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Monday, March 03, 2008

Pressing Issues

by digby

The blogosphere is all abuzz about this outrageous Charlotte Allen piece in the WaPo yesterday saying women are dumb. It was over the top, but frankly I'm a little bit surprised that everyone is so shocked. It doesn't seem much more obscene than the fare we've heard from the right for years. Moreover, it's not even as derisive and demeaning as many things I've read on the liberal side of the blogosphere (or in my comment section) in the past few months. It's bad, but it's just par for the course as far as I can tell. The idea that sexism is politically incorrect is laughable.

What's more interesting to me is how the press is dealing with the criticism they've gotten about the Clinton campaign in general. There's substantial evidence of bias now being generated by respected pollsters and media observers. Some of it is obviously due to the inculcation of years of Clinton character assassination and a desire to see Hillary brought low to pay for her husband's refusal to resign when the Village dictated that it be so. Al Gore suffered a similar fate. But that was expected, as was the "Clinton fatigue" that goes along with it. When the Village brands you with a delusional, flip-flopping, cackling Earthtone Letter on your forehead, it's probably foolhardy to think you can beat them. Democrats only get one chance at the presidency (and Al and Hill were both damaged goods from the Clinton administration.) Republicans often run more than once --- but then they aren't so badly damaged by Republicans that they are rendered unelectable. (See this fascinating study for how well that works.)

But the media bias is far from simple Clinton fatigue. The sexism has been obvious to anyone who can see and those who insist to me that it doesn't exist remind me of nothing so much as Bush supporters who repeatedly exhorted critics to believe Junior or believe their lyin' eyes. I wasn't crazy then and I'm not crazy now. I know what I see and what I see are news networks that think it's fine and dandy to repeatedly invite someone who runs an anti-Clinton organization called C.U.N.T. to appear on television and that the paper of record prints something like this as if it's some sort of meaningful analysis:

DOWD: In a webcast, prestidigitator Penn Jillette talks about a joke he has begun telling in his show. He thinks the thunderous reaction it gets from audiences shows that Hillary no longer has a shot.

The joke goes: ''Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it's not fair, because they're being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there's no White Bitch Month.''

Reporters were nearly hysterical when Clinton responded aggressively to David Shuster's "unseemly" remarks concerning her daughter and automatically assumed the lowest and basest motivations for her actions. This was in spite of the fact that the record shows that NBC has been relentlessly negative about Clinton for months. The Center for Media Affairs reported:

The gap in good press has widened since the New Hampshire primary, with Clinton dropping to 47% positive comments and Obama holding steady at 83% positive. NBC’s coverage has been the most critical of Clinton – nearly 2 to 1 negative (36% positive and to 64% negative)
Yet, when her campaign finally defended itself, it was derided by much of the lefty blogopshere and most of the mainstream media. One reader mused in an email that he didn't understand what the fuss was about: after all nobody watches cable news.

Obviously, a lot of people get at least some of their news from cable and network news, and with the lopsided negative coverage against Clinton on NBC so obvious and ugly, it's not hard to understand why her campaign would complain, particularly when it touched upon her daughter. After the Shuster flap had calmed down a bit, one journalist who'd been nearly apoplectic in his anger at Clinton over the incident, actually admitted in an email, "I don't know why I get so pissed about these things," which is one of the more insightful things I've read on the subject. I'm sure many of these reporters don't understand their own irrationality --- after all, they like women, have wives and mothers, maybe even are women. But we know that sexism doesn't preclude any of that, don't we? This is some primal stuff and clearly the culture has been deeply in denial.

Chris Bowers brings up an argument that I think is worth discussing further. He, like many of my readers over the past few months, makes the point that Clinton's argument about having been up against the right wing machine rings hollow in the face of this hostile coverage and her reaction to it. It's undoubtedly true that Clinton has a hard time with the media --- always has. And she's been vilified by an unhinged right wing for nearly two decades. Here's just a little bit of what she's put up with:

In order to understand Hillary and Bill, you must first understand the wildly dysfunctional Jerry Springer lifestyle that these 2 Yale-educated lawyers have chosen to live for 36 years. Once you understand that, then you will know why Hillary uses a secret police, private detectives (Anthony Pellicano, Jack Palladino) and criminal intimidation tactics to cover up all this chaos. The Clintons nearly murdered Gary Johnson, the neighbor of Gennifer Flowers, on 6-26-92 to keep a lid on that affair. Hillary did hire Jack Palladino to wage a terror campaign of witness tampering on Kathleen Willey in 1997-98. Hillary was screwing BOTH of her law partners Vince Foster and Webb Hubbell. I have every book every written on the Clintons and in my opinion Chelsea is the seed of Webb Hubbell, NOT Bill Clinton. Look at her big lips, nose and cheeks and you will see a strong resemblance between Webb (father) and Chelsea (daughter). [Check out post #207 for a Chelsea/Hubbell photo] Hillary is also a lesbian. Bill told Gennifer Flowers that Hillary "has probably eaten more pussy than I have." [Flowers, p. 42, Passion and Betrayal] Hillary has had sex with many women.

