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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bitter Suite

Some questions for Rosen:

  • Will there be any haphazard sandbagging of the other two candidates, just to level the playing field? If so, when? If not, why not?

  • Do you feel any share in the responsibility for generating this nonsense, besides invoking the law of unintended consequences and laying it at Russert's gouty feet?

  • Implicit in the mission of the online mediapreneur is the sense that they are able to drive their own narrative without the help or hindrance of the corporate media. How does that square with this occurrence, in which Press the Meat was able to seize and skew that narrative on the basis of some poached quotes? What, if anything, do you or Fowler intend to do to either reclaim your own narrative, or generate a capable counter-narrative? Simply shrugging this off as one that got away from you is unacceptable beyond, say, the high-school newspaper level. You own this one, at least for needlessly enabling the Clinton campaign to start one more round of backstabbing before the PA primary.

Hell, it would be helpful for Rosen and/or Fowler to try to back their own inept exegesis on the "bitter" comment. Fowler herself manages some cheap, surface limo-lib-baiting, trying to waffle on divining what Obama "really meant".

I'm not sure this is what at least this lot of Californians needed to hear about Pennsylvanians. Such phrases can reinforce negative stereotypes among Californians, who are a people in a state already surfeited with a smug sense of superiority and, as an ironic consequence, a parochialism and insularity at odds with the innovation, prosperity and openness for which California is rightly known. (Of course, this is a generalization, and as such does not fit everyone; but as a state characteristic I stand by it.) Californians might be better served by hearing that Pennsylvanians have a strong sense of their place in American history, for here California is wanting. California needs to hear that other Americans have gone through hard times and survived, humor intact. Since Barack Obama sees himself as the candidate best able to unify the country, these are the messages he needs to carry and his frank words about Pennsylvania may not have translated very clearly.


Funny how coastal stereotypes are perfectly acceptable, but heaven forfend anybody look askance at flyover states, most of which take more federal tax dollars than they contribute. Unlike those smug Californians, with the 77¢ they get back for every dollar. You know, that state of douchebags where one in every nine Americans resides.

Why the hell are these dwindling road-to-nowhere states where everyone leaves so they can make more than $20k/year so inviolable and immune from even deserved criticism, but "San Francisco" is some sort of wink-and-a-nod code for, I dunno, "Barack Obama plans to let faggot schoolteachers buttfuck your chilluns in the hallway with impunity"? Perhaps most amazingly (or, you know, not) is the ease with which Clinton herself jumped on that "elitist San Francisco" bullshit. Whatever sympathy the Clintons may have generated in the course of two terms of smears and lies and calumniations must by now be completely gone. Indeed, they seem to have become precisely what they despise, which is the creeps and liars who made careers out of despising them.

How did we come to this, and why does the coastal elite media enable it so? I've said it a million times, but it bears repeating -- if Bobo Brooks and Tweety Matthews and the rest of these bozos like the heartland so much, then fucking move there. Don't hide your lights under the DC/Hamptons bushels, ladies, grab your overalls and get your farm on. Let us know how that works for y'all.

Another paragraph of Fowler's assessments of Obama's situation struck me as odd:

It's curious, then, that he often has such a hard time making a connection with many working class Americans. With plenty of time for people to get to know him, like in southern Illinois before his first state legislature race and in Iowa before the caucuses, Obama has forged that connection. People get comfortable with the way his mind works. Obama is the man with the big picture; he jumps quickly from the particular to the general and back again, for he makes sense of the world in a synchronic rather than a linear way. For all his soaring rhetoric, there is a dispassion about him. And yet he blends rationcinative intelligence with empathetic understanding. This is a rare combination, and for many people, this aspect of Obama takes some getting used to. His Puritanical streak, moreover, while amusing to the press can be off-putting to everybody else.


Let's get back to Ockham's Razor, folks; the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. So let's take "small-town white working class antipathy to Obama" as a given, though I think it's a dubious assertion at best. But let's say it's true -- what are the most likely causes of that? The reflex assumption seems to be racism, but I don't buy that. More likely, it's simply a lack of familiarity with him, and an instinctive mistrust of someone who has risen so far so fast. Those are things that can be alleviated over the summer.

