Thursday :: Mar 13, 2008

Post-Parsing and The Great Convergence


by Turkana

Because so many dishonest bloggers deliberately misrepresented Hillary Clinton's answer to the question of whether or not Barack Obama is a Muslim, it's worth taking another look at this article by Eric Boehlert, of Media Matters:

Less than one second. That's how long it took Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to answer, "Of course not," to Steve Kroft's question on 60 Minutes about whether she thought Sen. Barack Obama was a Muslim. You can time it yourself by watching the clip at YouTube.

Still, that didn't stop MSNBC's Chris Matthews from complaining on-air last week that it took Clinton "the longest time" to answer Kroft's question.

Lots of eager, tsk-tsking pundits and reporters agreed. They said Clinton was guilty of "hemming and hawing" in response to Kroft's peculiar, repeated insistence that she make some sort of declarative statement about her opponents religious beliefs. And then when she did, Kroft asked that she do it again. That's when Clinton, looking befuddled by the multiple requests, added some qualifiers to her response, including "as far as I know."

Of course, in the shrillosphere, and in the corporate media the shrillosphere has come to so perfectly emulate, it was that last qualifier that got all the attention. It was as if Clinton had said that she does believe Obama is a Muslim, and a jihadist and a terrorist, too. That line was taken out of context, both in text and video posts, and in one prominent example was used as the lead-in to a video post that only buried the full response minutes inside. As if done by accident. As if that little line was somehow more important than Clinton's initial response- the one that took less than a second to make. As if deliberately creating an inflammatory false initial impression was somehow mitigated by adding the context later. As if no one viewing such drivel understands filmmaking or advertising.

What stood out in the exchange was not Clinton's responses, but Kroft's weird persistence in asking a question that Clinton addressed unequivocally the first time, as though he was trying to draw out something she was not saying. Even more peculiar was Kroft's obsession with the Muslim question amid a 60 Minutes report that was about Ohio's shrinking working class and what Clinton and Obama were going to do to try stop of the overseas flow of U.S. manufacturing jobs. (Note to Kroft and the rest of the media: Obama is not a Muslim; Clinton knows Obama is not a Muslim; Clinton does not believe Obama is a Muslim. Clinton made this very clear.)

And among the corporate media sources that also deliberately misinformed their readers and viewers, by similarly selectively editing, Boehlert names NBC, MSNBC, The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post. Of course, we expect dishonesty from the corporate media, and particularly when it involves the Clintons. We don't expect it from supposedly liberal bloggers. We don't expect it from a new media that was supposed to challenge the corporate media, and offer a more honest alternative. But this campaign season has seen the end of the blogosphere as a credible alternative. It has seen some of the most popular supposedly liberal blogs and some of the most prominent supposedly liberal bloggers descend into the worst type of mendacious smear campaigns- against a fellow Democrat.

When people suggest that the press employs a separate standard for covering Clinton, this is the kind of episode they're talking about. There simply is no other candidate, from either party, who has had their comments, their fragments, dissected so dishonestly the way Clinton's have been.

The fact is, if you look at Clinton's exchange with Kroft in its entirety, which lasted less than one minute, I count eight separate times in which she either plainly denied the false claim that Obama was Muslim, labeled that suggestion to be a smear, or expressed sympathy for Obama having to deal with the Muslim innuendo. Eight times:

But eight was not enough. Less than a second for the initial response was not enough. Because there is literally nothing Hillary Clinton can say or do that won't be dishonestly used against her. By the corporate media. By the shrillosphere.

The 60 Minutes controversy -- specifically the intense media spin it sparked -- highlights a disturbing rise in a new form of campaign journalism, which might be best described as post-parsing.

Here's how it works: A candidate (almost always Hillary Clinton) makes a statement, any statement out of the thousands made on the campaign trail each week, and that statement is seized upon by the chattering class and then dissected in order to determine what the real intention was. Experts pore over the text and announce what the candidate should have said during an impromptu exchange with the media. It's not that the statement in question is wrong, or blatantly malicious, it's that the statement wasn't quite right. It should have been a little bit more this or a little more that. Plus, based upon the pundits' expert training and analytical skills, they're able to spot a deeply disturbing, unspoken meaning right below the surface. Alarmed, they then rush to alert voters.

Experts and amateurs. Paid and unpaid. Corporate media or shrillosphere. I've begun to call it the Great Convergence: the formerly "reality-based community," both in form and content, adopting every characteristic of the corporate media.

Boehlert links to this earlier analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review, which debunked the earlier smear that Clinton had been race-baiting, when she made her Martin Luther King/Lyndon Johnson comment. Similar examples abound. But each lie is repeated often enough that it becomes accepted truth. The next lie is added to the earlier one, and soon an entire pattern emerges. A pattern of lies that is taken as truth. An alternate reality.

Have people associated with the Clinton campaign made racist remarks? Yes. Have people at the top of the Obama campaign? Yes. Does Clinton get called out for everything said by everyone even loosely associated with her campaign? Of course. Does Obama get called out for anything said by anyone even at the top of his campaign? No.

Let me be clear: I do not believe either of the Democratic candidates is engaged in deliberate race-baiting. I do believe some of the people around them have been. I do not hold the candidates personally responsible for everything said by anyone even loosely associated with them. I do hold them responsible for what they do or don't do when such behavior is exposed. But the double-standard could not be more obvious. Both in the corporate media, and in its mirror, the all-new shrillosphere.

Turkana :: 3:10 PM :: Comments (20) :: Digg It!