Fodder for the masses

Posted on Wednesday 27 February 2008

Lots of folks are unimpressed this morning with NBC’s Tim Russert, who’s role in last night’s debate seemed to be a cross between a pit bull and a fight promoter. Digby articulates it very clearly:

From tax returns to Farrakhan to footage shown by “mistake” to the endless, trivial, gotcha bullshit, this debate spectacle tonight was a classic demonstration of what people really hate about politics. It isn’t actually the candidates who can at least on occasion be substantive and serious. The problem is Tim Russert and all his petty, shallow acolytes who spend all their time reading Drudge and breathlessly reporting every tabloid tidbit and sexy rumor and seeking out minor inconsistencies from years past in lieu of doing any real work.

I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with Digby, nor the collective assessment.

What I heard last night was a meat and potatoes policy debate (health care, NAFTA, Iraq) that was accompanied by the side dishes and garnishments we’ve been inundated with recently.

Shocking stories are what people remember, and follow-up with facts is not the media’s strong suit — nor do they make for exciting headlines. However much one might wish it were not so, we live in a superficial, paparazzi-centric, the-dirtier-the-better society.

Once introduced, innuendo and smears don’t vanish easily. Instead, those “tabloid tidbits” and “sexy rumors” circulate unchecked in people’s minds if they’re not directly addressed. They become reprehensible viral emails and militant forum “discussions”, and can ultimately morph into a poisonous subterranean muck in which the uninformed can flounder.

Airing some of the more recent trivialities, distasteful as it was, gave ordinary people (as in… the more normal folks who aren’t obsessed with political policy minutiae) some direct input from the candidates themselves, and I was relieved when the moderators brought them into the light of day.

Just because the questions were uncomfortable to watch didn’t make them a waste of time.

4 Comments for 'Fodder for the masses'

    February 27, 2008 | 9:56 am

    Well, all of the debates have had substantive issues in them. What I don’t like is the idea that Russert approaches candidates as if they’re guilty. And what excuse is there for cutting somebody off when they’ve barely even started to answer the question? I know this is his schtick, and it makes for good television, but it prevents real discussion because it puts a candidate immediately on the defensive.

    One last point, who knows if the majority of the voters have actually seen any of the recent trivialities. My guess is that they haven’t so they’re being shown this stuff for the first time and having the candidates respond to it. That’s not giving a 360 degree view of the situation, so it ultimately creates a superficial assurance that they now know all there is to know about this stuff. Personally, I think that’s a bad thing.

    Also, let me ask you, what was the point of brining up Farrakhan? How was that any sort of controversy?

    February 27, 2008 | 9:59 am

    I disagree. While I do think the moderators pressed far too many trivial points in search of gotcha moments, I don’t even think the supposedly substantive portions of the debate were really all that substantive. The health care debate consisted of Clinton saying experts liked her health care plan more, then Obama claimed the opposite. The debate about mandates and punishments for health care is substantive, but it is one that I’ve seen before plenty of times this cycle.

    After 20, these debates are just trivial moments and rehashed pseudo-substance. That may be what society likes, but that doesn’t mean its best for us.

    February 27, 2008 | 10:39 am

    “what was the point of brining up Farrakhan? How was that any sort of controversy?”

    Justin — Farrakhan is not even remotely acceptable to the VAST majority of America, and although I don’t know that it’s a controversy at this moment in time, I think it’s potentially a huge problem for Obama in the general election.

    In fact, many of the questions asked last night appeared (to me) to be geared toward a much broader audience than the Democrats. It may be “their” primary, but it really is the only ballgame in town right now…. and one of those two candidates will almost certainly be onstage against McCain soon.

    I saw the Farrakhan question as being targeted toward that later election campaign.

    February 28, 2008 | 4:20 pm

    Honestly, I don’t think any of this stuff is going to stick to Obama, and for Russert to press the point with the “gutter religion” comment was suspect. Why inject that phrase into the conversation when we all know Obama clearly would never accept support from Farrakhan nor anything Farrakhan has said on Judiasm?

    Frankly, Russert’s comments feel like an argument looking for an audience, instead of giving voice to a genuine concern from voters. And that distinction is important because it turns it into a media-created meme. So to that point, why didn’t Russert bring up whether or not Obama will pledge he is not a hidden Muslim? And don’t tell me the two things are unrelated, because they’re both being pushed with nothing more behind them than innuendo from the far right crowd.

    Again, at the end of the day, I think this stuff will only help Obama because it’ll push independents and moderate Republicans away from the GOP in disgust at the use of these obviously dishonest tactics. And after 8 years of Bush and company, I honestly don’t think McCain can convince them he’s different if he has a bunch of hacks behind him spreading this garbage. To be clear, I’m not saying McCain would support any of this in the least, but if he can’t control the smears coming from his base, it could seriously doom his campaign before it even starts.

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