But if the problem really is racism, or suspicion of intellect, or any of the usual infantilizing tropes used to veil off these areas and social classes, then Clinton's efforts to capitalize on Obama's contrived misstep are for naught, because such people also would have issues with uppity wimmins, and certainly have issues with Clintons. She can poach a few slivers of percentage points here and there and raise doubt among the superdelegates over his electability all she wants, because those are things that will mostly redound to McCain in the fall.

And if people are having some sort of trouble acquainting themselves with Obama's supposedly complicated thought processes, well, isn't that their problem? They can't even seem to settle on whether he's too condescending or not condescending enough. Apparently he has to spell it out in see-Dick-run terms while downing a shot, eating a greasy slab of mystery meat and bowling a 300 game.

It's as if the notion of running the country doesn't even come up, which it might not for the sort of idiot who festers in the boonies, their biggest worry in life that someone out there thinks they're better'n you. Well, you show 'em, motherfucker. Go ahead and vote for Po' Boy McCain, and get exactly what's comin' to ya. Otherwise, get off your cross already -- as always, the rest of us could use the wood.

6 comments:

thedevilzone said...

Funny how coastal stereotypes are perfectly acceptable, but heaven forfend anybody look askance at flyover states

Here's an excerpt from a treasured link I've had saved:

[...] while people in Rhode Island or Oregon don't look on presidential candidates who come from regions other than their own with suspicion, lots of southerners seem to be reluctant to vote for people who don't share their drawl. Of course, this is never characterized as pathological regional xenophobia -- it's just how regular folks think, and there's not supposed to be anything wrong with it.

Southern-ness, furthermore, is supposed to be a marker of "authenticity." People who are from the South are genuine, forthright, the kind of folks you'd like to have a beer with, while if you come from somewhere else, chances are you're a big phony. Witness Fred Thompson, the "down-home" corporate lobbyist. Southerners are always taking offense at people who supposedly look down on them, but to someone who was raised in the Northeast, the idea that southerners are inherently more "real," and more American, than the rest of us is deeply insulting.

Of course, this is part of a whole complex of stereotypes about what and who is really American. And nobody embraces them more than the liberal northeastern elitists in the media. As far as they're concerned, the South is more American than the Northeast or the West, small towns are more American than big cities, country music is more American than folk or jazz or hip-hop, NASCAR is more American than basketball, and so on. The fact that those media Brahmins themselves don't live in small towns or listen to country music or watch NASCAR is precisely what feeds their idealized view of what a "real" American is, and what his beliefs and tastes are.


This is how I've traditionally thought of it, as a Southern thing, but that's probably because I'm soaking in it here. Apparently, though, I've been too hard on the varmint-rustlin', sister-molestin', cow-tippin', fiddle-playin', barefootin', jug band motherfuckers I know and love. I didn't really know that furious resentment towards anyone who has the temerity to know something you don't was so widespread. "Bitter" was right, only Obama misidentified it as being rooted in economics instead of warped psychologies.

They can't even seem to settle on whether he's too condescending or not condescending enough. Apparently he has to spell it out in see-Dick-run terms while downing a shot, eating a greasy slab of mystery meat and bowling a 300 game.

Seriously, what the fuck is this pathological obsession with pretending that multimillionaires are actually ordinary joes who might show up at your next backyard barbeque? Who's the most retarded here? The pundits know goddamn well that nobody with the wealth or political connections to even consider running for president is going to otherwise hang out in a greasy spoon shooting the shit about the weather, their bunions, or the neighbor's kid who got caught cornholing a sheep again. The politicians know it's all bullshit. Are there seriously people who watch a candidate flipping fries or bagging groceries and say "Goldurn if'n I ain't voting fer that feller!"? Wait, don't answer that.

