Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An American Carol: The Ghost of Pauline Kael Past and Present

Lately, I find myself reminded of Pauline Kael, the long time movie critic for New Yorker magazine, who famously expressed her incredulity at Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election: “I don’t know how Nixon could have been reelected. I don't know anyone who voted for him.”

These days, the mainstream media seem entirely populated by Pauline Kaels. In their competition to establish whose reporting can be more worshipful of Barack He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Middle-Named Obama, they cannot imagine that anyone could hold a contrary view. Those who live in this philosophical cocoon cannot understand why public opinion polls do not show Barack Obama winning in a landslide. And you can bet that they are reeling from a Zogby poll earlier this week showing Republican John McCain with a slender lead among likely voters. This was the year of hope and change. This was supposed to be the year when all the stars and computer models agreed that Democrats would win not only the White House, but would gain overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. Why even bother with an election?

We’ve been here before. Newsweek magazine’s assistant managing editor Evan Thomas famously stated in 2004 that the press corps, “wants Kerry to win,” and that the media would, “portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic.” He predicted that the media favoritism would be worth up to 15 percentage points.

This season’s campaign started this last spring when the press anointed Obama as the post-racial silver-tongued messiah who would at last lead America out of eight years of wilderness and into the Promised Land. His ever speech was hailed as historic. They filtered contradictory news from their reporting and caricatured John McCain as a fumble-mouthed, befuddled old man clinging tenaciously to a discredited ideology.

One media survey showed that the big television networks’ coverage favored Obama by 3.6 to 1. Washington Post media analyst Howard Kurtz reported this week that, in the big networks, stories that were flattering of Obama outnumbered critical stories by 6 to 1. Howard Kurtz aside, the Post confessed its own bias. This last week, the Post’s ombudsman reported that the paper’s disproportionate coverage of Obama over McCain “didn’t look good.”

The gushing press coverage that Barack Obama received during his world tour was emblematic of the press’s Kael-like disconnect from the real America. Only those media stars in good standing with Obamamania were allowed privileged seating on the campaign plane. And none dared jeopardize that status. Everything that Obama did was perfect. Everything he said was inspiring. Images from the tour deserved to be painted on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, covering those stodgy old Michaelangelo sketches.

And ever since, Obama has sunk in the polls. How can that be? How can NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN all be wrong?

Well, part of Obama’s problem is that the great unwashed, whose ballots count every bit as much as Katie Couric’s, seem to have a longer memory than their media overlords. They know that the incontrovertible wisdom that Barack the Holy espouses today is often at odds with the incontrovertible wisdom that he uttered a few months ago. The great unwashed know that tire gauges will not solve our energy shortage. Americans who are paying over $4 per gallon for gasoline also know that the 6 or 7 years that Obama claims will be needed to derive benefit from new oil exploration represents a much shorter time horizon than any relief they will realize from the science fiction solutions that he advocates. And Americans cannot understand why a man who touts his unfailing judgment as his primary qualification for president cannot recognize that the surge in Iraq worked and that success is firmly in our grasp.

And we should not underestimate Americans’ distrust of the media. The same people who now assure them that Obama is The One are the same people who deliberately ignored John Edwards’ failings. Should Americans trust the judgment of a press corps that cannot compete with the National Enquirer in the field of investigative journalism?

Americans know in their hearts that should John McCain emerge as the winner on the evening of November 4th, the wise men and women of the media will find racism as the only explanation that makes sense. And Americans already resent that.

How else could they explain an Obama loss? After all, no one they knew voted for McCain.

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