My heroes have always been cowboys ...


On Keith Olbermann's Countdown last night, Barack Obama noted the media's lack of aggressiveness when came to claims that John McCain's campaign has been making, specifically at the Republican National Convention. (He didn't specify, but let's just pick one at random: Obama is a tax-raiser. Numerous outlets have been allowing the McCain campaign to keep saying that without challenge; in fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families and raising them only on households earning more than $250,000 per year. That's as major point). Anyway, Obama used the phrase "working the refs" -- that's the point we want to make here.

It's not exactly difficult to discern. We all can see it. The McCain people surely know they're doing it. So why can't these journalistic referees see it? Matt Yglesias catches an interesting self-justification from political reporter Marc Ambinder, who writes:

[T]he ad claims that Palin "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere," which is technically true but functionally false. No blowback, though: the electorate doesn't seem to penalize campaigns for deliberately distorting the record of their candidate and their opponent. It's probably an artifact of twenty years' worth of campaign advertisements and has something to do with the way consumers process news.

Yglesias makes the excellent point that Ambinder must not remember the year 2000, when the electorate indeed did penalize a campaign for what it perceived to be deliberate distortions. Exit polls showed that among the 24 percent of voters who said it was very important to have an "honest and trustworthy" president, 80 percent went for George W. Bush, due in part, we can assume, to the barrage of media coverage that Gore was somehow prone to stretching the truth, from Love Canal to the invention of the Internet. Forget "the way consumers process news" -- of course the elite political media, of which Ambinder is a member, has the ability to create narratives about, for example, the veracity of a particular candidate. They have just been worked by aggressive conservatives, in 2000, and again now.

George Zornick writes: You may have heard that Obama suffered a "verbal slip" on Sunday, referring to "my Muslim faith" in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on This Week. Naturally Drudge featured it, linking to The Washington Times, which seems to have been the first to write a mainstream story. But then so did Joel Thorton at The Dallas Morning News, as did Fox News, and the Chicago Sun-Times, and UPI too.

Of course the "slip-up" was even more widely disseminated by people on the Internet who are completely loony tunes. The more responsible (relatively speaking) mainstream accounts of this gaffe simply couched the story in terms of the fuel it provided the Internet crazies, although of course Fox News wondered "whether Obama's misstatement will continue to fuel rumors of his faith, allegiances or patriotism."

Why all the coverage of what seems to be a simple misstatement -- nobody actually thinks Obama just revealed he was Muslim, and yes, there are outlandish people on the Internet. So why take up valuable newshole with this? These questions are made even better by the fact that Obama didn't even make a verbal gaffe. He was incorrectly corrected by Stephanopoulos, and then subsequently taken out of context by these reports.

Obama was suggesting that Fox News and others "closely allied" with Republicans were pushing the idea that he is a Muslim. Then he said: "Let's not play games. What I was suggesting -- you're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith. And you're absolutely right that that has not come ..."

Stephanopoulos broke in and inexplicably "corrected" Obama, interjecting: "your Christian faith." Obama momentarily agreed, but then explained "well, what I'm saying is that he hasn't suggested that I'm a Muslim." (The video is here, and it makes this whole exchange even more clear).

So, in the course of an interview, Obama strings together the three words "my Muslim faith," gets a knee-jerk correction from the interviewer, has the clip edited down and circulated all over the Internet, and then has numerous mainstream outlets write about it. How are we supposed to conduct democracy like this?

Altercation's own Bob Bateman is offering his trademark military analysis over at The Washington Post's "Intel Dump" blog. He has a post up now about the influence of seapower on Putin -- it's definitely worth a read.

I recently highlighted several statements by Tom Brokaw -- like that McCain won the Republican primary by being "the most authentic ... he wasn't trying to reinvent himself" -- that really make you wonder if he had any connection whatsoever to political reality.

Here's another one from Chris Matthews, on his talk show Sunday:

MATTHEWS: [Palin]'s a conservative version, you think, perhaps, of some movie heroes like Norma Rae, the factory worker fed up with minimum wage who did whatever it took, even jail time, to get the union organized.

Matthews demonstrates that he knows who Norma Rae is, but that he has absolutely no idea who Sarah Palin is. Not one of those actions by Rae can even remotely be supported by Palin's record, nor her party's -- in fact, they're directly contradicted. Again, it appears that Matthews has just sad goodbye to political reality.

