The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Is Howard Fineman barking? Part II

I asked the question earlier today having skimmed his Rathergate piece.

Reading it again, for an answer, I'm torn between You bet your sweet bippy! and Who gives a flying one?

The lede is representative of the piece, unfortunately:
A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the "mainstream media," which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards. At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.

No, the word. I think, would be fantasy. The idea that, sometime in the Sixties (Fineman must have been there since he clearly has no idea what happened then!), the button-down shirted McNamara look-alikes at the Times and the Post as one man cast off their lightweight suits, donned Che Guevara berets and went engagé. And stayed that way until brought low by Bush and Fox.

Bears as little relation to reality as those memos bore to Jerry Killian.

In the early 1970s, the US media had two genuine breakthrough stories: the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. With the former, the media contribution (the New York Times Company contribution, more precisely) was to locate a pair of cojones they never realised they had (Daniel Ellsberg did the photocopying, after all); and Watergate, we'll give them.

But - ending the Vietnam War? I've been reading David Halberstam's ironically titled The Best and the Brightest [1]; while the subject of the book is the USG personnel responsible for getting the US in and escalated, there's a good deal interstitially about the media. And the impression is not good.

For instance, the well-known (mentioned here before, I think) incident on the way back from Lyndon Johnson's 1961 visit to South Vietnam, for instance, where LBJ, taxed about his comparison of Ngo Dinh Diem to Winston Churchill, tells Stanley Karnow (and others?) that Diem is the only son of a bitch we got.

It's as if the US press corps had the Killian memos for four years and still failed to identify them as phoney!

The growth of the opposition to the war tracked the growth in the casualty rate; and the media acted as Tail End Charlie as usual - like the Supreme Court, following the election returns.

(Halberstam's complaints in the New York Times during the Kennedy years were not that US support for the war was wrong, but that it was badly applied: at the time, he was as enthusiastic for Commie killing as Curtis LeMay!)

We left Fineman at Watergate. But what happened next? Where is the evidence that any section of the mainstream media, buoyed by their success in bringing down a sitting president, acted, in concert or as individual outlets, to achieve political goals? As opposed to committing acts of serial stenography.

Fineman is confused: talking about the Reagan era, he says
Some Republicans learned how to manipulate the AMMP, especially its growing obsession with personalities — and its desire to be regarded as even-handed. The objective wasn't to win the AMMP's approval, but to isolate it by uncoupling its longterm relationship with the Democrats.

So, the media were with the Democrats but wanted to be seen as even-handed? What sort of a political party (even by analogy) is that?

Does this go beyond the general VRWC line that the media are a bunch of (closet and not-so-closet) lefties?

Compare the role of the Murdoch press in the UK (the Sun, in particular) as powerful supporters of Margaret Thatcher and then Tony Blair: it seems to me that this is much closer to the political party analogy than anything in the US media since the end of the Hearst/Pulitzer/McCormick era.

Confirmation of the value of Fineman's thinking comes at the end, talking about the Killian segment on 60 Minutes:
The moment it made air it began to fall apart, and eventually was shredded by factions within the AMMP itself, conservative national outlets and by the new opposition party that is emerging: The Blogger Nation.

Where's Nurse Ratched when you need her?

He goes on
It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility.

Not you, buddy, that's for sure...

  1. On which more when I've finished!

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