The Media

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has had a post about “the media” festering in his brain for a while now. He has, until now, been overtaken by events and not able to get out his thoughts. But yesterday, Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes column in the Washington Post caused him to resolve to actually sit down and write out the post.

In case you missed the Kurtz piece, here is the link. Here are some salient points from the piece:

To a striking degree, the candidates are picking their spots, carefully choosing which media operations they will court and which they will ignore. That leaves some of them preaching to the political choir, but also shields them from especially aggressive questioning.

The new media order has been spawned by a 500-channel universe and a polarized climate in which news organizations are increasingly viewed, fairly or unfairly, as leaning to one side or the other. And with a cornucopia of choices, politicians tend to gravitate toward what they see as friendly arenas.


The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, have refused to debate on Fox News, even for an event co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. In the last nine days, however, they were happy to face off before liberal bloggers at a convention staged by the Web site Daily Kos; at an event co-sponsored by Logo, a gay-themed network operated by MTV; and at an MSNBC debate moderated by Keith Olbermann, one of President Bush’s fiercest critics.

“Republicans like Fox because it plays to their primary voting constituency, and Democrats like to boycott Fox because it brings cheap applause from their primary voting constituency,” says Mike Murphy, a GOP strategist and occasional panelist on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The Democrats make a mistake by boycotting Fox, because they’re going to need red states to win. And Fred Thompson makes a mistake by communicating only through the medium of Sean Hannity.”


The new approach is reminiscent of the 1992 campaign, when it was considered radical for presidential candidates to go on MTV, Larry King and Arsenio Hall, and there was much teeth-gnashing about the bypassing of the traditional media. But eventually the candidates had to deal with the major news programs, and that will undoubtedly happen this season as well.

In the meantime, staying on safe ground not only prevents the candidates from reaching a broader audience, it deprives them of the chance to develop their reflexes by swinging at fastballs.

The emphasis on that last line was added by your Maximum Leader.

Let your Maximum Leader state a few things up front. He has not watched more than two minutes of any of the candidate’s “debates” live. He has only seen the sound bites played on major news outlets the day after. He has seen some of the candidates interviewed on various channels. (Almost always the “Today” show or something on Fox News.) In case you didn’t know, your Maximum Leader believes that campaigning more than 1 year before the election is unseemly. (Excursus: Although your Maximum Leader is not a big fan of such laws, he would support a law that prevents people from raising or spending money in pursuit of the office of President of the United States before the September/October the year before the general election. And while he is engaging in a little excursus, campaigning is — in general — pretty unseemly.) He is deliberately doing what he can to avoid paying attention to what the candidates are saying or doing at this point. Okay… That is out there… Now to move on…

Are your Maximum Leader and Newt Gingrich the only people in America who think that these “debates” insult the intelligence of every vaguely sentient American? Really? This is a serious question. What the hell are we supposed to learn from these “debates?” Nothing that is what. Having all those candidates (regardless of party) trot out on a stage, stand behind a podium, and patiently wait their turn to speak is an exercise in futility. Actually, the exercise is for the candidates, who have to learn to stand still behind a podium for long periods of time without seeming fidgety. And we all know how important it is that our Presidents aren’t fidgety. Not being fidgety is right up there after an understanding of foreign affairs, a rudimentary understanding of economics, being tall and having even teeth in terms of qualifications for the office. Your Maximum Leader thinks that all those things are in the Twenty-second or Twenty-fifth Amendment, but he isn’t sure which one.

These “debates,” frankly, should offend every American. This “debate” format doesn’t even pretend to be educational or elucidating. The candidates are asked a softball question by a friendly moderator (or friendly union member, or friendly “regular American” posting on You Tube) and then given a few seconds during which time they can recite a talking point off their campaign web site. It disgusts your Maximum Leader and if you have half a brain it should disgust you too.

Your Maximum Leader thinks that these moronic testaments to mediocrity should be abandoned as rapidly as possible. They should be replaced by candidates debating a single thoughtful question. Here is your Maximum Leader’s plan… The candidates are paired off in a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates. Each debate would have a single theme. Each candidate would be be allowed a 30 minute explanation of their position and plan on the theme. Then each candidate would have a (30 minute) chance to rebut whatever the other candidate said. If a candidate didn’t want to participate in these debates they would have to drop out of the race and donate any money they raised to a charity (the name of which would be drawn from a hat).

