Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

January 24, 2004

by J

Media Distortion

From a diary by Copernicus at Kos:
What has been done to Dean with regards to media distortion is shameful. It is shameful the degree to which alleged progressive "thinkers" and media commentators have joined the usual gaggle of whores in pursuing this campaign against Dean. For a party that has recently witnessed a president being impeached over an extra- marital affair, after 6 years of pervasive "Get Clinton" media opposition to that president, we should all be ashamed to see such a cheerful participation by some of our own people in a smaller version of the same behaviour.

Dean was just trying to pump us his volunteers after a painful night. The axe job that has been done on him is nasty, vindictive, cheap, and, ultimately, a sign that some very powerful people in this party are genuinely threatened by Dean's power and support.

This blade is double-edged. Even if Dean has ultimately been done in by the media campaign against him, the low level to which the Democratic campaign has sunk will mock what comes next: the exact same level of cheap, tawdry negative campaigning against WHICHEVER Democratic candidate emerges into the general season by a vast media machine that, as we will discover again, favors a Republican over any Democrat no matter what.

And noone on this side will be able to say that Democrats don't engage in the exact same sort of behaviour when it suits our power players.
So true. Whether we believe Paul Wellstone was a saint whose name can never be invoked in the same sentence as another Democrat or not (I don't), the same techniques that were used to pervert the coverage of his memorial have been used against Howard Dean. They will be used against whoever the next Democratic frontrunner is, as well. Those of who decry the corruption of our political dialogue enabled by an RNC-fax-fed, ratings-driven media must stop stooping to their level and making excuses for them. It is not enough to simply sit there and say "Well, that's the media, gotta' play their game." Is that what progressives have been reduced to? When John Kerry, for example, joked about Al Gore inventing the Internet, my gut twisted -- he's bought into the whole contentless spin machine and will not seek to call the nonsense-spewers out on their nonsense.

In 2000 Phil Agre wrote several pieces exploring the toxicity of our political rhetoric and the application of twisted public relations tactics to politics. [Try here and here for starters.]
By "jargon" I mean the systematic application of public relations methods to the language of political debate, both by political parties and by privately funded think tanks. Jargon systematically twists language in order to subvert rational thought and reduce political discourse to the making and breaking of mental associations among vaguely defined symbols, often by means of extreme emotional manipulation -- thus the shouting. In the process, political discourse is reduced to the most primitive psychological level, and the toxic rhetoric that results can be best understood using psychological ideas such as projection. [...] I believe that jargon is incompatible with democracy, not to mention mental health, and it will only retreat if citizens develop antibodies to it by learning to name it when they see it.
Most of these people didn't even think of themselves as liberals -- at least not until they learned, for example, that Al Gore didn't claim to have invented the Internet, wasn't lying when he described his childhood farm chores, didn't grow up in a luxury hotel, didn't falsely claim to have been the model for Love Story, didn't hold a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple, didn't propose abolishing the automobile, didn't propose to outlaw guns, and so on. They had been genuinely shocked to discover that the cult members had been lying about these things, and they were even more shocked to discover that they and everyone around them had been living in a media bubble whose ranting and raving had shut off the oxygen from even these very simple truths. Some of them described the paralyzing despair that they experienced during the post-election controversy when they found themselves surrounded by angry and irrational people who display no respect for logic.
The media's only gotten worse since 2000. I predict that in November of 2004, another laundry list of right wing lies like that above will have been spread like so much mad cow manure through the 'mainstream' press. Will Democrats, independents, and reasonable Republicans stand up against the madness this time?

After what I've observed in the last few days, I deeply doubt it.
Posted by J at January 24, 2004 09:09 AM

Did I say that I thought Wellstone was a saint? No, I don't believe so, although he was one of the great ones. What I did say is that I think what happened at Wellstone's memorial and what happened at Dean's "concession" speech are barely related, and that invoking Wellstone to explain Dean obscures much of Dean's own culpability for the negative press that's happened this week.

Funny how these quotes argue that "real" progressives should be outraged about media coverage of the Scream and Kerry's perpetuating of the Gore-Internet meme (one that was very much in keeping with Al Gore's well-documented penchant for exaggeration), while the fact that Gore's Iowa bounce in 2000 over Bradley was built on a flat-out lie (end of linked story)...I don't rememember the Left rising up to bemoan that particular dire threat to democracy and the progressive vision. Progressive outrage, it seems, is a highly selective business.

Posted by: Kevin at January 25, 2004 12:39 PM

media distortion is become almost a cliche itself.
remember the big hype on Y2K,killer bees and not to mention SARS? more people have died of flu alone in canada than SARS worldwide. The news is bad, we all know this, we dont need reminding.

"Dont let the facts get in the way of a good story" Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

Posted by: andrew at February 27, 2004 12:11 PM

Recommended Reading:

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
The Politics of Truth... A Diplomat's Memoir

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

LIES by Al Franken
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

The Great Unraveling
The Great Unraveling

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow
The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Living History

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

John Adams

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

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