Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lowest common denominator

Mark Leibovich is killing democracy, and he doesn't have a clue to his own culpability.

His multi-thousand-word extended fantasy in today's Times is everything wrong with big media political journalism. I guess he had a news hole, and the early washout of the Republican National Convention left him with nothing much to write about other than himself and his feelings.

First off, his dozens of column-inches are all about him. He's too important to recede into the background and report news as if it were a factual topic:

I began to have this goofy notion, which turned into a daydream and eventually became a recurring fantasy.
This is his lead! A couple paragraphs later:
This spring, for the first time since I started writing about politics a decade ago, I found myself completely depressed by a campaign. “How am I ever going to get through it?” is not the question you want to be asking yourself as you enter what are supposed to be the pinnacle few months of your profession.
If that's all you have, you could always, I dunno, resign and look for a job as a flack.

Of course, in the best (i.e. worst) tradition of Tom Friedman, every single goddamn ordinary person Leibovich talked to liked the idea Leibovich calls "dumb, naïve, unsophisticated and frankly out of character for me, someone with little patience for the Kabuki pleasantries of politics" when he's talking to us, his callous sophisticates.

This all springs from woe is me, it's all too nasty.
The campaigns appeared locked in a paradigm of terrified superpowers’ spending blindly on redundant warfare. How many times do they have to blow up Vladivostok?
Of course, a pox on both their houses:
As with Romney, you can picture [Obama] grabbing for the Purell as soon as he escapes the rope line.
although there's the obligatory back-of-the-hand nonsense that only suggests the Romney campaign kisses Leibovich's self-important butt with a bit more of a porn star's best fakery.
His retail-politicking chores completed, Obama disappeared behind a thick black curtain next to an empty storefront, into something called the “Good News Center” — a place I was not allowed to go.
Yet, despite all the disdain, there's incredible name-dropping. Hey, ma, look who I rub elbows with!

Why do we have to go into a campaign with the press corps we have?

After all this loathing, I'm going out on a generous limb. Leibovich is filled with loathing, all right. But he misidentifies the reason. He has just enough conscience that it's self-loathing. He must realize, deep down, that he's in the dirty, useless business of packaging politics so that Americans can feel virtuous hating and ignoring and pushing away their own government.

Leibovich's problem is not that politicians are letting down political reporters. It's that political reporters are letting down their readers. It's that their readers sponge up vacuous inside-the-campaign reportage like middle schoolers soak up puberty-fueled catty gossip. It's that reporters then give readers more and more of nothing useful.

Leibovich works for what used to be a craft and a calling and now fancies itself a profession. A profession pays enough to justify the self-esteem of highly educated glorified transcriptionists for the ruling class.

Here's a hint: Stop covering the campaign and cover the candidates. Stop bemoaning the superficialities of American politics while, at the exact same time, channelling them straight to readers. Have some aspirations to make a difference beyond false balance and telling the non-cool kids which clique is cool this year.

Never happen. It's far too easy to file bullshit than it is to separate out reality from fiction.


Anonymous said...

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