Media

White Elephant Journalism vs. Termite Journalism

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hopehopehope

Jack Shafer on the coming deluge of pompous post-election coverage:

They've all oversubscribed to the notion that Obama's candidacy is momentous, without parallel, and earth-shattering, so they can't file garden-variety pieces about the "winds of change" blowing through Washington. They're convinced that not only the whole world will be reading but that historians will be drawing on their words. Will what I write be worthy of this moment in time? they're asking themselves….

Reporters do their least self-conscious work when they're startled by a story they hadn't prepared to write. Think of the astonishing coverage of the 9/11 attack, natural disasters, and the 2000 election-that-would-not-end. But giving a reporter (or a pundit) too much time to think about a historic event such as VE Day, the moon landing, the fall of Communism, or the release of Nelson Mandela is like entering him into a grandiosity competition to see who can squeeze the most poetry out of his keyboard. Suddenly, everybody with a notepad and a word processor thinks he's Norman Mailer.

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  1. Mandate! Mandate! Festivaaaaaal of spending and equitable redistribution!

  2. Guy Fawkes Day headline if Sen. Obama wins: Consumers Expressing New Confidence/Financial Markets Looking Up/Race Related Crimes on the rise (actually, just rehashing of “economic” headlines from 2 years ago after the Congressional elections)

    If McCain wins: Consumers See Bleak Future/Financial Matkets on Decline/Race Related Crimes on the rise

    Note: different headlines for exactly the same numbers from exactly the same editors.

  3. I agree that the coverage will doubtlessly be breathless and ridiculous in equal measures.

    I equally doubt that a momentary media-gasm will lead to any change in policy, of the “Mandate! Mandate! Festivaaaaaal of spending and equitable redistribution!” variety.

    Obama will be cautious if for no other reason than that’s exactly what he has been throughout the whole campaign, and the whole first this and that yadda-yadda-yadda means added scrutiny.

    Incidentally, that picture is way creepy, esp. when you go to load the page, turn around to do something else, and spin back to your monitor expecting something not the hope-zombie on your screen.

  4. The media conspirators cannot get to me if I FLEE THE COUNTRY!!!

    They won’t see that coming, no sirree.

  5. Shafer! Mailer wants his word processor back.

    It seems the election of Obama will be a rather significant event in our history, regardless of the job he will do or where he stands on the issues. I suppose I could give Shafer a couple guesses why. Shouldn’t take too long, it’s an easy one.

  6. shecky,

    Because he will be the first President raised by his Banker grandmother because his professional student mom was too busy running around the world working on her degree to rear her own child?

    Actually, he should have played up on that instead of the stuff the press was saying.

  7. Elemenope,

    I hope you’re right. One advantage if McCain wins–other than more gridlock–is that I don’t think he’ll catch mandate fever. Obama looks primed and ready for such thinking, as does Congress.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if Obama, rather than McCain, proved to be the zombie candidate? “Brains. Must redistribute the brains.”

  8. Having a zombie president would be fucking cool. Even better than President Camacho. He could start brain-eating initiatives, go on a slow-motion rampage in Congress (yes!), and infect other heads of state. Total win.

  9. I think this is the reason there is a sense of bias among most concerning Obama’s softball handling by much of the media. I think many journalists have already written this story in their minds and for it not to come true would be unthinkable.

  10. PL,

    I was reading your “brains” comment with the voice of that server guy in the IBM commercials. Sounds good that way.

  11. How long will it take before the inevitable urge among jounalists to innovate causes them to start criticising, taking on conservative talking points, and generally dredging up muck on their chosen favorite? I give it 10 weeks.

  12. Incidentally, that picture is way creepy, esp. when you go to load the page, turn around to do something else, and spin back to your monitor expecting something not the hope-zombie on your screen.

    QFMFT!

    I actually “eep!”-ed

  13. How long will it take before the inevitable urge among jounalists to innovate causes them to start criticising, taking on conservative talking points, and generally dredging up muck on their chosen favorite? I give it 10 weeks.

