Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do the media revolution

As another bitter and hysterical U.S. election draws to a close, it's important for mainstream media consumers to take a step back and recognize the incredible shift that has taken place in American journalism during this election. If you've been reading newspapers and watching the endless TV coverage over the past several weeks, you've probably noticed that journalists aren't exactly hiding their view that Barack Obama will win.

Most media outlets have shuffled their coverage from "Obama is winning" to "what will Obama do when he wins?" to "how will Obama be successful in doing what he does when he wins?" These outlets aren't necessarily advocating or celebrating an Obama victory; instead, they are simply predicting the outcome by interpreting polls and capitalizing on the sense that Obama has unstoppable momentum.

After weeks of this, Americans are starting to wonder aloud: Has the mainstream media gone insane? It follows that among the flurry of Obama-will-win stories are an increasing number of opinion columns questioning the media's news judgment, and trying to figure out just what the hell is going on with American journalism.

Industry veteran Michael Malone, in a column last week, equates the trend to a wholesale media sellout -- a blasphemous slap in the face to all that is good and holy about professional journalistic standards. Malone attributes the slanted coverage to burned-out newspaper reporters and editors realizing that the Titanic newspaper industry has officially hit the iceberg, and the violins are playing a very sad song.

Politico, meanwhile, says the McCain campaign is at fault. The Web-based media outlet contends that its coverage is simply reflecting the tone and progress of the election campaign, and it would be disingenuous to manufacture "artificial balance." The coverage, according to Politico, is slanted negatively toward McCain simply because McCain isn't doing well in the election.

Well, journalism professors and media purists, light your torches and prepare the cross, because I offer an alternative perspective: The natural de-evolution of the mainstream media to their original roots and a widespread revolt against sensationalism. But before I explain this outrageous theory, it's important to note some media history.

Before the 20th century, American newspapers weren't much different from today's fledgling Internet news machine. Much like blogs and political Web sites now exist for every social issue or political ideology, so it was for newspapers from the dawn of the United States through the late 1800s. Today, if you disagree with a political blog, it's as simple as moving on to the next one, or better yet starting your own. It was the same during the glory days of American journalism: Newspapers were so numerous -- and it was so easy to start your own -- that readers could find a new viewpoint by picking up the next newspaper or even establishing a new one.

Keep in mind that although newspapers in this period were primarily driven by ideology, they weren't necessarily prone to sensationalism or outright fabrication. The idea, according to journalism scholar Robert McChesney, was to "persuade as well as to inform" -- not lie to generate sales or sway the public. The media environment was viewpoint-driven and highly partisan, but it was so saturated that it allowed for incredibly effective information gathering.

That is, until market-driven commercialism saw an opportunity for profit.

In the late 1880s, during the roots of the Gilded Age, society's wealthiest individuals started to distort what was a vibrant system of informing the public. Suddenly, journalism turned into a highly profitable enterprise, and newspapers transitioned from "persuade and inform" to "sensationalism equals sales." Vast corruption, driven by the desire for profits, transformed newspapers into agents for propaganda and outrageous tales of sex, crime and "yellow" journalism. With the concentration of media power and the money flowing into the industry, it was no longer possible for people outside the elite to launch their own media outlets and compete. Commercial interests began consolidating newspapers and collecting vast profits from sensationalistic stories. Journalism, in its early greatness, was dead.

A few decades later, as the 1800s dwindled and the 1900s roared to life, American journalism was reborn. After years and years of hysteria and greed, people started to realize that newspapers were the lowest form of discourse. Conservatives lamented the use of immoral content -- sex and crime -- to generate sales, while progressives decried the corrupting influence of capitalism in the media. Fearing a revolt, newspaper publishers created what McChesney calls "Professional Journalism" -- the idea that to be legitimate, journalists must obtain an education at an established school and learn basic tenants of objectivity and fairness. The goal was twofold: convince the public that media conglomeration was a good idea as long as certain standards were followed, and keep making money by the truckload through monopolization. After all, the publishers concluded, why would America need a variety of media options when the few that exist adhere to a strict code of neutrality?

Unfortunately, this "professional" model, while pure at its face, had serious flaws. The most dire shortfall was that objectivity simply doesn't exist: All news decisions are an expression of some form of bias. With the rise of "Professional Journalism," not only did people have fewer news outlets, but these outlets claimed the impossible dream. What was sold as a breakthrough in promoting democracy was actually an ingenious cover-up of what was essentially the corporate takeover of the U.S. media.

