"Minitruths" and Big Lies

Gabor Steingart in der Spiegel online has been an interesting observer of the presidential race. I haven't always agreed with him, but he brings a different perspective than most journalists and is particularly astute about the US political media. Today he pinpoints something that I don't think ever gets enough attention:


A journalist's twin points of references should be the real and the important. But for months the focus of the election coverage was on trivia. Every insignificant detail got blown out of proportion, with every chipmunk becoming a Godzilla. According to a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, over 60 percent of election coverage by the US media has been focused on campaign strategies, tactics or personalities -- but not on actual political content.
Reporters focused the most attention on such pressing questions as whether Barack Obama was wearing an American flag lapel pin, whether John McCain had a mistress eight years ago or whether former first lady Hillary Clinton was incorrectly recalling her 1996 trip to Bosnia.
Clinton claimed to recall hearing sniper fire as her plane landed in Bosnia. In fact, as archive TV footage later showed, Clinton was actually greeted by a young girl who recited a poem on the tarmac. That may have been embarrassing for Hillary Clinton, but it is insignificant for voters.
Even the eccentric pastor from Obama's church, Jeremiah Wright, is not worth the fuss. "God damn America," he preached. So what? The priest at my Catholic church was a reactionary, while my class teacher was a communist. Perhaps the mad and the blind to the right and the left of our path through life are there simply to show us where the middle way is.
The American public has not only been misled during this election campaign, but has also been fed a constant stream of irrelevant information. In one of his novels, the British writer, essayist and journalist George Orwell invented the Ministry of Truths, which he called "minitruths," with which one would try to confuse the public with small parts of the truth that even when added up do not give the whole picture.
I actually think he understates the phenomenon. These "minitruths" add up to a completely distorted picture.

I have watched a lot of campaigns unfold in the media and I thought 2000 was a low point for sheer trivia and misdirection. But this one is shaping up to be even worse. There are real problems in this country and around the world and yet we have spent the last four months reading and listening to an ever expanding list of celebrity blowhards pontificate for hours about braindead pop psychology and calling it political analysis. And in a new twist, the media have now openly declared themselves to be kingmakers and final arbiters of our election process. It's mind boggling.

If you ever want to know which way the wind is blowing among the gasbag pundits and village scribes, look no further than the poison pen of Maureen Dowd:

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