Friday, June 01, 2007

Necessary Roughness

I come not to bury Fred Thompson; I come to analyze the press about him. In particular I’m fascinated by a story in yesterday’s Washington Post as it seems emblematic of the ways all our presidential candidates get written about anymore. The headline should make it clear “Thompson Bid Would Stir Up GOP Race.” For the press isn’t liberal, it isn’t conservative—it’s a business. And that means it needs conflict to make stories, and the better the conflict the better the story might sell. You might say the political press is in the stirring up business.

This article begins: “Fred D. Thompson will offer himself as a down-home antidote to Washington politics in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, running a campaign out of Nashville while promising leadership on a conservative agenda that will appeal to his party’s base, advisers said yesterday.”

Seems innocuous enough, but it sure does take a longtime for that “advisers said” to roll around; maybe that easy-going manner is part of being down-home. Which advisers say this? Why can’t they get named? Doesn’t matter to Post writers Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz, not that I mean to suggest they are different than most political writers—it’s just this current example of how things work is so egregious. What if just as all the country music from Nashville isn’t real country, all the politicians driving around in their red pick-ups in Nashville aren’t quite real? What is it that Thompson’s done for a living since being a senator again?

It’s great Thompson wants to be thought of “as a down-home antidote to Washington politics,” but shouldn’t a real reporter then say whether this image is true? The Post article runs 800+ words, but not once does it mention the word lobbyist. But that’s exactly what Thompson was from 1975 to 1992, helping pass legislation deregulating the savings and loan industry and representing small folk like Westinghouse and GE.

Of course, actually looking at his record isn’t important to journalists. That he can give them exciting moments to write about is. For here’s what the Post says, “Thompson's entry will have an immediate impact on the battle for the GOP nomination, adding a fourth candidate to the field's top tier.” Ah, impact! Glorious battle! Makes a reporter’s laptop lick its lips (well, you know what I mean).

The good news is the press can still keep Thompson on a short leash. For this article also warns, “‘If you're an instant front-runner, you can't afford a subpar performance coming out of the gate,’ said one GOP strategist, who spoke freely about the campaign on the condition of anonymity [blogger’s note: and kindly said exactly what the reporters wanted to say].” The press can make you, and they can break you, faster than a scream rising out of the Iowa night—right Howard?

We do get this attempt at setting up some trouble:

Although Thompson's candidacy could hurt McCain's campaign, McCain's advisers say they do not plan any major adjustments.

"I don't think that it fundamentally changes the strategy of our campaign, which is to put forward John McCain as a candidate ready to lead from Day One," said Terry Nelson, McCain's campaign manager.

Think about the assumption here—if a new person decides to run for president, you need to change the ways and means you’re running for president, since it’s all about the campaign. Things like ideals, beliefs, values, policies you might propose, that’s all fine and dandy just as long as it can help you win the contest. We’re all too cynical for that “wanting to do what’s best for the country” bullcrap.

And that’s exactly why we’re in the mess we’re in.

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Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Well said, as always...

7:42 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Let me second that. Excellent post, George.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The press isn't Liberal? Give me a break! Looking for conflict is accurate though.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Excellent insights into the "horse race" style of journalism ubiquitous these days. Are journalists acting as mouthpieces of campaigns and their advisors because they are afraid of being labeled conservative or especially liberal?

9:53 AM  
Blogger John Guzlowski said...

Hi, George, you don't know me but I don't know myself so that makes us equals in the eyes of Fred Thompson. I think Fred is a great possible president. The American people can vote for him over and over in repeats on TNT, or is that USA? Keep me posted and let me know if he wins.

2:35 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

The USA Network has got to be the worst tv network ever.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous amy said...

mcconfrontation -- Your just saying that to get into it with Trekking Left.

The media is always pushing the story.. and always happy when the story manifests itself. I hate when they don't point out the contradictions.. it's a good thing we have bloggers like George!

10:14 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Get into what Amy? The merits of the USA Network? There are none! I think this one cuts across party lines...

11:22 AM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

Well, Monk is one of the best shows on television, so USA is not all bad.

