Ernest Partridge: GOTCHA!
A Democrat campaigning for the White House must feel like a soldier advancing through a mine field. At any moment, he or she is one step away from being blown out of the contest. And the poor wretch is surrounded by a ravenous mob of media hounds, each of whom is eager to set off the fatal charge.
Still worse, almost all the media volleys are fired toward the port side. If a Republican or (so-called) “conservative” makes a gaffe, as they do almost daily, their “misspeak” is usually politely ignored. Or if it is simply too awful to be ignored, it is shoved down the memory hole after a couple of news cycles and effectively forgotten by the corporate media. No big deal. Count on it: John McCain’s belated shedding of the embarrassing Hagee and Parsely endorsements will be gone from the news and forgotten within the week. In contrast, the Rev. Wright “Goddam America” uproar is still alive after several months.
“Gotcha! moments” are often excavated through the sort of diligent searching that was once the hallmark of investigative journalism – back in the days when we still had investigative journalists. The Rev. Wright remark was culled out of thousands of recorded hours of his sermons. Barack Obama’s “bitter” comment was caught by chance on a cell phone recording.
If the Democrat’s careless comment is insufficiently damaging, the GOP and/or the media will “improve” it. Case in point: It wasn’t bad enough that Michelle Obama said that for the first time in her adult life, she was “really proud of my country.” That word “really” softens the impact. So out with it! In this video clip of a Tennessee GOP ad, the word has clearly been deleted. Here is the unedited remark.
If culling and editing will not suffice, then there is always whole-cloth invention – i.e., outright fraud. In 2000, Al Gore was relentlessly pounded for his “claim” to have “invented the internet.” He never made that claim. And what of his alleged boast to have “discovered” the Love Canal toxic site? Never happened.
Gotcha! smears follow the successful Democratic politician into office. Remember the press ruckus when, in May 1993, Bill Clinton allegedly held up air traffic at the Los Angeles airport, while he was getting a haircut on Air Force One? Now that was news! But when the FAA and the LAX traffic controllers totally debunked the story, the media felt that correction was scarcely worthy of mention. And the Clintons were hounded by the alleged “Whitewater scandal” throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency, until at long last, the Ken Starr inquisition was forced to admit that there was “no there there,” a finding that was essentially ignored by the mainstream media.
Then there are those utterly trivial incidents, inflated to national prominence: Al Gore wearing “earth tones,” Howard Dean’s amplified “scream,” John Kerry’s preference for swiss cheese (yum!) over Cheez-Whiz (yechh!) in his philly sandwiches, John Edwards’ haircut, Barack Obama’s disinclination to wear flag lapel pins.
Meanwhile, glaring issues potentially devastating to the Republican candidates are kept off the front pages and off the mainstream TV screens: Bush’s violation of security laws, his desertion from the Air National Guard, the August, 2001 PDB: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” the Florida schoolroom on 9/11 and “The Pet Goat,” the lies that led to, and now prolong, an illegal war. The list is endless. Also McCain: his numerous “flip-flops,” his slavish adherence to the Bush policies and the utter inauthenticity of his “maverick” label, his involvement in the Keating Five scandal, his obvious cluelessness about Middle East politics, etc. And, above all else, the total failure of the corporate media to investigate and expose the frauds perpetrated by the privatized election industry.
But for the alternative and foreign media, and the liberal blogosphere, we’d likely know little if any of this today.
Hillary Clinton and “The A-Word.”
Let’s stipulate the obvious: Hillary Clinton’s reference last week to the RFK assassination was pluperfectly stupid and insensitive. It could prove to be fatal to her campaign, though I doubt that it will.
And yet, although I agree with many that by prolonging the contest all the way to the convention, Clinton might well cause the Democrats to lose in November, and, while I therefore believe that for the good of the party and the country, she should quit ASAP, I believe that the significance of her blunder may have been overblown. At last, the admirable and eloquent Keith Olbermann may have overshot with his rhetoric. None other than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a Clinton supporter, has downplayed the remark: “It is clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June... I think it is a mistake for people to take offense.”
Exactly! Clinton’s essential point: three months is an eternity in politics. History confirms that a lot can happen before the August convention: a whopper of an Obama scandal could emerge, Obama could be diagnosed with a fatal disease, or, God forbid, he could fall victim to a fatal accident or be assassinated. True enough. But some things, most assuredly, are much better left unsaid.
In sum, as tempting as it may be to use Hillary’s A-word blunder to push her off the stage, I suggest that it would be less than honest to do so. And practically speaking, it would be unwise for any Democrats to encourage the media “gotcha!” practice of disqualifying candidates due to single, isolated gaffes.
Also largely unsaid and apparently unnoticed by the punditocracy, is the simple fact that the uncertainties of the pre-convention summer fail to justify Clinton’s determination to continue the contest. Should she withdraw tomorrow and then should some misfortune make it impossible for Obama to claim his prize in Denver, Clinton would obviously be at the head of the queue to take the nomination. More so, if she were to withdraw gracefully soon, rather than further embitter the party with her continuing challenge.
In the meantime, what will be the media’s likely response to Clinton’s verbal stumble? While they could use it to pummel her candidacy, perhaps fatally, I predict that the media will soft-peddle the incident and let it pass into early obscurity, just as if I had been uttered by a Republican. And why? Because the corporate media and its Republican sponsors are all determined to see Clinton’s dismal and doomed candidacy continue as long as possible, best of all on to the convention itself. The continuing drama of the contest attracts eyeballs to the media while it enhances John McCain’s prospects for success in November.
So What is to be Done about “Gotcha! Journalism”?
I wish that I had a startling and innovative answer that question. Perhaps you do, and if so I’d like to hear it. In the meantime, the old and familiar responses will have to do. Foremost among these: punish the corporate media for its offenses. Deprive the media of its audience and its sponsors of their customers. Look elsewhere for news and information – alternative and foreign media and the internet – and let the corporate media know that you are doing so and why. The corporate media are businesses with fiduciary responsibilities to their stockholders, and thus cannot be indifferent to the financial consequences of their journalistic delinquency. As the general public continues to wise-up to the fact that the corporate media are no longer reliable sources of information but rather are propaganda organs for the military-industrial-congressional-media complex, both the credibility and the audience of that media dissolves. If a significant portion of the public accelerates that dissolution, the media will face the stark dilemma: reform or perish.
At the same time, the alternative media must be supported. Word must go out that reliable information is at hand to those willing to search for it.
The truth will eventually come out, if given a voice. It is up to we the people to give it that voice.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".