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Blame It on the Media

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Posted on Apr 15, 2008
Barack Obama
AP photo / Charlie Neibergall

By Stanley Kutler

It was inevitable for Barack Obama to beat a retreat from his recent remarks about his difficulty in reaching Pennsylvania’s working-class voters. The railroad, coal and steel jobs that once fueled the Pennsylvania economy have declined dramatically for several decades. Obama noted that the frustrations and anger of working-class families determined and dominated their voting beliefs. “It’s not surprising, then,” he said, “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Our intrepid media, always anxious to find mountains where molehills exist, declared a state of war, signaling Hillary Clinton to do her thing. The cable networks, particularly MSNBC, which barring a weather calamity or a missing child, seems to report politics to the exclusion of everything else, were in battle mode, anxious for what some called a “full-blown political disaster.” And they certainly tried for one. Clinton predictably blasted Obama, saying she was “taken aback” by his “demeaning remarks,” which, she told Indianapolis plant workers, were “elitist and out of touch.” This from Wellesley’s and the Yale Law School’s finest. With a $100 million-plus income.

And so the Obama retreat: “If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that,” Obama said in an interview later as the story flamed, threatening to ignite our cable lines. “I didn’t say it as well as I should have,” the senator remarked. At first, it had appeared he would not back off. That same morning he told a Muncie, Ind., town hall meeting his remarks could have been better phrased, but he maintained they were what “everybody knows is true.” He amplified his earlier remarks, saying that “what is absolutely true is that people don’t feel like they are being listened to.” Still, he succumbed and we received his sort-of-apology.

Clinton eagerly grasped another straw in the battle for the superdelegates she hoped would rescue her candidacy. No more sniper fire for her as she sent up a fusillade: “People don’t need a president who looks down on them,” she said. “They need a president who stands up for them.” Now, perhaps she had gained some control over her campaign. When Bill Clinton was asked that day at a rally in North Carolina about Obama’s remarks, the former president passively (or passively aggressively?) replied, “I agree with what Hillary said.” We shouldn’t parse that too much.

The sound and fury of course signifies nothing—other than the media’s innate desire to create a story and demean the political discourse they supposedly are to report. Within the confines of a private exchange between the two, Obama’s remarks undoubtedly would have had Clinton head-nodding in agreement. Obama offered a clever—but hardly original—insight into the psychology of folks depressed for decades or forced to live on the margin. The only story in this affair is one the media concocted, their self-fulfilling “full-blown political disaster,” and one neatly made to order for Clinton. Thus another media happening, created and nurtured by a media anxious for bigger coverage, even when it amounts to peanuts.

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The media are the self-appointed arbiters of our political discourse. By their rules, candor is wholly unwelcome. They cannot or will not abide complexity. And thus, the sound bite is the story.

No media account provided any discussion whatsoever to weigh the possibility of a more thoughtful consideration of Obama’s remarks. Could he have had a useful insight? None of our talking heads, our “strategists” and “pundits,” probed Obama’s meaning, his motivation—or, heaven forbid, the possibility he might have been right. Instead, the media cavalierly dismissed his remarks as offensive and demeaning—and worst of all, tarred them with the brush of elitism. Obama provided cannon fodder to sustain the media’s reason for their self-defined existence. They believe their mission is to find drama, conflict and controversy—but hey!—what about understanding?

By the new week, MSNBC was talking about “journalistic standards” and Dr. Phil. And then Obama characterized Clinton as “Annie Oakley,” following her revelation (what did we know all these years?) that she learned to shoot a gun as a child. Where will that go? Somewhere, you can be sure. In the meantime, why aren’t we discussing the administration’s torture policy—or its proposed status-of-forces agreement with Iraq? Or are such stories too complex? The media are killing us.

Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate.”


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By Ivan Hentschel, April 15, 2008 at 9:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Purple Girl, while your warnings are well meant, perhaps you talk too much and too often. Think about it.

As far as this article goes, I know I’m tired of being told what to think and what to accept by a knee-jerk media. And the real issues get glossed over or ignored.

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By Lee, April 15, 2008 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

If the media had done it’s job over the past year, and properly vetted Obama, a basically unknown junior senator with minimal activity in the senate, who was joined at the hip with an anti-American racist Pastor, mentor, advisor, and supporter of Louis Farrakan, Jeremiah Wright ... and, if the media exposed the phony candidate who transcends race (if race wasn’t an issue, 90% of Blacks wouldn’t be voting for Obama simply because he is black) ... and, if they didn’t give him a free pass and had treated him as badly as they treated Hillary Clinton, Obama wouldn’t even be still running right now, let alone in the lead.

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By jmndodge, April 15, 2008 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

I think this issue has hurt,  because Obama has come to close to expressing truth.  Americans are more concerned with reputation than character, with our mask of respectability rather than the wrinkles of authentic living. Obama might be the King of our generation, sharing a vision of the promised land, but denied entrance,  shot down not by a led bullet, but by the hollow words of ignorance expressed 24-7 on our media outlets.  Yes we also spin, and our passion makes dialogue difficult, but these are serious times.  Those who listen and understand what Obama is saying will not abandon the effort.

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By Eric Barth, April 15, 2008 at 8:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh yes!! Another present from the Clinton White House was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which basically completed the virtual takeover of the media by corporations. The Clintons wonder how they were attacked 24/7 across the media spectrum from FOX to MSNBC and the major networks?

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By Chris Herz, April 15, 2008 at 8:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For two generations the systematic de-politicization of our working people and their subordination to a politics based on religious racial and militarization has operated without stay or hindrance. 

This is why we have an empire now, not a republic.  And this cannot be fixed in any short term.  The best we can hope for is that the government of for and by the shysters will bankrupt itself and our country will no longer have the power to terrorize others. 

This is what happened to the Soviet empire, and we must hope for it to happen to this one.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, April 15, 2008 at 7:41 am Link to this comment

I have repeatedly been entirely kicked off the internet while on this site and Huffpo. this happens on a daily basis and often blocked our for extended periods of time. I get the “local conncetion’ message- I have high speed cable internet (along with the TV & phone Package). I’ve just spent the last 2 hours composing a sanil mail letter to various Senators & Reps- None in My state of MI-since they have done nothing about it since I first asked them to investigate Charter. Once i finally was allowed back on I began E-mailing my concerns- Kicked out during my letter to Sen Hagel, ‘Illegal Agruement Error’ when I sent one to Sen Obama, and two ‘Failed’ e-mails to the Washington Post.
Truthdig must focus their Posts on this obvious Breech in our most basic Constitutional rights to Free Speech and Privacy- I get kicked off before I even hit ‘send”!I will send my letters through Snail mail if needed- it may be the only last crumble of Democracy left to US!

Cave Adsum Big Brother!

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By Beth, April 15, 2008 at 7:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The media are the self-appointed arbiters of our political discourse. By their rules, candor is wholly unwelcome. They cannot or will not abide complexity. And thus, the sound bite is the story.”

Very well put—though complexity is often addressed in the op/ed sections. I’ve read some good analysis of the so-called controversy, similar to this one.

Call me naive, but I always allow for a measure of grace for these candidates, who are on the road 24/7 and are exhausted. I wish the media would, too.

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By Aegrus, April 15, 2008 at 6:55 am Link to this comment

This is not news to anyone who is awake. Unfortunately, too many people don’t have access, interest or the venue to read such material. Preaching to the choir, man.

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By Expat, April 15, 2008 at 6:52 am Link to this comment

^ I keep forgetting that Truthdig is part of the media.  They’ve been churning articles through here faster than Hillary can spin a new persona; fuck it!

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