Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 7, 2008

AIDING AND ABETTING A CYNICAL PLOY.... It's rather amusing to listen to major media figures ponder the question of whether John McCain will be able to successfully change the subject away from the economy and towards controversial figures Barack Obama has met. It's entertaining, of course, because the media figures treat this as something they have nothing to do with -- as if the political discourse is some kind of independent animal, which news outlets are powerless to control.

The reality is, McCain wants the political world to obsess over the three-headed Ayers-Rezko-Wright monster, and it will be successful if the media decides the three-headed monster is suddenly newsworthy. There's no great mystery here. In fact, the pundits' speculation is silly -- if they follow McCain's orders, and talk about what he wants them to talk about, McCain's plan will be a triumph; if not, it won't.

Today, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson urges his media colleagues to resist the urge to act like sheep, asking, "[A]re we in the media going to aid and abet the McCain campaign's obvious ploy?"

It shouldn't even be necessary to ask. The reporters know that the McCain campaign is desperate to distract voters away from substantive issues that matter. Indeed, several journalists have already reported that the McCain campaign is desperate to distract voters away from substantive issues that matter. So, unless you're Fox News, why would a legitimate news outlet play along when there's nothing new to report?

If we in the media really believe what we say about serving the public interest, we have a duty to avoid being turned into instruments of mass distraction. Of course we should cover what the candidates say, putting their words in context and pointing out when the candidates are exaggerating or lying. But we should also think hard about how much prominence we give to smears and counter-smears.

And we should be relentless in demanding that the candidates talk about the economy and the wars and America's place in the world. If they won't sit down to be interviewed, we can shout our questions at them. If they filibuster, we can cut them off. If they give evasive answers, we can ask follow-up questions until we run out of breath.

The McCain campaign has made clear that it wants to change the subject. We can, and should, change it back.

Sounds like reasonable advice.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

Admittedly, the media has to walk a very fine line. In reporting on the day's events on the campaign trail, they're obliged to report what the candidates are talking about. In addition, I find it newsworthy that in the midst of a financial crisis and two wars overseas, one candidate wants to play who's-your-buddy games instead of addressing the nation's very urgent emergencies.

Call it the way it is, folks. The country is crashing down around our heads and Mr. McCain wants to "change the subject."

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on October 7, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Market down another 300 points...changing the subject is going to be an awful tough sell.

Posted by: Quinn on October 7, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

yeah ... but you miss the point, Steve.

why does this newly-found streak of responsibility, public service and awareness suddenly hit those half-wits in the press NOW ?

it's easy to take a stand when a: the rest of the pack has cautiously endorsed the same 'independence' and b: when the actual episode at hand is as obvious as a runaway freight train ploughing through a daycare center.

the global finance system is melting, we have an angry and twisted old POW as GOP standardbearer, and the what amounts to a befuddled contest-winner as his running mate --- and they're standing in front of crowds whipping on the racists and thugs that have come out to listen.

and the brilliant media has picked up on the idea that there may be some nuance required in the coverage here ?

good for them. now let me ask, again: where was this ingenuity over the past eight years, when they were manipulated, lied to, ridiculed and bullied on a daily basis ?

they've always been a pack of clueless hens, and that's what they'll continue to be up until their extinction by irrelevance --- which i put at around 19 months.

Posted by: timeoutofmind on October 7, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

It might have helped us all if Mr. Robinson and his many, many cohorts had accepted this thought process at least on one or two occasions in the last 8 years - we might have been spared G. W. Bush for at least one term.

Posted by: ed on October 7, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's safe to say that the most frequently asked question on CNN (and MSNBC, for that matter) this past week is, "What does McCain have to do to turn things around?" It's a question that is usually reserved for the home team.

But with the Dow dropping, they can't just ignor the economy. The odd thing is that the financial journalists on these channels seem to pretend that the pain is all psychological. The solution is just to think happy thoughts and buy, buy, buy.

Posted by: Danp on October 7, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I'm far from certain that discussing avoiding discussion of the economy is far enough from the subject of the economy to qualify as having changed the subject.

It begs the question of WHY we aren't talking about it. (It stinks on ice and it's McCain's party's fault) THIS much intelligence I give the voting public credit for.

There's still work to do from Camp Johnny Tax-Cut.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on October 7, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

The AP seems to consider it news when a candidate says something on the stump that s/he has said a dozen times before if it serves their agenda.

That's Just What I Said

Posted by: Dale on October 7, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

The press rarely acknowledges the role it plays in something like this, but I recently witnessed a rare example of press honesty from our local WNYC (NPR) reporter named Bob Henley, who usually covers NJ politics here. It was during the Dem convention, following Bill Clinton's speech, and Debbie Elliot, full of faux seriousness, asked Henley, "Do you think that Bill Clinton's speech finally puts the Clinton problem behind the Democrats?" "Not if we keep talking about it, Debbie," Henley responded quietly.

And that's it. Obama has a problem if, and only if, the reporters keep acting like he does.

