Wednesday, June 29, 2011


A Twitter dialogue between Dave Weigel and Jay Rosen on how the press covers campaign gaffes, as spotted by Atrios:

daveweigel ... You get more heat for flubbing a founder's name than for saying tax cuts always up revenue.

jayrosen_nyu Of course you do. Why? The sweet spot is a mistake that allows the press to prosecute the error without sounding too political.

That's more or less true -- although, of course, Rosen's last word is wrong. The sweet spot isn't a mistake that allows the press to prosecute the error without sounding too political -- it's a mistake that allows the press to prosecute the error without sounding too liberal.

The right-wing noise machine has no problem going after gaffes (or "gaffes") such as Obama's statement on the '08 campaign trail that it's good for society to "spread the wealth around." Right-wingers are able to make hay out of this kind of thing because they've carefully built up a narrative of liberal/socialist/Democratic evil, and they've found a way to make partisan attack politics entertaining for a rather large audience. No one's done that anywhere apart from the right, except perhaps online and on niche-market MSNBC.

Mainstream journalists are never going to put heat on right-wing politicians for spouting policy nonsense because (a) they think it's their job not to take sides, even in a contest between truth and lies; (b) they, as refs, are effectively worked by the liberal-baiting right, which increases their timidity; and (c) the right regularly floods the zone with untruths, sophistry, and superstition produced by seemingly "respectable" people, so the only way for non-right-wing journalists to seem objective is to run every story as they-said/they-said.

This is why Zandar is right to despair -- yes, as he says, the Republicans promised to focus on jobs and now won't; yes, the states with the worst fiscal austerity have the worst job creation; yes, cutting taxes on the rich doesn't improve the job picture either (on the last two points, see the charts he links). But the press won't say that any of this is true -- it's just opinion as far as the press is concerned, not fact, because SHUT UP, SOCIALIST!

Oh, and while I don't agree with Jonathan Chait that Michele Bachmann may be unstoppable, at least in the GOP nomination contest, I do think that it ain't gonna be the mainstream press that slows her progress. However delusional and divorced from reality her policy proposals are, they'll get respectful attention from the press as long as she's polling well. She can be stopped by another Republican campaign (my money is on Romney, who's backed by a "super PAC" run by some serious attack dogs), or possibly by Saturday Night Live, but she certainly won't be stopped by serious mainstream-media scrutiny of her positions on issues. It's just not done.

And that's why, even if she loses the nomination, or loses the general election, we'll have a president who thinks like her eventually. All it's going to take is the same positions and fewer gaffes.


UPDATE: Did I say Saturday Night Live might be what spares us from a Bachmann presidency (or nomination)? Maybe I meant Conan O'Brien:

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