Sunday, November 28, 2004

Politics and the Press

The press failed during the campaign of 2004 because they kowtow to liars with 20 second sound-bites. Myth and truth have become equal in the who-knows-what-is-true dimwittedness of the entertainment business. Swiftboat supporter John Moore gets the last word on blog comments because he’s operating under the affirmative action program for conservatives enabled by Jay Rosen at pressthink and other so-called liberals in the press. Their conspiratorial blatant biases have equal billing with factual analysis under the guise of objectivity and fairness.

Aversion to truth and deference for guerrilla campaign operatives that Mr. Bush used so expertly to smear John Kerry, allowed the defeat to occur even while the mainstream press were accused of being in the tank for him. It’s breathtaking in scope and it worked. How did we get here?

Ron Suskind, who wrote a critical book with cabinet member Paul O’Neill and a profile on Karen Hughes, became a campaign target for his reality-based reporting. Supporters of Bush call his New York Times Magazine story a faith-based hit piece.

“I've been a reporter for more than 20 years,” Suskind tells Salon Magazine, “and I grew up in an era when there was a justified respect for what journalists of all political affiliations did, which is act as honest brokers.” Suskind says “It is part of our professional creed to be open to searching for the modest truths we're able to know in life and to render them effectively in what we write and what we say. That is a long and venerable tradition in this country.”

There is a concerted effort he says to discredit the mainstream press, so that what is reported will become irrelevant to the “public dialogue.”

Both the government spinners and the press conflate issues and certain quotes without explaining the meaning of the quote. In the Suskind piece, “Without a Doubt,”(Oct. 7, 2004) the money quote concerned privatizing social security. He will move fast to “privatize it,” Bush said in the private meeting. Yet, there was no mention of what he meant from either camp, only accusations of liberal lying by Suskind for employing scare tactics. Sound-bite won. No explanation came forth. Both sides lost. Suskind predicted Bush would win and he did.

It’s the fixation of the small stuff that derails coverage. That’s the infotainment aspect co-opting the headlines and newscasts today. Side issues like personal faith take precedent over fear of terror and the war in Iraq. Even as the higher percentage of voters reveal in exit polls that they have grave reservations about how Bush handled the situation and even about going in, in the first place. The election was about fear, and not much else.

It makes no difference that all of Bush’s policies have failed factually at the level where any real success lives. If the people hear the same positive slogans and euphemisms often enough, which is what PR and advertising does, they tend to believe it.

“The press admits it fell for the administration’s line on weapons of mass destruction,” writes Todd Gitlin in “Mother Jones” last December. “But the media’s failure goes far beyond Iraq.” But it gets worse.

“Reporters and editors are credulous, fearful, and flatly bamboozled,” he writes. “Timid about getting out ahead of a public they respect more when it is “conservative” (read: rightwardly radical) than when it is liberal, they bend over backward to accommodate spin doctors.” In short, the Bush campaign run by Karl Rove, yet another conservative without a college degree, (others include columnist and television commentator John Fund of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and CSUN’s James Taranto of editor of OpinionJournal.com; a trend?) played them like a Tennessee fiddle.

“So the media yield to temptation and morph into megaphones, and falsehoods too often and too loudly repeated take on the ring of plausibility,” Gitlin writes.
At the same time the big stuff takes the same seat at the back of the bus as the NY Times points out this week in regard to the private accounts referred to in the Suskind story that would result in billions if not trillions of new debt over ten years, to the already 7.5 trillion Mr. Bush is responsible for in his short stay to date.

“Mr. Bush and the Republicans in Congress have paid little political price in the last four years for the swing from budget surpluses to deficits.”

Former Montana journalist Chuck Rightmire adds this assessment. “I would suggest that the big winners in the election were the right-wing media and the right-wing blogs,” he says. “They have learned a lot from the propaganda methods of the late, unlamented Herr Goebbels.”

Surely as journalists we can do better than this.

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