And, no, the press is not liberal. That's a myth. If they were liberal, Dean would not have been derailed by one scream. If they were liberal, we wouldn't be talking about John Edward's haircut. If they were liberal, we would know that Al Gore never said he invented the internet. The republicans NEVER get this kind of treatment. The media is so afraid of being "perceived" as liberal that they don't really investigate the right anymore. And that makes them ... conservative.

12:49 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

No no no and no, trekking... Dean was derailed by his scream because you only had to hear it one time to know the guy was off his rocker. The Breck girl's haircut is fodder because our dumbed down society gives more play to People Magazine than US News & World Report. Nobody believes that Al Gore invented the internet, just like we know that there was no connection between 9/11 and Baghdad. The informed citizen can read between the lines, and between those lines we've got Rathergate and a fine couple of books by Bernie Goldberg if you're still not sure that you're wrong.

4:51 PM  
Blogger George said...

McConfrontation--Your air of reason almost hides that you play fast and lose with what those of us in the reality based community call "facts." (I know, Reagan said they were stupid things.)

You seem to argue we live in a "dumbed down society" with "informed citizens"--which is it?

You say "we know that there was no connection between 9/11 and Baghdad" but a Zobgy poll in 2006 says 46% of the people still thought there was a connection and that number goes up to 65% for your fellow GOPers.

As for the Dan Rather hoo-hah, he got the specifics wrong with those dumb memos, but are you going to tell me that Bush fully served his country as a National Guard member? That's an insult to the people who actually do serve.

Bernie Goldberg himself is a partisan hack with a chip on his shoulder--if you want to know something about the media, read Ben Bagdikian who will make clear what a media monopoly means. Do you really think AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T and Liberty Media are liberal? C'mon.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous amy said...

If every person that screams with excitment is off his rocker, Lord help us.

wv: iizdmixi

5:36 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Hey George, I try to speak clearly here because I know I can't get too complex with you people, but you really can't "dumb down" my last post any more than I already have. I'll try again and then we can have a quiz afterwards to see if you've not only absorbed it but been able to assimilate it into something that you can make sense of: "dumbed down society" = the Us Weekly reading Real World Road Rules Challenge watching surfing Mall strollers with the Coldplay in their iPods. These are also the people that make up a large part of the numbers you use to support my assertion. Maybe my mistake in mentioning the "informed citizen" was that I actually thought that people like you and I belonged in a separate category: something akin to "more intelligent" or even "discerning." Maybe I was wrong. So to answer your first question: it's both.

9:19 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

And one question: which news program do you watch on the ever-conservative Disney Channel?

I think you've also just trashed Goldberg's books and you haven't even read them. He doesn't argue that there's a liberal media monopoly. He argues that there's a slant in many cases. This "hack" has also been a visible member of our mass media landscape for over 20 years. Maybe you can explain to me how he's been able to accomplish that if he's just a "hack."

9:28 AM  
Blogger George said...

Much better--when in doubt, go for the ad hominem and give up arguing on the merits of the case. Then you'd actually have to prove something.

9:29 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Merits of what case George? That the media is liberally biased? I did all the arguing I wanted to, citing Dan Rather and Bernard Goldberg, and you throw curveballs right back at me. You claim Rather was confused and then go into slam-george-bush mode, and dismiss a well established journalist as a hack. On top of it you want me to generalize the entire United States of America as EITHER dumbed down OR informed, which is silly. I think you hit the wall on this one. Oh and you use "ad hominem" (it's an adjective) without an object.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

I see your Bernie Goldberg and raise you "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush" by Eric Boehlert. I would also point you to "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" by Al Franken where he shows that there were more anti-Gore stories than anti-Bush stories in the mainstream media leading up to the 2000 election.

Regarding Dan Rather, two points:

1) The producer of that 60 Minutes II segment has written a book and shown it's possible those memos are real. The claims made by the right wing bloggers that typewriters of that time couldn't possibly have created those documents is actually not true.

2) The second part of that 60 Minutes II segment is not in question by anybody (including conservatives). And that's that friends of Bush Sr. got W. in the front of the line for The National Guard. Funny how you guys always leave that out.

2:00 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

I believe I just beat you with a straight flush on the liberally biased media story...

10:02 AM  

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