::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
5 Questions About: Media and Politics

An Interview with Media Observer and Journalist Dan Kennedy

(Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor at Northeastern University School of Journalism, publishes a blog called Media Nation. It analyzes media coverage – especially around political coverage. He’s got the eye of a journalist, probably because he does that, too. He writes a column for the Guardian (U.K.) and articles for CommonWealth Magazine and the Boston Phoenix (where for many years he was media columnist). He is also a regular on Boston area radio and WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press.” DaRK PaRTY wanted Dan’s insight on the presidential race, how it was being covered by the mainstream press, and any wry observations he was willing to make about the Obama and McCain campaign machines. We struck gold!)

DaRK PaRTY: What is your assessment of the overall media coverage during this year's presidential race?

Dan: I’m willing to admit I'm an elitist, and I spend most of my time with elite media such as the New York Times and NPR. I think they've done a reasonably sophisticated job, although they're too timid to take on the broader narrative.

I would describe that broader narrative as the descent of our politics into a sort of insanity during the Bush years with regard to the White House's hyper-aggressive approach to foreign policy, the embrace of torture, domestic spying, radical capitalism (helping to foment the current meltdown), and an anti-scientific orientation informed by the most primitive forms of religious belief.

The general-election campaign has been defined by the decision of John McCain, a modern and worldly man, to embrace this insanity just as it is beginning (I hope) to pass from the scene.

DP: The Republicans have been crying foul over the media's treatment of Sarah Palin. What's your take?

Dan: The media have been far too kind to Sarah Palin, who is an exemplar of the most dangerous strands in our politics, as I explained in my earlier answer. We have all seen the video of her urging church-goers literally to pray that God will facilitate the construction of a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska. For that reason alone, I would not vote for her. And I'm not even getting into whether she agrees with the pastor of her former church, who said -- while she stood nearby, listening and applauding -- that Alaska holds a special place in God's plans for the post-Apocalyptic world. Scary stuff.

But there are many more reasons to be appalled by Palin, such as her lies about Troopergate, her non-existent opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere," and her family's involvement in the radical, anti-American Alaskan Independence Party; her narrow-minded, vindictive approach to governing, documented by the Times, The New Republic, and numerous other news outlets; and her hate-filled, false rants against Barack Obama, which have had the effect of stirring up something close to mob hysteria. All these things mark her as someone who is profoundly unqualified to serve in any elected office, including the mayoralty of Wasilla, Alaska.

DP: If John McCain loses the election in November -- how much of it is because he picked Palin? What's been her effect on the McCain campaign?

Dan: My suspicion, though I can't prove this, is that Palin has hurt McCain more because of the opportunity cost involved in choosing her rather than in any specific thing she has said or done.

Imagine, if you will, the difference if McCain had chosen Mitt Romney as his running mate just before the financial meltdown began. Romney would be front and center, utterly credible and believable because of his successful business background.

It must be killing McCain that he has to hide his running mate from public scrutiny when he could have had one who would shore him up in an area where he is perceived as weak.

DP: Does Obama get better treatment in the press or is this another myth of the "liberal" media?

Dan: The answer to that is very complicated. The media have been notably tough on McCain for the miserable, negative campaign he's run; yet I still don't think they've quite gotten at how bad it's actually been. The media also have a longstanding love affair with McCain, and I think we've only seen that partially diminished this year.

Are the media in love with Obama? I don't know. During the primaries, I think he may have benefited from the media's well-established loathing for the Clintons, and there's no question that some in the media have swooned over the notion of a charismatic African-American presidential candidate.

We know from studies over the years that most elite political journalists are liberals. But the way those liberal journalists make their bones is by kicking the hell out of liberal politicians -- just ask Al Gore and John Kerry. That dynamic may be less at play this time because of disgust over the Bush years and the promise of something new represented by Obama.

DP: What is your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the two campaigns?

Dan: That's a difficult question, isn't it? Obama has run a remarkably competent and disciplined campaign. Just a few weeks ago I thought he might deserve criticism for not fighting back as hard as he should. But by maintaining an even keel, he's put himself in a commanding position in the polls with just a few weeks to go. I don't think McCain is out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but right now it appears that Obama is winning by a lot. He is also principled, intelligent, and, despite his lack of experience, dauntingly well-informed on a vast array of national and international issues.

Obama's life experience, which is so unusual and interesting, does lead him to come off as somewhat distanced from others, which has caused some backlash against him. Then again, Republicans always enjoy some success casting the Democratic candidate as "elitist" and "aloof," so I don't want to get carried away with that.

McCain's great strengths are his moral courage, as exemplified by his POW experience, and his willingness to stand up to his own party on such issues as torture, immigration, judicial appointments, and campaign-finance reform.

By turning himself into a conventional Republican, and by choosing Palin as a sop to the right-wing base, McCain managed to fritter away most of those strengths. He has come off as erratic (to use Obama's word) and angry. That should be deadly on Election Day, but I'm not going to make any predictions here. OK, I'll make one: Despite what the polls say today, the final result will be close.

An Interview with Dan Kennedy about his book on Dwarfism

Under God's Right Arm: Jesus Would Vote for Sarah Palin

Blame the #$@% Media!

Labels: , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar StumbleUpon | Digg! Digg | del.icio.us | Reddit | Technorati Technorati | E-mail a Link E-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
The Template is generated via PsycHo and is Licensed.