John Harris and Jim VandeHei warn America today that an "Age Of Rage" is coming (coming?) and there's nothing anyone can do about it because the media should, as a matter of policy, prostrate themselves before the forces of the media narrative and just ride along, pointing out the sights as they rush by. We are but pawns before the Great God Narrative, and our duty is to report on its cruel nature without taking a stand on its cruelty. VandeHarris have essentially cast themselves in the role of Tiresias, and they are warning us today that if you do not want to see the coming Rage Age, tear out your eyes now!
Here's the optimistic case: The embarrassment of the Shirley Sherrod story -- with its toxic convergence of partisan combat and media recklessness -- will be a tipping point. It will remind journalists and politicians alike that personal reputations and professional credibility are at stake, and a bit more restraint and responsibility are in order.
Here's the realistic case: Get ready for more of the same.
Michael Tomasky wonders: Is there nothing we can do about this?
I mean, these are two powerful and influential guys, the top dogs at the Politico. How about they use that stature to write an editorial saying that we in the responsible media should not, and from this point on Politico will not, jump on these rickety bandwagons until we have independently verified that there is a legitimate news story here in which there is a real public interest? God forbid they say that.
NOT THEIR JOBS, MICHAEL TOMASKY! Remember, this is the organization that prefaces certain articles with the phrase "In an ideas piece," to sound a warning to readers that they may have to confront some "ideas."
But here we are, having some ideas about Shirley Sherrod and What It Means. Let's recall: the rickety bandwagon that provides the peg for this whole "Age Of Rage" item is Andrew Breitbart's calculatedly deceptive smear of Shirley Sherrod, which resulted in a massive rush-to-judgment orgasm from the media that sprinted ahead of common sense. And before anyone really sat down and started applying scrutiny, Sherrod was fired from her post by an administration that made a national priority of denying the Glenn Beck show any potential fodder. (They apparently don't yet understand that Glenn Beck's show is a self-sustaining organism, with no reliance on the news of the day to offer up an hour of wild-eyed critique.)
Credit CNN for doing the smart thing -- they found the Spooner family, the ostensible victims of Shirley Sherrod's "racism" and asked them, "What do you think about Shirley Sherrod?" Their answer was that Shirley Sherrod was a wonderful person. And that's the point where Breitbart's deception dissolved into dust. Now, it's really sad that I have to come along and give a medal to CNN for simply doing their job, but at least they figured it out. If you listen to VandeHarris, you would think that journalists simply have no tools at their disposal to do anything. Rather, they are powerless:
Responsible people in power and in the mainstream media are only beginning to grapple with this new environment -- in which facts hardly matter except as they can be used as weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war. Do you dive into the next fact-lite partisan outrage -- or do you stay out and risk looking slow, stupid or irrelevant? No one is close to figuring it out.
So your two options are to either a) grab your steno pads and write up the latest shitstorm as fast as you can or b) stay out and look stupid? Alex Pareene seems to think there's a third choice: actually taking the time necessary to figure out what's going on. "It was really easy!" he notes, accurately:
Andrew Breitbart has repeatedly demonstrated that he has no concern for the concept of truth, and he has a documented history of posting misleadingly edited videos. The Shirley Sherrod video he posted was obviously stripped of context. But anyone who watched the edited clip Breitbart himself posted should've known his interpretation of it was a lie. In the edited clip, Sherrod mentioned that Chapter 12 bankruptcy for family farms had just been enacted. One simple Google search reveals that the events she is recounting took place around 1986, many, many years before she worked for the USDA. So there is two seconds of research that call Breitbart's post into question.
Even right-wing bloggers who watched the clip noticed how abruptly the clip ended, just as Sherrod seemed to be getting to the point of her story.
Real-life reporters are supposed to be baffled as to how to respond to this fact-lite outrage? Shouldn't they have just found the full video, or interviewed Sherrod, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did? If you have to write about the latest Breitbart outrage RIGHT THIS SECOND, you write "bomb-throwing propagandist with history of disregard for factual accuracy posts race-baiting video intended to score political points against NAACP and black people in general." It was a really easy story!
But let's go back to this part: "No one is close to figuring it out." Actually, it seems like when it comes to struggling with "figuring it out," Politico leads the pack. Today, they are struggling to understand how journalists in this "new environment" will manage in a coming period of "fact-lite outrages." Last week, they were struggling to understand what pundit-bloggers did. Last December, they were struggling to understand what would happen to the world if Sam Stein and Christina Bellantoni joined the White House press pool.
It's getting really weird to hear an organization that's cast itself as a "new-media" leader constantly admit that it doesn't understand the first thing about it!