21 November 2008

Of Expectation Inflation... and the Barack Bubble

For those who value the principles that our country was founded upon, the behavior of the press in the 2008 election was deeply disappointing- particularly that of the notionally-balanced, traditional mainstream media. They were at best neglectful of their duty to the nation- and at worst, flippant and borderline treacherous.

When the Founding Fathers enshrined the First Amendment right of press freedom, it was done with a consideration that duty fell to this same press to properly investigate the candidates' background/claims during the campaign process, the performance of officials once in office, accuracy of their statements, etc. Press freedom was to be a right of free people, but also a means to an end; journalists had a requisite function to supply a vital service to America, by providing a fair and efficient system for the distribution of information ... the oxygen of any democracy.

The Fathers were also likely assuming such a free press would foster competition, balancing itself through market-forces, and consequently covering a wide range of opinion. It is doubtful they ever imagined instead a biased, bubbly, and ballyhooing media could emerge, doing handstands in unison and shaking their pomp-poms for one candidate (who they resolutely refused to investigate), while treating as a leper the old friend who's usefulness to them had run-out, (former) press favorite John McCain. Obama's MSM sycophants, such as Chris Matthews, Katie Couric, and Brian Williams, in an act of monumental ingratitude, basically gave the Founding Fathers "the finger" with this shamelessly prejudiced group-think.

With the exception of right-leaning Fox News, it often appeared as if the MSM were trying to out-cheer and out-slander new media competition on the left like the Daily Kos and Huffington Post, dropping the once-valued principle of at least some semblance of balance like a hot potato. This was similar to how network TV simply walked away from prior standards of TV probity in a bid to compete with cable television's more-racy fare in the early 90's... they didn't think they had a choice. And in addition to any political bias/elitist arrogance, the media also seemed to have reached the conclusion that the role of unbiased observer simply no longer fit their business model.

Some of the MSM's talking heads have recently admitted the obvious, that they harbored a pro-Obama agenda all along... and seem to see absolutely nothing wrong with this. MSNBC's Chris Matthews states "it's my job to see that Obama is successful". I thought he was there to report the news, but Matthews has deemed it now preferable to model his work along the lines of the Soviet Union's ITAR-TASS, for some reason.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism just published their findings in a study of recent campaign coverage. Ironically, they didn't find much excellence. Instead, the data points to a strongly negative tone in coverage of McCain... in contrast to far more positive coverage for Barrack Obama. Senator McCain had one-third less positive stories... and twice as many negative ones.

In an attack that appeared concerted, the character-assassination of Sarah Palin as carried out by the media was probably more valuable to the Obama campaign than any other single event, save the financial crisis. According to Pew, Governor Palin endured triple the amount of coverage Joe Biden received... with 72% of that glaring spotlight either negative, or "neutral" in tone. And once the afterglow of her strong convention performance receded, the media came at her with guns blazing. While they couldn't effectively deny her popular appeal, they simply neutralized the unavoidable reporting of her success with diversionary, petty issues- like "Troopergate" (where she tried to protect the public from an alky rogue cop who tasered a 10-yr old ), private family issues, hypocritical feminists' diatribes, a handful of Alaskan malcontents... death by a thousand cuts.

The revelation that CBS's Katie Couric interview of Palin was edited to make her appear foolish was beyond-the-pale... but ABC's Charles Gibson reportedly did the same in his interview too. It then emerged that Couric was actually coached by pro-Obama advisers on how to "handle" Palin in the interview. As for the print media, the slanderous and disingenuous "Us Magazine" cover "Babies, Lies, and Scandal" was particularly appalling.

Conversely, there was little attention paid to loose-cannon-supreme Joe Biden's countless howlers, such as "FDR went on the television" to address the nation re. the depression in 1929... a year in which there was no public TV, no depression, and no President Roosevelt. The MSM's general lack of interest in Biden could be perhaps be explained in that if editors wouldn't approve negative coverage of Biden (no shortage of material there), perhaps the writers were too lazy or preoccupied to tackle the daunting challenge of producing a positive piece on this wholly-unimpressive and misguided career apparatchik.

The incredible display of arrogance and lack of journalistic principle in the 2008 campaign was akin to suspecting that a long-trusted friend (who's opinion you often seek and value) has been manipulating you for over a year- then suddenly one day they admit it, saying "Yeah, I lied to you... so what?- I know what's best for you anyway, stupid."

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch had some interesting observations last week re. the future for the (rapidly fading) newspaper business. Murdoch said the profession may still have a bright future if it can weaken the grip of journalists and editors who have lost the trust of their readers- "... it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters, and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers".

Murdoch, whose company's holdings also include new media assets such as MySpace, criticized what he described as a culture of "complacency and condescension" in some newsrooms.

"The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly-and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted. The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception."

He added: "Journalists like to think of themselves as watchdogs, but they haven't always responded well when the public calls them to account." He then used the example of CBS's reaction to bloggers disproving Dan Rather's 2004 "60 Minutes" report (that falsely claimed President Bush had evaded service during his days in the National Guard).

"Far from celebrating this citizen journalism, the establishment media reacted defensively.... a CBS executive attacked the bloggers in a statement that will go down in the annals of arrogance: '60 Minutes is a professional organization with multiple layers of checks and balances'. The executive then went-on to demean the bloggers that had caught Rather lying as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas, writing" In the end, as is now the stuff of blogger lore, Dan Rather and his producer consequently resigned in disgrace.