Another problem with "Professional Journalism" that McChensney notes -- and one we're seeing daily during this election -- is the notion that journalists "who raise issues no official source is talking about are accused of unprofessional conduct and of attempting to introduce bias into the news." That is, under the tenants of neutrality, journalists are being unethical if they provide any form of their own news analysis to "objective" stories. Sound familiar?

The big question, then: What has changed so fundamentally about this media model that has led newspapers to abandon professional standards, especially during this election? Three words: Internet media revolution. What is happening today is what the industrialists squashed after the Gilded Age: a sweeping revolt of media consumers. People have grown so weary of sensationalism in the "objective" mainstream news -- Britney Spears, terrorism, celebrity crime -- that they are turning to the Internet and the escape from conformity it provides. Except this time, a sweeping reform of journalism won't save newspapers, because corporations will never own the Internet. The damage has been done.

With the infinite market of viewpoints available on the Internet, it's of little surprise that Professional Journalism in the mainstream media is starting to falter, with more focus put into news analysis over strict objectivity. Internet bloggers and political Web sites may approach issues with a general sense of neutrality, but they certainly won't maintain this impossible, suffocating ideal when it comes to interpreting the news. And to compete with this increasingly popular Internet model, the mainstream media are adapting with standards reminiscent of American journalism's birth.

We're not facing a format revolution, from print and broadcast to the Web. We're facing a revolution of information gathering. We're facing a massive shift in media expectations. We're facing the death of objectivity. Finally.

The coverage of this election signals the final death twitch of the dying newspaper industry; a last, desperate attempt to be relevant. Despite their rules of objectivity, newspapers are slowly being forced by the Web to give readers what they actually want: an acknowledgment of their beliefs and assumptions about the world.

Sadly, newspapers can't possible win this battle. Readers are so conditioned to expect an impossible standard of objectivity that they will continue to abandon print if newspapers keep blurring the lines. Yet, if newspapers stay dedicated to objectivity, readers won't get the variety they can easily obtain on the Internet. News objectivity simply can't compete in a nation of people who are inherently incapable of viewpoint neutrality.

That's either a tragedy, or the most beautiful thing I've ever realized.

Thought for the day

I'm still unsure how I feel about being involved with a dying industry, but I'm positive it will make a great story for the grandkids when they ask what it was like to read a newspaper.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another sign

The apocalypse is nigh.

Friday, October 24, 2008

GOP desperation and self-mutilation

I fucking knew it:

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) ― Police sources tell KDKA that a campaign worker has now confessed to making up a story that a mugger attacked her and cut the letter “B” in her face after seeing her McCain bumper sticker.

Ashley Todd, 20, of Texas, initially told police that she was robbed at an ATM in Bloomfield and that the suspect became enraged and started beating her after seeing her GOP sticker on her car.

Police investigating the alleged attack, however, began to notice some inconsistencies in her story and administered a polygraph test.

Authorities, however, declined to release the results of that test.

Investigators did say that they received photos from the ATM machine and “the photographs were verified as not being the victim making the transaction.”

This afternoon, a Pittsburgh police commander told KDKA Investigator Marty Griffin that Todd confessed to making up the story.

The commander added that Todd will face charges; but police have not commented on what those charges will be.

According to police, investigators working on the interview process detected several inconsistencies in Todd’s story that differed from statements made in the original police report.

Pittsburgh Police Public Information Officer Diane Richard released a statement earlier today, saying: “Because of the inconsistencies in her statements, Ms. Todd was asked to submit to a polygraph examination which she agreed to do.”

No photos of Todd are being released by Pittsburgh Police at this time.

The investigation is continuing as officials determine what charges will be filed.

I had reservations as soon as I saw this story, and not just because I like Obama. I find it very suspicious that a thug would actually stick around long enough at the scene of his crime to carve somebody's face to make a political point. How many ultra-violent muggers do you think follow politics? I would wager: not many. This story was too insane for its own good. Total fabrication.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rhymes with idiot

As part of my ongoing Unsolicited Political Advice handbook:

How not to win an election, step #45987458: Tell every voter living in a populous city that they are unpatriotic. Then, instead of apologizing for making this ridiculous claim, say you're sorry that big city people didn't understand what you really meant by saying they were unpatriotic. Finally, don't elaborate on what you actually meant when you said they were unpatriotic. For example (not actual direct quotes):

Clueless candidate: "I like coming to small towns, because people in small towns are patriotic and big cities are anti-America."

Enraged big-city voters: "Why don't you take your domestic-terrorist-supporting husband and 15 babies and go back to your frigid wasteland of a state, you hysterical, pandering bitch."

Clueless candidate: "I apologize if anybody in a big city misinterpreted my statement, "big cities are anti-America," to mean big cities are anti-America. That's not what I meant at all."

