8/05/2008

Lamentations of an Educated Voter: Media Malpractice

I was watching television with my wife last night while we were eating dinner. Pundits were still talking about possible racist overtones in John McCain's internet ad showing Barack Obama with Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. The chief pundit then introduced two guests who had completely different views of the ad. When I saw whom the two guests were, I told my wife they were about to start shouting. And sure enough, they did.

"I didn't interrupt you when you were speaking, so don't interrupt me!"

"This is absurd. Are you serious?"

The conversation then degenerated into a discussion about phallic symbols in the campaign ad and how that was an implicit reminder of Black male sexuality and lust over White women. The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Washington Monument both appeared in the ad and were somehow construed as symbols of male sexual organs.

Aghast at what I was watching, the conversation descended yet again to another high-decibel waste of time.

"This is nothing more than the perpetuation of stereotypical Black sexual imagery and must be denounced!"

"Oh, please! That's garbage. You're just mad because Barack Obama finally got called out on playing the race card!"

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! One at a time!"

After explaining what they were arguing about to my wife, who hadn't heard all of the discussion, she then chimed in with her own bit of political commentary:

"They sound like a dog and a monkey. How did they get on TV?"

(A message to the politically correct crowd: My wife, who is Japanese, was using a Japanese expression that says when a dog and a monkey are placed together, they will only fight. Nobody is calling anyone a monkey.)

Anyway, we've been down this road before--too many times in fact. First we had flag pins. Then we had campaign staffers calling candidates "monsters." Then we had John Hagee, Michael Pflager, and Jeremiah Wright. Bowling scores made a cameo before Cindy McCain's cookie recipes took center stage. The "terrorist fist jab" was next. Then Michelle Obama's temperament. And Barack Obama's testicles. Then came the New Yorker magazine cover. And now we're wasting time yet again discussing whether the Washington Monument is comparable to a giant phallus and interpreting it as a sign of latent Black male sexuality. Are you serious?

The main reason why these stories are able to persist so long in the media is that the media simply can't let them go. John McCain's campaign made a clever ad that may have had certain undertones. Or maybe it didn't. Barack Obama tried to preempt the opposition regardless by warning voters that they (his political opponents) would try to smear him in the future using wedge issues. But he erred when he linked John McCain directly to these campaign tactics and paid a political price. We get it. And now we don't care anymore.

And yet, the media can't help themselves. Long after everyone has moved on, this story is still getting oxygen, much to the detriment of both the Obama and McCain campaigns. People who are not affiliated with either campaign whatsoever are now threatening to turn this stupid story into a full blown cultural war at a time when people of all political leanings are more worried about gas prices, retirement security, job losses, and Iraq instead of this nonsense, as Paris Hilton's mother and even John McCain's mother reminded us.

We know the media can't resist a good story. And we know the media love controversies. But at some point, the media need to learn that they don't exist for themselves. They exist for regular people who want to know what's happening in the world and on the campaign trail. The job of the media is to filter out the nonsense and report on what matters. Arguing about racial overtones in an ad is already borderline silly. Fortunately, that is at least a debatable issue. But to prolong this discussion by injecting comparisons between national landmarks and phalluses is jaw-droppingly stupid.

And it needs to stop.

The presidential election process is already bastardized enough by an inequitable primary calendar, an antiquated Electoral College, two out-of-touch political parties, and a crude 24-hour cable news cycle of gotcha journalism that magnifies the trivial and glosses over the substantial. The American people deserve far more than the petty shouting and schoolyard taunts we're subjected to on a daily basis. This is supposed to be an election for the single most powerful elected position in the world, but we're treating it like an episode of Jerry Springer or Melrose Place.

Shame on the media for feeding us this garbage, and shame on us for not demanding more from it. Where is the outrage?

12 comment(s):

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

read this folk crook by another name is John McCain

Schenck said...

Not to prolong this discussion further, but I believe it's "phalli." :-)

Sorry, couldn't resist. And I do share your sentiments. That's why I've stopped paying much attention.

DB said...

As you know my opinion already, it just seems like the media is playing low ball to keep the interests of those who are not in tune to the issues. What honest political minded person would prefer a conversation of complex/nonexistent racial over-tones and nation phallic symbols thanj one on the issues? Well, it is the people who demand entertainment and not politics who are driving the market. The media is a consumer based outlet like most others and are driven by the almighty dollar. I, for one, have stopped watching so much of it. I find that the other 250+ channels have more entertaining things if that is what I am looking for.

S.W. Anderson said...

It's not surprising a news/squawk show triggered your disgust, AP, although this constant barrage of crap is a mediawide plague.

db is right in seeing this as playing to a lowest-common-denominator audience to attract the greatest number of eyeballs. With few exceptions, electronic journalism got sold out in favor of infotainment years ago. The object being, of course, to make more money by entertaining, rather than less money providing the vital service of informing the public.

Today, the average viewer/listener is considered to be on an intellectual par with Beavis, Butthead and George W. Bush. Programming is tailored accordingly.

As could be seen with the Kerry-bashing Band-Aids passed out at the GOP's '04 convention, and now, with the tire qauges mocking Obama's serious and sensible recommendation to help save on gasoline costs, the same lowest-common-denominator approach is standard political fare on the right.

This situation won't improve unless and until a fed-up public demands change and backs the demand up with a refusal by large numbers to watch or listen until change is forthcoming.

Thomas said...

