Sunday, April 29, 2007

Making News Out of Nothing At All

The media never ceases to amaze me, and it also never ceases to manufacture news items out of thin air.

Now I am glad that the focus is off Rosie O'Donnell and on the Democratic Presidential Primary debates, but honestly, the media has totally missed the big story, and since it had no story, it invented the one that, to my flabbergastery, everyone is now talking about.

Anyone who watched the Presidential debates knows that the only noteworthy thing that happened was that former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel became the only politician in recent memory to say what he actually thought, and to tell it like it is, bringing to light political realities that have been swept under the rug by all of our politicians for fear of saying anything too negative about the country and losing voters. The media either didn't want to lose viewers/readers, or is either too brainwashed or too complicit in the conspiracy of peddling the same-old same-old, that they didn't talk about Gravel (except for some, that ignorantly dismissed him as "comic relief"), and thus they had no story.

In the absence of a story they somehow manufactured policy differences among the Democratic frontrunners from their 60 second cookie cutter responses to questions. If they didn't manufacture policy differences, they read in character differences, which is equally arbitrary and disingenuous.

If you don't know what I'm referring to then I am sorry to be telling you about it for the first time because it is sad that our media, capable of so much, is wasting their time with this silliness.

So during the debates last friday, Brian Williams asked what each candidate would do if there was a terrorist attack. According to the media, the correct answer, which pretty much everyone but Obama gave, was to immediately say retaliate, and the incorrect answer, was to say anything aside from immediately saying retaliate.

Not to mention the fact that all of these candidates would probably do the exact same thing in the situation (IE figure out what happened and then consider their options based on that), why are we judging the candidates based on their impulse to have missiles in the air as soon as possible?

What's worse is that in a way Obama gave the best answer of all, since he lead off with mentioning emergency response. According to the media, though, any thought given to minimizing casualties from the theoretical attacks would be time wasted in firing up some rockets aimed at...well, it's not important where they're aimed it, just get 'em in the sky.

I mean, let's think about things for just a second. Operation Enduring Freedom, where the US and NATO went into Afghanistan, began on October 7, 2001. So if the Bush Administration, you know, the same people who will pull the trigger and shoot at a bird before checking to realize that their gun is aimed squarely at their friend's face, get to wait a month, I think Obama can spend some of his presidency getting an emergency response plan ready, and he can spend the first five seconds into any attacks saying "send in the emergency response," instead of continuing with the book about the goat.

But because Obama didn't immediately say retaliate, now he is being critisized. Well, I guess, politically, maybe the fact that all of the other, more experienced, candidates knew to lead off with retaliate suggests that that was the best political move -- IE, what the public wants to hear. In other words, the American public is more concerned with firing back a return missle then it's concerned with minimizing the casualties from the attacks that already took place. Maybe all of the candidates believed that emergency response was obviously the first option but you can't say that on TV because the people want vengance. This makes me think of a kind of a chicken-egg problem because maybe "the voters" think that because that is the attitude of the Bush Administration and many in the media, or maybe it is their attitude because it is "the voters'" attitude. Now I have no problem with art imitating life or life imitating art but regardless of why killing foreigners became a higher priority than saving imperiled Americans from death and injury became the prevailing political viewpoint, I award no points for other politicians' echoing it in an attempt to gain votes, and may God have mercy on their souls.

Whether or not the other candidates secretly agree with Obama, Obama should not be critisized by the media for his politically risky answer. In fact, maybe the only reason why his answer was politically risky is because the media are critisizing it.

For a newspaper article by some reporter whose web page is pretty much an anti-Obama blog, see Lynn Sweet's coverage for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her piece is a perfect example of the judging and media exaggeration over nothing - and, by the way, can be found expediently on imaginary controversey stirrer Matt Drudge's website as well. Leave it to the Drudge Report to play into the mainstream media's fun and games at the expense of an American public that deserves better. For a more thoughtful and balanced coverage, although still unnecessarily slanted toward critisizing Obama, see the Washington Post's coverage. For a blog post that, I guess more or less, agrees with what I have just written, see the Daily Kos' response.

All in all, this whole episode sums up (1) what I hate about the media and (2) what I like about Obama. Rather than providing original insight and thoughtful, intelligent opinions about the substantive issues, the media once again looks to blow up some insignificant happening into a sensational controversey, all the while judging things from the same-old, mainstream viewpoint of what it thinks the people want to hear. Thanks for nothing, media.

Obama on the other hand was not afraid -- at least initially -- to give a somewhat unconventional, or unexpected, or un-scripted (from the vote pandering script) response. He gave the most thoughtful answer, and it has already hurt him politically, because it might not be what everyone immediately wants to hear. But politics must be more than regurgitating what everyone immediately wants to hear. It must be more than sticking to a script of the safest, most widely-accepted responses to all questions. It must be about people who lead rather than follow. It must be about leaders who inspire us to think of the best ideas, not just the most widely-shouted ones. And it must be about leaders who have the courage to bring those ideas to the public forum for debate even if such ideas happen to be less common or newer than other ideas, and are therefore politically risky, because, as the (old common) saying goes: no risk, no reward. Thus far Obama seems like he has the courage to take the national dialogue to its full potential, I don't know yet if I can say the same about the other frontrunners.

So let's not be too quick to congratulate the more seasoned candidates for taking the easier, safer path of what people want to hear, and let's not be too critical of a candidate who offers something (very very very slightly) different to the debate. And let's also not allow ourselves to get taken in, manipulated, and fooled by the media into believeing thta there is a big story where there isn't one, for, as the we all know, the greatest trick a media news story ever pulled was convincing the world that it existed.

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