Anatomy of the Media's Whorishness

This is a very good article in the NYT this morning, that is almost shockingly straightforward about the media's role in creating scandals. First four grafs are the money:

WASHINGTON, April 20 — Aides to Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign said on Tuesday that they would release all of his military records, including evaluations by his Navy commanders, a day after the campaign had refused to make the documents public.

Mr. Kerry won a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam.

The Boston Globe raised questions last week about the circumstances of his first Purple Heart. Mr. Kerry said on "Meet the Press" on NBC on Sunday that his military records were available for reporters to review at his campaign headquarters here. But when a reporter for The Globe showed up on Monday morning, the campaign withheld several documents, including evaluations by Mr. Kerry's commanders and some medical records.

The matter was developing into a political problem when campaign officials said Tuesday afternoon that they would release all the documents that the Navy sent Mr. Kerry last month when he requested his complete file. Officials said they would begin posting the documents on the Web site for the campaign (www.johnkerry.com) on Tuesday evening and that the full record would be scanned in by Wednesday afternoon.

The best part is "The matter was developing into a political problem..."; what is going on here, is that the NYT is making something true by saying it. If it says something is a political problem, well, they're the fucking NYT, it is a political problem.

I am someone who used to write newspaper stories and edit a newspaper - not for a living, but for my life, which is just as good, I think. I can tell you that even more important than advancing whatever political agenda I had, as slickly and imperceptably as I could, the most satisfying thing I could do in any piece was just nailing someone. There is nothing better, from the point of view of most ink-stained wretches, than catching someone - anyone, someone you agree with or (even better) disagree with, but really anyone - in hypocrisy, self-contradiction, scandal, impolitic comment, or what have you.

The point here - and this is a pretty obvious one, but worth making again and again, especially when such vivid evidence is available - is that newspapers (or any media outlet) do not respond to the news, they create it. They decide what the news is, and how you receive it. Political bias comes into play - but as Alterman points out, time and again, American media has a conservative, not liberal bias - but really, the most important thing is entertaining copy.

For a while last summer, the reason Joe Trippi was the master of the universe was that - as a Democrat - he had finally figured out how to feed the media a constant stream of interesting copy, resulting in endless free media for Howard Dean. Clearly, this is also a counterexample, showing that you live by the sword, die by the sword, etc.: "the story" of Dean became the story, and then...

But ANYways, that's a longer story for another time. Point being, keep your eyes open when consuming the news, to see what the story really is. Today's WaPo editorial is a great example of a failure by the Kerry campaign to own the issue space, and thus the dominant narrative has become, "Kerry is a flip-flopper" (which is true, but that's hardly the point, now is it? It certainly needn't be). Just read the conclusion, even:

We believe a successful political outcome [in Iraq] is still possible; others disagree. But Mr. Kerry's shift on such a basic question after just a few months is troubling and mistaken.

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