I am not sure if I buy the "blame the media" argument. I think people generally have a belief system and they look for a corresponding media unit that backs up what they already believe.

The media is so diversified now that I don't know what out there has enough clout to paint a candidate a certain way. I think how a candidate is seen is something that people decide on and that is what is picked up by the media.

S.W. Anderson said...

Thomas, I think you're right about people tuning in where what's presented is generally in tune with their views.

But to agree with your second paragraph would be to deny that Fox News and TIME/CNN have a definite agenda and clear record of serving as a conduit for the RNC and Republican campaigns.

In fact, Olbermann reported the other night that George H.W. Bush referred to Fox News poobah Roger Ailes as "our guy," then got all embarrassed when he realized there was a microphone on that caught what he said.

Cast an inquisitive eye toward Media Matters for America's site from time to time. The stuff they catch is glaring, yet millions of passive viewers just seem to accept what's put out for them.

Black Political Analysis said...

I must be honest. I stopped watching the talking heads on tv (outside of Meet The Press) entirely. It was probably sometime in the run up to the 2004 election. I just couldn't take their crap. Besides, I figure, I actually know as much as they do.

Brett said...

Good lord, they've actually degenerated to talking about phallic symbols and the supposed "black man lust for white woman" that has been waved as a bloody shirt by every lynch mob during the Nadir (1880s to 1920s)? Things have fallen much faster in the tv media than I thought; makes me grateful I more or less stopped bothering to -watch- political talk months ago in disgust.

I suppose the only problem, Anthony, is that someone, out there, is actually turning on their television and watching this. He or she must be found and punished. Until then, I'm right there with you; it's appalling how desperate the media has become to manufacture a controversy to cover.

Perhaps the talking heads are nervous that if we stop listening to them making half-assed opinions about non-issues, the networks themselves might decide "Hey, why do we need so many 'political analysts' hanging around?"

Anthony Palmer said...

Sorry for the late reply, everyone. I was a bit demoralized by this whole ridiculous episode.

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DB,

Here's something to think about. You said that the "media is playing low ball to keep the interest of those who are not in tune to the issues." But here's the thing--It's August. And the majority of people who are paying attention to politics in August are probably people who actually do care about it. The average Joe who will vote against someone because his skin is wrinkled or his ears are big is probably camping in the mountains or spending time in his backyard with a barbeque grill instead of listening to Mike Barnacle and Wolf Blitzer talk about...er, anatomy. But I could be wrong.

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SWA,

You know, I actually want to write about that tire pressure gauge nonsense. In light of that, that makes me reconsider what I just wrote to DB. For voters who are easily duped by this kind of rhetoric, I fear that they are the reason why politics has become what it is now. People don't seem to think. They just blindly retort without even considering the asininity of what they're saying. I am aware of how the media want to make a profit by appealing to as many people as possible, but I think it's unfortunate that they have allowed themselves to become a conduit for intellectual sludge.

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Thomas,

I agree with you, but only to a point. I wonder if it's simply a matter of these shows having an hour of time to fill, but not enough real news to fill it? Or I guess they don't want to lose eyeballs by delving into real policy. Hardball and Hannity and Colmes are not The McLaughlin Group, right?

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Dr. King,

The last sentence of what you wrote is key. I'm finding more and more that a lot of these "analysts" on TV are frauds. Bob Shrum is a perfect example of this. There's another Republican guy who commonly appears on Verdict on MSNBC who is another blowhard. I would like to tune them out too, but every so often they will say something that really makes me think. My favorite political show is probably Race for the White House simply because the discussion there seems to be a bit more intelligent and engaging. If you're an aspiring political analyst, the lack of true talent on TV should be encouraging. See you on cable?

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Brett,

You may be onto something. The term "political analyst" has kinda gotten muddied up during this campaign. Now a "political analyst" is anyone who has an opinion. You can be one. I can be one. The ignorant guy down the street who thinks Obama is a sleeper Al Qaeda agent can be one too. And so can the anonymous blogger who doesn't follow the news at all. This bastardization of the profession and the term has obscured the true analysts out there like Charlie Cook, Stuart Rothenberg, Rhodes Cook, Larry Sabato, Ron Brownstein, and Chuck Todd. I feel for the profession, especially since I'd love to be a part of it. Somehow it doesn't seem as prestigious as it used to. We'll see what happens after the election.

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Schenck,

Thanks...I think. ;-)

S.W. Anderson said...

AP, I would welcome seeing you on a cable news/talk show. For heaven's sake, if the eternal, inevitable Pat Buchanan can go on bloviating while pushing his invisible shoebox around in front of the camera for all these decades, they could at least give you a try.

I think the secret is in hiring Buchanan's agent, or one equally adept. That isn't said as any kind of negative reflection on you, BTW, but rather on the sort of connections and hype required to get a guest slot on cable.

Thomas said...

I would totally watch "The Politics Hour with Anthony Palmer" over any other political show.

I even find "Meet the Press" doesn't delve too far away from a politician's talking points.

Anthony Palmer said...

SWA/Thomas,

Well, I'd love to be a pundit. But the problem is having the stomach for all of the nonsense that occurs on the campaign trail each day. Oftentimes, the interviewer or program host will steer the discussion to whatever they think are the hot topics of the day. I was watching Verdict tonight and they spent about 20 minutes talking about John Edwards. I wouldn't have the stomach for it.

I plan on getting involved with campus and local media once classes start again later this month, so we'll see what happens! Thanks for the encouragement.

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