Politics & Media

Insulting the Public's Intelligence

The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky hits a new low.

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It doesn’t particularly bother me that the ongoing presidential election is “ugly,” as the media jackrabbits tell us hour after hour, or that by Oct. 25, the campaign will be fought from the sewer that Ed Norton once toiled in. That’s politics in 2012 (and 1800, for that matter) and, at least for the foreseeable future, it’s a reality no earnest academic in The Columbia Journalism Review can wish away. Similarly, that both the Obama and Romney campaigns are awash in money that’s spent on advertising buys, fees for consultants and daily polling, isn’t something I get exercised over. Really, you’d think all the critics of the 2010 Citizens United ruling would at least admit that all this excess cash is helping the economy, whether it’s television stations or temporary work—actually, the campaign’s been going on so long, the work isn’t merely seasonal, like selling Christmas tree—and is a positive.

What does get me growling, however, is the torrent of misinformation posted online, or in print, by supposedly reputable journalists (from more-or-less mainstream news organizations). Let’s consider, for today, Michael Tomasky, who writes for The Daily Beast, the Tina Brown-fronted arm of the Democratic National Committee. (And, obviously, you could wag the same finger at the ludicrous Rush Limbaugh and most of FOX News.) Tomasky jotted down several hundred words on Aug. 13, headlined “Ryan and the Built-In Lies of the Cliché Machine" that would be breathtaking for its dishonesty if it wasn’t typical of today’s parodies of H.L. Mencken. Rip Van Tomasky, who, straining credulity, claims that Rep. Paul Ryan’s been given a free ride by the media, clings to the anachronistic idea that the media strives for objectivity, as this paragraph demonstrates:

So an actual, true-to-the-facts way to introduce Paul Ryan to America would be to say: ‘Paul Ryan, the reckless Republican congressman who is intent on slashing taxes for the very wealthiest Americans…’ That is actually true. But according to journalistic convention it’s not objective. And so journalism tells these lies in the name of being ‘fair.’ It does so all the time, whether the topic is entertainment or sports or what have you. It’s just that the stakes are usually this high.

Tomasky specifically objects to characterizations of Ryan’s detailed budget plan as “bold,” (as well, one assumes, of Romney’s choosing him as running mate was “bold”), ignoring that, whatever you think of the Ryan plan to simplify the tax code—brackets of 25 and 10 percent—phase in changes to Medicare and drastically cutting federal spending, it is, at least in Washington, D.C., in fact, “bold.” Tomasky: “Proposals are routinely labeled ‘bold’ in journalism in a completely morally neutral way. It wouldn’t surprise me if we went back to American and British newspapers of 1938 and found a headline or two about ‘Herr Hitler’s Bold Sudetenland Gambit.’”

Tomasky, as it happens, didn’t go back to 1938 newspaper archives to prove that point, but that might be excused by figurative whip Brown and Beast-investor Barry Diller held over his head, yelling, “Product, more product!”

Fact is, on the same day, Tomasky’s Beast colleague Bob Shrum (veteran Democratic consultant, whose last losing campaign was that of John Kerry in 2004), wrote: “The Ryan-Romney ticket is confirming and accelerating the move away from the 2012 election as a straight-line referendum on the state of the economy. At this point, it is unmistakably and irretrievably a choice—and in terms of the unradical American majority, the financial manipulator from Bain and the New Deal destroyer from Janesville are on the wrong side.”

That’s about as “objective” as GOP strategist Karl Rove’s weekly column in The Wall Street Journal.

Mind you, I don’t begrudge Tomasky his opinions—and his New York Review of Books essays are far less hysterical than the Beast droppings—but don’t insult me, and other readers, by claiming that the media is “objective” and indulging in a Ryan schmoozefest. That’s simply dishonest, or, in Tomasky’s words, a lie.

