Sunday, December 18, 2005

To Protect and Serve

There is a relationship between a free press and democracy that famously goes back to the American Revolution. Today there is a court-endorsed precept that advertising consititutes free speech. In fact it is not free speech, it is paid for. Neither is it freely available to those able to pay. Advertising may be rejected for any reason, of course, but the only real reason to do so is content, and that means politics whether it is party politics or simply that other advertisers (or a parent company) may be offended.

There has been a growing sense in the meta-media environment that the Democrats do not act in a focused, savvy way when presenting ideas to the public. The Republicans on the other hand, especially since the Reagan administration, have made media management a calling and a craft. No story is accidental or uncoordinated. Ratings hooks abound and good meals are served. A sense of camraderie is fostered.

The Democrats, agrue sympathetic media foot soldiers, aren't doing their part. There needs to be, offer Lakoffian tacticians, a bigger picture and coherent language. (That much is true, of course, but can we please talk also about content? Where are the cries for a coherent philosophy from Dems? Oh, yeah, right-wingers ask that question. Think about it.)

The issue today, though, is the idea that the Dems need to appproach news like the R's do. By this logic, the wiretap story would be argued on cable news (on stations where management is anywhere from sympathetic to partisan in favor) by armies of heretofore unknown talking heads trained by billions of dollars in contributions from degenerate, rabid plutocrats. The same catchy phrases would be used by many of these message transmitters, and letters and editorials would appear in scattered news outlets across the country arguing the very same points. Soon, drama would ensue. People would tune into cable news a little more often, to catch juicy developments and heated rhetoric. Advertising revenue would be plentiful. Then, answering "the will of the people," Democratic pols would offer concern alternating with indignation, win elections and cheat on redistricting plans to make sure they can never lose again. At least, I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. Did I miss anything?

What it all amounts to is that the media reps want to be spoon fed. As the newsrooms around the country have gone more and more to budget management ala the Harvard Business School model, there have been precious few resources for investigative shoe leather and patient building of backstory. We all know this. This is why the sympathetic foot soldiers of the media horde wish the Dems would act more like Republicans, because they know that otherwise there is little excuse to tell another side of a story.

Again, there is some substance to this criticism. At it's higest levels, the Democratic Party is hamstring by crossed lines of powerful influence and political sympathy. This is why ted Kennedy can eloquently bash Bush policy, but can not address the global reality of a viscious class inequity. He and his ilk are too indebted to high-dollar power brokers of the American (global hegemonic) aristocratic establishment.

Where we are today, however, there is no need for reporters to work long hours building a careful background on the wiretap story. A quick phone call to any major political science dean of any respectable university will quickly result in some very juicy quotes. Dinosaur moderate Republicans from the old hard-copy phone number lists can be dredged up to righteously cast scorn upon the usurpers who defile the institutions that a majority of Republicans used to believe in. These are easy stories to write.

Furthermore, if it is left to the Democrats to build a case against this gruesome disfiguring of the face of Democracy then it will be only partisan politics. If this is rendered as a partisan story, then the dramatic changes being made to the legal fabric of the United States will necessarily be obscured by the partisan origin of the story. This story is profoundly different from most politcal stories. If the writers covering the story do not convey that difference then they are failing their duty to the American people and the institutions of this Nation.


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