Is this some sort of national mythology that just won't fucking die? The idea that any of us can just up 'n' decide to run the country - "Well, sheeit, the kids are grown, the house is paid for, I already did that landscaping project, I'm tired of my model trains; reckon I might as well give this presidentin' thing a shot!" - and therefore we like to flatter ourselves by pretending it could be any of us up there?

I don't even know what else to say. Just...fuck.

Heywood J. said...

Ti does seem to be a mobilizing feature of "Southern culture", to perpetually have one's back up at the notion that everyone looks down on them. If that were the only part of the dynamic it'd be one thing, but many of their most vocal examples seem to be on a mission to make that feature self-fulfilling.

Yes, people who can read and reason will tend to look down on people who are still fighting the Civil War, who still have phrases and symbols which highlight their latent antagonism toward black people, who argue over whether or not to teach religious hooey as science.

But where the media comes in, it's hard to say. It seems like they really don't know how to get a handle on southerners or working-class people in general. They don't know how to talk to them or about them, and it shows. So they infantilize them with their own brand of condescension and fluffery, much like politicians do.

I honestly don't know anyone who actually expects their political leaders to hang out and have a beer with them and bowl a few frames, but it's that cliché that gets the most attention in the silly season. There's probably some element of truth to it here and there, but it could also be a function of an alien, diffident national media, too scared and too reverent of their own assumptions about Kansas to actually just ask someone what they think, and expect them to be coherent about it.

In the end, this whole sorry episode says much more about what media yappers think about the heartland they pretend to worship, than what Barack Obama thinks about anything.

Heywood J. said...

"Ti"="It". That was weirdly dyslexic of me.

thedevilzone said...

I finally figured out what had been gnawing at me, some sort of déjà vu: this all reminded me of one of the most recent rounds of "kick the librul elitist" that we all played; Kerry's infamous "botched joke", where it was obvious to anyone who isn't a professional liar that he was referring to Bush not "studying" and therefore getting stuck in Iraq, not individual soldiers.

Of course, it wasn't a botched joke; it wasn't uproariously funny, but it was clever and true enough. Problem was, it was subtle, and the stupidest nation on earth don't truck with no subtlety! So you had the irony - the real kind, not the Alanis Morissette kind - of soldiers gladly taking cues from salt of the earth, men of the people-types like Limbaugh and Hannity, holding up signs for the cameras saying HELP US JON KERY WEER STUK IN IRAK, thereby proving that they are in fact stupid, even though no one was actually calling them stupid in the first place.

And here we go again, with Obama, who is hardly going to be the reincarnation of Eugene Debs in any event, making an empathetic point that we're lucky to hear at all with John Edwards being gone from the race, and the people who could benefit from the attention choosing instead to puff themselves up with pride that they don't need no uppity nigra feelin' sorry for them, nosiree. Good job, guys. Your corporate masters will be sure to reward you by having your menial jobs being done by Mexicans or robots soon.*

And yes, two middle fingers to Hillary for eagerly enabling this shit. I want compensation for all the time I spent arguing with deranged fuckknobs that you and your equally opportunistic backstabbing husband weren't actually the most evil politicians that ever lived, you goddamned whore (the political kind; not to slander literal prostitutes, who actually serve a valuable purpose).

*Talking to a friend last night - she told me a story of her ex-husband, who runs a call center for a bank, who is overseeing plans to move the location, currently in East Sphincter, Tennessee, down to Juarez, Mexico, where the non-English speakers will be trained to read off a script without having any fucking idea of what they're saying. Soon we'll be nostalgic for Indian tech help, where they're at least educated and can have somewhat of an actual back-and-forth conversation.

But at least the Tennesseans will have their pride, goldurnit! And they'll happily vote for whoever tells them that Gawd loves them best and don't want them learnin' about being related to no monkeys.

Jay Rosen said...

Rosen here with some answers.

You: Will there be any haphazard sandbagging of the other two candidates, just to level the playing field?

No.

You: If not, why not?

