Feeding The Beast

by digby

Greg Sargent wonders what would happen if Democrats had pulled a stunt like one Mitch McConnell did the other day when he allowed (approved?) his staffer disseminating unconfirmed smears against the Frost family and then lied about it to the press. I'm sure the Republicans would go mad and the press would rush to cover it. The GOP motto, after all, is Hissy Fits R Us. But I don't think that's the whole answer.

Journalists will say that using political "oppo research" is a legitimate way to get tips, as long as they always check them out before they run with them. Fair enough. But what they fail to acknowledge is that this allows the best story-planters to set the agenda for coverage, and the best story-planters are those who know how to get the media interested.

And after watching them for the past two decades very closely, I think it's obvious that what interests the media more than anything is access and gossip and vicious little smears piled one atop the other. And why not? They are easy to report, require no mind numbing shuffling of financial reports or struggling through arcane policy papers. In fact, the press has made a virtue of the simple-mindedness by calling what used to be known as gossip, "character issues", which are used to stand in for judgment about policy.

The press, therefore, will go to great lengths to protect the people who give them what they crave, most of whom happen to be Republicans since character smears are their very special talent. There was a reason why Rove and Libby used "the wife sent him on a boondoggle" line. Stories about Edwards and his hair and Hillary and her cold, calculating cleavage are the coin of the realm.

Why we see so little of the same kind of feeding frenzies on the other side isn't hard to fathom. Nobody is spoon-feeding them to the press with just the kind of cutesy meanness they prefer. (And frankly, the press is scared of the Republicans, probably for good reason.) In fact, the very nastiness of the Frost smear may have been its original selling point. If it had turned out to be even slightly verifiable --- and if the liberal blogosphere hadn't fought back vociferously --- I have little doubt that the corporate media would have gleefully run with it, insisting that the Frosts "come forward" and submit themselves to some talking robot like Katie Couric or Scott Pelley.

The reason they won't pursue McConnell unless absolutely forced to do so (if that's even possible) is because they are implicated in stories like this. You'll notice that nobody in the press revealed that they had received that memo. But we know they did. John Roberts of CNN proved it and plenty of others are thanking their lucky stars that they got the word before they were the ones who blurted out the juicy talking points on the air without checking. They all know it could have been them.

But even though that was a close call, the last thing in the world they want is for Mitch McConnell's stooges and others like them to stop sending those delightfully bitchy tid-bits over the transom. Why, that would be as bad as being kicked off the Kewl Kidz High cheerleading squad.

This story actually sheds some light on why gossip ..er "character issues" are so useful to the right wing:

Gossip is more powerful than truth, a study showed on Monday, suggesting people believe what they hear through the grapevine even if they have evidence to the contrary.

Researchers, testing students using a computer game, also found gossip played an important role when people make decisions, said Ralf Sommerfeld, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who led the study.

"We show that gossip has a strong influence... even when participants have access to the original information as well as gossip about the same information," the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Thus, it is evident that gossip has a strong manipulative potential."

And that is exactly why the Republicans use it so successfully and why the media busybodies are committing malpractice when they eagerly pass it on, even if they're marginally true.

H/T to Julia