Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Establishment press: still ailing after all these years

Digby's designation of our national press corps as "the Village" seems to be catching on, although she seems to use the term in a somewhat broader sense than just the press to include other movers and shakers that have great influence on the conventional wisdom (established wisdom, respectable opinion, etc.)

The Village hasn't been as hostile to Obama as they were to Kerry in 2004 and certainly less hostile than to Gore in 2000. The press' love affair with St. John McCain also hit a rough spot this year, since it became so painfully obvious this year that he wasn't acting like the noble, selfless, post-partisan that he never was but that the press corps for years made him out to be.

It's easy to see from what happened in the primaries that things would have been very different had Hillary Clinton had been the Democratic nominee. The press treatment of the Clintons over the years will be something that historians and psychologists will ponder for a long time to come.

The press romance with the Republicans is more restrained this year than it has been for years. That's not saying a lot, seeing how they prostrated themselves at the feet of our Dear Leader George W. Bush for most of his term. But our more prominent pundits and reporters, some of whom earn millions per year, were no doubt shocked by the effect of Bushonomics on their own stock and/or real estate portfolios. And some of it probably is going with the flow, since Obama has been looking like a winner for weeks now. As Glenn Greenwald puts it, referencing Joe Klein's Obama-friendly posture this year, "There are many former Beltway Bush enablers with their wet fingers in the air who have undergone similar transformations, who will, I fully expect, return to form once circumstances change."

But adoration of McCain among his once and future "base", the national press corps, hasn't ceased. The Los Angeles Times provided an example of this in the past week, McCain was frank, garrulous and accessible -- and then he wasn't by Maeve Reston 10/28/08. A remarkable example, actually, remarkable because of its frankness in what to us news consumers looks an awfully lot like a confession of a gross lack of basic professionalism. Greenwald and others have elaborated on her text already, and I won't try to rehash their comments. I've included links to other commentary at the end of this post.

Here are a couple of the more telling quotes from her article, though you really need to read the whole thing to get the full effect:

I had headed to the back of his bus with a small group of reporters, where as always McCain warmly motioned for us to squeeze in beside him on the couch.

The questions meandered across more than a dozen topics, but I asked if he agreed with his advisor Carly Fiorina's recent statement that it was unfair for some health insurance companies to cover Viagra but not birth control -- because McCain generally opposed those kinds of mandates.

Liberals and late-night comedians would later revel in McCain's on-camera discomfort -- the widening of his eyes, the awkward silence while he clutched his jaw and formulated an answer. But I had come to respect McCain's frankness and his willingness to admit he didn't always have an answer. Watching the question morph into an embarrassing "gotcha moment" for cable television, my stomach churned and my cheeks grew hot. [my emphasis]
She asked a question to the candidate that didn't make him look exactly like his PR people would want him to look! And she was terribly embarrassed at her mistake!

By July, I had covered McCain for almost seven months. I could recite many lines of his stump speech by heart, dreamed about his events at night and spent so much time scrolling through campaign e-mails on my BlackBerry that my fiance joked to our friends about the other man in my life.

Over those months, McCain had artfully created a sense of intimacy with the reporters who traveled with him. He barbecued for us at his Arizona cabin, and opened up about matters as personal as his faith and his son's girlfriends. On one of my first days covering McCain, another reporter protectively warned me that it was important to be judicious with the material I used from McCain's bus rides to keep the conversations in context.

Although the relationship was mutually beneficial, McCain offered accessibility and openness that was rare, if not unprecedented, in modern presidential politics. Now, as the presidential campaign plunges into its final days, that intimacy -- real or imagined -- has evaporated. [my emphasis]
They want to love St. McCain, they really do. They had some a warm and intimate relationship with him, and they miss it.

This is really sad. It's a sign of the state of the American press that Reston would write such a story about herself without it being a confession of how she had failed as a reporter. Amazing.

Maeve Reston's unintentional exposure of campaign reporters by Glenn Greenwald Salon 10/29/08 calls Reston's article a "sentimental, cringe-inducing retrospective".

A tale of two buses by Terry Welch, Nitpicker blog 10/28/08 says Reston's "embarrassing piece ... seems more like the diary entry of a recently-jilted girlfriend."

Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby in his 10/29/08 post: "Where in the world does this cohort come from? Even today, after all that we’ve been through, they still think it’s cute to refer to a White House candidate as 'the other man in my life'."

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