Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Empty Rhetoric of the Pundit Class

It is fair to say that the punditry class and journalism in general has failed America. At the dawn of the new century, we face a myriad of daunting problems and complexities, but the our press does not want to help the people deal with these issues. They want to obscure the consequences of policy and turn everything into a contest, a horse-race. They do this through dis-information and stenography reporting.

A great example of this is Greenwald's recent post on the media treatment of Feingold. He notes
...when Feingold stood up and advocated censure -- based on the truly radical and crazy, far leftist premise that when the President is caught red-handed breaking the law, the Congress should actually do something about that -- the soul-less, oh-so-sophisticated Beltway geniuses could not even contemplate the possibility that he was doing that because he believed what he was saying. Beltway pundits and the leaders of the Beltway political and consulting classes all, in unison, immediately began casting aspersions on Feingold's motives and laughed away -- really never considered -- the idea that he was motivated by actual belief, let alone the merits of his proposal.
They felt it reflected his desire to run for president. That's all they seem to care about: elections. Not who gets elected, but how. Dirty tricks? Exciting! Lying about their opponent? Just part of the game. However, it seems impolite to bring up the substance of someone's policies. For example, I never heard it mentioned by the MSM that Bush radically lightened the tax load and ran up massive deficits, a grave threat to the country, and only the democrats offered to right this problem. Instead, they wanted to talk about a Kerry joke, or how the latest dirty trick du jour showed how tough the Republicans were, how admirable it is that they are so committed to winning. Victory above all (if its Republican).

When the President was caught breaking the law, they decided this was good for him, because he was strong in national security. Nothing about how it violates the 4th amendment to the Bill of Rights. You know, our Constitution. They would let partisans (as in those with an articulated agenda) bring it up, like Feingold. But they would only do it stenographically, and would always post such a comment next to a Republican hack saying there is nothing wrong with this, and you can't enjoy your rights under the Constitution after a scary terrorists kills you and your whole family. Instead of clearly identifying the issue (President determined to violate the Constitution and your rights), the press would just shrug it off as a political dispute with two sides and no answer. They would then cite some polls and note since this was about national security, it helps the GOP and Republicans will use this to attack Democrats as weak, and they will win the election.

The stenography of two positions as equal combined with a horse-race mentality, trumpeting electoral tactics over policy substance, is corrosive to our democracy. When people lie to the press, the press needs to either not print it, or call the liar out. Editors get paid to make these judgment calls. If they could call Clinton a liar, they should be able to call anyone else a liar too. When Bush was on the trail demonizing the Democratic Party, the lead line before any of his quotes should have been "grossly mischaracterizing and at time outright lying about the Democratic position, the President said X before a partisan audience. The carefully screened audience, whom the President forced to take loyalty pledges, cheered on these distortions. The actual position of the candidate Bush disparaged is Y." There are plenty of smart, honest experts out there who don't have a dog in certain political fights. Get their opinion on paper about what it all means. But the press needs to quit going to the well of empty partisanship to pad their reporting.

A national election will roll around every two years. Focus on policy proposals combined with the facts on the ground, and how the two could interact. Honest reporting will create its own dynamic of a more informed electorate that votes based on policy and ideas, not campaign tactics. In the last Presidential election, the press devoted more stories to the meta aspects of the campaign (election strategy) than to actual policy. False narratives were peddled with a straight face (Karl Rove said it, so it must be true!). The pundits only amplified those types of empty discussions.

There should be a real story on the Feingold attempt to censure the President. It should truly examine all the actions taken by the President inconsistent with the Constitution. It should talk about how Republican corruption and acquiescence in the House and Senate helped abet these failures. It should talk about how our forefathers fought and died to prevent these various abuses, like arbitrary and indefinite detentions, torture, and suspension of habeas Corpus. Then, it can talk about the current levels of support in the Senate for such a motion. But no meta talk about this potentially affecting elections, or that national security is a GOP strong spot without any evidence of GOP competence in the field. Reporting the facts in their proper historical context creates changes of opinion. That's what is supposed to happen when new information comes to light. The current punditry merely seeks to perpetuate tired political stereotypes, regardless of the changing reality.

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