Enraged big-city voters: "That's weird. It seems like "big cities are anti-America" was pretty self-explanatory."

Clueless candidate: "Down syndrome!"

Other guy: "Fucking hell I'm old. Sooooo old. God, how do I even get out of bed in the morning? Cindy, you whore, fetch me my cane so I can go mumble incoherently to the public."

Clueless candidate: "Maverick!"

American lol!!!!!!!!!111111111


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Powell bitchslap

Hilariously, Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama is politically untouchable. After all, Republicans can't exactly criticize a highly decorated war hero, given their candidate is using that status as his entire platform. And they can't blame Powell for screwing up on the Iraq intelligence to the United Nations, given that John McCain repeatedly endorsed that very intelligence. All the Republicans have left is to play the race card. Good luck with that, guys!

It's all so gleefully karmic.

Joe the Fraud

Barack Obama has consistently talked about realistic solutions to real problems, and the best answer McCain can muster is a classic American redneck fraud named Joe. Seriously, "Joe" has lied through his teeth from the moment he was ejaculated into the national media spotlight after whining that his fake plumbing business would be taxed too heavily under Obama. Since then, with the help of a merciless media machine with no stomach for bullshit, we've learned:

1. Joe the Plumber is not actually named Joe. His name is Sam. Using "Joe" was just another failed attempt by McCain to be a pandering, populist dipshit like Sarah Palin.

2. We think his last name is "Worzelbacher," but we can't be sure because it appears his name is spelled incorrectly on his voter registration card. Might be government error, or he could just be that stupid. We'll never know.

3. "Joe" is probably breaking the law by being a "plumber" in the first place, considering the fact that he doesn't have a fucking plumbing license in his county of residence. Oh, and neither does his boss, who owns the company. It's unfortunate, really, because McCain could definitely use a licensed plumber to take care of his bullshit problem.

4. "Joe the Poor Math Student" confronted Obama at a rally because he was concerned that the Democrat's tax plan would end in higher levies if Joe decided to start his own illegal plumbing business. But many analysts say his concern is unfounded, and he'd actually be eligible for a tax cut if the gross business receipts hit $250,000 (as Joe himself said they would). The New York Times did a nice graphic about it here.

5. It's funny that Joe is so worried about paying more taxes, seeing as he hasn't paid any taxes in the past. He currently has an outstanding personal tax lien on his name for more than $1,000. Hey asshole, how about paying your fucking taxes like the rest of us before you gripe about anybody's tax plan? You've got egg on your face, or maybe horseshit, I can't tell.

So to recap, McCain's symbol of the tortured American worker is an illegal plumber he calls Joe, but who isn't actually named Joe, who claims to be afraid of paying more taxes under Obama but doesn't actually pay his taxes. If McCain worked for Bush, he'd be nicknamed McCainy, and Bush would say: "Helluva job, McCainy!" Grand slam.

Joe sets an interesting example for the rest of us. Specifically: We can lie, too! In fact, based on my early calculations, John McCain's tax plan will rape grandmothers and murder kittens. I'll be expecting the news vans any second.


Toledo Blade
Daily Kos

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Using Republican logic, I prove McCain is a terrorist

Campbell Brown over at CNN made an excellent point recently about the perception among a vast swath of ignorant Americans that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and the fact that such a staggering number of people view this as the primary reason to vote against him. Brown asks a simple question: Even though he's clearly not a Muslim, should it really matter if he were?

The answer, obviously, is no it shouldn't, but the reality: Yes it will. And that really says something about our country. Even though a majority of voters appear prepared to release their prejudices long enough to elect a black man as president, this nation still has a long way to go. A long, long way.

This election has been infected with blatant overtones of racism from the beginning, and it hasn't always been about black-and-white politics. Consider some recent comments from John McCain at a campaign rally, when he responded to a voter who declared she wouldn't vote for Obama because he's an Arab (never mind the fact that if he were an Arab, as opposed to an American, the Constitution would bar him from running for president in the first place):

No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That's what this campaign is all about. He's not, thank you.

Think about what McCain is saying here: No, is Obama not an Arab, he's a decent family man. Maybe it was subconscious, maybe it was unintentional, or maybe I'm just reading too much into it, but it sure seems like he's making a sharp distinction between Arabs and decent family men. Sure, you can say he's just practicing good politics, and that's exactly the type of distinction the people who attend his rallies would expect him to make. Fine. But then what does that say about the Republicans who attend his rallies?

