Thursday, September 04, 2008

New-clear days on the policy front

There's something about the cries of Shock Outrage Sexism from the network* at which some political figures are Sarah or Hillary and others are Biden, Romney or Huckabee that kind of makes you think Captain Renault has just joined the Fox stable of commentators. And it's hard to take the Media Hate Me routine seriously when the local fishwrap** needed less than a day to proclaim Gov. Palen a "a 44-year-old political maverick" (that's in a 1A news story, in case you're scoring along at home). Overlooked in all this noise is a bigger concern: the blithe lack of interest within journalistic ranks about any role the media themselves might play in building narratives.

It's not just the AP's tendency to lapse into breathless incoherence at the novelty of it all, annoying though that tendency is:

The first female vice presidential nominee in the party's history, she spoke to uncounted millions of viewers at home in her solo national debut.

About 37, according to Fox. Nielsen has been measuring convention audiences for nearly five decades and has a pretty good handle on it. If the AP had bothered to read the Times last Friday, it might have noticed that those numbers are usually available the next day.***

Sorry. We digress. The bigger issue -- the one I'd like to see more people in newsrooms phoning the AP about, or complaining to "presentation" editors about, or just raising at the end of a pointy stick any time the phrase "story line" is brought up at a budget meeting -- is this wonderfully disingenuous assumption that all the narratives and sub-narratives of a political campaign are some sort of naturally occurring element.

The problem isn't just the AP, which proclaimed Gov. Palin's speech on Wednesday to be "rousing" and "searing" (Ron Fournier has gotten a lot of stick lately, but he deserves a nod for this, from a different AP story: "It's not lying, and it's not exaggeration, actually. It's more like they're using non sequiturs to build up her image.")

And it's not just the Freep, which said (in a frontpage column) that she "rose to her convention moment" with "toughness and vigor" and a "brilliant mix of warm efforts ... and sharp attacks." (The news story on the same page credits her with "taking aim at the Washington political establishment" and logs in "the fact that she was 'not a member of the permanent political establishment.'") It's the broader assumption that things become true by being proclaimed -- that being a maverick, or an outsider, or a typical tank-town mom with a stiletto and a smile is a condition brought about by a speech act. How do you get to be a maverick? Get people to call you one.

Driven by that sort of narrative, coverage of the Palin speech tends to settle into a pseudo-argument about "experience" -- specifically, what kind of experience is better than what other kind. That tends to bury some much more interesting issues that the speech itself suggests. Experience, for one thing, isn't the same as aptitude. And, as every hiring editor knows, there are people with 20 years' experience and there are people with one year of experience 20 times.

What could we have talked about instead? I'm kind of taken by this little phonetic reminder from Palin's prompter script, brought to our attention by the Log gang:
Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines ... build more new-clear plants

Slip of the finger? How about this:
Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay ... he wants to meet them without preconditions.

Some people in this campaign think their vice presidential candidate is very, very stupid.

Granted, she doesn't perform impeccably in front of a big crowd. Here's the script:
To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies ... or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia ... or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries ... we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas.

And her reading, per the Fox transcript:
To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of the world’s energy supplies, or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia, or that Venezuela might shut off its oil discoveries and its deliveries of that source, Americans, we need to produce more of our own oil and gas.

The stumble isn't the problem. The problem is that the Freep draws the following conclusion on its front page:
She showed a firm grasp of key domestic issues, including energy independence and tax policy.

Suggesting a larger problem: What in this poorly read effort from the White House speechwriting team suggests any kind of firm grasp of any kind of issues? Evidently, she has hold of the idea that Venezuela is a major national security threat. Let's look at some more:

Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?

Well, not really. He's sort of on the record as favoring hot pursuit across borders with regard to the said terrorists -- which all of a sudden seems to be the policy of the current administration too. Reading them their rights is conditional on catching them, but given that, it seems like a fairly low-cost way to maintain a little standing in the eyes of the world.

You starting to think the "story line" should move a little away from whether a candidate has some form of executive experience and toward whether the candidate has the faintest freaking idea of how the world works?

That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are open, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart.

Oops! Looks like some journalism majors at the University of Idaho skipped that freshman seminar in political science. That'll be the one where we introduce the idea that "foreign powers" act in their own interests, and that one way to figure out what they're going to do is to figure out what they think those interests are!

We could go on and on about this. Wonder when somebody else will.

*Here's a hint: It's the network that has trouble telling US Weekly from the New York Times. Must have been a long week.
** The purportedly "liberal" paper in the JOA.
*** Editors? It's actually OK to delete patently nonsensical stuff from news stories. Yes you can! Sí se puede!


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Very nice start on an analysis. It would be nice to think someone would indeed finish it...

5:49 AM, September 05, 2008  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Wait, what? JOAs are structured around one liberal paper and one conservative paper?

I thought they were structured around one good paper and one bad paper so that they both suck.

Or one profitable paper and one money-loser, so that they both fail.

I'm so confused . . .

7:56 AM, September 05, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Well, traditionally, your better JOAs were structured around one paper that made obscene amounts of money and another that made slightly less obscene amounts of money. Then one or the other would kill the other one off,and they all lived happily ever after unless they were copyeds or reporters.

Does that help clear things up?

8:16 PM, September 05, 2008  
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3:15 AM, November 13, 2008  

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