Fluff and Puff

Glenn Greenwald posts “The most revealing three-minute You Tube clip ever,” in which Chris Matthews and some other beltway blatherers spend nearly four minutes discussing the U.S. Attorney scandal without saying shit about it. Instead of discussing the substance of the scandal, Matthews et al. giggle about Democrats who want to smack Karl Rove.

On a related note, Bob Herbert discusses media coverage of Elizabeth Edwards’s illness:

Since presidential campaigns are covered like sporting events, the speculation immediately centered on whether Mrs. Edwards’s illness would harm her husband’s fund-raising ability, or cause him to go up or down in the polls, or in some other way hamper or enhance his ability to compete.

The pack is obsessed with the horse race, which is regrettable. It would be far more constructive and interesting if this heightened attention to Mr. Edwards’s campaign resulted in the media and the public taking a closer look at the issues he has been pushing, not just in the campaign but ever since his unsuccessful run for vice president in 2004.

If that were to happen it could be part of the silver lining that Elizabeth Edwards hopes will emerge from her family’s latest devastating crisis.

The 2008 presidential campaign has gotten an absurdly early start and has drawn staggering amounts of media coverage. The result has largely been the triumph of the trivial: Who said what nasty thing about whom? Who flipped? Who flopped?

Substance is considered boring, and thus less newsworthy.

If these same clowns had covered the election of 1860, voters would have been subjected to endless chatter about Lincoln’s a shop-a-holic wife, Mary Lincoln, whose family were slaveowners and secessionists. Her every cough would be tagged a proof she was a liability to the campaign. Lincoln himself would be portrayed as a peacenik who lost a House seat in 1848 because he spoke out against the Mexican War. Surely the pundits would decide he was just another James Buchanan, well meaning but soft. I can see Tucker Carlson asking viewers if Lincoln wasn’t a flip-flopper on slavery, because he’d spoken against it in some speeches but had promised to make no attempt to abolish slavery in slave states in other speeches. Etc., etc.

As Herbert says in his column, Edwards is running on a number of issues, such as universal health care. I’ve got issues with Edwards’s proposal on health care, but I think it’s more important for voters to understand Edwards’s views on health care than to watch Katie Couric grill John Edwards on why he is still campaigning when his wife has cancer.

As it was, voters in 1860 probably knew next to nothing about Mary Lincoln. I remember reading somewhere that many Americans had no idea what Lincoln looked like until after he was in the White House — in Mr. Lincoln’s case, that was just as well. Sure there was some imagery hype — “Abe the Rail Splitter” stuff — but mostly what voters knew about Lincoln in 1860 was where he stood on issues. That’s because most of what they knew about Lincoln they learned from reading his speeches, published in thousands of independently owned newspapers all over the country. He was able to speak to voters more directly than today’s candidates, who can only reach voters through the mediation of the likes of Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Katie Couric, and worse — Faux Noise.

15 thoughts on “Fluff and Puff

  1. That Maha’s one sharp hillbilly…

    Lincoln knew how important it waqs for his words to reach the public as he intended them…

    After giving a speech – such as his first national exposure at New York’s Cooper Union – Lincoln would repair to the composing room of the local Republican papeer…He proof-read his own speeches before they were printed and distributed…

    He also got along in the White House with a “staff” of two young men who served as his Secretaries…

  2. Glenn is priceless:

    These are not journalists who want to uncover government corruption or act in an adversarial capacity to check government power. Rather, these are members of the royal court who are grateful to the King and his minions for granting them their status. What they want more than anything is to protect and preserve the system that has so rewarded them — with status and money and fame and access and comfort. They’re the ludicrous clowns who entertain the public by belittling any facts which demonstrate pervasive corruption and deceit at the highest levels of our government, and who completely degrade the public discourse with their petty, pompous, shallow, vapid chatter that transforms every important political matter into a stupid gossipy joke.

    This is looking into the throat of the beast. It tries to disarm by making everything trivial. I don’t know how to reform it, or even if this is possible. But it’s important to understand what we’re dealing with.

