Thursday, July 31, 2008

How media pundits carry the political water for McCain; this fall's Swift Boat for McCain

The media pundits are the Republicans’ October surprise.

Obama has the lead over McCain in the polls. He has a more confident understanding of the economy than McCain has.

Yet, currently many of the television news and discussion programs have recycled, over and over again, talking points from Fox News and from conservative talk radio hosts. The successive effect of a conservative, pro-McCain agenda could winnow away Obama's lead by November. (Look back to 2000, to 2004, note how strong Democratic nominees were in the summer, only to lose their lead by the fall.)

Robert Greenwald, in his 2004 video, “Outfoxed,” detailed how Republican operatives would channel a number of talking points to the Fox News network, and the network would drive its coverage and its approach to interviewing guests, based on the agenda in those talking points. In political science and media analysis, this creating of an agenda is called agenda setting, (a phrase first used by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw). More to the point, with Fox this establishing of an agenda extends beyond a set of topics to defining what are the proper opinions to have on issues. It defines what are legitimate opinions and what are unacceptable, unpatriotic, irresponsible, illegitimate opinions.

Outrageously, this is what is happening this month. Conservative pundits grouse about some part of Barack Obama’s candidacy. What is more upsetting is that Fox News is not alone in carrying the agenda. A broader range of networks –beyond Fox-- are pursuing the conservative talking points / agenda. (Remember, the agenda are both topics and the proper opinion/response to topics or questions.) First, they doubted Obama’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East in particular. So, Obama took a trip to the Middle East. How did these media pundits respond? He’s paying too much attention to the Middle East. He was wildly popular in Germany. Yet, for Obama, this success would be a curse: the pundits dismissed him by labeling him as a mere entertainment celebrity. Little surprise that the McCain camp finds it convenient to compare him to Britney Spears. The media already wrote this script for the public. The McCain camp is merely building on a foundation that the media laid for it.

Taken on its face, the behavior of the McCain camp is simplistic and desperate. But it is disturbing that some reporters and pundits in the media have concerns that are trivial, a focus that verges on the puerile and the inane. Their focus diverges from the issues of governance and policy [what politicians will do once in office]. Who cares that Barack and Michelle Obama gave each other fist bumps?
News flash revision: McCain's ads comparing Obama to Spears has brought a backlash. Even his former consultant John Weaver criticized the ads as childish. About the negative ads, Obama noted that "He doesn’t seem to have anything to say very positive about himself."
Another update: The Republicans smear. And the lies or half-truths get a second generation of circulation, appearing as lead items on television news and on online news sites. After the dirt has been smeared, the sources of the smears might issue retractions or qualifications. Their retractions might not get the extended attention that they had when first introduced. The retractions are likely to have little impact, as the taint has already been imbedded in the public mind. It's nice that the McCain campaign made this concession, but will the networks and the news websites give this vague explanation the attention they first gave to the myth that Obama snubbed US troops in Europe: “It does not seem that Barack Obama snubbed the troops for reasons other than a lack of Photo-op potential . . . The initial reports were less clear.” --McCain campaign, MSNBC, July 31, 2008.

Some media are avowedly partisan. Cheers to Air America Radio's Rachel Maddow (in contrast to biased reporters, she is open and honest about her partisanship) for raising the issue of McCain and the parallels for a Swift Boat campaign against Obama. (The Swift Boat campaign was a stealth campaign by conservative Vietnam veterans to distort and discredit Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in his 2004 candidacy. Their television ads inflicted devastating harm on Kerry’s candidacy.) Yesterday on “The Rachel Maddow Show” she brought to light Freedom's Watch. This organization is poised to discredit Obama’s campaign with the same kind of smears. Maddow pointed out that it has many of the familiar names from the recent Republican past: Karl Rove, the indicted Bush operative, as a lead political consultant, and Ari Fleischer as a press aide. It has Sheldon Adelson, a Nevada casino operator that leased a luxury jet to Rudy Giuliani last fall, as a major benefactor. Reminiscent of Swift Boat, Freedom's Watch is funneling money to pro-McCain veterans group, Vets for Freedom. (Reference links to come: David Saltonstall, "Daily News"; Laura Rozen, "Mother Jones"; Peter Stone, "National Journal" and "Roll Call" via DSCC.)
UPDATE: Here's a more recent Laura Rozen article on the benefactor that could be the "The Right's White Knight", Aug. 8, Mother Jones.

Funny that McCain grouses about Obama’s media attention. Here’s a video by his daughter Meghan McCain. (Formerly an independent, she voted for John Kerry in 2004; this year she registered as Republican -from her wikipedia biography.) In the video she shows a Sedona picnic that the McCain campaign hosted for the press. She gushes about how nice some of the reporters are, referring to them by first name.

For a broader analysis of McCain and myths, see this Nevada-focused blogspot blog.

And how the real media love affair is with McCain himself:
David Brock and Paul Waldman, “Free Ride: John McCain and the Media.”

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