Monday, October 20, 2008

Two Perfect Examples Of Media Spin

First, a little fun exercise, then I will give you a couple of examples of spin:

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom: David Brooks, NY Times; John Meacham, Newsweek; Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC; Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman, MSNBC; Chuck Todd, MSNBC)

That is the discussion panel on yesterday's Meet The Press. Can you spot the liberal in the picture above? No? Exactly. Let's move on.

MSNBC and CNN are often accused of being in the tank for Barack Obama by McCain supporters. Progressive writer David Sirota's theory is that "objectivity in the media today is defined as worshiping the status quo, denigrating popular uprisings, and serving as stenographers to power, celebrity and money." There is much to agree with that assessment.

My theory is simply this: the media bloviates, a lot (it is hard to fill a 24 hour news cycle with intelligent, thoughtful analysis, but not impossible). Media "contributors," as they have come to be known these days, are generally lazy when it comes to doing intelligent, fact-based analysis. Much easier to pull "facts" straight out of one's ass than to do actual research. Add to that sad truth the fact that the media has to find balance where there is none, lest it should be accused of bias, and all bets are off.

Here are a couple of examples of spin and fabricated balance (whether it's intentional or reflexive, it does not matter.)

On yesterday's Meet The Press, Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC contributor and wife of Alan Greenspan, had this to say about negative ads.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): I said it at the last debate. I'm not George Bush. It's--if, if Senator Obama wants to run against George Bush, he should have run for president four years ago.

MR. BROKAW: Can [the Obama campaign] continue to tag John McCain with George Bush?

MS. MITCHELL: They can, and, in fact, they're doing it with a remarkably negative ad. I mean, we talk a lot about the negativity on the Republican side. But the fact is that Barack Obama has so much more money, and some of these targeted ads, one that they unveiled on Thursday and Friday of this week and it's on national television, has John McCain in his own words saying, in another interview, in another context, "I voted, I supported George Bush 90 percent of the time." So they've got him on videotape. And the fact is, that this ad is running and running and running.

OK. Let's cut straight through the crap. What Mitchell is essentially saying is that both campaigns are running negative campaigns. To some extent, that is true. But while McCain is running robo-calls in battleground states that falsely paint Obama as a friend of terrorists (Bill Ayers), the Obama campaign is running an ad that ties McCain with Bush. Mitchell defines it as "remarkably negative." What is remarkably negative about it? Simply the fact that the ad ties McCain with Bush. Does it do so using the same unsubstantiated allegations and innuendos that McCain is using in the "Ayers is a terrorist is Obama's friend" robo-calls? No, it simply shows McCain boasting that he voted with President Bush over 90% of time, more than many of his Republican colleagues. Mitchell's conclusion? A remarkably negative ad. Watch.

I don't know about you, but I see a world of difference between telling lies (negative tactic) and underscoring the fact that your opponent boasted that he supported the president more than 90% of the time (thus "stepping in it".) But a supposedly pro-Obama journalist is oblivious to the difference.

Then, just this morning, I heard Bill Schneider, CNN political analyst, explain the tightening in the polls that seems to be happening with this rationale (and I paraphrase using my best recollection of Schneider's statement): Sen. McCain has made a powerful argument in the debate that he is not President Bush.

How? By claiming that he is not President Bush in last week's debate. Really.

Bill, Bill, Bill. I looked up your profile on Wikipedia. You just turned 64 (happy belated birthday!). Don't you know the difference between an argument and a claim? (And an unsubstantiated claim, at that.) Or did you think that McCain was simply saying: "my birth certificate and the president's are totally different?"

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