"Minitruths" And Big Lies

by digby

Gabor Steingart in der Spiegel online has been an interesting observer of the presidential race. I haven't always agreed with him, but he brings a different perspective than most journalists and is particularly astute about the US political media. Today he pinpoints something that I don't think ever gets enough attention:

A journalist's twin points of references should be the real and the important. But for months the focus of the election coverage was on trivia. Every insignificant detail got blown out of proportion, with every chipmunk becoming a Godzilla. According to a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, over 60 percent of election coverage by the US media has been focused on campaign strategies, tactics or personalities -- but not on actual political content.

Reporters focused the most attention on such pressing questions as whether Barack Obama was wearing an American flag lapel pin, whether John McCain had a mistress eight years ago or whether former first lady Hillary Clinton was incorrectly recalling her 1996 trip to Bosnia.

Clinton claimed to recall hearing sniper fire as her plane landed in Bosnia. In fact, as archive TV footage later showed, Clinton was actually greeted by a young girl who recited a poem on the tarmac. That may have been embarrassing for Hillary Clinton, but it is insignificant for voters.

Even the eccentric pastor from Obama's church, Jeremiah Wright, is not worth the fuss. "God damn America," he preached. So what? The priest at my Catholic church was a reactionary, while my class teacher was a communist. Perhaps the mad and the blind to the right and the left of our path through life are there simply to show us where the middle way is.

The American public has not only been misled during this election campaign, but has also been fed a constant stream of irrelevant information. In one of his novels, the British writer, essayist and journalist George Orwell invented the Ministry of Truths, which he called "minitruths," with which one would try to confuse the public with small parts of the truth that even when added up do not give the whole picture.

I actually think he understates the phenomenon. These "minitruths" add up to a completely distorted picture.

I have watched a lot of campaigns unfold in the media and I thought 2000 was a low point for sheer trivia and misdirection. But this one is shaping up to be even worse. There are real problems in this country and around the world and yet we have spent the last four months reading and listening to an ever expanding list of celebrity blowhards pontificate for hours about braindead pop psychology and calling it political analysis. And in a new twist, the media have now openly declared themselves to be kingmakers and final arbiters of our election process. It's mind boggling.

If you ever want to know which way the wind is blowing among the gasbag pundits and village scribes, look no further than the poison pen of Maureen Dowd:

Raspberry for Barry

In grim times, a bitter Hillary clings to bitter voters who in grim times supposedly cling to guns, religion and antipathy to people who aren’t like them.

Mining that antipathy, the New York senator has been working hard to get the hard-working white voters of hardscrabble Appalachia so she can show that a black man can’t yet be elected president.

Obama breezed through West Virginia, the state he couldn’t charm even wearing a flag pin and promising to invest in “clean coal.” Fast Barry shot some pool Monday afternoon at Schultzie’s Billiards in South Charleston, including prophetically sinking an eight-ball in the pocket, and then fled from Hillary territory to pursue white, blue-collar workers in battleground states and convince them not to vote for John McBush.

Obama is acting the diffident debutante, pretending not to care that he was given a raspberry by a state he will need in the fall.

"Bitter Hillary," "Fast Barry," "diffident debutante" --- this is what the Village dinner parties are tittering about these days. The old hag, the new fag, the same old shit.

And there is nothing much more substantial going on anywhere else. The endless obsession with process, the horse race, the "math," what they're eating, what they're wearing, what they're playing, runs on and on as if it tells us something truly important about what the citizens want and whether these candidates are giving it to them. Meanwhile we have a war, an energy crisis, global warming, economic dislocation, crumbling infrastructure, fifty million uninsured and huge debt both personal and public among many other things that government must tackle in the next four years due mostly to the massive failure of conservative governance. Apparently, the press feels that whether they wear lapel pins or misremember some event from a decade ago are the best means of finding out what the candidates do about those things. Or maybe they just don't give a damn and are entertaining themselves with high school story lines.

These amusing Dowdian character portraits have infected our politics like a toxic chemical spill, turning candidates into fun house mirror versions of normal human beings and treating the voters like spectators in a game for which the media decides the rules and determines the outcome.

Dowd always says she's speaking truth to power. Not so. She speaks truthiness to power and doesn't even know the difference. In her world there isn't any. And since her world is journalism it's a problem for any democracy that relies on a free press to inform the public. No wonder people so often end up throwing up their hands and refusing to participate. Let's hope all these new voters don't read papers or watch TV or they'll quickly become disgusted and apathetic too.

Update: Media Bloodhound has a perfect example of truthiness in action. lest anyone think that my objections to the pervasive cowardice and malpractice of themedia is political in nature, you only have to follow this story about the pentagon mouthpieces. Unfortunately, you can only follow it on blogs like Glenn Greenwald's, since the mainstream media is blacking it out.