Posted by: David in NY on October 7, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

"they've always been a pack of clueless hens, and that's what they'll continue to be up until their extinction by irrelevance --- which i put at around 19 months."

timeoutofmind - I agree with everything you wrote. Though this last point - curious - how do you conclude 19 months?

Posted by: Mathew on October 7, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

"[A]re we in the media going to aid and abet the McCain campaign's obvious ploy?"

Yes! The corporate media's job is to amplify whatever the rethugnican message of the day is.

Mr. Benen continues to persist in an apparent belief that the there are legitimate news outlets among ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/AP. I strongly disagree.

For the financial journalists (fancy name for corporate pimps) to pretend that the pain is psychological is consistent. For those of us in our early 60's who have seen more than a 30% decrease in the worth of our retirement investments this year, it is ungodly real. I checked this morning and the $6000 I put into my IRA on the 15th of August is now worth $4200!

Then to have the CEO of Lehman testify that he feels slighted that his company was not bailed out and to argue over whether he made $350 Million or $450 Million over that last 14 years makes that pain double into anger.


Posted by: SadOldVet on October 7, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

The odd thing is that the financial journalists on these channels seem to pretend that the pain is all psychological. The solution is just to think happy thoughts and buy, buy, buy.

I think the growth of so-called business news has been a significant part of the problem we now face. Those shows (cf that Cramer guy) just give securities salesmen a platform. The underlying premise is that the Dow will be at 36,000 any day now, and you, too, will be rich. It's just more air in the bubble. The are guilty as aiders and abettors to the thieves on Wall Street.

Posted by: David in NY on October 7, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if they'd show a little "equal time" to the Palin's AIP support.

Actually, I'm right there with them. If they want Alaska to secede from the Union, that's okay by me. What do we get from the state that we wouldn't get on the international market anyway? It, like most Red states, is a welfare state.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2008/10/07/palins_unamerican/

Posted by: Jeff II on October 7, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

David in NY (2:51) - I could not possibly agree more. CNBC is a 24 hour infomercial. And Jim Cramer is just a pro-wrestler without muscles or tatoos.

Posted by: Danp on October 7, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

"So, unless you're Fox News, why would a legitimate news outlet play along when there's nothing new to report?"

The phraseology implies that Fox News is a legitimate news outlet. Clearly an oversight.

Posted by: Jurgan on October 7, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Chris Matthews tried to handle this question rather well, clearly trying to not allow his Hardball show be a platform for repeating Republican't and McC^nt Campaign lies and distortions.

Oberman and Maddow of course did better, taking the attack right back at Palin over HER AIP associations (she's slept with an Anti-American traitor!) and HER 'Preacher Problem'.

Though I think calling the two of them 'Terrorists' is a bit of a reach.

Posted by: Lance on October 7, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, the pundits' speculation is silly -- if they follow McCain's orders, and talk about what he wants them to talk about, McCain's plan will be a triumph; if not, it won't.

This is partially correct but you left out the required part where McCain's poll numbers have to go up as a result of the media talking about Ayers/Rezko/Wright. If he stays flat or even falls further behind, then it's a failed strategy regardless of whether the media covers it or not.

Posted by: Ron E. on October 7, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't hard to figure out. No, these people are not sheep, they're not stupid, they're not naive. They want ratings and they know their ratings will be higher if the race is close. I'm sure if McCain was ahead by five or more points at this point in the race, they'd be pushing Obama's talking points in order to try and narrow the margin. Sheep? No. Stupid? No. Cynical? Very.

Posted by: Chris in Seattle on October 7, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

For a long time, the media gave McCain a pass on his many lies and gaffes. Also, in response to Republican assertions that questioning or critizing Palin is sexist, the media caved in.

Now is the opportunity to expose both McCain and Palin in all their dishonesty and lack of honor. She has already attempted to blame the media for her poor showings in the few interviews she has granted to media figures.

Posted by: Anne on October 7, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

In my teleporter room there is a device that previews the future and I caught this snippet from tonight's debate:

audience member: Sen. Obama what do you plan to do to help improve our economy?

Obama: The first thing I would do is–

Brokaw: Senator, I believe the question is how can John McCain turn this thing around and save the economy?

Posted by: Capt Kirk on October 7, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

...pointing out when the candidates are exaggerating or lying.

When are they going to start? I know with McCain/Palin at the wheel this would be a full-time job but really, when will the media start?

Posted by: ckelly on October 7, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, the media has already done McCain's dirty work du jour. By talking about what McCain has to do to turn things around, they avoid talking about anything of substance. Sure the economy and the war and the hate speech gets discussed briefly as the compiled list of things McCain has to avoid in order to turn things around. but they're not discussed in depth, and this robs them of their importance. It actually does as good a job trivilaizing the issues as not talking about them at all.

Maybe the discussion needs to be addressed differently. Instead of talking about what McCain has to do to turn things around, we should talk about why things are so bad. THEN we're talking about issues, and then maybe we'll get around to talking about solutions. To discuss what McCain has to do to turn things around is tantamount to asking "how do you think McCain will distract us?" Refuse to be distracted, you won't be distracted, a simple lesson those in the media should've learned while still in grade school.

