Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Lord, it really is all about them

Just finished watching David Shuster guest-hosting tonight’s “Race for the White House” on MSNBC. Much of the program was consumed with Barack Obama’s trip abroad. Don’t be alarmed, though. The discussions managed to avoid actual events and substantive issues. Shuster and his guests joyously gave themselves over to excruciating nano-analysis -- utilizing an imaginary good-for, bad-for sliding scale of consequences -- of different scenarios (unspecified but apparently hoped-for gaffes) that could happen, might happen, but haven’t happened. [1]

When Shuster and his panel ran out of the speculative and otherwise nonexistent to nano-analyze, they turned their attention to two media faves -- staging and costuming: casual polo shirt versus open-neck dress shirt versus suit-and-tie, flak-jacket-on versus flak-jacket-off, and the critical photographic ratio of Obama and entourage versus cordial foreigners acceptable for the FOX News xenophobes and Lou Dobbs jingoists back home.

Finished with all that silliness, Shuster zeroed in on what was really bothering him: the dress code the Obama campaign had issued for those traveling with the candidate, including the press. The handout featured specific advice on what not to wear in the Islamic countries on the senator‘s itinerary.

Wow, this really ticked off Shuster, especially the caution against wearing nail polish. He warned that the tour dress code may come back to bite Obama on the butt since -- and this may be hard to believe -- the traveling press corps is filled to the brim with sartorial anarchists who now will be just itching to savage the senator once they are all safely back in the US.

Matt Taibbi is right. The modern presidential campaign is not a conversation between the candidates and the public.
[I]f you look at the campaign as it exists in the media, it is entirely a conversation with itself. Virtually everyone who is allowed to tell us what to think of the candidates, their positions, and the state of our politics in general is an insider of some kind. In this movie, only the guild members -- candidates, spokespeople, talking heads, pundits, and pollsters -- get the speaking lines. The rest of the country is represented by crowd shots….

In order to understand why this is, you have to grasp an essential truth about our political journalism. What our political reporters do for a living is sell the campaign to the population, not speak for the people to the campaign. This is most vividly demonstrated in who actually gets to talk in campaign coverage.[2]
Tonight, the person who got to talk in the campaign coverage was David Shuster, and what he was most concerned about was nail polish.

[1] For those of you growing weary of such nano-analysis of the insubstantial, go read Clive Crook’s column, “One Simple Way to Predict a Victor.”

[2] Matt Taibbi, Spanking the Donkey, p 300.

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