On The Trail: Defending the Fourth Estate

By now, a lot of people have seen this video of Sarah Palin in which she exhorts an audience at her church in now-famous Wasilla to pray for her natural-gas-pipeline project. And I just couldn't help but be reminded of one of my favorite moments in the life of another wildly charismatic, oil loving Westerner -- "family man" Daniel Plainview who submits himself to a maniacal baptism in order to get himself… an oil pipeline. Watch Gov. Palin (starting at around 2:02), then watch this scene, paying very careful attention to what Plainview smugly mutters to himself in the very last seconds, knowing he's pulled one over on the dupes.

Obviously, that's just a joke. But, actually, one would think that, after eight years of Pres. Bush, so many people have come to realize that the ambitious sometimes use their perceived or real religion to get what is best for them as individuals. After the failures of Bush, in this same video, we have Palin calling the war in Iraq "a task that is from God" (around 3:46).

A sandstorm has swirled not only about Palin herself but about the appropriateness of this media vetting of her. Partly because of some sensationalist, hysterical reporting and rumor-mongering and partly because of a manufactured mistrust of The Media among many Americans, intentionally fostered by the Republican Party, we have seen a backlash from people who think the media is just being unfair and mean to Palin. Have lines been crossed in terms of investigating familial issues? Probably. But is much of this investigating of a person vying to hold the second-highest office in our country legitimate? Of course. That is why the news media exist.

The Fourth Estate is not just a business sector -- and if it is, it's certainly not a lucrative one for most of us these days – neither is it entertainment. The news media exist to investigate and present information useful to the people, to poke holes in the self-serving rhetoric of politicians – in short, to keep our government honest. Do we often fail in this? Of course. But better to let the world hate us because we point out unpleasant truths than to let them go on believing the fallacies fed them. We fail most direly when we accept the spoon-feeding ourselves – as we surely did, by and large, in the justification of the invasion of Iraq. That is why the Founders of our nation put freedom of the press right up there at the top. They understood how essential a free press is to the functioning of democracy and justice.

Some of the darkest periods of our history have come hand-in-hand with a stonewalling of the press by the White House. Nixon did it most famously. George W. Bush has done it as well. By keeping distant from the press they refused to answer to the people. By keeping themselves sequestered they fostered an impression of invulnerability. By avoiding public scrutiny they escaped a true vetting by and for the people and therefore were free to operate of their own in will, instead of working for us. Our leaders must remain accountable to the people. Inherent in our nation is the belief in checks and balances to ensure enduring justice and democracy. The media must be a part of that.

I just read the New York Post – which I would guess the Right doesn't consider part of The Media; go figure – and saw their ringing endorsement of McCain. Mentioned in one of their articles is that Palin is finally going to start meeting the press -- now that she's been coached -- perhaps towards the end of this week, in a sit-down with Charlie Gibson. The Post quotes McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis as saying about the VP candidate's having to answer questions from the press, "Until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment." That's one perspective. For sheep. And talk about elitism. It's also a dangerous harbinger of what a McCain White House could look like. Deference? This is The USA. I hold, rather, with H.L. Mencken: "The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down."

Also, this criticism of the media for actually telling facts about Palin seems to come with an inherent sexism, as if they're saying: 'Don't pick on her; she's just a cute, little lady. Be nice to her, you meanies. Because of that, I'm going to vote for her.' (Personally, I think anyone who casts their vote based on their impression that the media are mean, are spitting in the face of the right and privilege and duty of voting, in fact in the whole concept of democracy.)

But the strangest – though not surprising – hypocrisy of it all is the sudden insistence that (Republican) politicians' personal lives are off limits. Palin's religious beliefs are off limits – but we'll still insist that Obama is a secret Muslim with foreign allegiances AND that the Christian church he attended for years hates America.

The questions that arise from all of this are: Will people believe just what they want to believe? Meaning, if they want to like Palin, will they see the media as bullying her and ignore the legitimate as well as the illegitimate things they report about her? Will people believe the truthful reporting or just turn away from it and back up the Right's New Sweetheart?

Ultimately, was Hunter S. Thompson correct when he wrote that honest politicians have a tough time winning because "We are not a nation of truth lovers"?

Because the facts certainly seem to bear that Palin is already being dishonest with the American people: Her condemnation of earmarks in her acceptance speech and the lie that she turned down the money really rankles me – and should us all. And that her reticence so far to really meet the public – and the GOP machine's attempts to block out true media inquiry into her as a politician – would imply that both she and the party are aware of her shortcomings and that they want to ensure that the image they're creating for her is the only one voters see. This is, of course, not a new trick, nor the sole property of the GOP.

The Democrats are of course playing their politics as well. This push towards appealing to everyone is certainly a political decision – though it does dovetail with the Obama campaign's ideology of national unification. The Republicans have touted the unification idea as well. But the difference in message seems to be that Obama wants to fudge the lines of the Democratic Party to include everyone; whereas, McCain's campaign wants everyone to get in step with the Republicans – who now of course contend they are not in any way related to the Republican Party that's held power for the last eight years. (I'd rather point out that, contrary to their current rhetoric, they certainly have stronger ties to the GOP of George W. Bush than to the Republican Party Abraham Lincoln took to the White House.)

I am still struck by the turn in this campaign towards a more traditional election than we expected. Familiar charges levied and familiar platforms pushed – and the familiarity, despite the attempts at causing mass amnesia in the American public, of the Republican candidates' similarities to the themes of the George W. Bush campaigns. Despite the claims of change, we're again hearing about God, guns, sticking to principles, gustiness. Although I guess there is one noticeable difference here: Bush was a straight shooter, whereas McCain is a straight talker. The king is dead; long live…

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Anonymous Mickey said...

I'm not surprised at all at any of the Republican tactics to protect Palin from the media. The Republican stance has always been "do as I say, not as I do." So when they accuse people of sexism while practicing it, I'm not surprised. When they preach "family values" and don't practice their own version of it, I'm not surprised. When they say their own politicians' personal lives are off limits but skew the lives of Democrats, again I am not surprised.

Interestingly, the only people who are against the media interviewing Palin are the members of the McCain campaign. I notice in polls, even avid Palin supporters would like to see her interviewed AND without the anxious looking McCain by her side.

Cowardly Democrats who catered to Bush after the mid-term elections are seeing the results of their own timidity. Why should people not vote Republican when the Democrats, after that key election, behaved in the same way as the Republicans did for the previous six years....rubber stamping every request (Iraq, FISA, etc), kowtowing to every Bush demand.

And also, a thank you to Hilary Clinton for also making all of this political travesty possible by living up to her pledge to make Obama unelectable by her Rove-like campaign, and her insistence to take her lost campaign all the way to the convention. Her last minute conversation meaningless as her most important goal to keep Obama from being elected becomes more and more the reality.

3:48 PM, September 08, 2008  

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