Monday, June 23, 2008

Campaign journalism, American style

Last week, Media Matters' Eric Boehlert wrote an optimistic piece called, Obama, McCain, and Gershon agree: The press needs to get off the stage 06/17/08. The title refers to the fact that the McCain and Obama campaigns have rejected the notion of having major journalists moderate the campaign debates. It's well worth reading. It gives a good summary of how bad our Establishment press' coverage of politics has become.

He writes that "campaign journalism is dead". It's a metaphor, so it would be easy to quarrel with that particular judgment. But it strikes me as an appropriate one.

Boehlert makes a couple of really sobering obvservations. During the 1990s, it was a critical assessment to say that the national media was practicing tabloid journalism. Things have now reached the point that for our national press corps to practice tabloid journalism would be an improvement. Tabloids usually try to get at least a photograph with a celebrity walking along with her brother before accusing her of practicing incest. Our quality-journalism outlets would just report that there's a rumor going around that so-and-so was committing incest. And since the rumor is what they claim as being the newsworth event, they may not bother to say it's so completely and totally frivolous that only a blithering moron or a Rush Limbaugh fan could believe it.

He also makes the point that campaign journalism has gotten so far from providing information to voters that is relevant to helping them decide how to vote that voters may be literally better informed if we just listen to what the candidates say directly and bypass the media coverage altogether:

The campaign press has become so completely wrapped up in tactics and personality and trivia and absurdities that more and more of its users - its consumers - are quietly telling journalists to just stop, to unplug their keyboards and leave voters alone.

Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby has been pointing out for a while now that there's an ethnic-religious aspect to the strange brand of "journalism" practiced by many of the leading lights of MSNBC, including the sainted Great Journalist Tim Russert. Coming from a similar cultural background himself, Somerby refers to this group in the first person plural. The immediate context is a discussion of the extremes to which Maureen Dowd has gone to trash Hillary Clinton these past months. From his 06/23/08 post:

Awkward though it may be to say so, Dowd’s lunacy is the expression of a particular culture - a throwback form of Irish Catholic culture which most Irish Catholics have had the good sense to move far away from, long ago. But Dowd, and Matthews, and many others, have propagated this viral illness as it has damaged our public discourse over the past many years. We Irish! We sat on TV all last week [he's referring the Russert tributes] and proclaimed how much we love the truth - how superior we are in that regard, thanks to our days with the nuns and the Jesuits. Tomorrow, we’ll start to revisit "four days in the life" to show you what was being said at NBC’s cable arm all the way back in December 1999. This lunatic loathing has gone on for years—sometimes in gender-based forms, sometimes not. It’s an illness - a plague on Oran. It’s time to discuss it a bit more frankly, as we do with other religious cultures which play key roles in American politics. Yes, it’s awkward to do so. But unless we want this plague to last forever, we actually need to start doing this.

After all, why are we talking about this today? Dowd (and [Chris] Matthews) have been spewing this nonsense for years! Three cheers for [New York Times public editor Clark] Hoyt, for speaking frankly. If we want this nonsense to stop, we ought to speak frankly now too.

We know, we know - it’s very awkward. "God made me because he loves me." Helped along by our mother, our aunts, our sainted grandmother, we memorized our catechism too.
Dowd's Sunday column (The Carla Effect New York Times 06/22/08) was also sex-obsessed. It's about France's First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Given the source, I'm not assuming that any of the stuff she says about her is true or adequately described unless I see a more reliable source also report it. But note how in the first few paragraphs, she is obviously associating Michelle Obama with the lascivious tales she recounts about the French President's wife. Dowd analyzes the lyrics on the latest CD that Bruni-Sarkozy just issued for clues to her "polymorphously perverse" nature. All French people are that way, the Pundit Lightbringer Dowd tells us.

I wonder if Dowd knows that "polymorphously perverse" is a psychoanalytic term referring to a particular stage of early childhood development?

But she does get around to vaguely tying this to her priorities in American politics. In the last paragraph, she writes:

At a press availability the next day, W. [George Bush] interrupted his own boring observation about "the importance of the Doha Round" to smilingly tell his pal Sarko: "It was a great pleasure to have been able to meet your wife. She’s a really smart, capable woman, and I can see why you married her. And I can see why she married you, too."
Oh, pooh on all that boring stuff about international economics and junk like that! What's really interesting is Bush's entirely conventional and basically polite but meaningless comment to the French President, which Dowd presumably finds salacious in light of her preceding paragraphs.

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