If nothing else, and I suspect there may really be nothing else, Sarah Palin gives us a magnified view of weaknesses of the punditocracy, which we might begin to call the Palindrones.
Can't you feel the "what planet are they from?" dissonance in your bones as the Right Wing complains about press mistreatment of Palin -- as you watch the mesmerized media jawbones fairly worship the tundra she walks upon?
So what's up with this? Why would Wolf Blitzer and others call Palin's speech "a grand slam," when they know in their hearts (they must know, mustn't they?) that her remarks were little more than a pedestrian speech writer's angry and somewhat juvenile hate-speech? They must have noticed it was delivered by a rather goofy sounding mystery girl who might be quirky enough to be the eccentric villain in an upcoming Coen Brothers movie. Right?
Of course the convention hall loved her. They were given scripts that read, "Love Sarah Palin Now." Easiest audience in show businesses, although someone ought to teach them to really dance in the aisles. The GOP conventioneers looked a little like caught fish flopping in the bottom of "the first dude's" fishing boat.
Sometimes my heart sinks as I watch the talking head sideshow. I became a journalist in the mid-1970s in large part because of the heroic work of the press I'd been fortunate to witness as I came of age. The Pentagon Papers. Watergate. I trusted John Chancellor, Frank Reynolds and Walter Cronkite. At least, I didn't suspect they were dependable pawns of the powerful.
But now, well, I don't trust any of them. I am forced to assume from the moment I start watching that they are not motivated by concern over the future of people I care about, that is, my neighbors in America and the world. Instead, their first concern is their own celebrity. Access to the political stars. The ratings they draw. All much more important to them than the truth, whatever that is anymore.
"A star is born," they say of Palin. But no star is born that the media themselves don't nurse. She's their baby. Unless they say so, she's no star. Hell, no one in America even knows her. So far, the only thing she's done is read a teleprompter into a t.v. camera in front of an adoring audience. That's it. Nothing else.
That's the first answer to my "what's up with this" question. It's often forgotten that media personalities know there is as much juice for them in creating stars as there is in tearing them down. It's the Howard Cosell/Mohammed Ali thing. Except, of course, Ali turned out to be the real thing.
The second answer is harder to say, but no less true. The national political press has since the Reagan years been completely intimidated by the Right. They are cowed. If they could, they'd give the American Right Austria and Poland. That's how afraid they are.
The third answer is simple bias. Many of the Palindrones came of age in the Bush and Clinton years, and they are simply conservatives who prefer conservative government and have many sources on the Right they don't want to antagonize. The Left sees in Palin a real life Tracy Flick from the movie Election. But the media is full of Tracy Flicks, in both male and female incarnations. They are ambitious. They want power. They want money. And the conservative movement has offered them a more certain route to those riches than the Left.
There are some more innocent if no less annoying motivations behind the Palindronic media. They want a close race, and building her up helps give them what they want. Like most humans, they want recognition and they want to think they are somehow close to historic events, so the more than help bring about "historic" events the better chance they have of being seen as close to the events they invent. Get it? It's a heady feeling.
Last on my list: fear. Today's working jawbones have reached the top of their field just as the field begins to dissolve beneath their feet. Alternative media really is destroying yesterday's media-ecosystem, (echo system?). Also, while they are proud of their status, it's hard for them to take much pride in the world they like to tell themselves they've helped create. They are afraid for their own futures. And, deep inside, they are afraid of what they themselves have done. Fear has made them easier for the Right to intimidate. Fear makes them more conservative.
These journalists are just people, vulnerable, flawed, imperfect. They could never be what any of us of any political stripe really want them to be. We ask too much. But there was a time when national journalists really did seem to have more altruistic motivations. Maybe it was just an accident of history. Maybe at the time, the road to power, recognition and wealth meant they had to end an unjust war and take down a president. Today that road to power means they seek to prolong a war and protect the powers that be.
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