From time to time, there are classic smackdowns of the news media. Matt Taibbi’s article in the current issue of Rolling Stone qualifies, especially since he’s a card-carrying member. Taibbi, it should be pointed out to those who don’t already know, wears his politics on his sleeve and in his articles. But the campaign press corps of 2008 walks into the door frame with such regularity (was yesterday’s top political story really that Obama and Clinton were forced to agree to play nice? Really? On a day when the economy took such a swan dive?), that even the most conservative pundits would be hard pressed not to slap the guy on the back.
Here are two particularly interesting paragraphs in the article, Merchants of Trivia: Why do the media insist on reducing one of the most exciting presidential primary seasons in American history to a simple horse race?
This 2008 presidential race looked interesting once, a thrillingly up-for-grabs affair in which real issues and real ground-up voter anger threatened to wrest control of America’s politics from the Washington Brahmins who usually puppeteer this process from afar. And while the end result in Iowa — a historic and inspirational Obama victory, coupled with a hilariously satisfying behind-the-woodshed third-place ass-whipping for status quo gorgon Hillary Clinton — was compelling, the media has done its best to turn a once-promising race into an idiotic exchange of Nerf-insults, delivered at rah-rah campaign events utterly indistinguishable from scholastic pep rallies. “If there’s policy in this race,” one veteran campaign reporter tells me with a sad laugh, “I haven’t noticed it.”
How did one of the most genuinely interesting primary contests in American history devolve into a Grade-D smack-down that even Vince McMahon would be ashamed to promote? The real story of the campaign has been its unprecedented unpredictability — and therein lies the problem. On both tickets, the abject failure of media-anointed front-runners to hold their ground was due at least in part to voters having grown weary of being told by the press who was “electable” and who wasn’t. Both the Huckabee and Ron Paul candidacies represent angry grass-roots challenges to the entrenched Republican party apparatus, while the Edwards candidacy is a frank and open attack on his own party’s too-cozy relationship with corporate America. These developments signaled a meaningful political phenomenon — widespread voter disgust, not only with the two ruling parties, but with a national political press that smugly enforced the party insiders’ stranglehold on the process with its incessant bullying of dissident candidates.
Update 5:04 p.m. Somewhat related, but here’s one of the more bizarre moments of the campaign so far. I’m not sure which is more startling: a reporter picks this particular moment to get tough on a candidate, or a press secretary alleging that calling a candidate to task (at a news conference, by the way) is being unprofessional. In other words, “just shut up and write down what we say.”