I have received approximately 350 emails similar to that just in the last six months. It's so commonplace, people don't even mention it anymore. The fact that Clinton kept going, becoming a senator, then the first woman to ever win a presidential primary and continues to put herself out there in the face of that kind of psychopathic bile is a testament to her tenacity and commitment. Everybody says they want a fighter. Regardless of who you vote for, the woman deserves respect for refusing to back down from that lizard brain sludge.

And I would warn that if unfair and biased press coverage and right wing smears are now a disqualification for elected office, then I think we'd better think long and hard about whether the Democrats are going to be viable as a political party. Smears and bad press for Democrats is part of the package. I would also add that I thought it was understood to be part of the Netroots job to fight back media bias against all Democratic candidates, even if, as individuals, we were pulling for a particular one over the other. That did not happen and I think the Netroots failed miserably in one of its primary missions this time out.

So what happens now? Well, as I and many others predicted months ago, the media is beginning to feel pressure from Republicans (and perhaps their own professional embarrassment) and are starting to go negative on Senator Obama. Rather than examining their biases and adjusting their coverage to be more fair and dispassionate across the board, they will now "even things out" by being equally derisive, shallow and trivial toward his campaign. We've already seen the outlines of it in the last debate.

Glenn Greenwald writes today about the media's opening gambit. It isn't pretty:

[A]ccording to Kurtz, the media has given "scant attention" to the Obama/Farrakhan matter even though Obama has never had anything to do with Farrakhan, and "little pickup" to the fact that Obama met once (ten years ago) with two Chicago law professors who were Weather Underground members 40 years ago. But the most beloved media figure in decades, John McCain, this week openly embraces one of the most extreme haters in the country, says how "honored" and "proud" he is to have his endorsement, and that still hasn't made Howie Kurtz's column.

It's absolutely true that Barack Obama, like any presidential candidate, ought to be subjected to rigorous media scrutiny. And it's not unreasonable to suggest that because Obama has thus far been the opponent of the media's most despised figure -- Hillary Clinton -- his policies, positions and legislative record have received less scrutiny than they ought to.

But as he made abundantly clear, scrutiny over substantive issues is not what Howard Kurtz is talking about. Those are the last things he's interested in. When vapid media figures like Kurtz complain that Barack Obama hasn't received the necessary "scrutiny," what they mean is that the real fun hasn't started yet -- they haven't been spewing all of the standard, entertaining, petty, personality-based smears from the right-wing sewers.

And the Republicans have not yet really begun to engage. Aside from the big 527s we know will be out there impugning Obama's patriotism, there are countless small wingnut welfare operations that have been waiting on the sidelines for eight years for their chance to make big money sliming a new Democratic administration. (Here's a little reminder of the kind of thing we can expect. Here too. And here's another reminder of how the mainstream media works hand in glove with these people.) The Muslim emails have already done damage and there will be more. (Look for terrorist ties or similar lies and smears next. It's what the muslim rumors have prepared the ground for. )

If he wins the nomination, I am actually quite hopeful that Obama will continue to get somewhat better coverage than our recent candidates. Certainly my limited window into liberal journalism leads me to believe that he will have the support of the liberal political establishment. And that is, unquestionably, a huge asset, certainly compared to Clinton and Gore who were despised by the entire Village.

But if you've been observing the way the political and media establishment works for any period of time, you will not be too sanguine that it will make much difference. There are many wealthy, powerful interests out there that do not want a liberal Democrat to have the power to withdraw from Iraq or renegotiate trade deals or create universal health care and they will not make it easy for Obama to win. Those interests also run the media and a fund a fully functional right wing infrastructure that works to guide the election narrative.

Perhaps it won't happen this time. It's possible that the era of GOP smears is over or that Obama has personal characteristics that render them impotent and useless. But considering the egregiously sexist Clinton coverage in this campaign and the history of terrible coverage for Democratic presidential candidates since 1988, I think the Democrats would be foolish to assume that. The Republicans are very good at feeding these narratives to the press and the press has always shown itself very eager to gobble them up.

Greg Sargent has more on this. So does Crooks and Liars