Did everybody miss it, or am I imagining things?
In the wake of the historic 2008 election, a debate arose over the role of the internet in influencing the ultimate result, as well as the roll of internet news agregates and blog sites as being the natural successors – indeed, the usurpers, of traditional print journalism. Over the past two years, it’s almost become de rigueur for various commentators within the blogosphere to make pretty disparaging remarks about the mainstream media, recently re-dubbed the lamestream media by one who simultaneously suffers and benefits from its attention.
The 24/7 cable news talking heads, from both sides of the political spectrum, and their soulmates riding the waves of internet news reporting rule supreme and unduly influence both the critical thinking processes and opinions of a lot of folk who would do just as well as to open a book entitled Civics 101 before they open their mouths.
This is no longer a world of hard, substantiated fact, or even a world of opinion backed by undisputable fact. It has become, however, a world of opinion, presented as fact and lightly laced with the unsubstantiated variety.
We live for the sound bite of the moment, for the slightest change in a politco’s body language, in order to have this mercilessly parsed and reinterpreted again and again by an unrelenting and irresponsible media. The trivial and mundane have been so far elevated into the world of the sublime that major news stories regarding legislation which may affect us all as a whole are lost in a welter of the confused and often conflicting banter of people who love to speak only to hear the sound of their own voices and whose first allegiance is to their own self-promotion.
That countless testimonies to these icons’ veracity is documented daily on a plethora of internet sites in homage to the services rendered by these dubious souls is frightening.
The internet has offered an opportunity for people who, for some reason, otherwise have been unable to succeed in the world of bona fide print journalism, the chance to shine – never mind, the sort of tactics employed by said “journalist” would be held up to close scrutiny and then discarded as highly irregular by more traditional professionals.
Just as we shouldn’t trust the stewardess to land an Airbus with the pilot passed out drunk, or Al Qaeda’s intentions if it happens upon the Pakastani nuclear arsenal, so we should always view the “citizen journalist” with a jaundiced eye.
Until recently, internet journalism’s apogee was reached during the Obama campaign, when Mayhill Fowler, a retired schoolteacher and failed writer attended a private fund-raising event, closed to the press. In simple parlance, “closed” meant “closed.” No reporters. A chance for the candidate to unwind and charm. The fact that a private citizen attended, armed with a small recording device and reported off-the-record remarks made by a political candidate was considered unscrupulous to the nth degree. That sort of thing would have cost a seasoned reporter his job and his reputation.
But this is the new era of “face-in-the-crowd” reporting, and quite often, these sort of eye-witness accounts wouldn’t be admissable in a court of law, because they – like the talking-heads, who subsequently parrot and publicize them – are skewed and coloured to fit the agenda of whatever internet aggregate is pushing the issue at hand.
The order of the day is cherry-picking, and not outside in the fresh air and the orchard. It’s cut-and-paste and hope for the best. Band-aid journalism that spins like a top.
Yesterday, Rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart, writing in Tucker Carlson’s DailyCaller, highlighted a video clip of USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, addressing a meeting of a local branch of the NAACP, wherein she appeared to admit having shown racism toward an individual case regarding a white farmer and his wife, in Georgia. Ms Sherrod is African American.
Immediately, the meme was picked up and pushed by Fox News, as well as the other media suspects, resulting in a severe condemnation of Ms Sherrod’s remarks by NAACP President, Benjamin Jealous, and Ms Sherrod literally being sacked on the spot from her position within the USDA.
All on the evidence of a couple of minutes gleaned from a speech which lasted much longer. No one bothered to listen to what was said before the fated line was spoken; no one bothered to listen to any dialogue spoken afterward. In fact, as Ms Sherrod said later, no one was interested in listening to her explanation at all.
They just reacted.
Twenty-four hours later, and the video of Ms Sherrod’s entire speech has surfaced, and in the context of that discourse, it’s been found that her remarks were anything but racist, that she helped the supplicants mentioned and that she and the white couple became firm friends. At this moment, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is contemplating reinstating Ms Sherrod.
And so he should. With a big apology, a promotion and a raise in pay.
Last Friday, a “reporter” for the Huffington Post, Shahien Nasiripour, posted an article, which stated categorically that Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, had effectively blocked the appoinment of Elizabeth Warren to head the new consumer protection agency to be established under the new financial regulation laws. Nasiripour cited some suitably ghostly anonymous source, said to be “familiar with Geithner’s mind, ” although he didn’t offer any direct quotations from said Mr Anonymous.
Familiar with Geithner’s mind? Granted, on Monday, after the media had picked up on this story and ran it like the favourite at the Preakness, it behooved Talking Points Memo to do some actual investigating. And so, they contacted some viable sources – people with names and faces and voices … like David Axelrod.
Ax reported that no decision had yet been made as regards the person heading this new agency, that the decision was a Presidential one and, really, nothing to do with Secretary Geithner, and that, yes, Mrs Warren was a firm candidate. This, I might add, came after a weekend where Warren was put in the singularly embarrassing position of having to disclaim any knowledge of any of her supporters actively promoting her as a candidate to the White House.
In other words, Talking Points Memo proved the Huffington Post article to be a tissue of lies.
By yesterday, Nasiripour followed up his article, again quoting Mr Anonymous – or maybe it was another Mr Anonymous, because this one claimed to be familiar, only with Geithner’s opinions. This article, in no way, distanced itself from the original one. It sure as hell didn’t apologise for any error or lax reporting. Instead, it accompanied a couple of other blogs, one purporting to know why Obama “feared” Elizabeth Warren. The other was simply a veiled threat of the direst of circumstances that would befall this Administration, if Warren were not appointed.
And so it goes.
The entire purpose of this fabricated article, presented as fact, but not substantiated, yet still reported in the media as a whole, is twofold: first, it means to thoroughly discredit Tim Geithner, a Cabinet official for whom Arianna Huffington has an almost pathological dislike. Second, it’s meant to box the President into a lose-lose situation.
If he appoints Warren, after all the publicity the media have been giving this, the Republicans in Congress will simply batten down the hatches and fight to the death to eliminate her from the proceedings. All well and good; he could just then wait until the next lengthy recess and appoint her there and then. But it would be an appointment with a stench attached. And if he appoints someone else, he risks being pilloried mercilessly by Huffington, who revels, at the moment, in referring to him as a Nowhere Man.
I think he should appoint Warren. She’s the best candidate for the position by a mile. But he should also announce at the time of this appointment, that he made the decision based on the candidate’s impeccable qualifications and not on any pressure from the media or otherwise … and, oh by the way, the White House Press Association will be revoking the credentials of The Huffington Post, forthwith, effective immediately.
We used to have a media that was the envy of the world. Our media exposed Joe McCarthy, laid open Watergate and Irangate. now it bends over to propagate the whims and agendae of a failed Republican operative and a neocon neophyte failed journalist, a parvenue and an intellectual lightweight, both of whom are feted as serious political journalists.
I only hope, that in the one-eyed, purist world which purports to be internet journalism, that this shark has been jumped, and some professional regulations applied to future ventures. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing that shark take a chunk out of someone’s feta cheesed ass.