FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Press Gripe About ‘Joyless’ 2012 Campaign, Lament that it’s ‘Impossible for us to Change the Conversation’
Evidently the poor professional press is finding the 2012 slog less than fully enjoyable. ”If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign,” writes Dylan Byers in a Politico article titled “Reporters: We Loathe 2012 Campaign,” it’s ” media disillusionment.” His first citation is of New York Times Magazine‘s Mark Leibovich, who wondered “How am I ever going to get through [the 2012 campaign]?” in an August 29 article entitled “Feel the Loathing on the Campaign Trail.”
Byers effectively demonstrates that media members are having less fun covering the current election than they have past elections – particularly the one four years ago – but he has little to say about why that is. The best he seems able to do is to attribute the lack of enjoyment to the campaigns’ supposed decision to “run out the clock” on the 2012 election, saying the same things over and over while playing it safe with their statements and positions.
Reading between the lines, though, there’s a far bigger issue at play here – an 800 lb gorilla of sorts – in the form of alternative media, and the loosening effect direct communication outlets have had on the vise grip with which the establishment media once commanded the flow of information. This may be most clearly seen in Byers’s second quote:
“This is worse than normal, a lot less fun, and it feels impossible for us to change the conversation,” Walter Shapiro, who has covered nine presidential campaigns and now writes for Yahoo News and Columbia Journalism Review, told POLITICO.
That inability to control the narrative – “to change the conversation” – has largely come about as a result of alternative media, and has been a great concern of many in the media. Alternative media, like blogs and twitter, have helped people communicate both faster than, and without the narrative-guiding “assistance” of, the old-school media establishment. One result of this is that information that the MSM did not want to provide can get to the people anyway — something that was nearly unthinkable only a few years ago.
Mark Halperin expressed frustration with this development in June, when he griped about the fact that people actually heard of – and purchased – Joe Klein’s book The Amateur despite a coordinated effort by mainstream media to pretend neither book nor author existed:
Another danger for the President: the media freak show. Stalking that circus’ center ring is Matt Drudge, whose caustic website continues to help drive the news cycle with an emphasis on negative, mocking items about Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and their wives. The latest sign of Drudge’s potency: Ed Klein, the author of the virulently anti-Obama book The Amateur, was barred from major TV appearances and mostly ignored by the mainstream media, but the book’s prominence on Drudge’s website propelled it to the No. 1 slot on the New York Times nonfiction list.
It’s not just topics the media don’t want to be reported on; another effect of alternative media is that deception or the repetition of talking points can be noted and called out immediately by those paying attention. The precedent for this was set as far back as 2004, when Dan Rather was caught trying to torpedo President Bush’s reelection by pushing forged documents on the air, and then crying “fake but accurate!” when called on it. A more recent example can be seen in the wake of Paul Ryan’s RNC address, when establishment print and television outlets across the board attempted to push, almost word-for-word, the talking points sent out by the Obama campaign following Ryan’s speech (and the “fact-checking” done in its immediate aftermath by those bent on calling the speech false regardless of its content). This effort was caught almost immediately, and called out for what it was.
Another blow to the MSM is organizations like Newsbusters, which have kept tabs on television news, and people like Breitbart.com’s John Nolte, who has gone after the media like a one-man pack of rabid dogs, calling out bias at every turn.
Add this new generation of watchdogs to the MSM’s loss of their status as the sole arbiter of “fact” and mouthpiece for “news” and opinion, and the result is a media establishment that can no longer control the flow of information (and with it, the narrative). A second-order effect of this is that, despite the best efforts media can put forward, their favored candidate can’t seem to pull away from his opponent. Frustration at his inability to put President Obama over the top pervades nearly every paragraph of Leibovich’s lengthy aforementioned complaint about the tenor of the current campaign. It can also be seen in quotes like Halperin’s, and in the increasingly shrill, race-card-flinging, foaming-at-the-mouth ranting that passes for news and commentary at places like MSNBC.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, journalists are going to continue being quite unhappy for the forseeable future. In the end, they will either adapt to this new reality by acknowledging their biases and putting a stop to their megalomaniacal efforts to control the narrative and flow of information, or they will leave the game altogether. Either way, it’s a brave new day for information in America, and — despite bitter clingers’ claims to the contrary — the result is more daylight, more information, and more access to the truth.