    They call that there period a “honeymoon”.

    I do occasionally enjoy the part where conservatives are convinced all media coverage is liberal. Whatever makes them happy makes me happy.

    Because when they’re happy they don’t talk as much.

  14. One advantage if McCain wins–other than more gridlock–is that I don’t think he’ll catch mandate fever.

    If you believe that, I have a CDS to sell you. If anything, a big McCain comeback will reinforce the idea of a mandate for McCain-Palin. The idea that people wanted him so bad, they gave him a 7 point comeback in the last week. Even though the Pats were 18-1 and they were 1-1 against the Giants, the Giants talked as if they were the greatest football team in the world after the Super Bowl.

    shecky,
    Yes, there’s a good reason why this is a historic event. Shafer’s point is that we’re going to get some turgid, self-aware, been planned far to long prose about the event. When people are writing about something and have weeks to prepare to talk about historic events, what they write is generally terrible.

  15. I do occasionally enjoy the part where conservatives are convinced all media coverage is liberal. Whatever makes them happy makes me happy.

    While I agree most conservatives bring bad media attention on themselves, Obama has been given a very easy ride by the media so far. I also don’t see that honeymoon ending anytime soon. In fact I would imagine it would take something quite damaging for the majority of the media to turn on him in the first few years. So far they seem to have had little problem playing defense for him.

  16. Mandate! Mandate! Festivaaaaaal of spending and equitable redistribution!

    In other words, business as usual.

  17. Elemenope,

    I don’t view the major media outlets as generally biased (with a couple of exceptions, of course), but I think it’s safe to say that journalists as a group do lurch significantly to the left. That’s annoying to me as a libertarian; I can only imagine how that makes true-blue Republicans feel.

    I will say this much: The honeymoon and mandate-a-thon will only last so long. The media’s political bias is generally trumped by its bias towards scandal and bad news. And since the government’s ability to solve the kinds of problems Obama is campaigning on is limited, the recession will likely make him an unpopular president (McCain will face this problem, too, of course, though he can blame Congress).

    Mo,

    A mandate for what? It’s hard to talk mandate when you’re facing off against a branch controlled by another party.

  18. I can’t stop giggling at the picture. It has nothing to do with what I think of Obama, I just think it’s funny-scary

  19. Anybody want to make guesses on whose words VP Biden will be using for his endless commentary on the new mandate?

    I am going with a slightly modified PM Benjamin Disraeli. I am sure he can pull it off.

  20. I’m guessing a short honeymoon precisely because the media has been so fawning. Journalists are nothing if not self hating deconstructionists. They will turn on him all the more quickly for having been in the tank.

  21. domoarrigato,

    Quicker than they turned on President Carter? But then they came back.

  22. Journalists are nothing if not self hating deconstructionists.

    I’ll give you that they’re masochistic, but I’d be willing to wager the percentage of journalists who have ever read a lick of Derrida is quite small.

    I think it’s safe to say that journalists as a group do lurch significantly to the left. That’s annoying to me as a libertarian; I can only imagine how that makes true-blue Republicans feel.

    It is undeniable that journalists lurch leftwards and editors lurch rightwards. I can’t help but think, though, that the leftward instinct among journalists is accentuated by being beat on by rightists so much.

    And I don’t believe in such a creature as a true-blue Republican. The GOP (much like the Donkeys) are an amalgam of basically incompatible interest-groups; the notion that there is some person that could swallow *all* of one of these major party’s platforms is disturbing, to say the least, considering the absolute number of internal contradictions such a feat would entail.

  23. Pro Lib,

    The Dems are an awful, awful opposition party. Not to mention the fact that as a long time Senator, McCain has tons of relationships in the Senate and knows how it works. He’ll be able to cut deals with the Senate. Add to it the demoralizing effect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory despite the favorable environment and you have the makings of a legislative branch that will roll over like a dog show contestant.

  24. El,

    your probably right about Derrida – it has entered the mainstream though – even for those who have no formal idea what it’s about. Like this website, it’s more fun than real work.

