Media Hacks: Why Our National Press Corps Is Failing the Public Abysmally
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How easy it's become to manipulate the media. You withhold any substantive information, not taking questions other than softballs thrown by friendly journos, until the travelling press is so desperate for a story that they'll go with whatever you run up the flagpole. This week, the Boston Globe – another supposedly über-liberal paper – ran an editorial calling for Joe Biden to apologize for saying that Romney, who had promised to “unchain” – deregulate – Wall Street would “put y'all back in chains.” Are we to suddenly pretend, en masse, that references to slavery haven't become a staple of campaign speeches? Hardly a week goes by without a Republican urging African American voters to flee the “Democratic Plantation,” or saying that government regulations are “shackling the economy.” That stuff doesn't leave the Globe editorial board reaching for their smelling salts. Yes, Biden made a poor choice of words, but with the number of Americans living near the poverty line reaching an all-time high, one might think that we could talk about topics other than the 'gaffes' that political reporters so enjoy.
Meanwhile, the Romney camp has referred to Obama as a “food-stamp president,” and is running a series of dog-whistle ads claiming – also entirely falsely – that Obama is rolling back the Clinton era work reforms. The ads are reminiscent of the infamous “ White Hands” ads Jesse Helms ran in 1990. Political scientist Michael Tesler studied voters' reactions to seeing Romney's first welfare ad, and found that, “among those who saw it, racial resentment affected whether people thought Romney will help the poor, the middle class, and African-Americans.”
The political press seems almost allergic to diving into the policy weeds to offer readers a sense of what politicians would actually do if elected. After Paul Ryan appeared – with his mother – at a Florida retirement community, the Washington Post quoted one of the attendees saying, "I personally like his plan, because at 73, it really wouldn’t affect me... It’s something for the future. Under Obama, I just have too many problems — with the money he took away, the $716 billion."
Both statements are totally untrue, but only one – that Obama “raided” Medicare – has been widly debunked by the fact-checkers. Every day reporters repeat the false claim that Ryan's roadmap doesn't impact people aged 55 and over because they wouldn;t be switched over to vouchers. But the reality is that Ryan's budget repeals “Obamacare,” which is closing the prescription drug “donut hole” and covering free wellness visits and cancer screening for retirees right now, and he'd cut Medicaid by about a third over the next ten years (about a quarter of all Medicaid dollars go to seniors – it helps pay for 6 million retirees' home health visits and covers Medicare's out-of-pocket expenses for millions more). This isn't some obscure policy arcania – it's simple stuff to understand.)
So, no, tender Politico writers, we won't have a lofty debate about the issues. But don't blame the candidates – to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, they're going to war with the press they have, not the one they necessarily want. Look in the mirror, because nobody is forcing you to uncritically repeat the campaigns' claims or offer us breathless stories about who raised more dough or ran more ads in the battleground states. It's you who will go bonkers over something vaguely titilatting like a bunch of drunk Republicans skinny dipping in Israel – nobody's making you downplay reports that the FBI was investigating allegations that one of those swimmers had violated campaign finance laws (it was none other than Politico that offered an “ exclusive report” claiming that the FBI “probed a late-night swim,” as if that's even remotely plausible).