As Campbell noted in her essay, it shouldn't matter which religion you practice, just as it shouldn't matter if you're black, white, Asian or an alien from Planet Gargamel (as long as you were born in America!) And although Americans might soon pass a milestone in seeing beyond Obama's skin color, clearly many are still hung up on the fact that he could be a Muslim.

The elephant in the room in this case is Sept. 11, and the Americans who were killed by Arab terrorists. The argument goes, I guess, that those hijackers were a representation of all Arab culture, and therefore all Arabs are not to be trusted. But using that logic, I could say that Timothy McVeigh -- a white, American domestic terrorist who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing -- is a representation of all white Americans. Does that mean I should vote against John McCain?

Maybe I'll do just that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's come to this

The desperation and deception of McCain's new campaign strategy -- unleash Sarah Palin to lie shamelessly in front of adoring, racist crowds -- wrapped up nicely by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- John McCain is collapsing in the polls in Florida and other swing states, but Sarah Palin, God bless her, has a solution.

"For me, the heels are on, the gloves are off," she announced at high noon Monday to a group of Republican donors at the Naples Beach Club.

You betcha.

As the donors sipped their bloody marys and mimosas, she added, in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "I'm sending the message back to John McCain also: Tomorrow night in his debate, might as well take the gloves off."

Darn right.

Of course, it's not only gloves and heels; headgear has a role, too. "Okay, so, Florida, you know that you're going to have to hang on to your hats," she said at a morning rally in Clearwater, "because from now until Election Day, it may get kind of rough."

Say it ain't so, Sarah!

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a McCain confidant, told The Post's David Broder that the campaign would "go down in history as stupid if they don't unleash" Palin. Well, the self-identified pit bull has been unleashed -- if not unhinged.

Barack Obama, she told 8,000 fans at a rally here Monday afternoon, "launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist!" This followed her earlier accusation that the Democrat pals around with terrorists. "This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America," she told the Clearwater crowd. "I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country." The crowd replied with boos.

McCain had said that racially explosive attacks related to Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are off limits. But Palin told New York Times columnist Bill Kristol in an interview published Monday: "I don't know why that association isn't discussed more."

Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

McCain's swoon is largely out of his control, the result of an economic collapse that ignited new fears Monday when the Dow Jones industrial average closed below 10,000 for the first time in four years. That's why his lead in Florida polls, which once reached as high as 15 points, has turned into a three-point deficit.

But the campaign has reacted with recriminations (the St. Petersburg Times reported that the Florida Republican Party chairman, after questioning Palin's aptitude, was told that he couldn't fly on her plane) and now Palin's rage.

The angry GOP vice presidential nominee even found a way to blame the market decline on the yet-to-be-enacted tax policies of the yet-to-be-elected Obama.

"If you turn on the news tonight when you get home, you're gonna see that, yah, this is another woeful day in the market, and the other side just doesn't understand -- no!" she said at an afternoon fundraiser at the home of mutual fund giant Jack Donahue. "Especially in a time like this, you don't propose to increase taxes. The phoniest claim in a campaign that's full of them is that Barack Obama is going to cut your taxes."

Of course, Obama never promised to cut taxes for people at $10,000-a-plate lunches in air-conditioned tents on waterfront compounds. And the crowd -- among them New York Jets owner Woody Johnson -- reacted without applause to Palin's Joe Six-Pack lines. After they didn't strike up the usual "Drill, baby, drill" or "USA" chants, Palin, rattled, read hurriedly through the rest of her speech.

The reception had been better in Clearwater, where Palin, speaking to a sea of "Palin Power" and "Sarahcuda" T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. "One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," she said. ("Boooo!" said the crowd.) "And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,' " she continued. ("Boooo!" the crowd repeated.)

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.

Palin also told those gathered that Obama doesn't like American soldiers. "He said that our troops in Afghanistan are just, quote, 'air-raiding villages and killing civilians,' " she said, drawing boos from a crowd that had not been told Obama was actually appealing for more troops in Afghanistan.

"See, John McCain is a different kind of man: He believes in our troops," she said.

At times, Palin hinted at the GOP campaign's troubles. "It's going to be a hard-fought contest, especially in these swing states, some maybe we would not have expected," she admitted to donors. She allowed that "John McCain and I need to do a better job" of talking about the economy.

At other times, she had troubles of her own, as when she spoke over the weekend of "our neighboring country of Afghanistan" or when she got choked up at the Clearwater rally, saying, "Some of your signs just make me wanna cry," without explaining which ones or why.

But then the gloves came off, the heels came out, and Palin was once again talking about her opponent hanging out in a terrorist's living room.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The facts, finally

Click here for the most incredible investigation of John McCain's career of deception and dishonor that you'll ever read. You'll never look at him the same way again.

