29.2.08

"Hillary is Not the Enemy," The Press Is

I. Biting The Big Dog
How do we feel about the Clintons these days, Obama supporters? My inbox is filled with the vitriol of our kind, many who claim to have voted for Bill twice in the nineties, who feel betrayed by the ex-Big Dog and his wife. Most stress that "Hillary is not the enemy" but spare little fury despite those words.

I don't hate the Clintons. I rather like the Clintons, in fact. I think Hillary's made some big mistakes as a senator and I agree with Michael Moore that it is "morally indefensible" to vote for her. But the screw ups of Bill and her campaign have been exaggerated.

I agree that the Clinton's have not campaigned well. But people like Tim Russert, most of MSNBC, the lousy CNN anchors, Brian Williams, and The New York Times have trashed the Clintons and taken minor flops like Bill's "fairy tale" comment and "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84" comment and blown them out of proportion. They don't, after all, as Jon Stewart pointed out recently, quite sound like Strom Thurmond's racist diatribes of the mid-20th century. Yet you might not know it by the news coverage.

II. ADD Journalism

For the past seven years this nation's media has gotten away with irresponsible journalism. The media has sustained the Bush Administration through it's countless scandals when, in the past, any one of the major constitutional lesions caused by Bush 2.0 would have put him out on his ass. The attorney purge is my favorite, but you can go with the CIA Valerie Plame leak, the no-bid Halliburton contracts, Katrina, I mean, there's no shortage of options.

I've often compared the Bush Administration's survival to The Simpsons episode when Monty Burns goes to the hospital for a checkup and the doctor informs him that he has a condition known as "Three Stooges Syndrome" - so many diseases are trying to get into Mr. Burns' body at once that it's as though they're all stuck in a doorway, trying to get in at the same time, but can't. Mr. Burns then, predictably, decides this means he's invincible and revels in the thought, oblivious to the doctor saying, "No, no! If one of these diseases got in you'd be dead! Even a slight breeze could kill you!"

It's much the same situation with the media today. The 24 hour news cycle requires a new Burns-ian disease each day. Each has a half-life of little more than 72-hours at best. We've ended up with a President so fragile, a slight breeze might kill him and yet he continues to think himself invincible; the media tries to force through a new disease a day, and none get through.

III. Meta-Journalism

That journalism could replace politics or international affairs as the story - meta-journalism, journalism about journalism - is nothing new. It was of course the 20th century's first Big Dog of journalism, William Randolph Hearst, who fomented the Spanish-American War out of ether. Hearst's wire-transmission decree to his journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba reporting that no war was imminent says it all: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

Now THAT'S meta-journalism.

Maybe if that's what we were dealing with today, things would be a little more interesting in the journalism debate. But Arthur Sulzberger is not William Randolph Hearst. Sulzberger, instead, epitomizes Walter E. Kurtz's words more than Hearst's: "You are an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."

The meta-journalism we have today is constant, self-perpetuating. It is in the forums provided by Scarborough, O'Reilly, Hannity, Blitzer, even The Keith, where the same "experts" appear show after show with the same bland one liners - "Hillary is taking the gloves off," "throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Barack" - that end up defining the political discourse for the next 24 hours.


We've reached a point where the discussion "what effect will this comment have on Hillary's campaign?" has actually BECOME the effect that comment has on Hillary's campaign. It's a totally reflexive, self-referential excercise and it leaves you with a populace that watches the news like it would the movie Cloverfield; waiting for the next idiot to go where he shouldn't and end up decapitated. Our anchors gladly oblige and swing their broadswords with the delicacy of a child at Chuck-E-Cheese's playing the Whack-A-Mole game.

For now, this is all working nicely to Barack's advantage as anchors actually joke, in large numbers, about the media conspiracy Saturday Night Live accused them of being in on, sort of, against Hillary. But the media giveth and the media taketh away. They did to Hillary, and they could just as easily, and at any time, to Barack.

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