The Media’s “Story” of Election 2010

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    Cross posted at Daily Kos

    The problem with today’s media is that it’s more interested in selling a story than telling the truth.  A good story has entertainment value – drama or comedy, heroes and villains, a beginning, middle and end, perhaps some kind of moral.  It is hard for reality to meet all of these requirements, which is why fiction regularly bends the truth to meet its purposes.  

    At its worst, the mainstream media works as one massive clump of groupthink, glomming onto a storyline so overwhelmingly that there is simply no opportunity for the truth to sink in.  We saw that at the start of the Iraq War, with consequences that can only be called disastrous.  

    And we see it today with the Story that may be summarized as: “The people, represented by the Tea Party, overcome Big Government, i.e., Obama and the Democrats.”  I see almost no one in the MSM challenging this story right now.  And the results, if we allow this storyline to continue to masquerade as the gospel truth, will once again be disastrous.

    We need to challenge this Story by calling attention to the many holes in it.  

    To start, the Tea Party movement is not simply some grassroots group representing the legitimate voice of “the people”.  This myth is being universally peddled by the media- as one of countless examples, on the PBS NewsHour recently, conservative commentators Kevin Madden and Matt Kibbe were allowed to make statements about the recent primaries unchallenged including:

    KEVIN MADDEN, Republican Strategist: Well, look I think what you saw was…an electorate that is very animated around sending a message to the establishment…And, at the same time, you’re looking at an electorate that is very animated, very mobilized around issues like spending and deficits. Right now, the American public is so anxious and angry at what they see out of Washington, more spending, piling up deficits, growing the size of government.

    and

    MATT KIBBE, FreedomWorks: Well if you look what happened this Tuesday, it is what’s been happening all along. And it has been a message from the American people, from all of the activists that are animated on these fiscal issues….

    There you have it – the Tea Party = the American people, who are unbelievably pissed off at Obama and the Dems.  Nice story, but with little to do with reality – like the reality that, as a New York Times/CBS News poll found earlier this year,  “The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45. They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally.”

    A white conservative, married, male 18% of the population = the American public, the people???  So what does that make the other 82% of us – chopped liver?

    How about the nice story about the Tea Party just being a spontaneous grassroots movement of housewives, farmers, truck drivers, etc. rising up out of the prairies to defend freedom and liberty?  My fellow Blue Virginia editor Teddy has written about the realities hidden by this myth , drawing on a fine Alternet diary by Adele M. Stan on the topic.  It bears repeating – especially since you almost never hear the MSM say it – that there are very powerful, very rich interests behind the Tea Party.  

    The New Yorker, to its credit, did a full length story on the billionaire Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., with significant oil interests, and the underground infrastructure they have funded and built to oppose the threats they see Obama and the Democrats presenting to those interests.  This infrastructure includes the most prominent organizations supporting the Tea Party with leaders, dollars, and talking points – Americans for Prosperity, which has held at least eighty events opposing climate change legislation, Patients United Now, which has organized over 300 rallies against health care reform, and the omnipresent FreedomWorks, led by Dick Armey and the aforementioned Matt Kibbe.

    So the heroic, grassroots Tea Party rides to the rescue, while the evil Democrats run for cover.  Well, there is some truth in the many cowardly Democratic leaders running away and hiding against the right wing onslaught.  But even there, the media’s penchant for exaggerating the story is frankly shameful.  Just today, the Washington Post wrote in a front page story

    One thing is for sure this election year for many Democrats: They are not making it about President Obama. The man who was so popular two years ago is not in their stump speeches and certainly not in their ads. If he shows up in town, they happen to have a prior commitment.

    Note the complete lack of any qualifiers in the above.  Yet, in the same Washington Post – and in an article written in fact by the same reporter! – less than a week ago, here was a story of my Congressman, Gerry Connolly, appearing with none other than President Obama, in person.  So, of course, not all Democrats are avoiding the president.

    But to admit exceptions is to sour the Story.  And nothing must interfere with the Story, because that’s what sells advertising to big corporations like, um, Koch Industries.  It’s all rather sad.  

    But not hopeless, if we put pressure on the media to tell the truth before it’s too late.  Every time you catch the media blurring, exaggerating, hiding or distorting the truth, call them on it and spread the word.  Because we can’t have a functioning democracy without real journalists letting people know what’s really happening.  Leave the stories for Hollywood to tell.