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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's All Just a Game: How the Political Media Make Heroes Out of Jerks

Chess pieces
Hey, want to see some journalistic malpractice? Then head over to Buzzfeed and take a look at Evan McMorris-Santoro's latest steaming pile of fly food.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put on a clinic in crisis communications Tuesday, turning a potentially explosive secret recording of his campaign's strategy session into a political bludgeon to beat Democrats — and the campaign cash bushes.

"Last week they were attacking my wife's ethnicity and apparently also bugging my headquarters, much like Nixon and Watergate," McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. "That's what the political left does these days."

If the press conference were an episode of the camp-era "Batman" that's where the "biff!" titlecard would show up. McConnell had gone from a man on his heels after a recording of an oppo research session on Ashley Judd was published by Mother Jones to the master politician driving the story to his own benefit.
It doesn't get any better. But you don't have to trust me on that, Buzzfeed left it right out there in the open, like they're not ashamed of it at all. Mitch McConnell was planning on attacking a woman for speaking openly about depression, thoughts of suicide, and her religious beliefs. But instead of manning up and taking responsibility for his actions when they were made public, McConnell released a blizzard of whining over likely-imaginary wiretaps. Suddenly, the villain is the victim and McMorris-Santoro responds with wild applause. "Masterful politics! Brilliant dishonesty! Behold the amazing shamelessness!"


Pieces like this are a big reason why our political discourse is broken in America. It's a symptom of what journalism critic Jay Rosen calls "the cult of savviness." Political journalism in America isn't about good policy or solid numbers or proven facts. It's not about right or wrong, ethical or unethical. American journalism sees politics not as democracy's method for serving the nation, but as a season of Game of Thrones. Who comes out on top is more important than the pile of bodies it took to come out on top -- or the policy the the person who "won the day" was advancing in the first place.

In American journalism, politics isn't about the nation or you, it's some arcane sport journalists pride themselves on being able to understand and explain.

"In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane.  Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)," Rosen said in 2011. "Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are."

In other words, savviness is an appreciation and understanding of hopelessly cynical gamesmanship. And, by that measure, Mitch McConnell -- in managing to weasel out of a damning exposure as a real prize prick -- is a hero. Because politics is an amoral enterprise and winning is all that matters. Who they crushed, why they crushed them, what lies they told, what the facts actually are, etc., are all unimportant trivia, because the whole thing is just a game and if it winds up ruining lives... Well, that's just the way things are. If you want another example of this, think back to how Paul Ryan was hailed as "courageous" by the political media for having the guts to attack entitlements -- despite the fact that almost everyone who looked at his budget plans concluded they were muddled nonsense. Ryan was openly plotting to screw millions of Americans for no good reason and the press put him on a pedestal.

And so our political discourse gets coarsened daily, because people like Evan McMorris-Santoro give that coarseness a standing ovation. It's a good thing these people don't work the crime beat or they'd be making heroes of the criminals who evade capture.


[photo by sourabhmassey]

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