With a few standout exceptions, the television coverage of the Democratic Convention is so grossly disconnected with the reality on the floor that, if I were more conspiratorial, I'd wonder whether the networks hadn't pre-taped their coverage months ago. Sort of like that SNL sketch in which Dana Carvey plays Tom Brokaw -- preemptively taping an on-air obituary for Gerald Ford. "Tragedy today as former president Gerald Ford was eaten by wolves."
While obviously not canned, the DNC coverage this week definitely appears to follow a preordained law: When the Republicans attack, repeat the attack over and over. When the Democrats attack, attack the Democrats. For lack of a better term, let's call it Scarborough's Law, in honor of Joe "The Shovel" Scarborough.
Scarborough's Law explains everything we're observing on cable news this week, and it will become especially evident next week during the Republican convention. Worse, this phenomenon is partly how we ended up in Iraq, and despite all of the mea culpas from old media since 2006 or so, this practically habitual, knee-jerk law remains in play with few exceptions.
When the McCain campaign latched onto this silly "Greek pillars" story, Drudge picked it up and, because he's America's Assignment Editor, it's all we heard about on cable news -- especially MSNBC's Morning Joe. And now, concern trolls are urging the Democrats to backpedal -- to not only rip down the pillars, but to abandon Invesco Field altogether. And if the Democrats were to in fact backpedal, the usual suspects would truck out the "Democrats weak! Republicans strong!" scene as if on cue.
See how that works? Rather than ignoring this desperate attack as nonsense, or debunking it with a wide variety of photos of Senator McCain speaking in front of Greek pillars, cable news is, once again, performing with Republican cue cards.
Tragedy today as the Clintons are feuding with the Obamas. Exaggerated and ultimately debunked. Tragedy today as the Democrats are lacking "red meat." There was red meat served by the truckload from Senator Kerry, Governor Schweitzer, President Clinton, and many others. Just because Pat Buchanan didn't hear it, it apparently never happened. Tragedy today as Senator Obama is a Greek God celebrity who's out of touch with ordinary people. Torn directly from the McCain campaign's own ridiculous blog.
And then we have this week's most obnoxious non-FOX News example of a host repeating Republican talking points verbatim, courtesy of the actual Tom Brokaw who last night responded to President Clinton's speech by shouting:
"When John McCain was sitting in a prison in Hanoi, Bill Clinton was writing letters to his ROTC commander trying to get out of the draft!"
I think Mr. Brokaw pre-taped that one 16 years ago.
So we're not allowed to criticize Senator McCain on foreign policy... because Senator McCain was a POW? I rest my case. This remark was clearly horked almost verbatim from the Rove-McCain campaign playbook of the last two or three weeks. The playbook that suggests everything can be deflected by exploiting Senator McCain's experiences in the war. The all purpose POW card: now with added cred from NBC's anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw.
By the same strained, exploitative cranky logic are we also not allowed to criticize McCain for having a nonexistent health care plan... because of his skin cancer? (I hasten to note: skin cancer that was treated via socialized medicine.) Are we not allowed to criticize McCain on his plan to privatize social security... because he's an old man?
Where were you, Mr. Brokaw, when the Republicans paraded around their convention four years ago wearing purple heart Band-Aids, mocking Senator Kerry's Vietnam heroism? Unless I'm mistaken, I don't recall hearing any similar such indictments from you -- especially when those Band-Aids should have been a thousand times more deserving of a Brokaw spanking than anything President Clinton said last night.
Meanwhile, over on CNN, when they're not desperately hunting for PUMAs to fuel the exaggerated "disunity" frame, they're consulting with known race-baiter Alex Castellanos who, before he began collecting CNN paychecks, collected paychecks from Jesse Helms in exchange for masterminding racist ads like the infamous "White Hands" commercial. Very serious, CNN. Hire a guy who produced the most notoriously racist political ad this side of Willie Horton to cover a convention in which the first African-American is nominated by a major party. And riddle me this: even though they've been compelled to capitulate to the Republican demands for ideological balance, why a known racist? Oh, right. It's hard work to find a Republican strategist who isn't.
There is, however, some hope for sanity. Regarding her forthcoming show on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow told Howard Kurtz this week:
"I'm sorry -- we're going to have a debate about whether or not the Earth is flat? It doesn't make sense to have a debate about whether offshore drilling is going to bring down gas prices. You know what? It's not. The fact that it's false ought to be reported, or you're advancing a lie."
Right. For example, the Republicans can only win this thing by suggesting that the less-wealthy African-American candidate who was raised by a single mother and who only recently paid off his student loans is too "exotic." Scarborough's Law dictates that Senator Obama either defend himself or Republican shills on cable and talk radio will repeat this lie over and over. And when someone from the Obama campaign responds, there's no vindication from the press -- instead, the Obama campaign is inexplicably and incongruously accused of dishonoring Senator McCain's POW experience. As Rachel pointed out, there shouldn't even be a debate about this specious GOP attack in the first place -- rather, it should be reported as false, or not reported at all considering how ass backwards it is.
So it's no wonder that much of the reporting from the convention doesn't seem to match what we're observing either in person or on C-SPAN. Further, it's no wonder why Senator McCain's poll numbers are artificially inflated and the reactions to various Obama campaign events are muted or somehow flipped into negatives. Not unlike the run-up to the Iraq invasion and the previous two presidential campaigns, the reality of this election is being so grossly obfuscated in lieu of a seemingly pre-taped perspective that, once again, old media is enabling an agenda of American self-destruction.
Thankfully, and in the spirit of Senator Obama's acceptance speech tonight, there's hope. Cooler, smarter heads are prevailing. The netroots. Maddow and Olbermann. And, naturally, an energized Obama-Biden Democratic Party that's more disciplined and stronger than any campaign we've seen since, perhaps, 1992. This combination may yet be enough to shred a few cue cards and, more importantly, win the day.