Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Columbo Journalism

Everyone remembers Lieutenant Columbo - his rumpled raincoat, his battered car, and especially his infuriating habit of getting halfway out the door then turning and saying, "Just one more thing..." when you think you've finally gotten rid of him. The continuing insanity of the press over Sarah Palin is taking the same form - they just can't stop themselves from trying to get the last word.

Media people are very sensitive to trends - how many of my favourite TV shows have been cancelled after half a season, because the ratings didn't meet expectations? When it comes to commercial TV, the media have the sensitivity of a spider, feeling the slightest tremor on the edge of the web and responding. But in this case, their professional acuity has failed them. It's been two weeks of negative coverage on Palin, and by now the numbers are in: McCain/Palin have pulled into the lead over Obama/Biden in the polls. Since September 1 their positions have practically reversed - if this were a sitcom, a bunch of new writers would have been drafted by now, but the media can't or won't stop running the same loser articles that have stalled their hero's rise.

Some of them have recovered their wits enough to recognize that sneering hit-pieces on Palin's children, husband, church and small-town origins are counterproductive, but this thin veneer of rationality isn't enough to hold back the torrent of rage that keeps erupting, even when they try to control it.

The New York Times devoted an entire article to pedantically listing all the gripes of the losing team in Alaska, and lecturing their readers on why people who like Sarah Palin haven't got one good argument in their favour.

Bob Herbert helpfully points out that she's as "dimwitted" as the hockey moms who like her.

Frank Rich wrote a piece incandescent with hatred for the vitriolic, anti-Semitic, gay-hating, atavistic Republican Party, and the "woebegone, frightened opponents of change, sworn enemies of race-based college-admission initiatives", the credulous dupes of lying "flashy flim-flam". (And that's just from the first page of his 2-page primal scream.)

And the NYT finished off with a nice editorial harrumphing that Mrs. Palin wasn't obsequious enough when speaking of the advantages of spending "decades and decades in that Washington establishment". I know the Times thinks that "we were all supposed to think of Joe Biden", but I thought of pretty well everyone in Washington. And most people think the same way - term limits was a solution to a general problem, not one restricted to the guy who happens to be running for VP for the Democrats.

Now, those weren't special and unusual articles about Palin and the Republicans - there are lots more. The point about them is that they were all published within the last 3 days; in other words, long after the overnight ratings on the smashmouth show against Palin have come in. And yet the Times still can't resist trying to flog this dead horse some more.

The Times isn't the only example, of course, but it is the most powerful voice shouting a losing message to people who are rapidly refusing to listen at all. But like a nagging shrew, they keep reiterating it again and again, somehow thinking that if they badger people enough, they'll get the last word, and somehow that counts as winning the argument.

The "just one more thing" impulse is infecting everything the pro-Obama liberal press writes. Today's big story is the ongoing Wall Street meltdown. E.J. Dionne couldn't manage to write an article on that without throwing in another nag about Sarah Palin.
Over the weekend, the moneyed class became much more vulnerable. The foolishness of our financial geniuses now threatens to bring economic sorrow to Main Street. Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 attack on "the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties" never sounded so up to date.

Americans don't mind wealthy and even rapacious capitalists as long as they deliver the goods to everyone else. But when the big boys drag everyone else down, Americans rise up in righteous anger. The New Deal political alignment endured for decades because the financial elites were so profoundly discredited by the Great Depression. The New Deal coalition dissolved only when prosperity began to seem durable and only after the GOP discovered the joys of baiting Hollywood, the media and the academy.

There is always something slightly phony about anti-elitist politics. Plenty of investment bankers are Democrats, and Republican politicians who claim to speak for devoutly religious cultural conservatives are usually far removed from the world (and the values) of those whose votes they court and whose resentments they stoke.
So far, so good; there is certainly a lot of theatre in politics, and rich men are to be found in bother parties. But "just one more thing"...
For good measure, McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. A religious and proudly gun-toting mom, Palin has turned expertise itself into a badge of elitism, proclaiming pleasure in her lack of a "big fat resume" that "shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment."
And this connects to the crossover among elites how, exactly?
But anti-Washington politics is itself rooted in the interests of the financial elite. When the private economy goes haywire, it is always the federal government that has to step in.
Except this time. But never mind - the real point is that even when you're an outsider, you're an insider. Even when you're middle-class, you're rich. Even when you're down-to-earth, you're elite. And just one more thing:
For some time, McCain's strategists figured they could deflect attention from the big issues by turning Palin into a country-and-western celebrity and launching so many ill-founded attacks on Obama that the truth would never catch up. The approach of the McCain strategists reflected a low opinion of average voters and some Obama supporters began worrying they might be right.
It's not hard to find examples; the hard part is stopping. "Sarah Palin's Retrograde Gender Politics" by Courtney Martin, tells us that "What should irritate women voters and certainly enrage former Hillary supporters the most is that Palin consistently downplays her own ambition and intelligence." But damn those so-called "women"; they're not enraging on cue they way they're supposed to!

As I said, this is another up-to-date white-knuckle shriek of rage dating from...yesterday. Any thought that the press was simply caught off-guard two weeks ago, and their smears and slanders "just slipped out" should be dispelled by now. They know every one of these rants loses Obama some votes and cements others for McCain, but they don't care. As Mark Shea says, They. Can't. Stop. Themselves.


Blogger Priscilla said...

I was a lukewarm Sen. McCain supporter just to assure the defeat of Sen. B.H. Obama. When he had the intelligence to pick Gov. Palin, I became an avid supporter. My daughter have volunteered many hours at the county GOP headquarters and plan to spend many more to get out the vote.
May I recommend the "Palin for VP" website


which posted the press conference statement concerning the "independent investigation" of Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about out of touch, I haven't heard anybody use the adjective "country and western" to describe "country music" in 30 years.
Dionne, who no doubt is a cousin of our Stephane, is probably basing his knowledge of contemporary working class people on the "Nashville" movie.

11:43 pm  

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