Sunday, November 12, 2006

Matt Taibbi Rules Our World... Or Should.

I had completely missed Matt Taibbi's brilliant election night diary until Christy at FDL linked to it. There were two passages in particular that I thought nailed the essential, underlying, soulless evil of our current mass media.

Passage #1:
There were really only a few genuinely interesting things that happened on this election night, but all of them were blown off by the TV goons because they didn't fit into the winning-and-losing sports narrative. The Sanders win was one story, but another very interesting one was the Kent Conrad/Dwight Grotberg Senate race in North Dakota. This one was never in doubt, as Conrad completely wiped out Grotberg, but what was interesting was that both candidates agreed not to run negative campaigns and went to great pains to comport themselves like gentlemen in their public appearances. In a world where social responsibility actually played a role in editorial decision-making both candidates would have been extolled at length on the networks and celebrated for their positive contributions to the political atmosphere -- but given what a catastrophe a return to dignified campaigning would be for the TV news business, it's not at all surprising that these guys didn't even get their own blurb in the CNN baseline crawl.
I like to think I'm something of a political junkie, and yet I had never even heard about this until just now. Taibbi is exactly right that in any kind of sane and responsible media, this would have been worth a mention: What does an all-positive campaign look like? How does it affect the election dynamic? How does it affect turnout? Does it favor one party over another? No-one cares, apparently.

Passage #2:

Meanwhile, Jeff Greenfield on the Democratic talking points (change, new direction, Baker-Hamilton): "They look to be very focus-group-tested for maximum appeal." He says this approvingly. An ancient fantasy rises from my subconscious: I start looking for the "Instant Leatherface" button on the TV remote that will trigger the entrance onto the CNN news set of a crazed chainsaw-wielding figure...Would pay any mount of money to see Greenfield drop his earpiece and run off the set away from a screaming Leatherface, loafers sliding on the studio floor as he races away in panic. No luck, though.

A friend of mine a few weeks ago wrote me a letter suggesting that reporters come up with a list of press behaviors worth banning before the 2008 elections. One good one, I think, would be commending candidates for successfully manipulating voters and the media with crude fakery and bullshit. In other words, anytime a panel expert like Greenfield says something like "McCain's handlers have clearly done a great job at getting their man to sound more genuine in rural areas," he should have to do thirty hours of community service, ladeling out soup somewhere to paraplegics or something. "They look to be focus-group-tested for maximum appeal" seems worth a double sentence. Anyway, anyone who has ideas for other press traits worth canning, please drop me a note -- maybe some of us reporters can draw up a voluntary treaty to sign.

It's all about the horse race and the gamesmanship; substance and policy don't matter. Glenn Greenwald is absolutely right when he says that not only do these people believe in nothing, but they actually consider such empty cynicism to be admirable and sophisticated.

I pray that the Republican Party's hemorrhaging credibility takes the media's credibility with it, but that's probably too much to hope for. The only way is if the media makes the same kind of mistakes the Republicans made, like overreaching, or getting caught redhanded at their malfeasance. Preferably both.

Also: I would like an "Instant Leatherface" button, please. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Actual God said...

love the leatherface fantasy, and matt taibbi in general

spocko said...

Today I listened to "On the Media" where they interviewed a reporter who was in awe of how Rummy lead the press around by their noses.

It just sickened me. And Gladstones smug attitude was part of the stick.

four legs good said...

Leatherface would be good.

I really like Taibbi's columns in RollingStone. He says the things that no one else has the balls to say.

Anonymous said...

Taibbi rulez.

It really is a shame that the Conrad-Dwight race wasn't more publicized. Somehow, though, it lends itself less to CNN/Fox/MSNBC than it does to one of those sepia-tinged Charles Kuralt/Charles Osgood reports on "Sunday Morning" about how things "used to be."

Of course, negative campaigning in American politics is nothing new. As far back as you can go, you'll find insult and demagogery wherever you look.

charley said...

i think the leatherface button is the best you can hope for.

i don't mind the push and shove, but limits, please.

i'd like to see money out of politics.
think of the good use the money they spend on these 30 seconds could be put to.

Eli said...

I'm not sure you can take the money out of politics, but it doesn't have to come from lobbyists. Public campaign finance would go a long way towards draining the influence swamp.