Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The election is a week away, and the press has run out of ideas.

Has anyone else noticed that Sarah Palin has entered the Michael Jackson/Mike Tyson Zone, where any news report, no matter how out of left field, is now accepted by the public without a bat of an eye? I was thinking about this as I was watching the news coverage the $150K clothes story, because apparently neither I nor CNN had anything better to do. They could have said anything while filing that story - that an additional $20K was spent on an investigation to make sure that the clothes had not been manufactured in sweatshops, that the tailoring of the clothes was carefully monitored so as to make sure that it would emphasize Sarah Palin's chest, that the clothes were partially paid for in bear meat - and we would probably have believed it.

While I'm commenting on this story, can we all just agree that this is a nonsense story? The governor of a small state where stores are habitually restocked by shipments sent on small commercial planes is suddenly thrust into the limelight, and the RNC overspends in order to get her a wardrobe that doesn't say "L.L. Bean" anywhere on it. If you just change how the story is told, it instead becomes a Cinderella moment, but current public perception of Palin just won't allow it.

All news outlets are pumping a "can we trust the polls?" story endlessly, which is cable news code for "we know the race is over but we're still flogging this horse race story because it's all we've got." It is great fun to hear inapplicable poorly-sourced evidence about polls being read one way and then the election going the other, though, especially when it's told as unlikely anecdotes - "I remember a mayoral race in Utah that looked like it was all heading towards this one black candidate..."

Speaking of news coverage, I've finally figured out how the three major cable news outlets break down:
1. CNN is six inches left of center but thinks it's only one, maybe two inches left of center. Every time it thinks this, it moves another inch to the left.
2. Fox News thinks it is two feet to the right of center, and is very proud of this - the lone conservative voice in an increasingly biased world. This is why it hasn't noticed that it is actually four feet to the right of center.
3. MSNBC is three feet to the left of center but thinks it is actually exactly on the center. It also thinks Republicans are stupid and should be taken to task, or at least talked down to. It hasn't worked out yet that these two thoughts might be mutually exclusive.

I separate them out according to this: I turn on CNN if I want to know what's going on, I turn on Fox News if I want gleefully biased coverage, and I turn on MSNBC if I want to huck my remote at the television.

Speaking of gleefully biased reporting, Rolling Stone's latest issue features Barack Obama on the cover. Again. For the third time in six months. Here are the covers in case you missed them:

I remember when I first got Rolling Stone as a teenager how there was always one article per issue that was something wildly partisan and just generally outrageous - there'd be at two-page spread that would just be a picture of a clear-cut section of the Everglades, and a small inserted picture cropped out of some photo shoot of George Bush holding an axe. The title would be "Why Bush Hates Nature: How The GOP Is Working To Destroy The Air We Breathe." And the article would go on for 9 to 14 pages. I remember as a sixteen-year old reading the first of these articles and saying "it is embarrassingly ludicrous for a national magazine to be writing something like this." But the rest of each issue was always good, so I just learned to skip the article each week and just move on.

I re-subscribed to RS about a year ago and have been disappointed ever since. One article has spread to two, and then to three. I don't mean that their heartfelt love of all things Democratic has spread to only three articles, naturally that covers the whole magazine. I mean those articles that are so insultingly inaccurate and accusatory that you only read the description under the title and then just skip over them. On the past three issues, I have made it from the table of contents to the album reviews without finding anything worth reading. I can now finish an issue in about ten minutes. I think I could get more deeply involved in an Us Weekly at this point.

This issue is particularly note-worthy as they savor the results of an almost certain election. Keep in mind I did not make these articles up:

Can The Republicans Steal The Election? The GOP is at it again, detering new voters and discarding Democratic ballots.

Death of a Red State: One rural Colorado voting district is poised to turn left. Is America outgrowing the politics of bigotry?

The main article is of course the Barack Obama interview, the description of which says "Obama's Moment: The Democratic nominee for president talks about how George W. Bush screwed up, why John McCain turned ugly and what he's learned from Bill Clinton." Very tame for them, of course, but the questions in the interview include such robust entries as:

"Were you disturbed by the disdain [John McCain] exhibited towards you during the first debate?"

