Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell writes of this trainwreck
In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadephia.Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue)and not wearing a flag pin, while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations. Then it was back to Obama to defend his slim association with a former '60s radical -- a question that came out of rightwing talk radio and Sean Hannity on TV, but delivered by former Bill Clinton aide Stephanopolous. This approach led to a claim that Clinton's husband pardoned two other '60s radicals. And so on.The Washington Post tv critic observed
More time was spent on all of this than segments on getting out of Iraq and keeping people from losing their homes.
For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.And plenty of other bloggers have noticed how horrible the debate was for its failure to promote issues that are actually relevant to the future of democracy in America.
But guess who loved it? That's right. "Liberal media" defender Michelle Malkin
How dare the ABC moderators ask questions about topics that are, you know, topical?See, questions about: that war in that country that we've turned into the terrorist capital of the world, global warming - "the most daunting challenge humanity has ever sought to meet with a united front", the economy, civil liberties, torture, the Yoo Unitary Emperor-in-Chief, etc are "dull."
How dare they ask questions that–gasp!–conservatives are asking.
How dare they explore questions of character, truthfulness, and judgment?
But perpetuating the same tired character attacks that movement conservatives have scripted about Democrats for the last 40 years? That's exploring "questions of character, truthfulness, and judgement."
Which is why, of course, Michelle Malkin was so adamant about questions of George W. Bush's record in the Texas National Guard or his shady insider trading that got swept under the rugh by his pop's SEC get answered in previous presidential cycles. Unlike the "nutroots" - Michelle Malkin is a woman of principle.
It's understandable that Malkin would be so pleased with this debate, given that character assasination is the m.o. of the conservative movement. It has to be for two reasons:
1. The public at large doesn't agree with the agenda of the conservative movement
2. Movement conservatives have a Manichean world view. If you're not one of them your character is by definition questionable.
Salon has released a timely excerpt of Glenn Greenwald's new book dealing with how the press continues to help the noise machine divert democratic discourse. I'll quote a bit of that in a moment, but just to stress how absolutely rotten this debate was I'll reiterate that one of the "questions" (aka a coordinated conservative movement smear dressed up as a legitimate issue) in the debate came directly from the partisan hack attack dog that is Sean Hannity. Maybe in the next ABC debate they can ask the candidates Rush Limbaugh's question of why Islamofascists are campaigning for them?
Onto the Greenwald excerpt
Leave policy and ideology to the side. Just ignore it. What matters is that Democrats and liberals are weak, effete, elitist, nerdy, military-hating, gender-confused losers, whose men are effeminate, whose women are emasculating dykes, and who merit sneering mockery and derision. Republican right-wing male leaders are salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, likable tough guys -- courageous warriors and normal family men who merit personal admiration and affection.Update: Greenwald has written a post on this topic, as well.
The Republican Party pioneered by Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, and Karl Rove will redeploy these same personality-based themes in the 2008 election because it is all they know and, more important, because nothing has yet ended the efficacy of such deceitful strategies. A shallow and gossipy press continues to eat it up.
Indeed, the GOP has been able to pervert our political process this way only because of the indispensable aid of the establishment media, which reflexively views the political landscape through the lens of this GOP-generated mythology.
Last night was a perfect microcosm of how our political process works. The Right creates stupid, petty personality-based attacks to ensure that our elections aren't decided on issues (where they have a decisive disadvantage). Media stars -- some due to sloth, some due to ideology, some due to an eagerness to please the Right and convince them how Good and Fair they are -- eat up the shallow trash they're fed and then spew it out relentlessly, ensuring that our political discourse is overwhelmed by it, our elections dictated by it. That happens over and over. It's how our media and our elections function. Last night was just an unusually transparent and particularly ugly expression of it.Update 2: This is really starting to upset me the longer it sets in. We've recently had confirmation that the President voided the 4th amendment for the entire nation and yet getting presidential candidates to speak on that issue is of little concern to ABC News, which is more concerned with trying to appease Sean Hannity and his ilk.