  3. Actually, people were saying that kind of stuff about Lincoln. Not those exact things, but he was thought to be inexperienced and not up to the job when he first came into office.

    The main differences were a) a completely different process of selecting a party nominee; and b) much greater degrees of partisan loyalty. Everyone in 1860 was voting for a party, not for a man. That Lincoln was not as qualified for the presidency as Seward was well known, but people voted for parties. Similarly, newspapers at the time all had a clear partisan line, and pushed it fairly uniformly. But if you look at what, say, a Republican newspaper like the New York Tribune was saying about Lincoln between his election and Fort Sumter or so, it wasn’t terribly positive.

    I think there’s a tendency to idealize the political discourse of the past, when, in fact, it was seldom very much better than the present.

    Although this talking head garbage is probably new, and substantively worse, than anything going on in 1860.

  4. Also worth noting that people in 1860, although many (most?) of them didn’t think much of Lincoln, did genuinely care about national issues, and the campaign revolved around the substantive differences between the various parties. But there was still a lot of shallow, foolish political discourse. That’s always been there, and always will be.

  5. Between the Matthews coffee-klatch and the Couric interview, I can only think that, if I were trapped in a room and had to only interact with people as shallow, self-satisfied, obtuse and lacking in job skills as they are, I’d probably kill myself. Did Ms. Couric learn nothing from watching her loved ones fight cancer except that colonoscopy is a good idea? Usually cancer experiences at least introduce some humility, compassion and sensitivity, but I guess she missed that.

    Are the gang with Matthews so secure in their lives that they have absolutely no concerns at all about the fate of the nation, so much so that they’ve decided everyone is just playing a game, which their job is handicapping? What a sad display.

  6. This is why, in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.
    Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of The Parallax View.

    Found the above at truthout.org. Well said. I think the deed is done and the moral backbone of America is broken and cannot be fixed.

  7. OT, why is Zbigniew Brezinsky being treated as a brilliant statesman for saying nothing at all different than what Michael Moore said 3 years ago? When are all the people who trashed Moore, including liberals, going to apologize and say they were wrong?

  8. These reporters/pundits have set aside their own idealism, maybe chunking it off in tiny increments until years pass and the landscape of their shared conscientiousness has become as flat and gullied out as a strip mine. I suppose they laugh at serious things to avoid a reckoning with themselves, a reckoning that might leave them even more desolate of spirit.

    That these folks are on daily television is pretty damn awful, if I can judge by the clip offered here [no tv in my home]. Awful because they are inviting the whole viewing public to also rot their conscientiousness and replace it with inane laughter.

  9. Why anybody would watch Chris Matthews is beyond me. He’s the male equivalent of a dumb blond entertainment newscaster. All I can say about Katie Couric is that some of the questions were none of her damn business and she had no right to ask them and the American people don’t need to know the answers, or hear the questions.

  10. A related but important happening is the early primaries in many states. This will make for a long campaign and the team that has the most money will probably win.
    One dollar – one vote.
    Instead of one person – one vote.

  11. Hey now! I watch Matthews most every night, he blurts out some amazing stuff! Tonight he said “it looks like Republicans on the hill are revolting.” Yeah Baby! They’ve been quite revolting to me for years.
    Matthews has been antiwar since I started watching him several years ago( pre Iraq invasion). You need to know his stuff is scripted (as is Keith Olbermann’s), and you can be sure the guest also has a script, but this is the world of infotainment. Like it or not, (and we’re offered both sides more than ever now) this is our world in 2007. I’ve been following Tucker Carlson, Keith Olbermann, and Joe Scarborough for several years. Carlson and Scarborough have moved towards the left, and I think the reason was hurricane Katrina and the mess in New Orleans and Mississippi. Olbermann gives me reason for hope, long live Keith although my wife seems to have a crush on the bastard….

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  13. One other thing. The question to Edwards concerning “being distracted” is moronic. Like we’ve never had a president with an illness who still was able to perform his duties. Puh – lease.

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