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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death By A Thousand Trivial Smears

by digby

I had another post teed up about Glenn Greenwald's latest, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, but will run it tomorrow instead because of the perfect nexus of one of the themes of his book and last night's egregious debate.

George Stephanopoulos, responding to the firestorm over his and Charlie Gibson's performances last night, told the LA Times earlier today:

“The questions we asked were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant and what you would expect to be asked in a presidential debate at this point,” he said. “The questions we asked…are being debated around the political world every day.”

He expanded on that in an interview with Greg Sargent:

"We decided to focus at the top on the issues that had been at the center of the debate since the last debate. Everything we brought up in that front section had not come up since the last debate. And they all focused on the same theme -- which candidate would be a stronger Democratic candidate in Novembber."

"This is the core question for the campaigns, and a lot of Democratic voters right now. That's why we decided to lead with it."

Heeere's Glenn, in Great American Hypocrites:

As always, they justify their vapid gossip by patronizingly claiming that it's what the little people are interested in -- all grounded in their condescending fantasies about the political assessments of the salt-of-the-earth simpletons who comprise the voting masses -- but this sort of childish, barren yapping is, in reality, representative of nothing other than how our empty Beltway media thinks.

That has been the dominant media theme for the last two decades in our political discourse, and particularly in our national elections. Leave policy and ideology to the side. Just ignore it. What matters is that Democrats and liberals are weak, effete, elitist, nerdy, military-hating, gender-confused losers, whose men are effeminate, whose women are emasculating dykes, and who merit sneering mockery and derision. Republican right-wing male leaders are salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, likable tough guys -- courageous warriors and normal family men who merit personal admiration and affection.

The Republican Party pioneered by Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, and Karl Rove will redeploy these same personality-based themes in the 2008 election because it is all they know and, more important, because nothing has yet ended the efficacy of such deceitful strategies. A shallow and gossipy press continues to eat it up.

The "issues" that Stephanopoulos and Gibson thought were of such interest to the Democratic primary electorate are the vaunted "character issues" which are pulled off the shelf in each successive election cycle and reused like an old winter blanket. These manufactured controversies are supposed to illustrate something important about the candidates --- indeed, journalists tout them as necessary to see if the candidates can "take it." Since the media see Republicans as being straight shootin' sons 'o guns who tell it like it is, there is no need to run them through the same meat grinder to find out if they are similarly "qualified."

It's absurd to think that Americans really care about flag pins or unreliable memories of a single event, (which have already been hashed out ad nauseum for weeks, by the way.) Of course they don't.

Glenn's book takes a nice long look at this phenomenon, examining the MSM's unabashed obsession with tabloid gossip and their eagerness to help the conservatives employ the death of 1000 trivial character slams, which we've all observed with slack-jawed incredulity over the past couple of decades. He carefully examines the long standing "Republicans are real men, Democrats are wimps" narrative that was consciously and carefully marketed to the mainstream media over the course of many years by the right wing propagandists. He takes us through the Dukakis campaign, through the bizarre case of Bill Clinton (where they feminized him by masculinizing his wife) to the recent atrocities of Gore and Kerry. It's not in the book, obviously, but we can see the same forces at work with Obama and Clinton just this past month.

The important thing to realize is that these themes have been completely internalized by the villagers. They really don't even question it anymore, it's completely natural to them. When you see George Stephanopoulos essentially explain that Democratic voters are choosing between an flaccid, unpatriotic "metrosexual" and a lying, delusional succubus, and it's simply his job to help them sort that out, you know that he's completely lost touch with what people actually need politics and government for. (It pays to remember that George made his bones by being the first in the media to use the word "impeachment" when Monica Lewinsky was revealed. He always knew which side his stale baguette was buttered on.)

In a particularly fascinating passage, Great American Hypocrites takes a close look at what happened in this cycle to John Edwards, former senator, vice presidential candidate and ardent family man. Essentially, he was turned into a preening gay hooker, primarily at the hands of a new news organization --- The Politico, run by a man who casually proclaims that "Drudge rules our world."

The most petty Politico attack began on April 16, 2007, when former New York Daily News reporter ben Smith, assigned to cover democratic presidential candidates for The Politico, published an item regarding John Edwards' haircuts. The item was titled "The Hair's Still perfect," and at the top displayed a large informal photograph, grinning widely.Underneath the photograph, Smith wrote" How much you ask [sic] does it cost to look like that?"

Smith conveniently linked to the infamous "I feel Pretty" YouTube. Glenn continues:

GOP operatives repeatedly referred to Edwards during the 2004 campaign as "the Breck Girl," a slur disseminated most helpfully by the New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney. Nagourney, in a front page Times article at the height of the 2004 campaign, actually granted anonymity to his "sources," whom he described as "Bush officials," to sling that emasculating insult at Edwards. (In this same ignominious article, Nagourney mindless parroted the same anonymous cowards as saying that Kerry "looks French," leading to that "observations" becoming a favorite anti-Kerry insult of the national media throughout the campaign.)

Three years later, in April 2007 --- in the midst of the Edwards hair "controversy" --- Nagourney wrote in the New York Times about his 2004 hit piece, sheepishly acknowledging the significant role the "looks French" and "Breck Girl" attacks he published played in demeaning the personalities of Kerry and Edwards during the election:

Our story may have had the result of not only previewing what the Bush campaign intended to do, but, by introducing such memorably biting characterizations into the political dialog, helping it.

It apparently took Nagourney three years of deep contemplation to realize that turning over the front pages of the New York Times to anonymous partisan smear artists might actually end up bolstering their smears and cementing them in our national political dialog.

That's just the beginning. Glenn deconstructs the entire episode and even someone as familiar with this sorry tale as I am was just astounded at how clueless and frankly incompetent these so-called journalists are when you see the whole thing unfold chronologically. Adam Nagourney is, by all accounts, a very nice guy and beloved by all who know him. But it's journalistic malpractice to not realize that you are being used for political purposes when you push out a story like that. Every time one of these apparent naif's do it the consequences for the country are immeasurable. You all saw what they can do in that revolting display last night in Philadelphia.

I'm sure the Village media see Glennzilla as the scourge of the beltway and resent him greatly for his bold, brave book which names name and takes no prisoners. As all of you who read his blog know, the man is a fearless outsider speaking truth to power. It should be required reading in every newsroom in America.