Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Obama and the Establishment press, Week 10

I didn't intend to do more than one or two of these. But I kind of like them. I hope I haven't lost count of the weeks!

DAvid "Bobo" Brooks seemed to have been in an unintentionally self-revealing mode this past week. In his New York Times column last Friday, he praised Obama's Afghanistan War escalation policy specifically because it wasn't based on "realism". And in his weekly PBS Newshour gig with Mark Shields, Afghanistan Strategy, Budget Pitch Top Week's News 03/27/09), he explained how the national press corps decides on their common-wisdom analyses of things while talking about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his lastest bank rescue plan:

MARK SHIELDS: I don't know. I mean, I'd give him a 9.7 on style. No, I think that the president has had several times now publicly used major forums to say, "He's my secretary of the treasury. I wouldn't let him quit even if he wanted to."

It's a little reminiscent for baseball fans of saying, "He's our manager. He'll be our manager." But I think that there's no question his -- the questions about his job security seem to have abated and cut off later in the week.

DAVID BROOKS: Because they went up 400 points. I mean, I thought he was the same guy, it was the same plan. But I guess, in the first case, the herd psychology, the mean girls were allowed to get him, and now the mean girls all like him, so he went up.

I mean, I think he's the same guy with the same plan. It was just the herd psychology shifted for whatever reason herd psychology shifts. [my emphasis]
Amazing candor. Of course, the "herd" to which he refers here is the only "herd" he really cares about, his own, the Beltway Village press corps.


Media specialist Eric Alterman had some interesting observations this past week at The Nation Online about our sad excuse for a mainstream press corps in Is Jon Stewart Our Ed Murrow? Maybe... 03/26/09. Speaking of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, he writes:

Their "we're just comedians" protestations notwithstanding, both men appear to take this part of their job no less seriously than they do the funny parts. It cannot be mere coincidence that they are responsible for three of the most important/cathartic media moments of the past decade. Stewart pretty much ended Crossfire all by himself and retired the foolish notion that a left/right food fight leads one any closer to truth. Next, Colbert shamed and exposed the pathetic performance of the White House press corps with his brilliant after-dinner speech at the correspondents' dinner. And now Stewart, first by eviscerating the coverage of CNBC and second by forcing Jim Cramer to own up to his on-air hucksterism, has revealed the lie at the center of most business coverage (and just about all cable news).

It's a sad--almost terrifying--comment on the state of the American media that we have come to rely on these two funnymen to tell us the truth about our country in the same way we relied on Murrow in the '50s and Walter Cronkite in the '60s. But as the mainstream media keep reminding us, albeit unintentionally, the MSM's groupthink is invulnerable to reality. Like the president who remained so popular with them for so long, it literally takes a hurricane and a biblical-style flood to get them to pay attention to events that do not conform to the agreed-upon national narrative. [my emphasis]
While Bill O'Reilly and the like conduct Bircher-style raves about the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! voters and news consumers are daily confronted with the reality that Alterman here describes as sad and almost terrifying. (I wouldn't include the "almost".) Quality-wise, much of the mainstream, established American media is just plain pitiful. And the nature of the dysfunctions our news media prominently display tend to cut heavily against the interests of most people, and far more often favor the Republicans than the Democrats. This is not the same as partisan bias, although often it might as well be. As Alterman puts it:

That means the Obama administration--in Iraq, in Afghanistan and regarding so much of its domestic agenda--is constricted by homilies that make sense inside the conference rooms of Heritage and AEI but enjoy precious little relevance to life as it is actually lived by most Americans. Yet survey after survey demonstrates that the majority of people reject these ideological assumptions and embrace a far more pragmatic approach to problem solving, which goes by the name "liberalism."
I don't see how someone can make sense of the actual problems from which our media suffer if they are trying to frame it in terms of the Liberal Media meme the Republicans and their partisan outlets like FOX News promotes so heavily. It's not that every single point they make is wrong. I cringe to think that Keith Olbermann is widely viewed as the model liberal pundit and TV newsman. But it's hard to listen to our Pod Pundits agonizing over the "populism" that leads ordinary people to criticize their social betters in Wall Street banking houses and not wonder how anyone can imagine this sad crew being part of a gigantic liberal conspiracy. I like the way Alterman makes a similar point in his conclusion:

The content of our business press is even more overdetermined by the power dynamic that places the interests--and assumptions--of the extremely wealthy over everyone else's. Think about it. Why did our Democratic presidential debates--particularly those moderated by George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson--focus so relentlessly on the future tax rates of barely 5 percent of Americans? Why are headlines in Politico screaming about "class warfare"? Your (shrinking) newspaper does not have a labor section. It does not have an environment section. And it sure as hell does not have a human rights section.
In the context of his article, he's referring in particular to CNBC when he references the business press. I would say that Business Week does still seem to maintain a journalistic standard that is notably better than the typical general news magazine. Though they aren't immune to doing the kind of water-carrying fluff pieces that Alterman criticizes in that post.

On the topic of Olbermann, Bob Somerby has been verbally bodyslamming him this year, as in his 03/26/09 post: "Countdown is a 'liberal' program — but it has become a bad nightly joke, one of the dumbest programs ever."

Finally, I need to throw in something about my personal favorite belweather of Village conventional wisdom, the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead. In Obama bets bank fix won't be a political risk 03/25/09, she expresses the Village's horror of dangerous "populism", which this past week or so was their word for "democracy":

The administration faced a Hobson's choice: fixing the banks is a prerequisite to economic recovery; populist rage sharply limits options. Large U.S. banks are believed to be holding $2 trillion in dubious assets, valued perhaps at 50 cents on the dollar. That means they could need $1 trillion in fresh capital to get them lending again.

Even close Obama allies such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, all but shut the door last week to more taxpayer funds. That made a more direct approach, such as nationalization, a nonstarter.
Got that? Nationalization, it's off the table. Unthinkable. See, this whole populism thing limits options because it makes Nancy Pelosi complain about things which means Obama can only do it Wall Street's way. Or something. Presumably if the grubby masses didn't complain about Wall Street bonuses, that would give the President more options for dealing with it. Yes, in the Village press corps, they think this way.

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