  25. I can only imagine how that makes true-blue Republicans feel.

    SIN! I can’t believe they let a woman do the reporting! And I’m pretty sure that guy is gay – why are they allowed to put him on TV to push his gay agenda on my children!?

  26. Reinmoose as a “True-blue Republican”,

    But wasn’t it homosexual advocacy groups who accused Anderson Cooper of being homosexual? I don’t recall it being the Log Cabin Republicans either.

  27. Like this website, it’s more fun than real work.

    QFT.

  28. wait, anderson cooper isn’t gay!!?

  29. a legislative branch that will roll over like a dog

    and piddle on itself.

    Bushovers.

  30. “It is undeniable that journalists lurch leftwards and editors lurch rightwards.”

    In what universe is this true? Publishers, maybe. Editors, not so much.

  31. In what universe is this true? Publishers, maybe. Editors, not so much.

    Do yourself a favor and look up the 2000 editorial endorsements for president. (I pick 2000 because it was not a crisis year and no incumbent was running.)

  32. The picture is incorrect anyway. Everyone knows McCain is the zombie and Obama is a vampire. Or maybe a dhampir. (See “Bloodrayne” if you don’t know what that is. Or look on wikipedia and save 90 minutes of yout life.)

  33. Obama will be cautious if for no other reason than that’s exactly what he has been throughout the whole campaign,

    I have to say this is the one aspect of his candidacy that gives me any comfort.

    What continues to cause me concern is that he has never shown any appetite for bucking his party. If the Pelosi-Reid supermajority sends him, shall we say, incautious legislation, who knows which reflex will win out. I have a really hard time seeing him veto anything that comes from a Dem Congress; it may come down to the degree that he is willing and able to put pressure on Pelosi and Reid.

  34. What continues to cause me concern is that he has never shown any appetite for bucking his party. If the Pelosi-Reid supermajority sends him, shall we say, incautious legislation, who knows which reflex will win out. I have a really hard time seeing him veto anything that comes from a Dem Congress; it may come down to the degree that he is willing and able to put pressure on Pelosi and Reid.

    I agree, R.C., and it is cause for pause.

    But then I think about the alternatives.

  35. Suddenly, everybody with a notepad and a word processor thinks he’s Norman Mailer.

    Mailer? That hack!

  36. Everyone knows McCain is the zombie and Obama is a vampire.

    You have it backwards.

  37. Jesse,

    Well, that’s proof in my book. McCain reminds me of Jack Palance’s Dracula for some reason.

  38. That vampire pic is golden, but unfortunately not as bug-assed scary as the zombie one.

  39. “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.”

    Techincally an alien and not a zombie.

  40. H man,

    They Live and/or Rowdy Roddy Piper quotes are always a good thing. If I ever become president, Piper is going to be my chief of staff.

  41. Mandate! Mandate! Festivaaaaaal of spending and equitable redistribution!

    My hope is that the upside of the Federal government’s current orgy of debt accumulation will be to turn all ideas for ambitious new ventures like Universal Health Care or invading Iraq into non-starters.

    I mean we’ve gotta hit a point where nobody wants to lend the U.S. government money, and the American people notice the inflation rate and increased tax burdern — don’t we? Don’t answer that.

  42. Mike,

    Okay, I won’t answer your question.

  43. Okay, I won’t answer your question.

    Thanks for being merciful in regard to my self-delusions de jour.

  44. My hope is that the upside of the Federal government’s current orgy of debt accumulation will be to turn all ideas for ambitious new ventures like Universal Health Care or invading Iraq into non-starters.

    Well, you can hope.

  45. “…the notion that there is some person that could swallow *all* of one of these major party’s platforms is disturbing, to say the least, considering the absolute number of internal contradictions such a feat would entail.”

    Heh. QFT.

    It’s a litmus test for detecting the true believer of either stripe. When detected, you just back away slowly…

  46. While I agree most conservatives bring bad media attention on themselves, Obama has been given a very easy ride by the media so far. I also don’t see that honeymoon ending anytime soon.

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