Posted by: slappy magoo on October 7, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're missing the point. To the extent that the media are mentioning Ayers, Rezko and Wright at all, it's not a discussion of their ties with Obama. It's a discussion of why McCain is bringing them up.

So the mainstream media narrative isn't about Ayers et al, as such, but rather about McCain's lies and sleaziness in bringing it up. The very fact that all the talking head shows are framing the question as "Can McCain distract voters from the economy by lying about Obama" shows that his desperate ploy is a failure.

Score another one for the Obamarang.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on October 7, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Looking at the polls, it is clear that so far McCain hasn't changed a single mind with his negative attacks. The crazies are still crazy, but McCain's overall poll numbers, especially in battleground states, are in free fall. At this point McCain is losing in a battle to save "red states." There isn't a single "blue state" trending his way.

Apparently, when the economy is knee deep in alligators the American people want the guy who seems best able to lead the nation out of the swamp even if he has a funny name and is black.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 7, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Every time a McCain/Palin staffer or the candidates mention Ayers and Obama, the Obama/Biden campaign should counter with facts about Todd Palin's 1990's membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party and Gov Palin's cordial message to them at their convention this year. Then, quote the founder of the AIP (see salon.com), specifically statements he made in the 1990's which may have encouraged Todd Palin to join the AIP. It's easy to find extremism and pro-violence options.

Posted by: MuddyLee on October 7, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Senator Obama, if John McCain were a super hero, what color would his cape be?

Posted by: Tom Brokaw on October 7, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

The corporate media's bought-and-paid-for obsequious courtiers to right-wing power are ticked off at McCain because he is making their job of getting him close enough to steal the election more difficult than they'd like. After all, they are a lazy bunch.

But in the end, though they grumble, they will get down to the work they are so well-paid to do: propagandizing the American people on behalf of America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. and Their Man John McCain.

These are the same people who aided and abetted the character assassination of Al Gore and John Kerry, the glorification of George W. Bush, the blatant theft of two elections, and a war of unprovoked aggression based on lies. You think they will hesitate for even a moment before "aiding and abetting a cynical ploy"?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 7, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The issue tonight is if John is able to acknowledge Obama's presence. The MSM owes it to all Americans to let us decide if his body language (if not his words) implies that Obama is somehow not fit to share the stage with him.

If simple human decency and courtesy are not shown by John towards Obama (Obama is on the record for being polite and civil towards John) then it is up to the MSM to point this out.

It's no small thing, for John's supporters might get the same idea that Obama is "not worthy" and should be treated with disdain and contempt.

So, folks will focus on "the Issues" or the "trivial sh$t" that John will ramble and fume about, I'll be looking for body language and eye-contact.

The problem is, I bet the McCain camp has TOLD the TV folks to NOT let the viewers see what's going on. So...I hope that debate attendees can fill us in tomorrow as to what happened!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on October 7, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

As for "aiding and abetting a cynical ploy", here are some video clips that should give a good idea of what we can expect from On-Air Personality Tom Brokaw as he "moderates" tonight's debate:

Brokaw Hearts McCain: A Video Diary of Love

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 7, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Today, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson urges his media colleagues to resist the urge to act like sheep, asking, "[A]re we in the media going to aid and abet the McCain campaign's obvious ploy?"

It shouldn't even be necessary to ask.

...of course they will!

Otherwise, major media figures wouldn't have been pondering the question of whether John McCain will be able to successfully change the subject away from the economy and towards controversial figures Barack Obama has met; they'd have been pondering who among them would be dumb enough to fall for the obvious ploy.

Posted by: Gregory on October 7, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

I've stopped watching cable or network TV after the weekend hate shows foretold how it was all to go on, Two exceptions: Foreign language TV and Rachel Madow for my hour on the treadmill. Continue to read the newspapers on-line and some reputable bogs. There's just no one out there giving INFORMATION. I'm so sick of talking heads. The times are too horrific to spend on blah, blah, blah, blah.
I'll watch the debates, but if Brokaw manipulates the questions, that goes off, too.
If the economic situation gets worse, the Media won't have enough money to pay their many talking hairdos, and maybe we'll be down to one intelligent commentator or news reporter per show. One can dream.

Posted by: Eve L, on October 7, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Good points and re Faux, but is CNN digging on the Ayers thing? According to Breitbart, the are:
CNN Finds Extensive Ties Between Barack Obama and ‘Terrorist’ Bill Ayers
http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=190343
Breitbart means suspicious framing, but take a look and see what you think they're up to.

Posted by: Neil B on October 7, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

The MSM are in a bind as to the GOP candidates. McCain and Palin are sequestered from press inquiry, so the only quotes and video are their speeches with their wild charges.

The ads are another matter. No tenet of "objective" journalism says you have to give free media time to misleading or dishonest advertising. And all the networks have access to full quotes that are misleadingly excerpted in ads. Air the offending segment, followed by the full quote. This isn't rocket science.

Failure to expose dishonesty in campaign advertising is bad journalism, period.

Posted by: allbetsareoff on October 7, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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