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Weapons of Mass Distraction

Posted on Oct 6, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

    Let’s see: The financial system is still in grave peril, despite approval of an unprecedented $700 billion bailout. Unemployment is rising, the economy is slowing, and the question isn’t whether we’re in for a recession but how long and how deep the recession will be. Meanwhile, U.S. troops are still fighting in two places—Iraq and Afghanistan—where, as a rule, foreign occupations end badly. The terrorists who struck us on 9/11 have been allowed to regroup within the borders of nuclear-armed Pakistan and are busy plotting new attacks. Rarely have there been bigger or more urgent issues to talk about in a presidential campaign.

    But John McCain wants us to talk about Barack Obama’s acquaintances. He and Sarah Palin are going to try their best to make us talk about anything but the big issues facing our country, because most Americans think Obama’s solutions are better than McCain’s.

    Knowing that, are we in the media going to aid and abet the McCain campaign’s obvious ploy?

    We journalists like to think we’re too smart to be used by one side or the other in a political campaign. In a sense, we’re followers of Adam Smith: We believe in an omniscient free marketplace of news in which myriad individual decisions by reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, commentators and media barons—decisions about what to cover and how to cover it—somehow miraculously end up maximizing the truth. We claim not to be ideological, but this is our ideology.

    At the same time, though, we think of ourselves as working in the public interest. We repeatedly remind everyone that our right to do our jobs however we see fit is enshrined in the First Amendment. We love to quote Thomas Jefferson about how he would rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers.

    Rarely do we grapple seriously with the way our Adam Smith tendencies and our Thomas Jefferson tendencies sometimes work at cross-purposes.

    This campaign is one of those times. We all understand that the strategy of the McCain campaign is one of distraction—his campaign aides have acknowledged that they want to shift the focus from the economy to character, which means personal attacks against Obama. Lacking any fresh mud to sling, the McCain people are trying to exhume guilt-by-association charges that were exhaustively examined months ago during the primaries. Vowing not to be Swift-boated, the Obama campaign is firing back in kind.

    Our Adam Smith instinct is to cover what the candidates say. But in the Jeffersonian sense, we know that it’s not in the public interest to spend the rest of the campaign talking about fringe characters who once crossed paths with Obama, McCain, Palin or Joe Biden instead of debating the economy, the war on terror, health care, or any of the other big issues that will define the next presidency.

    We also know that no matter how skeptical we are when we write about bogus allegations, writing about them at all gives them wider circulation. So when Palin questions Obama’s love of country because he knows somebody who did something unpatriotic when Obama was 8, our free-market ethos makes us rush to cover her every ridiculous word. We also find ways to convey that this is pure mudslinging and nothing but a cynical campaign tactic, but that doesn’t matter to the McCain campaign. What matters is that we’re writing and talking about this extraneous stuff—and not about the issues that polls say voters really care about.

    If we in the media really believe what we say about serving the public interest, we have a duty to avoid being turned into instruments of mass distraction. Of course we should cover what the candidates say, putting their words in context and pointing out when the candidates are exaggerating or lying. But we should also think hard about how much prominence we give to smears and counter-smears.

    And we should be relentless in demanding that the candidates talk about the economy and the wars and America’s place in the world. If they won’t sit down to be interviewed, we can shout our questions at them. If they filibuster, we can cut them off. If they give evasive answers, we can ask follow-up questions.

    The McCain campaign has made clear that it wants to change the subject. We can, and should, change it back.
    Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group


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By yellowbird2525, October 7, 2008 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment

we are told “it is for the greater good” by Palin: WHAT is? For the greater good of WHOM? NOT the planet, NOT the people; of this or any other country; NOT the Corps & corrupted Gov of the USA; who bribes the heads of countries to “do it their way cuz they have gotten away with it for years in the USA & never have to be prosecuted for it”; if they do NOT accept the bribes; then like in India civil unrest arises; like in S America in Bolivia & Venezuela the US ambassadors plot overthrows of existing Gov & claim “we are trying to end poverty”; REALLY? done a GREAT JOB of STARTING IT back in the USA; so now it’s been changed to “drug war” there; all of this is enforced thru the military might of the USA thru a Gov who refuses to subject itself to International courts; who want them ALL for war crimes same as they did Bill Clinton. Folks: you had BEST be prepaired for emergencys for nuclear war; it was what stopped the war on the Nazi’s before: and our Gov brought them over to profit from all they had done; it is why you have floride in your water supply in the USA today.

