20 April, 2008

The Pennsylvania debate and the media

I was going to restrain myself from the controversy over the latest crapshow debate, because, well, they're all crapshow debates. But listening to some in the media trying to defend Gibson and Stephanopolous' performance I have come across this particular straw man so often that I can't help but comment on it:

My, oh my, but weren’t those fellows from ABC News rude to Barack Obama at this week’s presidential debate.

Nothing but petty, process-oriented questions, asked in a prosecutorial tone, about the Democratic front-runner’s personal associations and his electability. Where was the substance? Where was the balance?

Where indeed. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her aides have been complaining for months about imbalance in news coverage. For the most part, the reaction to her from the political-media commentariat has been: Stop whining.

That’s still a good response now that it is Obama partisans — some of whom are showing up in distressingly inappropriate places — who are doing the whining.

It is surely convenient for pundits to attribute the criticism their profession has received to sour-grapes Obama supporters trying to rationalize his poor debate performance. While that may be the case in some instances, most of the critiques I have read, and the revulsion I myself feel before questions like "do you think that Rev. Wright loves this country as much as you do" have had little to do with which candidate has borne the brunt of the bullshit. The point is that the questions are utter bullshit whether or not Clinton or Obama, or McCain for that matter, are on the receiving end. We have a right to be angry about this bullshit not because it hurts one candidate over another, but because it hurts us by obscuring the issues of real importance that confront us in this election.

Now, I do think there may be some correlation between people likely to support Obama and people likely to oppose the bullshitification of our political discourse, precisely because Obama is the candidate that has most forcefully taken up the cause of making our political argumentation more sober and more serious. That overlap doesn't, however, mean that our protestations are aimed at defending Sen. Obama, who indeed had a sloppy night. We are told that since Clinton has already endured more bullshit than Obama (a debatable but fundamentally fair point), this debate was a much-needed equalizing force. But our critique is much broader than that: rather than equalize the bullshit, we need to abolish it!

Unfortunately, for traditional pundits to process and engage with that argument, they would have to comprehend the incomprehensible; that is, that pressing a candidate on their lack of lapel pin is neither hard-hitting, nor helpful, nor journalism. When someone like David Brooks says "we may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall", we have truly entered the rabbit hole. Who, exactly, is it that thinks those issues are anything other than marginally important? According to the polls, it seems, not the voters. And so, in fact, I've come to agree with Brooks' arrogant demand that there be "no whining about the media." It clearly does no good; we'll be better off to simply ignore it instead.

1 comment:

spencer said...

That's quite an amazing Brooks quote: "we may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall".

This is a ridiculous mindfuck. An "issue" is important now because it will be important later. It will be important later because the media is reporting on it and making it into an issue now. The media is reporting on it now because it is important now.

Silly season is upon us.