"In the last two elections, the Republicans worked to supress the vote, especially in Democratic precincts. Reporting by Bobby Kennedy in "Rolling Stone" has raised questions about whether the Republicans stole the 2004 election in Ohio. Are you worried about those kinds of tactics this time around? And what are you doing in advance to keep that from happening?"

[After Obama answers with a 'you said it, not me, but yes we're doing a lot' reply] "But John Kerry said the same thing in 2004. Lawyers are mainly useful after the fact, when it's too late. Is there anything you can do before the fact to keep the vote from being tampered with?"

"Looking back over the past eight years, what's the thing that Bush screwed up the worst?"

Fortunately, they balanced their hard-hitting questions with more standard Presidential questions, like "What did you get Michelle for your anniversary," "what does your staff tease you about," and "if you could install in the White House just one play toy - bowling alley, water polo - what would it be?"

The best is naturally the photo selection, which features the highlights of any good Obama puff piece: a two page spread of a black-and-white photo of Obama gazing out a plane window with a newspaper on his lap, a wide shot of him walking away from a podium with thousands behind him cheering, another black and white picture, this time a shot of him energetically teaching class at the University of Chicago, and him and Biden laughing and slapping each other on the back as they order ice cream in Pennsylvania. Loads of fun.

Reading the article, I was struck by two things - one, that it's a lot easy to take shots at your opponent when the interviewer does all the heavy lifting for you. Whenever the interviewer would say something insulting about McCain/Bush/Hillary/whoever, Obama would give a 'let's all try to be very human and understanding but yes, yes, you're right, that person is absolutely terrible" answer. He comes off looking gallant every time. And two, the greatest failing the Republicans have had this election was to underestimate Obama as a politician. No matter what he did, no matter whether he was right or wrong, he always managed to play his cards correctly on every hand. He transformed an election that was shaping up to be about experience versus change, and made it about change versus lack of experience. The number one worry voters have with John McCain is the inexperience of his vice presidential candidate. Can we just all pause and consider what a master stroke that was? I have no idea how he did it (though, did anyone else notice he's stopped dying his hair?). Even if the press did it for him, he still managed to work everything so that it never bounced back on him. None of the last three debates dealt with Obama's lack of experience. It became a dead issue. That's remarkable.

There's a small box in the new Rolling Stone discussing how the Republicans will likely be losing more seats in the House and Senate again this year, the second election running. You have to ask yourself, how is it possible that Congress could swing left, tally up the worst poll numbers in history, and swing left again? How bad is the Republican political machine these days that they can't make political hay out of the fact that the Congressional poll numbers were within the margin of error?

Something to think about. In any case, tomorrow afternoon I'm doing early voting. There's always hope.

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4 Comments:

At October 29, 2008 6:52 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Excellent observations as always. Early voting? Do they just let you vote whenever you want down there?

I've decided that at least in the presidential election, voting in MA is pointless. Don't get me wrong, I'll still vote. But if I vote for McCain, he only loses with a small number of votes instead of an insignificant number of votes. And if I were to vote for Obama, who cares? He'll win by a landslide anyway. Now if only I could convince enough democrats to stay home because of this fact...

I'm still voting of course, but it really makes me miss the excitement of politics in a state like NH.

 
At November 01, 2008 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, mccain would be a lot more viable as a candidate without a woman who cannot eloquently express any idea behind him. she is an embarrassment to him and his campaign. i think he realizes that. i have always been behind obama, but mccain's selection of sarah palin just cemented it for me. yes, they both lack experience, but she lacks intellect. i want an elitist (in the intellectual sense) for president, not someone that would annoy me in a 100-level course with their inability to grasp basic concepts.

-k

 
At November 01, 2008 6:52 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

You are the first person I've ever heard say that they want an elitist for President. Huh. Your wish is granted.

 
At November 01, 2008 11:35 PM, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous - I'm sure you meant "her" inability. I'm also not sure how McCain can have an idea behind him, and how one would express it if he did.

You might have been annoyed in that 100-level course, but it doesn't look like you did the homework.

 

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