You're being argumentative. "Haphazard sandbagging" of candidates is not what we do, tried to do, or did here. We published an account from an event that was on the record but closed to the On-the-Bus press. (This is within our mission as Off The Bus.) It included candidate description (accurate, uncontested by the campaign) context and criticism (arguable, contested by others, including you) and support for Candidate Obama (Fowler's support, which was undisturbed by this event.) More on what I think we did.

You: Do you feel any share in the responsibility for generating this nonsense, besides invoking the law of unintended consequences and laying it at Russert's gouty feet?

I will take some share, sure. The headline we used, for example. Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter, played up that word "bitter." We could have run a far more lurid headline. We could also have run a headline far more innocuous. The headline is the "hinge" with the media system and the attack machine. So it's impossible for me to say, "I'm innocent of all that." I'm co-publisher of OffTheBus. That was our headline.

I don't think Obama's campaign is going to turn on what some call (mindlessly) Bittergate, but how do I know? It's a dynamic situation and trying to anticipate what affects voters often does more harm than good.

Wouldn't it be simpler to say: there can be huge consequences to a news report--some intended, many not--but as a base line principle we still want them published. Unless they are deceptive or fraudulent or untrue, and Mayhill Fowler's was not.

I described it as "partial but truthful," and I was trying to be precise. The check on hers? The tape. And the reports of others who were there and recording it, and adding "that's not what I heard"-type criticism. It's not a perfect system, but its common sense is not unintelligible,

On Russert: Probably I didn't write it well. I wanted to show "Meet" dumping Fowler as the source because a.) I thought it was wrong to do that and a little odd, b.) I thought it would introduce her in a way that would cause readers to engage with my 2,000+ words about her and what she was doing there in the first place.

Who is this woman Tim Russert took out of the story, after she originated it? What was she doing there at the fundraiser? The rest of the post explains that. Russert had taken her out. I wanted to put her back.

You: Implicit in the mission of the online mediapreneur is the sense that they are able to drive their own narrative without the help or hindrance of the corporate media. How does that square with this occurrence, in which Press the Meat was able to seize and skew that narrative on the basis of some poached quotes?

Hmmm. Well, I don't buy that I can accomplish some self-styled mission by driving my own narrative, never intersecting with the corporate media's narrative. I don't think the world works that way. It's hard for me to imagine any new media or blogging "action" that isn't skewable.

We didn't think this story wouldn't be picked up. When any story is "picked up" that way, from a small tributary by the main stream it becomes subject to the torrent of terribles, to the larger campaign narrative and all the pressures thereon. What corner of the Internet cannot be sucked into the attack machine and its malignant story lines within 30 minutes? None that I know of, including your blog!

You: What, if anything, do you or Fowler intend to do to either reclaim your own narrative, or generate a capable counter-narrative?

Well, Mayhill Fowler is back on the campaign trail, reporting from Pennsyvania.

I'm going to continue to push blogging as media criticism and move the pro-am way in journalism forward by publishing OffTheBus and writing my blog, PressThink, where I mentioned your post in the After Matter section (scroll down, down.)

As far as generating a capable counter-narrative, I am not sure anyone knows how to do that yet.

Does that mean I am indifferent to the mindless and often destructive campaign narrative that Fowler's story got sucked into?

No, I am not. I have tried over the years to pick it apart, and reduce its validity, expose its mindlessness. And I'm still at it, working as a critic of the press system we have. Here's an example of what I can do at my blog when Meet the Press pulls something. With Mayhill Fowler's story Russert was going with the big flow of nonsense, as you called it, and adding his oomph to the, "how much will this hurt?" data stream. Nothing different than what he usually does.

Thanks for your post...

Jay Rosen (www.pressthink.org)

Heywood J. said...

Jay, I appreciate the link, as well as the comprehensive response.

I'm aware that neither you nor Mayhill Fowler deliberately tried to harm Obama's campaign efforts. And of course I'm being argumentative on these points; I'm a blogger. It keeps me off the streets, for which my hapless neighbors are no doubt grateful.

