06 October 2008

Governor Palin, It's Not a Lecture Anymore.

UPDATE: The New York Times defends itself, says it's been harder on Obama/Biden than McCain/Palin.

So it is spoken, so shall it be done...
I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also...

I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they've just heard. I'd rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did.
So said Governor Palin at the VP "debate" last week. The Governor raises an important, valid point about the traditional media - but it seems to me she's under the impression that politics and communication is still a lecture, and not a conversation. This sticking point remains a fundamental reason the Republican party continues to lose ground and will suffer heavy losses in November.

Governor Palin and the McCain campaign have taken "running against the media" to a new level. For example, they've gotten to the point now where they don't even try to challenge the facts the New York Times prints - they simply refer to the Times as "150% in the tank" or a "pro-Obama advocacy organization." But do they have a point? Yes and no.

The Times (and any other media outlet, for that matter) has any number of stories it can choose to print; it chooses to print items on page one that paint Senator McCain in an unfavorable light. While the Times has published items that are critical of Senator Obama, it seems we haven't seen that as much lately. Of course, bias is not the sole province of the Times. Fox News has become the Attack Obama network - and I'm not even including the opinion shows like O'Reilly or Hannity-Colmes. (I put pundits in a different category - they're paid to bloviate.)

The "mainstream" media is and always has been biased. But the bias is not one of ideology. The media has a distinct NEGATIVE bias. It highlights conflict. It reports on problems. It speculates on future problems. It searches out problems, and then to sell papers (or get viewers), it tries to convince you that the problems it finds are really important, even if they're not.

I recall in the not-too-distant past the mainstream media was absolutely obsessed with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, holdovers from the Black Panther Party, whether rural people were "bitter" and the sheer horror of not wearing a flag pin. (I'm pretty sure the McCain campaign wasn't complaining about this - in fact, I expect to see commercials that revisit all of this in the very near future.)

The more important point, however, is how the McCain campaign has chosen to deal with this bias - they're putting Governor Palin in situations where only she gets to talk. No Sunday talk shows. No press conferences. No interviews with Katie Couric. Unless you're a stenographer (or Fox News), no access to the candidate whatsoever. You can't do that anymore and expect to get away with it.

While I absolutely LOVE Senator Thompson's comment to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on this:
Well, Wolf, I hate to break this to you, but you don't get national security experience by being on Sunday talk shows, and that's where a lot of these fellows get theirs.
It misses the point. At the debate, Governor Palin wasn't interested in answering questions. She was interested in reciting pre-approved talking points, and her job was to get in as many of those points as possible - regardless of the situation. She's resigned to the notion that in media interviews "you get clobbered no matter what you say," so she's going to ignore the media and "speak to the American people."

How exactly does she plan to do that? Will she actually talk with voters, or are we simply bracing ourselves for 30-second TV spots?

And more importantly, what if the American people have a question? Is it ok to ask for something a tad more specific than "I'm on a team of mavericks?" Do we submit questions in writing? Do we yell them out at a campaign speech? Do we write them on the back of the check to the RNC and hope you get back to us? For some reason I think we're not going to see Governor Palin do what Prime Minister Thatcher did - thanks to Andrew Sullivan for reminding us "what real accountability looks like."

Americans have not yet seen Govenor Palin's capacity for critical thought - and frankly, thanks to the devastating interview with Katie Couric, many Americans don't think she has any. This decision to quarantine Governor Palin, made by the McCain campaign, prevents people from ever knowing anything else. And it forces people to conclude that a vote for McCain is too risky because a Vice-President-suddenly-turned-President Palin wouldn't address the crisis before her - she'd want to talk about something else.

The fact remains - especially with the Republicans - the mainstream media still asks questions for the people. Republicans don't use the blogosphere the way Democrats do - GOP blogs aren't really a "shadow media" that demands accountability from both politicians and pundits. The conservative blogosphere is set up like an echo chamber for the GOP, sort of the online version of talk radio. In fact, one of the right-o-sphere's biggest bloggers is a radio talk show host.

In this regard the Republicans only have themselves to blame - they've confused "message discipline" with "message control." They haven't fostered the arrival of new conservative voices, they haven't asked for new ideas or support. They continue to rely on 20th Century tools like talk radio and direct mail, and when it comes to campaigning, they equate a diversity of opinion with weakness.

Compare this to what liberal blogs said about Senator Obama's position on FISA. Obama remains accountable for his decision, and he chose to keep the multiple lines of communication open. Message: "I'm transparent and accountable to you." Now the liberal blogosphere feels invested in the Obama campaign, and has transformed itself into the largest virtual ATM ever invented - capable of out-raising even the stunningly efficient Republican National Committee.

The Obama campaign is winning because it provides access to both mainstream media and the public. While it has a messaging platform, it gets significant input from the people in the grassroots social networks it has helped set up, and it reacts to information there. It's how the Obama campaign remains accountable to the people who support it and everyone else. The Republicans don't have that.

Governor Palin and the leadership of the McCain campaign seem committed to an "I talk, you listen" lecture style of campaigning. They see anything that disrupts that form of communication as a problem. That's SO ten years ago.

I'm not a conservative, but I know, like, and work with many. Conservatives have interesting and insightful ideas that they're more than willing to debate, discuss, and defend. I suspect Governor Palin is one of those people.

Too bad we'll never know.


PunditMom said...

That's all McCain/Palin can do because they don't have a grasp of the actual issues and can't discuss them in any real way. As they say in the law, if you don't have the facts, pound the table.

Mom101 said...

Absolutely outstanding David, really amazing.

Let's not forget that McCain used to refer to the media as his base. The media didn't change - McCain changed. The more he strayed from his "straight talk" and centrist positions, the more newsworthy he became.

Meanwhile the NYT has published a minimum of 18 articles referencing Obama and Ayres, and not one referencing McCain and his good buddy, convicted terrorist G Gordon Liddy.

Cynthia Samuels said...

David you're right about the media orientation but as a former reporter (for most of my life) I prefer the term "vested interest in chaos." The fact is that if you cultivate reporters, talk with them, remember their names, especially during a campaign, it often keeps the wolves at bay. That was what McCain used to do. The Kennedys- all of them - were brilliant at it. So that's another thing.
Finally, most reporters, at least from the middle to the top of the totem pole, believe they are serving their country by their trade. YES they can get waaaay too full of themselves and preoccupied with their own (Don't they know who I AM") positions but I know personally that in all my years covering politics my favorite sentence was from Jefferson: ""If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Good reporters believe that's what they're there for- and they ARE! When candidates forget that - or forget that reporters - and JEFFERSON - thought that - they get into trouble.
Finally, as you have noted, we have never, since FDR, needed a candid leader who respects the American people and a press that relays the facts of both the candor and the respect, no matter what the position of the candidate. McCain used to be like that - he lost his soul somewhere and wants to drag us all down with him in what I see as a true Faustian bargain with hatemongers and purposefully ignorant people like Governor Palin.
More than you wanted to know, probably.