September 17 2012

What Does that 13-Minute Video Have in Common with George W. Bush?

Charlotte Hays

While the Middle East was going up in flames last week, the media insisted on highlighting the really, really important issue: did Mitt Romney “jump the gun” and make a premature statement on the crisis? Last week was a disgraceful week--both for media and the White House spinners.

The administration is furiously trying to convince the public that a video is solely responsible for what is happening in the Middle East. Indeed, the 13-minute video now holds a place once reserved for George W. Bush—see “Blame the Video” in today’s Wall Street Journal. It would seem that, at a time like this, foreign affairs might be a topic worthy of discussion. But the media is hot on the trail of alleged "gaffes" on the part of Mitt Romney.

The administration has been portraying the people of the Middle East as being wildly enthusiastic about American foreign policy. They just didn't like that danged video! Mark Steyn captured this particular disconnect vividly:

For whatever reason, [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton chose to double down on misleading the American people. "Libyans carried Chris' body to the hospital," said Secretary Clinton. That's one way of putting it.

The photographs at the Arab TV network al-Mayadeen show Chris Stevens' body being dragged through the streets, while the locals take souvenir photographs on their cell phones. A man in a red striped shirt photographs the dead-eyed ambassador from above; another immediately behind his head moves the splayed arm and holds his cell phone camera an inch from the ambassador's nose.

We might have expected spin from the administration, whose policies are—um—called into question by recent events in the Middle East, but isn’t the media supposed to ask hard questions and get to the bottom of what’s happening?

It is a sad day when, if we are to have any serious, public conversations about our affairs, national and international, we must find a way to do so despite the mainstream media.

The press has generally skewed liberal. But we've seen something arguably worse in the last few years: the press has turned into celebrity-smitten bobbysoxers. "Biased" isn't too lofty a term to describe them. They're more like teenagers at a rock concert. Michael Knox Beran captures this shallowness in a piece in National Review:

In spite of the anemic economy and a real unemployment rate above 11 percent, the high priests of pontificating liberalism were giddy with euphoria. The Democrats “put on a nearly flawless convention,” Paul Begala opined, and it was soon all but incontrovertibly established that, come November, the president — beautiful, magical, and lovable as he was — would vanquish his boring opponent.

The media savants sympathized with the delirium of Charlotte because they worship at the same altar and feed at the same trough. Two and a half centuries ago Edmund Burke said the reporters’ gallery in Parliament was an estate “more important far than” the other three put together. Today America’s Fourth Estate is not merely predisposed, as it has been for generations, to favor a particular political party: It is deeply engaged in the hero worship of a particular political leader.

The closeness of mainstream journalists to President Obama has debauched their integrity. Some of them give the White House veto authority over their stories. Others look to be rewarded with plum jobs or stimulus-funded ads. This abasement before power presages a return to a time when political writers, among them Swift and Defoe, were the professed protégés of statesmen and relied on Whig or Tory patronage for their bread; it also leaves the country vulnerable to the distortions of ostensibly neutral journalists who are too fervently committed to the leader to tell the truth about him.

An alternative media has developed in response to the mainstream media, and the alternative media, including the blogosphere, contributes mightily to our ability to have more than a superficial discussion of public affairs. But the mainstream media still has immense power to frame the debate. Indeed, the press gallery may be more influential today than it was when Edmund Burke was writing.

The White House made an attempt to get Google to remove the video that it claims is the heart of the problem. Google is to be applauded for refusing. But shouldn't the mainstream media be shrieking bloody murder about this attempt to silence a dissident voice, ever how unappealing that voice? The White House seemed to veer perilously close to trying to tinker with the First Amendment right of free speech--the very right that gives them the ability to function? (No doubt, the organizers of the riots are using the video to get people into the streets, but it is not the cause of the riots.)

Another Disturbing Question: Does the White House buy its own spin that what we are witnessing is the Siskel and Ebert Riots?

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