The Great Convergence
As the corporate media excitedly hyped the National Fellatio Crisis that led to President Clinton's impeachment, the American people weren't buying it. At one point, early on, one of the TV networks (I want to say ABC or CNN, but I could be wrong) decided to hold a public discussion about their coverage. It was a live broadcast, hosted by their supposedly most respected on-air personalities, who appropriately marshaled their best thespian talents to present personae of objective gravitas. The very first question from the audience turned out to be an admonition from a woman who did not believe Clinton's personal behavior was deserving of the hysteria. She was off-script, and was quickly told so. One of the TV foofs (I want to say Jeff Greenfield, but, again, I could be wrong) calmly and condescendingly encapsulated his industry's attitude, explaining, in essence, that the forum had not been convened with the intention of allowing the little people to tell the important people their irrelevant opinions, its purpose was for the important people to explain to the little people why this manufactured crisis really and truly mattered! I don't know where the discussion went from there, because I turned it off. But the little people never did buy into the media's narrative, and Clinton's attackers, including the media, suffered for it.
A decade later, little has changed, except that it is now Hillary Clinton who is under attack, there is no single concocted crisis with which to attack her, and many Democrats are now siding with the media. It took them a decade, but the media and the Beltway crowd who never liked, and often hated the Clintons, are on the verge of finally winning. It won't be as fun as would have been forcing Bill Clinton from office, but they have demonized the Clintons to the point that half their own party thinks it's all the Clintons' fault. Certainly, the Clintons have been exposed as less competent politicians than they once were, but the narrative that has been accepted by nearly half the Democratic Party that the Clintons are somehow uniquely politically evil does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny, while the political climate is so toxic that anyone even attempting such scrutiny is now ridiculed and demonized almost to the same degree as are the Clintons themselves.
Two of the blogosphere's most prominent voices have not been party to the demonizing, and nothing in the blogosphere is more fun and fascinating than when they bounce ideas off each other. I'm referring to Greenwald and digby. Yesterday, Greenwald wrote an extensive piece about what McClellan's book has revealed about the corporate media's complicity in enabling Bush's march to war on Iraq. Mary already linked to the article, and I highly recommend that anyone who hasn't done so go read it. Because what's most amusingly disturbing is the way the media reacted to McClellan, once again trotting out the very important people to tell us, once again, what a great job they do, and what a great job they did in the run-up to war. But for the politics, no one would take them seriously, anymore. But the politics is the problem. And digby nails it:
The pressure from those at the top of that network has been known for ages. It was never clear whether this was done for political reasons, business reasons or out of sheer cowardice, but it was obvious from the beginning, no matter how much Chris Matthews protests otherwise, that they were on the same page as the administration in the run up to the war and in the character assassination of dissenters.
Lately, MSNBC has taken a different tack, which many of us on the left are celebrating. Shows like Keith Olbermann's, while late to the party, did help bury the corpse of the Bush administration in the last couple of years and Obama supporters are thrilled to have open advocacy for their chosen candidate on a major news network. But there is danger in this as well, particularly if our side comes to depend upon the kindness of news organizations that operate on the basis of what's in political fashion at the moment.
She quotes Obama supporter Isaac Chotiner's important article in The New Republic, about MSNBC's relentlessly pro-Obama bias:
Dangerously, too, MSNBC's coverage can lead to a perverse sort of cognitive dissonance in viewers like, well, me. Throughout the primary process, I often found myself much more bullish on the Illinois Senator's chances after watching MSNBC than I had any reason to be. After Obama's Iowa victory, for instance, I remember hearing Matthews' description of a giant "wave" of Obamamania sweeping across the nation; surely, the race was over. Likewise, during the month of February, when Obama won eleven straight primaries, I recall watching the network and occasionally convincing myself that Clinton was certain to drop out before Texas and Ohio because her chances had become so diminished. The problem here is that when supposedly "straight" news anchors phrase questions in leading ways, and report one campaign's spin as if it were fact, it distorts what is actually going on in the campaign--even for those of us who make a living obsessing over and writing about politics. And when anchormen themselves shill for Obama, the distinction between his talking points and the truth grows even blurrier still. So, as much as I find MSNBC entertaining, their creation of a parallel, pro-Obama universe is the type of thing I'd expect of Fox. That's when I know it's time to change the channel.
But digby recognizes that the problem is bigger than this particular election horse race, and I would say bigger even than the media's enabling of all things Bush. It's about us. We who were supposed to transform the system by creating a reality-based alternate media.
Those of you still with me know that nothing has more outraged me, this election year, than the blogosphere's failure to continue that process of transformation. It has, instead, acquiesced. There are voices of reason, but they are fewer. There are even still voices of reason at some of the most disappointing major blogs, but they are largely drowned out by the shrill. But even as the blogosphere grows in size and impact, it is growing ever more similar to the corporate media, both in its narratives and its tactics, and what was supposed to become more competent and more reliable than the corporate media has become, instead, but a pale reflection of its worst. I don't care which candidate or candidates you supported or support. They were and are all deeply flawed. I've said that from day one. Honest criticism is important. But the lies, the post-parsing, the invention of false narratives, the deliberately excluding contradictory facts, and the just plain smear tactics that would have made Donald Segretti proud have left the credibility of many major blogs and bloggers in tatters.
As digby writes:
I realize that this seems ridiculous to most Obama supporters who view the press' take on this as being correct, and I don't particularly blame them. (Indeed, I'm crossing my fingers that MSNBC's positive coverage doesn't disintegrate as soon as their nemesis is gone and they are forced to choose between Barack and the manly flyboy.) But to the loathed minority of people like me, who don't particularly love or hate either primary candidate, all this still makes MSNBC as unreliable as it was in the run up to the war. As Chotiner points out, since their friendly Democratic bias seems to stem from an idiosyncratic, personal basis, they are not behaving with any more journalistic integrity than they ever were, it's just that their corruption is benefiting our side this time.
I have always been one of those who felt that the country would be better off if we just had a news media that did its job. I didn't want our "own" network, so much as I wanted a functioning press corps. But if it was decided that the only thing to do was create a balance, I would have hoped it would be because of ideological sympathy, as Fox is, not because it is the latest fashion subject to change at the whim of a fickle public. The thing to remember is that it was only a very short time ago that MSNBC was using the same arguments they are today to impeach a president, help the Republicans steal an election, flog Bush's war as hard as possible, firing reporters and pundits who refused to adhere to the party line.
If they help Democrats beat McCain in the fall I won't be crying about it. But I won't be cheering either, since it's only a matter time before the next shiny object is waved in their faces and it's very likely that it will not be something that accrues to our benefit. These people are still bad for our politics.
And we are supposed to always remember that. We are supposed to be fighting back against them, even when their garbage works to our political favorites' favors. It was a jarring slap in the face to Obama's supporters when the previously compliant media began to attack their hero. I have no doubt that it will grow much worse, once the evil Clintons finally have been dispatched, and Saint Maverick is the opponent. But even those who don't support the Clintons should have defended them from the media's dishonest assaults. Instead, the blogosphere splintered into the shrillosphere, and there was a rabid piling on.
When Markos and Jerome used the term "crashing the gates," it was supposed to be about those who had been politically excluded using modern technology to finally find a way inside. But the presumption was that, once inside, those who had been excluded would change the way things worked. For the better of all. Well, the gates have been crashed, but the change was not what was expected. Now that they are inside, too many have simply grabbed a beer and some munchies, found a comfortable couch, and joined the party.