September 8, 2008

Letter to David Carr

Carr has a bit of Republican stenography on Sarah Palin. I sent a note of protest:

Mr. Carr:

Here's today's lede:

"Before Gov. Sarah Palin came flying in from the wilds of Alaska [she came from Juneau] for the Republican convention in St. Paul, there was a lot of sniggering in media rooms and satellite trucks about her beauty queen looks and rustic hobbies, and the suggestion that she was better suited to be a calendar model for a local auto body shop than a holder of the second-highest office in the land."

You will note, as I did, that there is no mention of any media coverage in this paragraph--just a reference to a phenomenon that must be pretty much constant, sardonic and cynical comments behind the scenes. I'm sure there was sniggering at their own talent at various times in the satellite truck. Of course, you will agree that what people are saying behind the scenes has matters little. What matters is what the editorial decision-makers decide to broadcast and print.

What they decided to print and broadcast, with a very few exceptions, was stenography of the Republican image machine. You yourself join in here, offering a piece that supports Palin's contention that the media will be a force for her to contend with while providing another bit of extremely positive coverage of her "personal history," with nary an expression of dubiousness and no mention of her capability for the office of Vice President. Take this hyperbolic paragraph:

"She’s not an alien to modern media. She’s one of its archetypes: a Rachael Ray with a 4x4, who can not only make a meal in under 30 minutes but hunt and kill the main course. And while Ms. Palin probably wouldn’t look comfortable on Cosmopolitan with all that sex talk, there was more than a little Helen Gurley Brown in her confident speech on Wednesday. The fact that she is the proud parent of a child with special needs is seen as a credential, not an impediment, to performing a job that seems a little short on real duties anyway."

Tucker Bounds couldn't have said it better. She's a newfound media superstar because of her good looks and compelling personal story. But when Bounds was unable to answer a single question from Campbell Brown regarding her capability to serve as Commander in Chief (in an environment where Obama's capacity for same has been routinely questioned), the campaign threw a tantrum.

And the tantrums apparently worked. Because your coverage is right down the Republican line, gushing over the image they've creatred for Palin, while ignoring any substantive issue associated with choosing an extraordinarily unqualified candidate for naked and cynical political reasons (as Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy inadvertently confirmed when a mic stayed live a little longer than they realized). The presentation of the Republican portrait of field-dressing, moose-gnawing Sarah in your piece would be a little more excusable if the piece had not also included the demonstrably false claim that she has received negative coverage in the traditional media, as demonstrated by your need to justify this argument by referring to attitudes of people behind the scenes.

To the contrary, the traditional media have lined up as you have, with very few exceptions, to advance the Republican (to quote Noonan and Murphy) "cynical political narrative." This is underscored by the complete absence of any reference to any actual negative coverage in your column. In fact, later in the column, you again refer to reactions that took place behind the scenes:

"In the press galleries at the convention, journalists wrinkled their noses in disgust when Piper, Ms. Palin’s youngest daughter, was filmed kitty-licking her baby brother’s hair into place. But to many Americans — including some I talked to in the convention hall — that looked like family church on Sunday, evidence of good breeding and sibling regard."

I've seen no stories expressing that elitist "disgust," while there have been repeated clips shown of that heartwarming moment on television, aimed precisely at those "Americans" (an attendee at the Republican National Convention!) who find the image cute and charming.

Somehow it seems to me that a media analyst's job is not to repeat a political message, but dissect its construction, determine the degree to which it is true or false, and then look to see how those elements play. But, hey, what do I know?

Jay Ackroyd


Oh, and by the way, when a Republican operative asks you this:

"'Conservatives have a bad history with The New York Times,' she said, looking at my press ID, still smiling and still very friendly. 'How can I be sure that you won’t take my words and twist them to suit some agenda that you already have?'"

I suggest you point out that Keller spiking the Risen/Lichtblau illegal domestic surveillance story almost certainly won the 2004 election for Bush. So if she's worried about your credibility, tell her that management has her back, and that's what really matters.

1 comment:

Paul Dirks said...


All I can say is that the more indefensible reality becomes (in this case, Palin's nomination) the more surreal the resulting media narrative needs to be and the more apparent the fact that we live in a world of illusion....