It took no more than thirty seconds inside the Time Warner Official Media Welcome party Saturday night to be reminded why our country’s voters are the worst-informed and least participatory in the industrialized world.
Out on the streets around Madison Square Garden you can pick the press from the delegates without seeing their credentials just by the way they walk. The press always try to look important. They hurry. Or manage to look hurried even while standing still. The print people are mostly schleps, and the television world loves to get all dressed up for no good reason.* Everyone wants to feel like they’re going somewhere, spatially and professionally. And when they get where they think they ought to be going, they want to know everyone in the room. Which is why the multiple levels and bridges of the shopping complex where the party was held were brimming with people dropping their salmon tartar cones and wiping flan-covered fingers on their pants to shake Larry King’s hand and you couldn’t take one sip from the Margaritas that looked like they were poured the day before without hearing someone say, “Ohhhh . . . Mr. Blitzer . . . I’m [insert name here] from [insert network here].”
This doesn’t mean there aren’t many journalists I admire and whose abilities I can never hope to match; but as a whole, the media seem far more interested in careers than truth. And for a group that’s supposed to be relating a whole lot of complex ideas about the world, they sure do seem parochial.
I know, I know — the poor journalists are easy targets. Don’t they suffer enough humiliation at the hands of a ruthless right-wing libel machine that’s pushed them on a slow defensive slide towards irrelevance? Yes, they have in fact suffered at the hands of a ruthless right-wing libel machine — only adding to my annoyance. Because they don’t fight back. They get beaten up for supposed bias, but the real problem is the worn shield of false objectivity they feebly raise as their sole resistance. Wandering with the crowds past the strategically scattered hors d’oeuvres tables and the strange display of a woman in what seemed to be an immobile dress conically shaped out of magazines, I kept wanting to run into Michael Dobbs and demand to know why the nut graf in his Washington Post investigation into Kerry’s military record would include the line “both sides have withheld information from the public record and provided an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of what took place.”
Such a statement may be technically accurate, but that statement alone fails to represent the accompanying context and scale and intent. One set of claims, on the Swift Boat side, are vicious fabrications made by people with a vendetta and are being exploited by the cruelest knee cappers to rule politics since the days of hand-bills and the pamphleteering assassins of the nineteenth century.
Whatever paperwork discrepancies exist between Kerry’s paperwork and diaries and so on are not commensurate with the Swift Vets’ flat-out intentional and politically motivated falsehoods. Contrary to the dogma of J-schools across the country, there are not always two sides to a story. Balance is often necessary and indispensable, but there are times when the media might have to, um, mediate a bunch of information and make a judgment. And in those instances, presenting contrasting information as if it’s equally important is, in fact, the false representation — more false than saying, “I’ve gathered a lot of material and vetted it all, and here’s my assessment.”**
Just because you can always find a counter quote, or an “expert” who will say that evolution is a disputed science, or some guy who will tell you that Kerry didn’t go to Cambodia doesn’t mean you should repeat it. Here’s a new principle they might add to the J-School dogma: don’t quote people who are lying just to have “both sides” represented. And here’s a tip: don’t source with fringe nuts. That’s not objectivity; it’s retarded. If you want to saunter around the Time Warner Center looking so satisfied with yourselves as the guardians of information, then the least you could do is live up to your role. Don’t be afraid of judgment. It’s all you have left.
All this torment over the state of our news is probably why the scene wasn’t fun. It certainly wasn't as much fun as the DNC media party, and that was a pretty lame party, even with the chocolate fountain and the ferris wheel. I did run into some Air America folks, and had a nice conversation with an editor at the foreign desk of NBC, who shared my grievances about the people swirling past us. But in general, the feeling in the place was weird, so I left for the Sleeping With The Enemy Party at the Tank. That's where young progressives and Republicans were purposely invited to the same place and asked to co-mingle to see if any of them could find some common ground, if you catch my meaning.
On the way out I missed a surprise photo op with Bloomberg, and, sadly, never got to see Don King, leaving me wondering, as I always have: Is that guy even real?
* Is it unfair to make fun of the way our media friends dress? After all, you might say, it's not their job to be sartorially current. Except that they’re the ones who tried to sink Wesley Clark because the guy decided that as a civilian, he might want to don a few sweaters. And they got on Gore for his tweeds. Don’t defend them; they’ll turn on your duds in a second.
** For a good example of how the “both sides” compare and contrast seems to give validity to claims that have none, see the Christmas in Cambodia section of the little insert box accompanying the Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete article in the Washington Post. It’s called “A Record Questioned,” and is a disaster of unintended graphical misrepresentation.