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Monday, May 05, 2008

Who Did Rev. Wright Ever Torture?

Quick, which candidate for president has the biggest problem with an association to an out of control nutjob? Which candidate is joined at the hip with a lunatic who's words and deeds deeply trouble -- and even frighten -- American voters?

Its pretty safe to say that you didn't guess correctly. Network news has Obama's guilt by association story in such heavy rotation that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is on more often than the weather report. Yet an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that John McCain's ties to Bush are much more troubling to voters than Obama's ties to Wright.

poll graphic

McCain's ties to George W. Bush are 11% more terrifying than Obama's ties to Wright. The hidden news story here is that we're not half as ignorant as the networks and the pundits think we are. And this isn't for lack of trying on the media's part. Networks -- including that same NBC and MSNBC -- look at this data and conclude that Wright's the big story. Yet we're shown that in terms of voter's "major concerns," the data shows that it's McCain's connection to Bush first. Obama/Wright comes after that (43%) and after Clinton's changes in position (36%) and after Obama being "out of touch" (34%). Wright comes in fourth at 32%. In fact, since the margin of error is about 3%, concerns over Wright are in statistical ties with McCain's flip-flops and Clinton's honesty -- dead last at 31%.

In other words, you could just as easily say that the polling shows that Wright is one of the things voters are least concerned about.

I don't really want this post to get too bogged down in polling, but a CBS News/New York Times poll (PDF) shows that 60% of all voters approve of the way Obama handled the Wright controversy and that both Clinton and Obama would easily beat John McCain. We're talking wins in a walk here -- Clinton wins 53% to 41% and Obama wins 51% to 40%. Another statistical dead heat in terms of which dem would kick McCain's sorry butt the hardest.

Yet, in another of a string of examples of how the mainstream media is serving us very, very poorly, we see Rev. Wright so often that a casual foreign observer could be excused for assuming he's running for president. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather asks a very revealing question in an op-ed:

OK, everyone who knows what Jeremiah Wright has to say about AIDS, 9/11 and Louis Farrakhan, raise your hand. Now let's see a show of hands from everyone who knows where Barack Obama -- or any of the presidential candidates -- stands on the structural challenges to the U.S. economy, foreign policy in the post-9/11 world and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Hello? Where'd everybody go?

The problem here isn't that the media thinks you're stupid -- a conclusion that'd be easy to come to -- but that they hope you're stupid. "American voters are being taken by the press that is supposed to serve them," Rather writes. "Taken for their advertising dollars, and taken by bottom-line pressures on newsrooms that leave insufficient time, resources and incentive for reporters to do much more than run with the herd on the stories that are easiest to cover."

And that low-hanging fruit mentality, that "stories easy to cover" laziness, extends to the punditry as well. The chattering class have been riding this non-issue, offering opinions in deep, wise, and grownup tones, all the while pulling just about everything they say about it straight out of their butts. For future reference, when a pundit says, "I think..." that's shorthand for "I have no reason to believe this, no data to back it up." If you need another example of this, think back to 2004, when the dominant assessment was that "voters were looking for the candidate they'd most want to have a beer with" -- despite the fact that no voters were actually saying this.

And, to go back to the NBC/WSJ poll, the excuse of laziness barely washes. There's footage of Wright, sure, making it easier to cover that issue, but how many miles and miles of videotape show George W. Bush -- the man whose association to a candidate voters find most frightening -- saying something stupid or irresponsible or just plain untrue? There's your low-hanging fruit.

But I suppose what a scary, incompetent, lying lunatic George W. Bush is is old news. The shiny new bauble is Jeremiah Wright and his egotistical string of appearances. But Wright didn't get us into any wars, Wright never tapped your phone, Wright has never authorized torture. That'd be that terrifying figure that haunts John McCain. Yet the story that McCain and Bush are generally likeminded -- and voters' apprehensions over that fact -- remains the untold story in this campaign.

And all of this irresponsible and lazy journalism is having an effect. Please bear with me for one more one more poll number. A CNN Opinion Research Corp. poll finds that "Half of Americans think a John McCain presidency would bring different policies than the Bush administration."

This opinion is based on a void. John McCain's actual policy positions are getting short shrift, leaving voters to come to their conclusions based on nothing but their impressions and their hopes.

Some in the media admit to this McCain non-coverage -- albeit indirectly and accidentally. During a Washington Post discussion, reporter Shailagh Murray spilled the beans and admitted that coverage of McCain sucks:

This is driving Democrats crazy right now, but just wait. Once the primary battle is over, Sen. McCain will get his fair share of scrutiny.

What Murray is basically saying here is "We'll cover McCain later." Yeah, thanks. You'll cover him later and he's running for president now. We'll find all about him about five minutes before we go to the polls, if the dem race goes to the convention -- fifteen minutes if it ends when most expect it to, by June. As Obama and Clinton fight negative -- but inconsequential -- news stories, John McCain skates.

So the candidate who's association with a gibbering lunatic most bothers voters won't be covered. The media will get around to that later. Right now, there's a shiny new plaything to make up voter reactions to. The big story is the big story because the media decided it was the big story -- never mind what you think or your neighbor thinks or what polls show anyone thinks. Pundits aren't paid to report, they're paid to "analyze." And, for them, "analyze" means make crap up without any factual foundation. They're paid to talk, not to inform, and if that talk fans the flames of a story, then all the better. It's sure one helluva lot easier to manufacture news before you report it. It used to be that the reporter should never be the news, that pundits talked about numbers and percentages and other things generally considered facts. But that was then, this is now. Not only is the reporter and the pundit the news, but that the media prefers it that way. First A happens, then B, then C. They write the narrative beforehand and they follow that story-arc they've already determined.

If the voters don't also follow it, the news will just ignore that fact. If the big issue for voters is George W. Bush, it doesn't matter. They've already decided that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's the big story.


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