Murdoch continued: "A recent American study reported that many editors and reporters simply do not trust their readers to make good decisions. Let's be clear about what this means. This is a polite way of saying that these editors and reporters think their readers are too stupid to think for themselves."

Post election, the media's Obama-fest is getting worse, if anything... with their vexatious victory lap inflating expectations beyond anything that can be reasonably expected. Since they are a capitalist enterprise, media outlets cannot be blamed for trying to cash in on any trend that they can. And, it is natural for the country desire re-unification after a long, bruising campaign. But the irresponsible promotion of the bloated Obama myth by the media has definitely entered some new and risky territory- now far past the point of helping him in any practical way.

With print media in decline, and in a terrible economy, newspapers are elated at having to run the presses overtime to meet demand, and the sound of cash-money has been addictive. As for the TV networks, NBC is releasing an Obama DVD; ABC (and USA Today) are publishing books; and HBO will soon be showing a documentary on the campaign. Of course, serial flatterers Time and Newsweek are going all-out with nonsensical, even tacky portrayals of Obama as FDR, "Camelot II", etc. when the man hasn't even taken the oath, nor accomplished one thing as president... and yes, precious little as senator too. Interestingly, one of the only publications taking a more realistic, wait-and-see approach is the UK-based Economist (which actually endorsed Obama): "With such a victory come unreasonably great expectations" states last Friday's editorial.

Come January 20th, it will be time for Mr Obama to earn our respect... and he's got a lot to prove to the less-smitten amongst us. Perhaps the press should consider taking a break from their self-righteous gloating and moralizing, and drop the premature and baseless assertions about how we have now "shown the world" that we are nice and moral after all, and have chosen a "cool" president, so we're obviously not racist, militarist- or anything like that.

Truth is, this rookie QB may have entered the NFL draft a bit early... especially considering that he never once took a snap in college. In his pending big-time debut, facing a daunting situation that would make even a seasoned vet a little shaky, the kid's about to be handed the ball at his own 5-yard line... and is hoping against hope his (media) blockers can provide adequate protection.

President John F. Kennedy had affected a serious tone in the 1960 campaign, to counter for his young age and limited experience. Soon after the victory over Nixon however, the narrative took on a life of it's own, of "Camelot" fame. The press and country simply went ga-ga over the handsome, charming, and articulate young president and his photogenic family... and it appeared to many to be the dawn of a new era.

Despite his popularity and seemingly-impressive cabinet, Kennedy promptly stumbled into the Cuban Bay-of-Pigs debacle, in which he was comprehensively outwitted by Fidel Castro. JFK was again tested soon thereafter by the Soviet Union's aggressive nuclear brinkmanship on that very same island, just 90 miles from our shores... which brought the world to the precipice of WWIII. He later proceeded to launch our ill-fated move into Vietnam in a most ineffective manner.

So, despite a few historical speeches- Kennedy's Chicago gangster connections (sound familiar?), serious strategic errors, shameless promiscuity, and other character flaws have left his legacy in tatters. To some students of history, the media's dubbing Obama's White House "Camelot II" is really not a compliment... more like a bad omen.

Obama's image as an all-knowing, transformational savior surely won't last forever, as reality is bound to intervene. It may be advisable for the president-elect to dampen the expectations that are now snowballing out-of-contol. He has made a number of seemingly contradictory pledges in the campaign, as well- what happens when he makes decisions that inevitably disappoint a section of his erstwhile supporters?

There was in the 2008 campaign still some that counted on major network broadcast/cable news for much their political due diligence. But, the day will come when many realize that they were sold a bill of goods in the heavily biased coverage of the election. They will also likely come to see just how badly they were condescended to, by a media that felt it had the right to make decisions for them... rather than put all the facts on the table.

This dawning realization of having been done wrong will perhaps come after the first international strategic setback; insatiable enemies such as Al Qaida and the Iranian regime care little if we, "The Great Satan", think that we elected a "historical" and "transformational" candidate. These enemies' ambitions aren't going to change, far from it- their agenda doesn't allow for that. And allies like Israel are planning unilateral, self-sufficient military plans... both defensive and pre-emptive in nature. As history has shown us repeatedly, simply desiring peace, or attempting to attain it through appeasement provides little in the way of national security.

The media continues to irresponsibly inflatethe Barack Bubble, with ludicrously high expectations now pushing his approval rating to 70% for doing nothing... while he faces the most daunting challenges any incoming president has in decades. Unless simply a ploy to maximize ratings and newspaper circulation, it's hard to see the wisdom for creating such exaggerated suppositions. If they are seeking confirmation from the electorate after attacking the Bush administration for years, it now seems a substantial gamble to be placing a continued unhedged bet on the least qualified president in US history.

Mr Obama faces a number of complex issues, and tends to offer liberal solutions that have failed in the past. The lack of checks and balances in a Obama-Pelosi-Reid regime is another cause for concern. And with a still unfolding financial crisis, two unfininshed wars, and other military rivals probing for weakness throughout the globe, satisfying the current level of reverie while avoiding pitfalls would be difficult for even a the most seasoned leader... which Obama so clearly is not.

Any major disappointment with the Obama Administration would make it unlikely that the MSM are ever-again taken seriously by voters. The American mainstream media have piled all their chips on blue like a Vegas down-and-outer, in what seems a last-ditch attempt to restore some relevance to themselves in the age of new media.

Now that they've boosted Barack Obama sky-high, what are they going to say when he falls back to earth... or something worse, like a real political crash-n-burn?