July 27, 2006

Lapdogs

I've read a lot of books on the media, from "On Bended Knee" by Hertsgaard, which documented the media's behavior during the Reagan years, up through Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" and Wolcott's "Attack Poodles". And I've read lots of political books with a chapter or more worth of discussion on the lazy corporate media.

Eric Boehlert's "Lapdogs" is definitely the most thorough and damning indictment of the media I have yet to read. It got me depressed and angry. I found I couldn't read large chunks in one sitting because there was just so much to digest.

In an early chapter, Boehlert discusses "The Note", the political website of ABC News that tends to drive a lot of the inside-the-beltway media coverage. It shapes perceptions among the media elite, and it's astonishing when you pile it up just how hostile it is to Democrats and the ideals of liberalism. Compare the Note's coverage of the Lewinsky saga with, say, the Downing Street Memo or the Novak leak.

Reading the Note will help you understand why the media are just SO BORED with the whole depressing Iraq War thing. Isn't that over yet? Oh, did some troops die today? Yyyyyyaaaawwwwwnnnn. Oh, did Paul Krugman write another shrill boring deficit rant? Pfft, he's not one of the Kewl Kids, how embarrassing for him. If Republicans take a stand on something, it's based on principle (you know, anti-flag burning, Terry Schiavo, etc). When Democrats take a stand on something, it's because they are cynically trying get elected because they really don't have any core values. That's the attitude, and if you don't believe me, just follow it for a few days. It's really amazing just how far the traditional media's eye is from the news ball.

More recently, the media has become obsessed with the "angry left", as though liberal bloggers are the source of all of this unleashed and unhealthy rage that makes it difficult to be a member of the media. Nevermind that right-wing bloggers regularly issue death threats to traditional media members who report things that make the Bush administration look bad (satellite photos of NY Times employees are still up along with home addresses and directions). No, the problem is the attitudes and ethics of liberal bloggers who sometimes use BAD LANGUAGE in their emails! Boehlert has a chapter on this, filled with plenty of examples from the past few years, along with how the media has reacted to both sides.

If nothing else, the most convincing argument Boehlert makes revolves around the media's treatment of Bush and Kerry's respective military histories. Kerry generally acquitted himself well in Vietnam and was awarded medals for bravery and heroism. And yet the Swift Boaters were given all kinds of prominent airtime to make Kerry look bad, even though their stories had all kinds of holes and contradictions and they were clearly full of shit. Contrast the media's parading the Swift Boaters on every news show and front page with what happened to Dan Rather when a minor unconfirmable error cropped up in a story about Bush's military service.

Remember that? The so-called fake memos that eventually led to Rather's resignation? They didn't change the story and weren't even that important to the overall story of Bush ducking out of his service requirement for a year or more, even after getting preferred placement at the head of the line thanks to family connections. The way Kerry was treated in the traditional media, he was only in Vietnam to hook up with Hanoi Jane, while Bush was gallantly defending the Texas coastline from invasion (when he bothered to show up) because ... well, just because that's how it was.

Boehlert also covers the media's abominable behavior in the run-up to the War in Iraq and the 2004 election, and it's just overwhelming, maddening and deflating all at the same time. To read this book and realize we live in a world dominated by this media leaves me without much of a shred of hope that elections will change anything in this country in the near future, despite what the polls may say.

My only hope is that the traditional media model is changing and that more power will tend to flow toward blogs like Daily Kos, which is a community-built website for discussing national politics. Kos isn't perfect, but it is an important tool for understand what's going on in the world. What's needed now is a liberal blog that starts to perform some of the same functions the traditional media used to, which is to employ and publish several full-time investigative journalists but also to just keep up with regular news without a White House OK.

Right now, most blogs are dependent on news organizations for their basic structure. Without news articles to link to, there wouldn't be much worth reading on the 'net. You can only stomach so many opinions in a day. We need a left-leaning (or at the very least non-corporate) news source, and it's going to have to be funded by a sugar daddy. Because it is clear that the big money is going into the outfits like Fox News or the big networks (broadcast or cable) that are all part of the problem.

All of that right now is pie in the sky, and so ultimately this book (for now) leaves me with the inclination to just tune out, drop out and just hunker down and ignore all politics. Sometimes, the world is filled with too much fucking stupidity to deal with. It's like trying to beat back a tidal wave with a leaf rake.

Posted by Observer at July 27, 2006 07:36 AM
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