News & Politics

Corporate Media Playing the Hate Game, Aiming at Both Obama and Clinton

Media bigs seem to have reached the conclusion that hatred sells, so they're embracing their inner sexists and inner racists.

UPDATE: Since this story was filed, the Washington Post pulled from its Web site the Mouthpiece Theater video featuring Dana Milbank's "Mad Bitch" comment about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In response to questions from TPM, Washington Post Communications Director Kris Coratti issued a statement explaining that the piece was removed because there was "a section of video that went too far."

The TPM report does not mention whether the statement addressed any disciplinary action for any involved; nor does the statement appear to contain an apology for an act of outright sexism by two of the paper's star columnists.

In the meantime, Chris Cillizza, who appeared in the video alongside Milbank, was featured today on the roundtable of CNN's State of the Union program, and was not asked one question about the "Mad Bitch" video.

Note that the video embedded in our article does not click through to the Washington Post Web site; it was captured by the good folks at Media Matters.

If the presidential campaign of 2008 was the mainstream media's teachable moment, it seems the wrong lesson was learned. Instead of the corrective soul-searching one would hope for among executives and editors at major media outlets as their on-air figures grappled with their inner sexists and inner racists during prime time, media bigs seem to have reached the conclusion that hatred sells. So they're selling it hard.

The latest exhibit is a Washington Post video (sponsored by the oil company, BP), in which one of the paper's A-list columnists suggests that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton be served a brew called Mad Bitch during a visit to the White House.

Add that to a month that saw CNN's Lou Dobbs advancing the cause of far-right-wingers who suggested, despite the evidence, that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and the assertion by Fox's Glenn Beck that Obama "hates white people."

And don't forget the racist commentary written by MSNBC's Patrick J. Buchanan, who was rewarded for his invective with a paid appearance on the popular Rachel Maddow Show. (The question is not why Maddow had him on the show -- she adroitly took Buchanan down -- but why Buchanan remains on the MSNBC payroll after calling Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor a "quota queen" and an "affirmative action hire" who advocates for "tribal justice".)

Campaign 2008 was something of a litmus test for the mainstream media, exposing through the gaffes of media personalities, the depth of racism and sexism in society at large.

With a white woman and a black man both vying to be the first-of-their-kind presidential nominee of a major party, media figures often found themselves at a loss whenwomen's groups or civil rights organizations chiding them for saying things that seemed to be absolutely normal in their white, and largely male, world.

From Chris Matthews' statement that Clinton only got to the Senate "because her husband messed around," to the frequent description of Obama as "articulate," media figures got a swift education from the backlash their unwitting condescension and prejudice garnered.

Unless you‘re an African-American woman, the hapless talking heads, despite their hefty salaries, were stand-ins for the rest of us, often not knowing how to talk about a leading contender for the most powerful job in world because he or she hailed from one or another class of humanity whose experience of prejudice and oppression lay beyond our own. (If you need an argument other than equal opportunity for bringing more African-American women into the upper reaches of media, the last presidential campaign should top the list.)

But as awful as was much of the talk-show chatter and newspaper fodder of the presidential campaign, a great deal of it amounted to an accidental exposure of prejudice through poor word choices. (The woodshedding of MSNBC's David Shuster comes to mind; he accused the Clintons of "pimping out" their daughter, Chelea, by having her stump for her mother.)

The latest rash of racist and sexist commentary from the mainstream media is another matter entirely: It is premeditated, calculated for page views and buzz; poison carefully calibrated to create a harmful reaction in the body politic. Take, for example, the Washington Post video.

Post columnists Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza, in an episode of a presumably ongoing feature called Mouthpiece Theater, sit in wing chairs, dressed in cheesy smoking jackets, reading from a script aimed to spoof the beer-drinking summit convened by Obama between Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American Harvard professor arrested two weeks ago in his home for mouthing off to a cop, and the man who arrested Gates, Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department.

In the video, the two analyze the beer choices made by each of the men, and then suggest that beer diplomacy be extended to a wide range of Washington notables. (Both Gates and Crowley come under sarcastic criticism for their beers: Gates for choosing a "British brew," and Crowley for selecting a "Belgian white.")

Suggestions include serving a Happy Ending beer to Rep. David Vitter, R-La. (whose name was found in the D.C. Madam's book), a brew called Bitter Woman From Hell to former Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., who was "just sued by his wife,",while suds suggestions made for Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, are Grumpy Troll and Insanely Bad Elf, respectively. You get the gist. It's a high-school-level, Wayne's World-style smackdown of Washington's powerful.

All but two on the list are male. A barley wine named Arctic Devil us suggested for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Then Milbank says, "And we're not going to tell you who gets a bottle of Mad Bitch." But a photo of Clinton briefly flashes on the screen.

One journalist friend privately suggested to me that no one will be fired over this, presumably because it will achieve its intended effect: lots of hits on the Post Web site.

A form of virtual rabies seems to have overtaken the arbiters of mainstream media. The rabies virus perpetuates itself by exaggerating the aggressive tendencies of the host animal; hence it spreads itself through attacks by the host animal on other creatures. The animal bites; the virus is spread.

The executives of mainstream media outlets have made a deadly bargain with human nature: Barking no longer brings the attention that advertisers demand, but biting just might spread the word. Nevermind the consequences.


Adele M. Stan AlterNet's acting Washington bureau chief.
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