Thursday, June 01, 2006

Spot the Narrative: Newsweek Trashes Dems as 'Ill-Adjusted Adolescents'

There's a kernel of truth to Michael Hirsh's Newsweek article about Democratic strategy, the operative word being "kernel". But what Hirsh does is use partial truths to paint a total picture. And the picture he paints reinforces deep-standing false narratives about left and right. Another case of stories vs. storylines.

The opening few paragraphs offer a textbook example of the traditional media's role in perpetuating the right=strong, left=weak frame:
"A good therapist, we know, can sometimes help a person who’s lost his confidence or mental balance. But what do you do when an entire party needs therapy?

You’d think the Republicans would be the ones in need of professional help. This is a party burdened with a president so unpopular he barely has a base to stand on—Bush seems to be bypassing the lame-duck stage and heading straight for dead duck: a Vietnam-scale quagmire in Iraq and a post-Katrina rot of incompetence and corruption that is infecting the very foundations of the presidency and the GOP’s control of Congress. Not surprisingly, the Republicans are at each others' throats over this loss of prestige and popularity. Neoconservatives and traditionalists are fighting bitterly over foreign policy. Moderates and conservatives are battling over immigration and deficits. And when the maverick John McCain declares his candidacy for 2008 sometime in the next year, the Republicans will be shrieking at each other in public over abortion and other social issues.

But at least the GOP is engaged in a war over real policy choices. It is an emotional debate, often a hysterical and ill-informed one, but it is a fight among adults who know what they believe in and who have the guts to battle for it. By contrast the Democrats, ostensibly the party poised to exploit this GOP civil war, don't seem to remember what it is like to behave as adults. They resemble nothing so much as ill-adjusted adolescents, afraid of their own shadows, much less the presidency. What are they afraid of? Themselves, essentially: their past, their own left, the populist rhetoric of their leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Al Gore), the left-wing loony stigma represented by “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore (every Dem’s favorite bugaboo). Above all they fear seeming and looking soft. They are all afflicted with varying degrees of megalophobia, a fear of assuming power. Even Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos” wouldn’t take this case."
Read the bold text only and you'll understand what readers take away. No shading, no distinctions. Simply this: rightwingers are tough and principled grown-ups - no matter what they say or do - while Democrats are weak, pathetic, ill-adjusted, bratty children. Not just the Dem establishment or particular Dem leaders, but all Democrats, the whole Party.

Multiply this article by thousands and you'll understand how the contours of conventional wisdom are shaped -- as I've suggested before, imagine how impressions would change if we saw a flood of articles about Dem infighting with captions like "Feisty Democrats Duke it Out" or "Strong-Willed Democrats Fight for Beliefs" or "Opposing Democrats Stand Firm Over Principled Differences."

The insidious danger of the propagation of these memes seems to escape many on the left. I've argued that the media problem is the problem. Media Matters' Jamison Foser summed it up in a brilliant piece last Friday:
"The defining issue of our time is not the Iraq war. It is not the "global war on terror." It is not our inability (or unwillingness) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. Nor is it immigration, outsourcing, or growing income inequity. It is not education, it is not global warming, and it is not Social Security.

The defining issue of our time is the media.

The dominant political force of our time is not Karl Rove or the Christian Right or Bill Clinton. It is not the ruthlessness or the tactical and strategic superiority of the Republicans, and it is not your favorite theory about what is wrong with the Democrats.

The dominant political force of our time is the media.

Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways -- and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives."

Foser's got it exactly right. And with each passing day, there are dozens of new examples of this 'death by a thousand cuts' ... here are a few:

AP's John Solomon publishes ANOTHER misleading hit piece on Harry Reid
Media Magic: How it Became the Dem 'Culture of Corruption'
Debutante Bio


Blogger Wil Wheaton said...

When I read that Newsweek bit you quoted, the piece from Media Matters came immediately to mind. Glad to see you quoted it here, so it will get more widely read.

Thanks for the Grit, Peter. It's a great companion to the Daou Report.

6/01/2006 11:32 AM  

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