Journalism, Responsibility, and the Maligning of the Man Who Should Have Been President
There's a fantastic article over at Vanity Fair right now about the media's treatment of Al Gore during the 2000 elections. By now, all rational people have come to the conclusion that the media seriously dropped the ball back then (and most of them continue to refuse to pick up the ball, still preferring the sound bites and "simple narratives" the administration and its supporters like to dish out like Kool Aid to Jonestown people). Readers of this blog don't need me to tell them that Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet, or that Love Story was about his relationship with Tipper, or that he "discovered" the Love Canal. And yet, the idea that Al Gore was a serial exaggerator was just conventional wisdom in the year 2000. The Vanity Fair article does a great job of explaining how such a thing could have happened, even while some of the reporters and pundits most to blame for this disinformation campaign refuse to accept responsibility for their shoddy and agenda-driven reporting. Take Chris Matthews, who-- when confronted with the fact that he helped perpetuate distortions and falsehoods, replies:
"I don't think it had a thunderous impact on the voters."
What the hell? The media creating a negative caricature of one candidate ("lying nerd") and a positive caricature of another ("charming outsider you'd like to have a beer with") didn't have an impact? If you're so convinced that the job you do is so inconsequential, why don't you do us all a favor and quit?
Or consider The Washington's Post's Ceci Connelly, whose misquote of Al Gore's statements about "discovering" the Love Canal, she says, "did not dramatically change the point he was trying to make" and that "the Love Canal reference was near the end of a story that ran deep inside the paper." Well, then that clears you of all responsibility to be ethical and accurate, right? I mean, as long as it's not in a front page headline, who cares if it's a fucking lie? Oh, and I might argue that changing what he said in order to make him look like an arrogant braggart taking credit for something he hadn't done when-- in fact-- he was trying to give credit to someone else absolutely does "change the point he was trying to make." But what do I know about writing?
But, still, the big winner (and by winner, I mean "world-class douchebag") in this article has to, again, be Chris Matthew, who says that, while it's not the media's fault that Bush appealed to the voters by appearing "likable," perhaps people-- not the media, surely ('cause it's not really their job to report on anything other than a candidate's likability)-- should have paid closer attention to other issues:
"The last six years have been a powerful bit of evidence that we have to judge candidates for president on their preparation for the office with the same relish that we assess their personalities."
Really? Do you think? "The same relish"? No fucking way. You're saying that we should let a candidate's utter lack of qualifications sway us as much as whether or not we'd like to play a game of touch football with him? That's fucked up, man. I mean, sure, it would be nice to have a candidate who knows that Social Security is a federal agency or who knows who the current leaders of Russia, China, Iran, and Mexico are, but come on-- what if you've got the smart guy, but you can't imagine having a beer with him? Are you trying to say that that guy still might deserve to be president?