ALL OF THIS SEEMS ODDLY FAMILIAR…. Last week, Newsweek’s “Convention Wisdom Watch” feature gave Barack Obama another up arrow. The feature added, however, “What, no gaffes? CW worrying it won’t have enough silly distractions to feast on.”
Now, the magazine was obviously kidding, but the snarky joke pointed to an unfortunate truth: the political media establishment has been just sitting around, waiting for a “silly distraction to feast on.” A day after the Newsweek edition hit newsstands, Rod Blagojevich was arrested. Guess what happened next.
Kevin Drum’s take this morning was spot-on:
…I’ve lost count of the number of op-eds and TV talking head segments over the past week that have started out with something like this: “There’s no evidence that Barack Obama was involved in Rod Blagojevich’s pay-to-play scheme — in fact just the opposite — but….” After the “but,” we get a couple thousand words with some take or another on why this is casting a “lengthening shadow” over Obama even though there’s precisely zero evidence that he had even a tangential involvement in the whole thing.
Look, I get it: it was kind of a slow news week, reporters are tired of Obama the Savior stories, the Blagojevich story is theatrically sexy, and everyone is desperately trying to find a way to turn it from a local story to a national one. But there’s no there there. Maybe Republicans still haven’t learned their lesson from the 90s, but that’s no reason the press has to follow them over a cliff once again.
The “once again” phrase seems especially important. Media Matters’ Jamison Foser had a terrific item on Friday afternoon, highlighting why this week’s coverage, and the breathless efforts to connect Blagojevich to Obama, may seem eerily familiar to “anyone who lived through the media feeding frenzy of the 1990s.”
If the news media regains a bit of the skepticism so many of them set aside for the past eight years, that would be an unequivocally good thing, and it should be applauded.
But this week brought signs that much of the media is set to resume the absurd and shameful behavior that defined the 1990s — guilt by association, circular analysis whereby they ask baseless questions about non-scandals, then claim they have to report on the “scandal” because the White House is “besieged by questions,” grotesque leaps of logic, downplaying exculpatory information, and too many other failings to list.
If that happens — if the media continue to behave as they did in covering Whitewater — they will damage the country. It’s really that simple. We cannot afford to be distracted from serious problems by overheated conjecture and baseless insinuation masquerading as journalism.