("My flag pin is bigger than yours. Nyah Nyah." Media reaction: So pretty! So savvy! So new!)
These are dark days for American political discourse. The force of the campaign narrative is so strong that the mainstream media has effectively defined itself down as a transmitter of cheap talking points, race-horse polling numbers, high school-level personality conflicts, and "gotcha" scandal-gates. It's worse than I could even imagine, although in recalling my cynicism only a few weeks ago, I had predicted the truth, but I had not realized it fully. When woefully inexperienced GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin was picked, I said:
The last few weeks have shown Palin to be as ill-informed and uncurious as George W. Bush, and even more wed to political strategist-written talking points than the possible WPE (worst president ever) Bush 43. I thought it unimaginable to find even more of an empty-headed blank slate candidate, but the GOP found her. A Sarah Palin presidency could be a combination of Nixon, Bush 43, and the one of the few presidents worse than W. Bush -- Andrew Johnson, the successor of Lincoln, who presided over the post-slavery outrages of Reconstruction, the shockwaves of which are still with us in our nation's race relations.
"She'll read from the script and be media savvy, and everyone will love her."
With the 72-year-old cancer survivor McCain, the likelihood of an elected president serving out one term, let alone two, has never been so low. Greet Sarah Palin, wingnut prom queen bragging of her lipstick, with her finger on the button.
For Obama supporters and change advocates, the "enemy" is not McCain, Palin, or the media even. The enemy is the GOP strategist Steve Schmidt:
He has the pulse on how mass media currently works, and is exploiting the weaknesses inherent in the current, totalized 24-hour-news cycle. TV journalism is the definitive oxymoron, and Steve Schmidt is controlling the media narrative of the 2008 campaign like a fiddle.
Many Democrats wonder how their party has managed to lose so many elections. Simply put, the GOP projects power, which most of the American populace gravitates toward. They'll vote for the more powerful candidate every time, and the "more powerful" candidate is the one who defines the debate and controls the campaign narrative.
The genius of Steve Schmidt since the Palin pick has been his Goebbels-like genius of somehow spiritualizing complete lies and fabrications. I reference the Nazi propaganda minister because of his effectiveness and creativity in manipulating modern media, and fully realize that Steve Schmidt and I are likely in full agreement on the evils and twisted ideology of Nazism. That said, Schmidt's job is to win and nothing else, and no discussion of propaganda, lies, and media manipulation can fail to mention Goebbels. Evil men also innovate.
The lies have been as mendacious as any in my time:
1) John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the GOP will "reform" and "change" Washington, DC
2) Palin said "thanks but no thanks to the Bridge to Nowhere"
3) Palin fought Big Oil in Alaska
4) and most unbelievably, that Obama "called" Sarah Palin "a pig" when he used the phrase "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
The media initially knelt down at the feet of Palin, and is still kneeling, in thanks because she's a new face and media-savvy. Look no further than the covers of Time and Newsweek.
The 24-hour-news folks were as starved for something -- anything! -- to change the news cycle as a heroin junkie going cold turkey. This is simply because they are not journalists, they are aimless chatterers -- a despicable chattering class representative of a sick culture.
Combine this addiction for Something New in the Campaign with the forcefulness of the Steve Schmidt-led McCain/Palin campaign, and we have a dark age in American political discourse. Schmidt felt the media's longing, and decided to out-and-out abuse them. The McCain campaign is the batterer and the media is the battered weakling who comes back for more, sobbing, "I'm sorry! I know it was my fault now! Don't leave me again, please. Just give me some more!"
It's not about lies, or one particular lie -- it's about the power that lying projects. When the media pointed out that Palin, in fact, supported the Bridge to Nowhere, she continued to utter the fabrication. "Never give an inch; hold on to your power" is the rule they've successfully followed.
And the "Obama called Palin a pig!" talking point -- released in an official press release, mind you -- may be the most devious: it's an absolute lie that -- once and for all -- signifies the complete prostration and paralysis of the entire mainstream media to step outside the bounds of the Schmidt-controlled campaign narrative. The fabrication was first reported as fact, spiritedly gabbed about, then mildly questioned, then ostensibly debunked after the damage had been done not only to the Obama campaign but also the credibility of the media. Keep in mind, insofar as the McCain campaign needs to refashion history in order to get elected, the media is their enemy, and I'm sure "media credibility" is at an all-time low (similar to Congress' approval rating).
Yet again, the "he called her a pig!" talking point -- which must be the most juvenile and idiotic media event in our era -- fed the 24-hour-news media's junkie habit. While I've seen PBS, NPR, and the NY Times disregard this faux-"story," and other outlets conclusively report that the "Bridge to Nowhere" talking point was a lie, the essential abusive relationship has been established.
I do not know how the Obama campaign can alter this twisted relationship between the Steve Schmidt-led McCain campaign and the 24-hour-news media. Of course, without altering the overall campaign narrative, Obama has no chance of winning. His highmindedness will serve him even worse than John Kerry, whom everybody acknowledged was more presidential, professional, and capable than George W. Bush. But "the Decider" seemed somehow stronger than his windsurfing foe -- the media was all too eager to support a narrative benefiting Bush, just the same as in 2000, when Al Gore was suddenly a liar about his part in creating the internet.
Now, we've supposedly entered yet another news cycle, with the freefall/recession of the American economy, illustrated by the NYSE dropping a whopping 500 points yesterday. The media let out a collective gasp, "Oh, now the news cycle can get real!" Certainly this was the sense I got from listening to NPR, watching the PBS News Hour last night, and reading the Star-Tribune opinion page and NYTimes columnists.
This would seem promising, but the essential abusive relationship between the McCain campaign and the media hasn't changed. And there are real, economic reasons for this: the news media's stars -- that is, the 24-hour-news cycle media's stars -- have not been, and may never be, affected by an economic downturn -- even a recession! The "journalists" that appear on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and the rest all make millions of dollars a year, and that will not change. Keep in mind, Bob Novak, the outer of Valeria Plame, before his death admitted that he was making well over $600,000 a year for his occasional TV appearances.
But it's not all she wrote, yet. McCain -- remember that guy at the top of the ticket -- has never spoken coherently on the issue of the economy in his life, and the economy, according to the experts, isn't coming back to life for at least eighteen months. And there's a lot of time left in the campaign. It's a matter of how much Obama wants to win, in my opinion.
*The 24-hour news media merely forwards campaign talking points
*Negative campaigning methods can also be effective against the media itself
*Lies function to illustrate power
*These are both strategies freely weilded by McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt
*Unless this "abusive relationship" between the media and the McCain campaign changes, McCain will win