I’ve never written about politics, or covered it, or met a politician, much less interviewed one, which makes me a total amateur, or, as we call it these days, a blogger.
Of course, Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann started out this way, too, and things turned out OK for them.
I think of this as a view from the cheap seats, as in unabashed New York Giant fan Arnold Hano’s book, “A Day in the Bleachers,” with its lyrical description of Willie Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.
“He had turned so quickly and run so fast and truly that he made this impossible catch look—to us in the bleachers—quite ordinary. To those reporters in the press box, nearly six hundred feet from the bleacher wall, it must have appeared far more astonishing, watching Mays run and run until he had become the size of a pigmy, and then he had run some more, while the ball diminished to a mote of white dust and finally disappeared in the dark blob that was Mays’ mitt.”
This is not about my politics, but our politics. Not that it will be startling if I suggest as a voter/reader/viewer that the process has become a joke.
Gridlocked, partisan, mean, cynical ... these aren’t indictments anymore, they’re assumed as a given.
The real question is why anyone still takes the dialogue seriously.
The real issue is whether it’s an anomaly (oh, please let it be an anomaly), something new, or in the colorful tradition of American politics.
With George Will and Arianna Huffington leapfrogging their differences to agree on the Colorful Tradition option, I’d say that represents the consensus.
There’s also a Skewed Narrative School with process-and-media-oriented people like The New York Times’ Frank Rich and Ross Douthat, liberal and conservative, respectively, noting how much the media narrative has pulled away from real life.
As Rich wrote in “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” his book about the packaging of the invasion of Iraq:
While the controversial choices made by the [George W.] Bush administration are well known, equally important is the way it dramatized its fable. ... The chronicle of how a government told and sold its story is also, inevitably, a chronicle of an American culture that was an all-too-easy mark for the flimflam. ... Only an overheated 24/7 infotainment culture that had trivialized the very idea of reality (and with it, what was once known as “news”) could be so successfully manipulated by those in power.
… America really is rife with wild and crazy sentiments. The belief that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim (apparently held by nearly 20 percent of the country) gets the headlines. But as the George Mason law professor Ilya Somin has noted, national opinion polls reveal support for numerous far-out or noxious-seeming notions. … the 32 percent of Democrats who blame “the Jews” for the financial crisis. ... the 25 percent of African-Americans who believe the AIDS virus was created in a government lab. ...
… The same is true of conservative conspiracy theorists today. Tuning in to Glenn Beck or joining your local Tea Party seems like a woefully insufficient response to the possibility that Barack Obama is a Manchurian candidate groomed from birth to undermine democracy and impose Shariah law. But if we understand those paranoias to be symbolic beliefs, rather than real convictions—an attention-grabbing way of saying, “I consider Obama phony, dishonest and un-American”—then conservative behavior makes a lot more sense.
Such beliefs can still be dangerous. The line between what’s symbolic and what’s real isn’t always clear, and a determined demagogue can exploit symbolic beliefs as well as real ones.
Nor are serving administrators bashful about their ability to shape reality.
In Ron Suskind’s oft-cited interview for his 2004 New York Times magazine story, an unnamed Bush aide—believed to be Karl Rove—told him:
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Preening arrogance that it was, it wasn’t bragging if it was fact.
In fact, the reality the Bush administration created—and the press left largely unchallenged—led to our preemptive invasion to locate the WMD that U.N. inspectors, who had been on the ground for months, hadn’t found, because, as it turned out, there weren’t any!
The Skewed Narrative argument isn’t popular among TV pundits, who are charged with doing the skewing, except to allege it’s what their sworn enemies on the other side do.
Not that anyone in this process should like the thought of being a voice on the Tower of Babel, in a world with no Reason, only reasons.
The image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun-house mirror and not the good kind that makes you slim and taller but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass like a pumpkin and one eyeball.
—Jon Stewart, Oct. 30, 2010
I do know something about the changes in journalism, having seen my job, and the overall product, change so dramatically.