Brad at Sadly No! sums up our elite media’s attitude towards this election:
Whatâ€™s been generally amazing to me about this convention is how much the talking heads focused on personality-based elements: â€œHave Barack and Hillary made up yet? Is Michelle Obama a scary, angry black woman, or is she a phony pretending not to be a scary, angry black woman? What do the Democrats have to do to prove that they donâ€™t hate America?â€
Absolutely nothing about policy, absolutely nothing about the disaster that the past eight years of right-wing rule have wrought upon the country and the world. Itâ€™s all one big soap opera for these assholes, and as long as theyâ€™re entertained, Rome can burn.
Funnily enough, like addicts, some in the media can even talk about their own depravity, even though they’re powerless to stop it:
Stephanopoulos stated bluntly, “it’s just not true that these issues are not being discussed.” He’s right, of course. They are being discussed, but in many cases, far from sight. Take the recent news out of Iraq, where withdrawal timetables are suddenly, plainly, a part of negotiations between the Bush and al Maliki governments. This development had its origins in a congressional hearing back in June, where Iraqi Parliamentarians began the steady push for U.S. withdrawal. To get that news, one had to turn to the Washington Independent. So far as I can recall, this story was not given much play in network or cable news. It was certainly never discussed on Sunday! But these hearings presciently bespoke the Iraq turning point we have arrived at today.
Can you imagine if Maliki had endorsed John McCain’s plan for endless occupation of Iraq? Bush moved to Obama’s position on Iraq qualitatively, with not much variance quantitatively (thoughts go out to the troops who will die that extra year, hopes that Obama will expedite the process). That should be an earthquake for journalists. It should be topic NUMERO F’ING UNO, the hot buzz, the big story about the ultimate vindication of what Barack Obama and the Democrats have been saying about Iraq for a long time, and…we’ve gotten pure gossip. We aren’t even treated to some blathering about how Bush taking Obama’s position and contradicting everything McCain has said about Iraq is really good for McCain. It happened, and it just failed to register. Not news. Iraq is so OVER! Let me show you some real news:
“Did you hear McCain talk smack about Obama? It was totally f’ed up! Is Obama gonna let him punk him like that?”
The media is completely uninterested in the election as a debate about policy and how to run the country. If they do care, they pretend they’re trapped in the system. They like to call themselves the fourth branch of government, but they don’t care. They’re selling advertising. A reminder of what we’re dealing with here:
(CHOMSKY:) So what we have in the first place is major corporations which are parts of even bigger conglomerates. Now, like any other corporation, they have a product which they sell to a market. The market is advertisers — that is, other businesses. What keeps the media functioning is not the audience. They make money from their advertisers. And remember, we’re talking about the elite media. So they’re trying to sell a good product, a product which raises advertising rates. And ask your friends in the advertising industry. That means that they want to adjust their audience to the more elite and affluent audience. That raises advertising rates. So what you have is institutions, corporations, big corporations, that are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses.
Well, what point of view would you expect to come out of this? I mean without any further assumptions, what you’d predict is that what comes out is a picture of the world, a perception of the world, that satisfies the needs and the interests and the perceptions of the sellers, the buyers and the product.
Now there are many other factors that press in the same direction. If people try to enter the system who don’t have that point of view they’re likely to be excluded somewhere along the way. After all, no institution is going to happily design a mechanism to self-destruct. It’s not the way institutions function. So they’ll work to exclude or marginalize or eliminate dissenting voices or alternative perspectives and so on because they’re dysfunctional, they’re dysfunctional to the institution itself.
Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it’s diversion. There’s the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack — that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people’s brains.
The Republicans have found this system exceptionally advantageous to their needs, bitching about the “Librul media” aside. They do not have the public on their side when it comes to the issues, and so they need this distraction, these diversions from the issues. When the media gossips, Republicans do better because they’ve engineered their campaigns around avoiding the issues. The entire structure of their discourse is built around making sure no substantial conversation actually happens. Thirty second soundbites are good for advertisers, and the Republicans know their market, playing them like any amoral salesman would.
Have you ever worked in sales? People who have know it’s about figuring out how to game people, how to say exactly the right thing at the right time that will manipulate them to give the desired response. You may end up saying things that aren’t true, but it’s not your fault because you have bills to pay and you need that commission. And if you game them into signing what you want them to sign, you tell yourself, “I’m giving them what they want. I’m not culpable.” Our media behaves the same way, acting like journalists to the extent that it will drive headlines, ratings, revenue, and correspondingly their own star. They go through the motions of doing their job, but in their minds they always carry the lessons they’ve learned. They remember what got other journalists ahead, and what got them promoted. The barking from editors…about readers, editions sold, ad revenue. They don’t want to say their readers are stupid, but they will write stupid pieces and mutter to themselves, “This is what interests people.” The art of sales is to know people are able to be fooled, yet never admit you are fooling them, unless you have figured out a way to fool them still.
By understanding how our media works, we can better neutralize the damage they do and game them in return to give us what we want: for them to do their goddamned jobs. I have a simple wish for the election: that it be about substance and policy at least as much as it is about personal gossip and playing favorites. Is it so much to ask for the media to acknowledge that the Democrats are giving the people the policies they want? Or are they so threatened because, unlike them, we give with genuine intent?
P.S. Forgot to tell this tale of Beltway media incest! Did you help George W. Bush screw up America? You get a job, Sir!