Of course, no candidate would agree to this debate format. Do you know why? Because not a single candidate out there could actually string together a cogent 30 minute statement on a single topic. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, Mitt Romney, or Rudy Guiliani speaking on their plan for Iraq for a full 30 minutes? Your Maximum Leader can’t. Well, that isn’t exactly true. He can imagine them speaking in platitudes and obfuscations for 20 minutes and rephrasing the sound bite of their position on Iraq for 10 minutes. He can’t imagine them starting off with their own assesment of the situation in Iraq then moving to a point by point analysis of what they would do to “solve” Iraq if they were elected.

Do you know a second reason why no candidate would agree to this debate format? Because they know no one would broadcast it. And now loyal minions, your Maximum Leader actually reaches the point at which he wanted to begin. He claimed to have this festering rant against “the media” at the beginning of this post, but up to this point he’s just been bloviating about the “debates.”

Your Maximum Leader has come to believe that the major television news outlets are largely responsible for the dumbing down of the political awareness of the typical American. He blames all of the major news outlets equally. Insofar as your Maximum Leader is concerned it is a pick ‘em. NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox News are all equally bad. They have all sunk to the same level. That level is that they will provide continuous coverage to an Los Angeles car chase that lasts 90 minutes, but they will not give a reporter 90 minutes to provide a serious analysis of an issue facing our nation.

Now you may say to yourself, “Self, my Maximum Leader must be wrong. There are hour-long programs with knowledgeable people discussing issues on those news channels.” Well… Take a moment to actually watch one of those programs. They are hour-long certainly. But that hour is filled with 30 two-minute segments in which agitated nitwits pontificate as rapidly as possible to “make their point” before the pompous moderator cuts them off.

And we wonder what happened to our national attention span.

Okay… “We” don’t wonder all that often about our national attention span. Your Maximum Leader wonders about it. He seems to remember that the “attention span” of your typical American was 20 minutes at some point in the 1970s; but only about 7 minutes by the late 1990s. Alas, he can’t find a good comparative analysis by a reputable scientific source after Googling for about 5 minutes. (Heh… The irony is lost on him by the way.)

Your Maximum Leader suspects that Americans started to lose their ability to pay attention to anything about the same time CNN launched Headline News. You see, before Headline News you had to watch hours of CNN before you got to the “main” news stories of the day. CNN was, at the time, filled with lengthy reports on all manner of subjects. (They even devoted time — hours of time — to news that was important in other countries. You know, those places that aren’t America…) At some point the geniuses at CNN decided that it would be neat to have a channel that just repeated the same news over and over again every thirty minutes. They would devote particular segments of that 30 minutes to “hard news” and “sports” and two minutes to Jeanne Moos. That way a busy American would only have to watch 30 minutes of CNN to know everything they needed to know about what was going on in the world.

Unfortunately… Soon there came tickers, and crawls at the bottom of the screen. Then slowly all TV news became processed so that the story could be told quickly. (Excursus: Some of you might be thinking at this point “Hey the “network” evening news programs have always been 30 minutes long… So this isn’t a big change.” To this your Maximum Leader says that in the “glory days” of network news people actually read newspapers. Your Maximum Leader believes that readers of newspapers generally have longer attention spans and better understanding of just about anything…)

Your Maximum Leader would like to see a serious news channel start up. A real serious one. One that only shows in depth reports. One that doesn’t have crapulent commentators with purple faces yelling at one another. One that actually takes the time to research a story from mulitple angles so that a viewer might actually come away from a piece actually knowing something…

Then again… This is a blog you’re reading. One that isn’t known (at least lately) for lengthy exposition on particular subjects. (Heh. The irony is not lost on your Maximum Leader. We can’t all be Mr. Poulos afterall.) Odds are that if you are still reading this you likely do have an attention span longer than your typical American… Unless you were just skimming for the familiar closing words of

Carry on.

Polymath said:

Well done. I want to copy this, time-travel to yesterday, post it, and say I wrote it.

You can edit time-stamps you know… But that would be cheating. Feel free to cite as much as you want. In the words of the immortal John Belushi, “It don’t cost nuthin’.”

[…] by Brian on August 14th, 2007 From Naked Villainy, via the Big Ho: Of course, no candidate would agree to this debate format. Do you know why? […]

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