So, we’re entering week two of an event that, thanks to quick thinking, White House officials nipped in the bud and transformed into a one day story.
On the plus side: this OpEd from EJ Dionne is superlative. I don’t share his optimism, but he points out what strikes me as the key facet linking the Sherrod narrative to a much larger issue:
The Obama team did not question, let alone challenge, the video. Instead, it assumed that whatever narrative Fox News might create mattered more than anything else, including the possible innocence of a human being outside the president’s inner circle.
The Facts Do Not Matter. While still folding like a cheap suit, at least the administration seems to have internalized (and fumblingly tried to act upon) this basic tenet of today’s media complex. And that’s the thing that really differentiates the Sherrod dust-up: the fairly counter-intuitive notion that the true facts of the story not only emerged but were covered and became the ongoing core storyline employed by the MSM. This rarely happens.
I’d argue that this is because the truth was suitably damaging to the administration while the “lie” in the matter rather inconveniently put on display the deeply dysfunctional brand of “news” that FOXnews peddles and furthermore highlights a larger media establishment that not only ignores but frequently rushes to defend such behavior.
A truly agile administration would have used this rare opening. Indeed, they should be waiting for such an opportunity, with tightly produced packages ready to drop at the first sign of FOXnews’ exposed flank. Instead, they fired Sherrod. This is why they fail.
But, getting back to the novelty of having a truth emerge from the fiction and actually manage to become the narrative, for how long have we lived with other convenient lies like:
- Al Gore says he invented the internet
- Unlike Americans, Al Gore wears four-button suits
- Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal
- Al Gore says he was the basis of Love Story
- Al Gore wore earth tones because a woman told him to
That the first of these is actually mentioned by Dionne is as shocking as it is unusual. Polite people never mention these facts.
Admittedly, these examples are merely a smattering from the Al Gore section of the Convenient Media Storybook. There are many more, and innumerable sections; Social Security is soon to be insolvent, tax cuts have always paid for themselves, and etc… Al Gore makes an interesting case because the man has been out of Presidential politics since he was elected President back in Campaign 2000. These and other lies about him still appear on a daily basis in the mainstream press. But, of course, these things cut both ways. The Church of the Savvy tells us that both houses are always equally flawed. False equivalency is the stock and trade of the business. So let’s give equal time and run down all the manifold lies that are repeated daily about disgraced former Speaker Newt Gingrich:
The typical evolution of stories like Sherrod’s goes something like this:
- Wrong but convenient and story-making non-fact is put “out there.”
- Serious people like Cokie Roberts and Juan Williams pick it up and uncritically repeat it
- Truth of matter emerges on A19. Is ignored. Derided as too complicated, booooo-ring, or “old news.”
- When directly challenged with (3), serious people like Cokie will haltingly agree with its ultimate veracity, but continue to treat (1) as fact because it’s “Out there.” And then proceed to recall (1). Forever.
The Sherrod case is playing out very differently. Not only did the reality emerge, it was accepted and propagated. Dionne continues:
The traditional media are so petrified of being called “liberal” that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.
This is true to a point, however he’s either forgetting or just avoiding the key lie. The key myth that makes it all possible: that the MSM is, in and of itself, liberal. A false attribution, but one that is (surprise, surprise) frequently repeated. This is what movtivates the fear of being called liberal. It’s the frame that drives NPR to run stories worrying over three hours of clearly differentiated msnbc editorial programming alongside 21 hours of straight news (three of which are dominated by a former Conservative member of Congress) whilst merrily whistling past the fact that FOXnews runs a 24/7 propaganda mill, complete with “serious” stories like the entirely false notion that the Obama Justice Department categorically refuses to prosecute black men; it would be one thing if this nonsense was limited to FOXnews, but it is not. Dionne picks up this thread:
Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the [Washington Post] had been slow to report on “the Justice Department’s decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.” Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
Now, [Bush Justice Department official J. Christian] Adams is accusing the Obama Justice Department of being “motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law.” This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense — and it’s nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.
Again, Dionne soft-pedals it. It’s not just Hannity saying this during “editorial” hour; it’s the entire “news” operation on FOXnews doing it. Presenting it as fact. Repeatedly. Which, for unclear reasons, positively compels the rest of the MSM to do likewise and ponder why they didn’t report on this falsity more aggressively and sooner without ever pausing to consider that the story is baseless and more often than not invented out of whole cloth. Thus do people like Drudge, Limbaugh, Beck, and O’Reilly become the assignment editors for the MSM. Many say the world is round. Others say it is flat. Opinions differ.
Thus does the nation die at the hands of invincible ignorance.