More on the idea that reporters treat politics as gossip

I know I’m late to the party on this; I’ve seen several other posts on this topic, and three days is nearly a lifetime in blog time. However, this ties in so neatly with what I said earlier, in my review of “Frost/Nixon”, where I suggested that our traditional media views our political leaders, their policies and actions taken to advance their goals presumably in our behalf, as if they were celebrities.

After I had written that post, I saw that Glenn Greenwald had torn into Michael Calderone’s, the Politico’s “media reporter” year-end wrap-up of his top 10 political “scoops” of 2008. Gaze and marvel:

  1. Katie Couric’s interview of Sarah Palin (CBS)
  2. McCain can’t say how many homes he owns (Politico)
  3. Obama’s “bitter” comment (Huffington Post)
  4. Sarah Palin’s shopping spree (Politico)
  5. Turmoil in the Clinton camp (Washington Post and Atlantic — “The behind-the-scenes tension was captured by the reporters in one memorable exchange: ‘[Expletive] you!’ Ickes shouted. ‘[Expletive] you!’ Penn replied. ‘[Expletive] you!’ Ickes shouted again.”)
  6. Jeremiah Wright tapes (ABC News)
  7. The Pentagon’s military analyst program (NY Times)
  8. Bickering in the McCain camp (NY Times Magazine)
  9. John Edwards’ affair (National Enquirer)
  10. Powell endorses Obama (Meet the Press)

Greenwald responds, at least in part, with scathing sarcasm:

Indeed. For a politically engaged person, it is truly difficult to conceive of how any year could ever be more satisfying than one marked by riveting scandals over shopping sprees, bickering among campaign operatives, and an extramarital affair of someone who, at the time of disclosure, held no political office and was running for absolutely nothing. Anyone surveying this mountain-high pile of Pulitzer-worthy investigations can do nothing more than echo the observation of Newsweek’s legendary Senior White House Correspondent, Richard Wolffe, who famously gushed: “the press here does a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general.” Who could review Calderone’s glorious list of the year’s top “scoops” and disagree with that?

In fairness to Calderone and his comrades in the political press, our media currently covers a country that has very few substantial problems and an administration that is renowned around the world for being competent, honest, conventional and quite uncontroversial. In general, countries which enjoy great tranquility, prosperity, and stability — such as the U.S. today — can afford the luxury of fixating on the types of fun and trivial stories which comprise the list of top “scoops” heralded by Politico.

The emphasis is Greenwald’s.

When folks turn on the cable news channels and see endless, 24/7 coverage of Senator McCain’s residences, say, or pick up the national papers, the New York Times or the Washington Posts, and see front page coverage of Senator Clinton’s emotional state or Governor Palin’s financial excesses, instead of discussion about the “unitary executive” and how radical an idea that is, or how outrageous it is that the American military has been ordered by top White House officials to design and implement torture programs, programs that many intelligence officials strongly believe to be worthless for gaining actionable intelligence, not to mention directly reduce the safety of American citizens and our soldiers abroad… that’s when the average American starts to think that politics doesn’t really matter.

How could it matter, if the “most trusted name in news” has Wolf Blitzer moderating a discussion between someone who’s “pro-waterboarding” and “con-waterboarding”? The only conclusion to draw is that Very Serious People are carefully weighing both sides of the debate, so, therefore, either side in the discussion may, in fact, be right. Right? I mean, they wouldn’t spend so much time talking about it if it weren’t important; and since there’s an equal number of people on each side of the debate, that means that CNN is carefully representing the factions who are deciding policy. Right? And since Wolf isn’t giving an opinion or providing any context, well, I guess the average American can just flip a coin. Or, perhaps, doesn’t even need to concern himself with finding out more. Let the eggheads on teevee fight it out. Why bother getting involved? Who’s left on American Idol this week?

There’s so many ways that this game, the “fake balance” game is played – and rigged. Once it’s explained, it’s pretty easy to see. For instance, take a note of the people who get invited in to talk on the Sunday political talk shows, and you’ll start to see a pattern: very often, there are more Republican or conservative pundits than there are Democratic or progressive ones. In fact, I’ll go further and suggest that more often than not, the pundits who represent the Democratic or progressive side on those shows aren’t politicians, but people from a media background – journalists who are representing their newspapers or media corporations, who may be held to an objective, factual, “balanced” standard in their speech.

When those “balanced” pundits go up against men and women who are fiercely partisan, men and women who pursue their talking points with a fervor, who do you think will come across as the “winner”? And since the moderators of those discussions, the Brokaws and the Mathewses, don’t feel the need to correct any factual errors or offer any context for the discussion, the pundits, the ones who are playing to a partisan crowd, can feel free to pull “facts” from their nether regions.

The game is played completely differently on Fox “News” – if you watch them, pay attention anytime that a guest is talking trash about Democrats. You’ll notice that, invariably, in addition to the Republicans doing it, there’s always a token “liberal” who is there to attack their own party. Senator Joe Lieberman is a favorite Fox “News” guest for exactly that role. Even though Lieberman isn’t a Democrat anymore (his constituents voted him out of the party largely for his stance as pro-Iraq War and pro-President Bush), the fact that he still caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate means he’s considered “liberal”. At least in Fox “News” land.

Or count the number of times that any Republican that’s seen as a “loser” is labeled a “Democrat” on Fox “News”. It even happened to Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain. That’s “fair and balanced”? And no correction was issued.

And I don’t expect any of this to change, now that President-elect Obama will be taking the oath of office in January. It didn’t change after Democrats won control of both houses of Congress in 2006. Oh, wait, there was one change this year: there’s one, real, live, progressive now on TV: Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. And, man, what an outcry putting her on caused. You’d think that the world had ended, from all the complaints from our traditional media. But only liberal journalists are called “partisan”.

Is it any wonder that the blogs have grown so much, and so fast, for progressive Americans? Is it any wonder that the younger viewers, the 18-35 set, that coveted demographic, are more informed the more they watch Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and less informed when they watch Fox “News”?

It’s refreshing, though, to see survey after survey show that Americans see the financial crisis, health care, and the Iraq War as the top issues. We can find out what we need to know, these days, and what we need to know concerns our jobs and our sons’ and daughters’ lives.

It’s just too bad our traditional media chooses, instead, to focus on what our leaders are wearing. That focus will be their undoing.