DISCUSSION
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 14, 2012, 10:25AM
    Agreed. Was there a time in your lifetime that the news was objective or at least more so than today and if so, why does objectivity not sell? I for one would love just the facts information. P.S. I know why sensational sells to the masses, bread and circuses, but surely their is a market for objectivity. It would save me time since I have to read both sides now just to get a partially complete set of facts.
    Responses to this comment
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    Aug 14, 2012, 11:01AM
    an objective list of facts is impossible, reporters will be labeled biased as long as someone disagrees with reality as most of the GOP and some left wingers do. CNN is a prime example of why objective reporting doesnt work, it's fucking boring. i'd rather watch MSNBC and FOX and make up my own mind than have Wolf Blitzer read tweets to me like i'm some kind of retarded robot.
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    Aug 14, 2012, 11:39AM
    Other than Soledad who has been on roll, don't know if I'd consider CNN as an example of objectivity. They are boring for sure, but objective? Certainly not intelligent; Wolf, Campbell, Crowley etc. They just regurgitate what politicians say, not so much the veracity of what they say.
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 14, 2012, 06:19PM
    you’d think all the critics of the 2010 Citizens United ruling would at least admit that all this excess cash is helping the economy, whether it’s television stations or temporary work
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 14, 2012, 06:22PM
    Eh, wrote a long comment and all that it kept was the quote. Maybe just as well.
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 14, 2012, 06:30PM
    Short version: the economic stimulus of political campaigns as a short term boost is far outweighed by the medium and long term damage to our economy and society caused by the capture of the political system by the very wealthy which is part and parcel of escalating campaign costs.
    Responses to this comment
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 15, 2012, 10:17AM
    Noah, when did the very wealthy NOT control politics?
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 15, 2012, 10:53AM
    Well, the very wealthy are a whole lot wealthier in comparison to everyone else than they used to be, for one thing. And there have been times when one person, one vote had more influence at least relative to one dollar one vote than it does today. I mean, following the great depression, there was actually a movement to control and regulate the financial industry — a movement that was successful in controlling inequality and boosting prosperity. Similarly, recently in Brazil they've elected folks who have worked to reduce inequality and help the poor, and as a result inequality in that country has fallen significantly. No political system is perfect, and every political system responds to wealth. But ours has gotten substantially more unequal, substantially less fair, and substantially less stable, in my lifetime. Since things have gotten worse in my memory, it seems reasonable to assume that things could get worse still, or better, depending on what policies we choose. Citizens United has pushed us towards greater power for the wealthy, and therefore towards greater inequality. That's bad for society and bad for the economy, and those effects far outweigh any minor stimulative effect you're likely to see from expenditures. Put it this way. You could pay people millions of dollars to poor cyanide into the water supply. There would be in theory some stimulative effect; you're employing people! And yet, is this really a good economic plan? The water supply — like a healthy political system — is vital for long term economic success; ruining it isn't a good recipe for long term growth. I'm reading Joseph Stiglitz's "The Price of Inequality" at the moment, which is very good on these issues.
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 15, 2012, 11:21AM
    Still not buying it, at least as far as politics go. HHH complained bitterly in 1960 that JFK's father bought the primaries, of which there's ample evidence. On the other hand, as recently as '08, McCain had run out of money by the previous fall. Obama, of course, was the first general election candidate to opt out of the federally financed system. Nixon (notoriously), Reagan, LBJ, FDR and Ike all had a ton of $$$ raised for them. I think the question is this: would the US have elected different leaders with a very strict control of $$$. And what financial system do you propose to replace the current one?
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    Aug 15, 2012, 11:38AM
    Well, federally financed elections wouldn't be a bad idea. And going back to some sort of campaign finance reform seems like a reasonable idea as well. Stiglitz suggests free airtime for candidates, which seems like a dandy idea, especially since the airwaves are public property, so the whole campaign season is essentially a giant giveaway to television comapanies.//Again, I didn't say that you can get money out of the sytem entirely; I just said that making campaigning so dependent on giant donors with oodles of cash is bad for the country.//And the issue isn't that too much money is going to Romney. The issue is that *both* candidates and *both* parties are *so* indebted to the 1% that even reimposing financial controls we had within recent memory is completely off the table. This despite the fact that the financial industry basically destroyed the economy through irresponsibility and naked greed.
  • Go to comment.
    Aug 15, 2012, 11:55AM
    Oh...and if you're asking what financial reforms I'd propose, I think reinstating Glass-Stiegal (sp?) would do nicely. Worked for 50 years, I don't see why it wouldn't do the job for another 50.
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