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By yellowbird2525, October 7, 2008 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

1996 war on Iraq was already determined would happen;(dem); we are told “hillary” has done such “great & wonderful things” for WHOM? in WH she let go all long time employees & hired new working only 39 hours so would not get health benefits; they shredded all emails without reading any; refused to allow any “underlings” talk with her & preferred for them to NOT even “see” her; one man said I could not find ANYTHING GOOD about this woman; and I tried to be impartial; we are told “women” of the USA are so incredibly stupid all we want is a woman for a woman’s sake in the WH; PLEASE! what we WANT is for the consciousness of this nation to RAISE UP & get rid of the most polluted & corrupted Gov on the planet; who is run by the Corps & wealthy: against the planet & the people. We want the LAWS of the USA enforced against Gov employees; including Congress; who deliberately set up long term goals against the people of the USA & has been waging warfare on them psychologically, economically, & financially which of course is against the laws of the USA to use psychological warfare on it’s own people; including financially which is what has just been done.

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By tkforchange, October 7, 2008 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

I read Palin’s comments referring to Obama as a ‘terrorist’- was greeted by ‘Kill him’ from the crowds- WHY isn’t anyone condemning this??
This is no third world country - Palin-McCain are coming dangerously close to making this country one!

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By Conservative Not NeoCon, October 7, 2008 at 11:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

However, the Palins have no excuse. I’m sure they wouldn’t like voters seeing video of Todd Palin’s mentor and peer member Joe Vogler founder of AIP and Governor Palin’s warm welcome to the AIP into her Governorship in her own words captured on news archives along with Vogler in his own words here.

“The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government,” Vogler said in the interview, in which he talked extensively about his desire for Alaskan secession, the key goal of the AIP.

“And I won’t be buried under their damn flag,” Vogler continued in the interview, which also touched on his disappointment with the American judicial system. “I’ll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home.”-Joe Vogler.

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By felicity, October 7, 2008 at 10:37 am Link to this comment

Boy was I blind.  Palin the cheerleader, by original impression, is actually Palin the hate-monger. Pretty simple - Obama-terrorist, terrorist-hate, hate-Obama.  Like love blinds us, hatred shuts down our thought processes.  That’s what McCain etal really hope to accomplish.

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By Folktruther, October 7, 2008 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

The whole election is an exercise in mass distraction.  It diverts attention from the fact that both candidates are supporting the policies of the Elite consensus of the ruling class.  By involving the most political of the population in the competitive electoral conflict, it unites the supporters of both parties in the underlying suppositions in dealing with war, the economy, global warming, and class ineuality both within and between nations.

Elections are conservatising instruments that orient discourse toward the middle of the popular consensus.  The Indendent voter, the most indifferent, uninformed and inert population.  This dumbs down the debate of the candidates, who appeal to the underlying images to engage the non-political.

McCain is appealing indirectly to racism and the Bushites are trying to create a war atmosphere for him, and Obama is trying to appear statesmanlike.  They both will promote the Elite interests of the ruling class if elected, while continuing the largely meaningless rhetoric of their parties.

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By Purple Girl, October 7, 2008 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

Come On could history and current events hand you a better Clear Story than McCain caught in the meltdown- Not just Wall street and Bankings (Again), but how his Buddy Phil Gramm Also connects him to the energy Crisis and His own assistance into an Illegitimate invasion into an Oil Rich Country!
How much more Chicken shit must drop before you all pick up the trail which leads to every one of John McCains DoorSteps!
Many Americans Saw the Oil/War(Terrorism) Connection Long Ago, some more have come around over the last 7 yrs Now that Our Debt grows ever deeper by about 10 billion a month we ‘Suddenly’ have an economic meltdown…..Can You Hear the Sucking Sound NOW!!!
The Quest for Oil Control has driven US into Debt and So Now all those “papers & promise” have become worth nothing more than that!
If WoodWard & Bernstien can find a needle in a hay stack in Watergate, You all sure as shit should be able to put a 4 peice puzzle together when all the peices are right in front of You!Heres a Hint the Centerpeice is McCain, In the Military Industrial Complex which has Devoured OUR Country!The Money ,the Might and the Manufacturing/marketing…sounds like a Start up for a fledgling Country….the One McCain is Actually Talking about and TO!!

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By Catherine, October 7, 2008 at 6:16 am Link to this comment

McCain has been throwing up distractions since he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate when his campaign had nothing to offer us except more of the same. That worked for a short while, at least on the sheeple. Now that she’s lost her shine, he decides that he’d better start calling to the bigots, the racists, and the right-wing extremists. And he does it via his new redneck mouthpiece.  Palin and German propagandist Goebbels have been cut from the same cloth.

If McCain’s ploy works, I will have lost all hope for my country and for its people. How can we be stupid enough to let it happen to us for a THIRD time?

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By KnowBush, October 7, 2008 at 2:56 am Link to this comment

Why aren’t we talking about Palin’s tax returns that weren’t released until after the debate?  I understand she failed to pay taxes on the $17,000 in per diem meal payments and the $43,000 in family travel reimbursements she received already in her short term as Governor of Alaska.

Another indication of a person grabbing what she wants without consequence.  Haven’t we had enough of that?

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