Perhaps my favorite media critic is Bob Somerby, who, for years, has run his Daily Howler blog completely independently.
Somerby’s primary thesis is that the media loves to write “scripts” about politicians. Once a script is established, facts are then distorted, twisted, and sometimes straight-out made up to support the preferred conventional wisdom that has been accepted and endorsed by those who occupy influential positions in the press.
These scripts have a standard form: a trivial, useless “fact” tells us something allegedly important about some prominent person. Perhaps the most famous example is Al Gore is a liar: he said he invented the internet! It doesn’t matter that Gore never actually said it; what matters is that it has been repeated so many times that it has become “truthy.” And it can be thrown into a column or a TV appearance casually, the declaimer knowing full well that, even if they are challenged, they can simply shrug off any criticism.
I’m reminded of Somerby today after reading what is an otherwise serviceable column from the Star-Ledger’s op-ed page editor, Tom Moran. Moran, writing on the fallout from Chris Christie’s Cowboy-gate scandal, says this:
That is why this is so damaging. It’s not that Christie is a Cowboys fan. In fact, I admire that he’s sticking with his team. It’s certainly more genuine than Hillary Clinton posing in a Yankee hat.
This is a preferred script: Hillary Clinton is a phony: she only became a Yankees fan after she decided to run for Senate in New York! I suppose Moran thought he needed to burnish his bi-partisan creds by throwing in a “they all do it!” kind of statement in a piece that otherwise focuses entirely on Chris Christie’s perfidy.
The problem, of course, is that this trivial “fact” about Clinton — one that is supposed to cast light on her poor character — isn’t even true:
As Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, Clinton’s 2003 autobiography, Living History (Simon & Schuster), contains a photograph of her wearing a Yankees cap in 1992 — eight years before she ran for the Senate. Further, The Washington Post reported on September 12, 1994, that “Mrs. Clinton … as a kid was a ‘big-time’ fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and ‘understudied’ Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle.”
Somerby himself has used Clinton’s status as a Yankees fan to make his point:
Yes, Hillary Clinton was a Yankees fan when she was a child in Chicago. (And a Cubs fan too.) Way back in the early 1990s, the Post reported this matter twice-back when no one felt the need to pretend that the story was bogus (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/14/00). But later on, in June 1999, the mainstream press corps was trashing Bill Clinton-it was also savaging Candidate Gore-and it decided to play the public for fools with this new piece of nonsense. Last March, they dragged this mangy old cat out again (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/07)-and yesterday, Matthews and his fellow idiots decided to go there again! Five big journos sat there and clowned; because these people are such perfect fools, none of them said this was bogus.
Lest anyone think I’m writing about this just to bust on Moran again, understand that I, like Somerby, have a larger point:
Our media spends less and less time these days actually reporting the news. Yes, there are good reporters out there — even at the Star-Ledger — but, increasingly, “news” consists less of actual reporting, and more of punditry.
Unfortunately, much of that punditry is based on conventional wisdom, and much of that “wisdom” is little more than the recitation of scripts that are not supported by actual facts.
It’s bad enough that the mandarins of our media spend so much time trafficking in trivialities. But is it too much to ask that they, at the very least, get these little things right?
ADDING: I grew up outside of Philly, so I don’t really know what it’s like to be a childhood fan in a two-team town. But I have never known a life-long Mets fan who liked the Yanks, and vice versa.
Wouldn’t it makes sense, then, that a Cubs fan would cheer on a team that regularly shellacked the White Sox?