While Reverend Wright was speaking to the National Press Club yesterday morning alarms were going off right outside my window. Literally, sirens wailing on the street below my apartment, stuck in traffic, not able to move. I thought to myself, "how appropriate." Here we go, one week before the Indiana primaries, and we're stuck in another (news) media feeding frenzy about the life and times of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
It is not so much that I wish Reverend Wright would have stayed away until, at the very minimum, after the primary season was over (I do), but that I wish we had a media that was capable of covering this and other stories with some element of intelligent and reasonable analysis and discourse (we don't).
We are, as a nation, worse-off because of it.
I spend a lot of time watching cable news these evenings. I am my own self-appointed watchdog and, sitting on my sofa, I do watch, and am appalled, by the extraordinary misinterpretations, and deliberate falsehoods, that are allowed to fill the airwaves night after night after night. Whether it's "bittergate," (last week I watched as Chris Matthews described Barack Obama as "making fun" of blue collar workers) or Jeremiah Wright (Chris Matthews, (again) last night, describing Wright as Obama's "surrogate," and going on to describe Obama and Wright as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the same person, "birds of a feather," he continued). C'mon now? Seriously?!
There are very few journalists on cable news anymore. I see a lot of pundits putting forward disingenuous arguments -- i.e. arguments they know to be false, in an effort to support their candidate. It is like what Jon Stewart said, oh so long ago now, on Crossfire, it's all about political hackery, with partisan pundits believing that the end justifies the means ... and any means will do. Jon Stewart said it back then, and it is still true today, "It's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America."
It's true. It is.
We all know far too well how the media played right in to the Pentagon's hands in the lead up to the Iraq War. I worked at CNN in the run up to that war. I booked folks like General Shepperd (that's "shepperd" with two "p's" and an "e" -- get it right for the chyron!), and Kenneth Pollack (author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq), time after time after time. I read Judy Miller in the New York Times (and Tom Friedman too). We all did. And we all lived through the hand-wringing when it became clear that the press had gotten it wrong. "Has the press learned its lesson?" you may ask. (Not if you take the White House Correspondents' dinner at face value).
The press corp is like a flock of sheep. One guy says something, and everyone else has to follow. In this Democratic presidential campaign, the guy is in fact a gal called Hillary Clinton who is better than anyone I know at controlling the message, steering the debate, shepherding the sheep. How did Pennsylvania become such a phenomenal victory for her, when she was supposed to win all along and in the end managed to pull off a single-digit victory (and yes, it was a single digit victory -- who rounds 9.3% up to 10%?). How does Barack Obama have such a problem with working class and lower-income voters when he has been making ground with working class voters and lower-income voters ever since Iowa? How is it possible that the guy who just finished paying off his student loans a few years ago is the one who is being described as elite?
I don't know that I offer any solutions -- any way to smarten the dialogue. I think we did well in the days after the ABC debate. (Thank you Daily Kos, Huffington Post, MoveOn). The outrage was vocal and I think the folks over there at ABC got the message. I also note a certain hopeful glimmer among some of the pundits out there -- we're being encouraged to listen to the whole speech, look past the soundbite, all good things. New voices are being included in the debate. Rachel Maddow for example, one of the smartest voices out there, (full disclosure, we used to work together), Lawrence O'Donnell, (the only one trying to make any sense when Reverend Wright first re-emerged last week but getting shouted down by the jackals dying to tear both Wright & Obama apart), and David Gergen, (a fair voice over at CNN).
For Reverend Wright, maybe it was his ego that made him decide that now is the time to get out there and make his splash. The cynic in me thinks Rev. Wright picked this moment deliberately. He knows that once the nomination process is over, we won't be so interested. The generous spirit in me thinks that, once again, he has misjudged the (news) media in this country, he's given them too much credit. Whatever his reasoning, one thing is for sure. His words will be sliced and diced beyond recognition by pundits aiming to score political points -- not against him, not against the Black Church, but against the man he purports to support: the junior Senator from Illinois: Barack Obama.
The media would be hurting America, one more time.