is a war among various Democratic factions over Dean.

This will all now be "fact" even though Carville has no constituency whatsoever, represents nobody, has no way to oust Dean, and is simply venting long-standing animosity he has towards the insurgent, anti-establishment Dean (who, unlike an envious Carville, actually represents and is supported by large numbers of people). But Carville's one comment, to lazy reporters, means now that there is some major tension among "Democrats" and that some imagined "jury" is still out on Howard Dean. All of that is based on nothing.


And yet, at opportune moments, it will be regurgitated by various members of the corporate media food chain as presumed fact. It may indeed have some nugget of fact in it; Chuck Schumer looked perhaps a bit uncomfortable Friday night when Bill Maher asked him point blank if Dean's big-picture 50-state strategy caused any rancor in contrast with the preferred "pour more money into strategic seats" strategy of Schumer and Rahm Emanuel.

Ultimately, Schumer punted on the question with a diplomatic averral that both tactics were valid and used at points throughout the campaign. But there was also the implication -- which we'll likely hear more concretely about in the weeks to come -- that maybe Dean should have borrowed more money and thrown, say, $10 million into Tammy Duckworth's campaign, for example.

This will get very inside baseball, of course, so it will turn off a great many casual observers. All those people will retain from the discussion is the stray meme the media has circulated, like a bunch of catty high-school girls -- Howard Dean is going to be replaced by Harold Ford.

And that would truly be a shame, because Dean has done exceptionally well. Look at the results; none of the Beltway douchebags were willing to prognosticate such a complete turnaround, which shows you what they know.

If people are going to take any lesson from all this, it should be that one -- more often than not, these people have no real idea what they are talking about. They read each others' nonsense, crib notes from one another at all the kewl kids parties, inject a couple cc's of what passes for their own thoughts and preferences into the mix, and it's cooked up as some sort of knowledge.

This was encapsulated very well, once again on Bill Maher's show last night, when Maher asked his panel for their preferred '08 presidential ticket. (I know, I know.) Salman Rushdie and Rainn Wilson made their picks as a judgement call, but Candy Crowley instinctively went for what would make the best copy for her and her fellow "professionals". Didn't miss a beat; it's as if it never occurred to her to have any dog in the fight.

Journalism, always a peculiar profession to begin with, has become incredibly debauched with these pathetic overtures to "objectivity", as if there could be any objective middle between a party which, while flawed, at least makes an honest effort to do the most good for the greatest number of American citizens, and a party which stays in power by pandering to the basest lizard-brain impulses of backwater yokels and religious hucksters.

There is no objective center between science and schmience; there is no middle ground between seeking diplomatic solutions and catering to naked jingoist bloodlust. There is no point to seeking compromise between giving Paris Hilton yet another tax cut, and making sure every American child has the opportunity to get a decent education. Most of us, C-Plus Augustus may be surprised to find out, do not have the luxury of being useless until our fortieth birthdays, coasting through life, failing upward on the waning strength of our family pedigrees.

And this awfully thin veneer of "objectivity" helps drive the dynamic. I don't know if it's corporate conditioning, Stockholm Syndrome, or what, but it will be interesting to see how it reconstitutes itself now that Democrats have resumed a level of true power. Will they rightly characterize this as a return to the hallowed principle of divided government, of oversight, of the end to the pilfering rubber-stamp nonsense we've had for six years, or will we now see a bunch of picayune "they do it too" stories, painfully contorting the rules of logic -- and yes, objectivity -- to equate the sins of William Jefferson with the literally dozens of Republicans who were in Jack Abramoff's hip pocket?

It's a point I've made many times over the years, and one that Matt Taibbi iterates pretty well in his Rolling Stone election post-mortem -- that over time, campaign tactics have dovetailed with superficial sound-bark campaign coverage to produce what is nothing more than a political analogue to sports broadcasting. The parties, especially the Republicans, have effectively branded the polarized, tribalized camps, making it essentially a Raiders-Niners rivalry. The media, out of laziness, institutional diffidence, bottom-line cost-benefit analysis, technological dependency, etc., have played that aspect up. It's an easy sell; there's a reason ranters like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace are given nightly face time on the euphemistically-named "Headline News Network". This would be fine if it were informed anger they were peddling, but it's not. It's heat without light; it's a wheel-spinning exercise of bluster and vituperation. After a while, casual observers, which by the law of averages comprise the majority, are conditioned to believe that the football rivalry is the entirety of what politics is about, rather than it being the formalized setting of public policy.

And you're either a football fan or you aren't, you either thrive on the energy and the rush of head-to-head strategizing and execution, or you don't. Even worse, the political animals are not even playing by the fairly rigorous enforcement mechanisms of the NFL; this is the late, unlamented XFL, with its distractingly bright colors and smash cuts, its cheesy pro wrestling aesthetic, its emphasis on visceral impact over making the effort to keep fans informed and entertained.

It all turns into a sinister electoral leverage, where vocal minorities get reeled in on peripheral, useless issues, and the next thing you know, you have purportedly serious candidates telling you with a straight face that if the gay couple on your block is allowed to formalize their living arrangement, society will collapse. The retardation of it would be hilarious, if the practical effects of it weren't so readily apparent.

Nothing new here, sadly, it's the same-old-same-old bread 'n' circuses deal. And it's a creepily symbiotic relationship, in that as easy as it is to blame the greed and laziness of the corporate media, there's still enough blame left over to put on the people who keep lapping it up and accepting their "conventional wisdom".

3 comments:

Woody Guthrie's Guitar (aka Konopelli) said...

heywood...
nice, very nice...

Heywood J. said...

Thanks!

Firiel said...

Journalism, always a peculiar profession to begin with, has become incredibly debauched with these pathetic overtures to "objectivity", as if there could be any objective middle between a party which, while flawed, at least makes an honest effort to do the most good for the greatest number of American citizens, and a party which stays in power by pandering to the basest lizard-brain impulses of backwater yokels and religious hucksters.

There is no objective center between science and schmience; there is no middle ground between seeking diplomatic solutions and catering to naked jingoist bloodlust. There is no point to seeking compromise between giving Paris Hilton yet another tax cut, and making sure every American child has the opportunity to get a decent education. Most of us, C-Plus Augustus may be surprised to find out, do not have the luxury of being useless until our fortieth birthdays, coasting through life, failing upward on the waning strength of our family pedigrees.


Great post, heywood. I wish I could write as well.