Also, note to the McCain campaign: Nobody gives a shit that Obama was on the same charity board as a guy who was a radical 30 years ago. People want to know why billionaire CEOs are walking away rich while Wall Street crumbles, and why we're still sending billions to Iraq when we can't even run our own economy. Your entire campaign is a now a national parody. You're gonna lose, bitches!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Counting down to November

The sudden reversal of the McCain campaign's treatment of its beloved Sarah Palin is not surprising given that a week spent on the interview circuit has lowered expectations of her experience and competence to such a historically low level that a change in strategy was imperative. McCain will still lose, of course, but at least he'll go out fighting -- or whining, as Palin is apt to do so exquisitely.

Interestingly, the campaign decided to take off the leash and send Palin on the offensive. Instead of stumping the policies of a McCain administration, she's leveling personal attacks on Obama's character and leadership. In the past two days, Palin has more or less labeled Obama a terrorist sympathizer and called him unqualified to lead an army (in her universe, Obama is somehow unpatriotic for pointing out that we should avoid carpet-bombing Afghan villages and slaughtering innocent civilians by the truck load).

All this is hilarious considering Palin was so clearly recruited not for her character or leadership, but for her uncanny ability to court social conservatives with folksy platitudes and meaningless emotional drivel. Palin is a self-parody, and sometimes I wonder if she's even smart enough to realize her role in the campaign is purely superficial.

The big question this week: Will American voters be able to see the irony in everything Palin says and does? Will they be turned off by her hysterical rhetoric? Have we finally moved past terrorism politics? And, most important, will Obama respond in a way that is effective and powerful? For the sake of America, I sure hope so.

Republican fear machine back in action

As I've pointed out, the Republicans can't win without fear-mongering about terrorism. If people aren't terrified of their imminent deaths, the GOP has no legs to stand on. This is only the beginning:

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday accused Democrat Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists" because of his association with a former 1960s radical, stepping up the campaign's effort to portray Obama as unacceptable to American voters.

Palin's reference was to Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the group the Weather Underground. Its members took credit for bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol, during the tumultuous Vietnam War era four decades ago. Obama, who was a child when the group was active, served on a charity board with Ayers several years ago and has denounced his radical views and activities.

The Republican campaign, falling behind Obama in polls, plans to make attacks on Obama's character a centerpiece of presidential candidate John McCain's message with a month remaining before Election Day.

Palin told a group of donors at a private airport, "Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." She also said, "This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America."

Palin, Alaska's governor, said that donors on a greeting line had encouraged her and McCain to get tougher on Obama. She said an aide then advised her, "Sarah, the gloves are off, the heels are on, go get to them."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Barracuda? Sounds about right

An observation: The McCain campaign continues to label Sarah "You Betcha" Palin as a political barracuda. Sen. McCain repeated the metaphor in a speech today when he declared, in reference to Palin's debate performance: "Viva la barracuda!"

Yet, I wonder whether the campaign has bothered to look up "barracuda" in the dictionary? It yields interesting results (from merriam-webster.com):

1: any of a genus (Sphyraena of the family Sphyraenidae) of elongate predaceous often large bony fishes of warm seas that includes food and sport fishes as well as some forms frequently causing ciguatera poisoning

2: one that uses aggressive, selfish, and sometimes unethical methods to obtain a goal especially in business

I don't get it. Are they saying she's a fucking fish, or are they saying she's aggressive, selfish and unethical?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'd tell you what I think about Palin, but I've chewed off my tongue

Sarah Palin's down-home, aw-shucks personality makes me want to tear my eyelids off and set my eyeballs on fire. I want to ram a red-hot poker into my ear, sever my brain stem and drown myself in boiling water. All these things I would rather do than listen to her bumble for one more second like she's running for spot on the Wasilla PTA. If she wants to make the claim that she's part of the "middle class," as she did so many times during Thursday's debate, then she might want to burn down her mansion in the pristine Alaskan wilderness and give away that $1,000,000 she has in the bank. Middle class? Please. She wouldn't know middle class if she shot and skinned it during a raving moose hunt. She can drag as many pregnant teen daughters and Down syndrome babies onto the stage as she wants.

Sen. Biden skewered her like a clueless schoolgirl on foreign policy and domestic issues. Unfortunately, Americans inexplicably insist on electing idiots, so it's all meaningless. That said, any self-respecting independent and undecided voter couldn't possibly watch that spectacle and come out with the conclusion that this astoundingly inexperienced Republican madwoman is fit to sit in the White House.