My support for Obama is fairly qualified and by default (I supported Edwards until he dropped out, and will vote for Clinton only if it comes down to an infernal choice of her or McCain). But one can't help but notice that the six weeks of tedium between major primaries have been dominated by pouncing on Obama on what are fairly peripheral concerns. This is just the latest phase of that.

Maybe it's just Obama's turn for a media paddlin'; maybe it's indicative of something more sinister, if only by its degree of sheer institutional laziness. Last night's "debate" certainly did the fourth estate no credit, culminating in a Clinton hack borrowing a cheap shot from Sean Hannity, and acting like it was legitimate.

We could have run a far more lurid headline. We could also have run a headline far more innocuous. The headline is the "hinge" with the media system and the attack machine.

I agree with this 100%, and again, I get that it wasn't your intent nor Ms. Fowler's intent to have this story picked up by Russert and swirled around the chat circuit for an endless week. And it was extraordinarily cheap (although, frankly, not terribly surprising) of MTP to not acknowledge the sourcing in the first place.

But the story moved, and it seems that it did so primarily because, out of Obama's entire speech, that rather poorly-phrased ad-lib he attempted became the headline, which set the tone. At least you own your share of responsibility in that, which would be practically unheard of in the pundit/consultant class.

As noted in my blog post, I take issue with Ms. Fowler's characterization of what Obama meant and thought, as evinced by his actual words. At that point, we start getting further and further away from the actual issues, into this meta-meta-meta-streaming of what is really nothing more than speculation in the first place.

Obama gave his thumbnail assessment of why working-class voters are embittered and continue to vote against their own rational self-interest. Fowler then gave her own speculations in the excerpt I pulled, not only as to what Obama means or thinks when he says such things, but also what these voters are thinking, in general and in response to Obama's assertions. For me to continue out too much more in that speculative vein would only muddy further an argument that is fundamentally flawed to begin with.

It's a dynamic situation and trying to anticipate what affects voters often does more harm than good.

Wouldn't it be simpler to say: there can be huge consequences to a news report--some intended, many not--but as a base line principle we still want them published. Unless they are deceptive or fraudulent or untrue, and Mayhill Fowler's was not.


I understand what you're saying, and I do think as a general rule they should be published rather than not. But that should apply across the board, with all candidates (which may apply in your case, but doesn't seem to with many of your more established corporate counterparts). And while I liked the McCain analysis you linked, it is unfortunately anomalous in the current media climate, where reporters will not only sit for hours on end listening to him, but apparently have taken to bringing him coffee and donuts.

I don't think there was any intentional deception or untruth in the Obama article, but perhaps some imprecision (at least in terms of emphasis) in what turned out to be more crucial sections. Again the biggest crimes turn out to occur in the second-order coverage -- the lack of contextualization and the tendency to oversimplify and sensationalize, on the part of the big-leaguers.

I don't buy that I can accomplish some self-styled mission by driving my own narrative, never intersecting with the corporate media's narrative. I don't think the world works that way. It's hard for me to imagine any new media or blogging "action" that isn't skewable.

Well, I think that anyone writing consistently and coherently in a popularized online format, whether it's a Z-list blog like this or a more established collective of essentially independent contractors, qualifies as a sort of "mediapreneur". (Don't know if someone else already coined that, but it seems to fit.) Everyone has their own specific points and styles of getting that out.

The main thing we all have in common is that we are frustrated at the official narrative being thrust upon us all, and collectively that can constitute a practical counter-narrative at some point. That's still very much a work in progress, obviously, but it's a worthwhile effort, especially as the silly season seems to get longer every time.

As I acknowledged early on in my (admittedly polemic) questions, this was one that got out of your hands the second one of the big boys latched on to it. Everyone at that level immediately had to "me-too" the issue, because they're herd animals. They are more worried about the appearance of objectivity and the maintenance of reliable tropes than in revealing useful information and analysis.

But the more each mediapreneur chips away at the veneer of legitimacy the celebripundits have bestowed upon themselves, the better it'll hopefully get....until the FCC decides to regulate blogs, I suppose.