By the way -- last week, I pointed out what seemed to be a ridiculous statement from Brokaw, on the day before Palin's convention speech: "I would not like to be Joe Biden debating Sarah Palin, because she is going to have a lot of momentum by the time she gets to that debate if things go as well as the Republicans hope they will."

Well, at the time, that was a ridiculous statement -- Palin's press coverage definitely tilted negative, as journalists actually found the time to seriously question her credentials, experience, positions, and so on. (The word "Eagleton" was out there.)

But then, well, things did go as Republicans planned. She gave a teleprompter speech to a rapt arena of Republicans, and all of a sudden the media narrative changed. So I guess Brokaw was right -- he just got a jump-start on the media's predictable swoon for a good speech and a few zingers.

It's even more official: Karl Rove has a "consistent, medium-sized role with the McCain campaign," according to one senior Republican official. Will media outlets who host Rove acknowledge it yet?

Imagine how happy your family would be to see you attacked on a site called Angry Arab.

Alter-appearance: I'll be giving a lecture next Monday the 15th at 3:30 p.m., called "Reclaiming Liberalism" and sponsored by the Wolfe Institute, in the Woody Tangier Auditorium in the Brooklyn College Library.

Alter-review by Sal: Anat Cohen -- Notes from the Village

Anat Cohen is simply sublime. Few jazz artists have moved me in recent years the way Miss Cohen does. I've seen her sit in with David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band on the occasional Wednesday night at Birdland, and she's never failed to put me in a trance. She plays the clarinet as if it was bendable. She feels it, and the horn seems to respond as if it had a heart of its own. On this new release, Anat and company offer a musical palate that is a welcome change from the not-so-musical "showoffyness" of so many young jazz artists. From the pulsing opening groove of "Washington Square Park," to the joyful dirge of "A Change Is Gonna Come," Anat Cohen delivers the goods in a way that very often gets lost on other jazz records. "Notes From The Village" shows off the chops and remains musical. It doesn't meander. Listen to her gorgeous original composition "Lullaby For The Naive Ones." It's depth belies her years.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: T. ODell
Hometown: Port Angeles, WA

When I saw this headline in Time, I thought they might actually be analyzing coverage of the two major candidates. Too much to hope for actual data from them, rather than mentioning the few actual studies of the topic (e.g. here) they resort to such superficialities as:

"Complicating the debate is the metastasis of informal, and unreliable, information sources online. As soon as the Palin pick was announced, liberal-leaning websites and blogs swirled with rumors about Palin's personal life ..."

If these rumors are really a "complication", they surely apply to both candidates (Obama's a Muslim, gay, not a US citizen, and many more on I guess that such in depth reporting, or even looking for independent analysis of media bias, is not necessary to make the grade at this prestigious journal.

Name: Derrick Gibson

Oh -- I know the history books have tales of valiant journalists, who secret out the truth and reveal it to the public -- but if all we have in the present it Sean Hannity putting questions into George Stephanopoulos' mouth and Matt Drudge putting questions into Tom Brokaw's mouth and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby putting quotes into Judith Miller's articles for the New York Times - why don't we just say hang it all?

Journalists need to make the case for their continued existence; they are not passing the grade, currently.

Is this more of a historical document?

Why is it the responsibility of Jon Stewart to point out that Karl Rove first made the case against a selection like Sarah Palin, before he turned around and endorsed the selection of Sarah Palin? I have yet to see a "journalist" cover that story in more depth that "The Daily Show".

On Comedy Central.

On basic cable, fer crying out loud.

Name: Jim Walter
Hometown: Chicago

I think it's hysterical that MSNBC is replacing Olberman and Tweety with David "MC Rove" Gregory because he's "dispassionate."

Every question out of Gregory's mouth is premised on a talking point fed to him by his old dance partner.

I swear if Gregory opened his mouth wide enough you would be able to see the palm of Rove's hand.

Name: Suzii
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

David Gregory? You mean the Princelet of the Karl Rove Backup Dancers? Sheesh.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

The Olbermann shutdown is corporate control of the electoral process through the pyramidial ownership of the mass media. Too often the screed of "political" opinion covers over the basic issue, which is money. Olbermann wouldn't conform to the big wallets who own GE, General Dynamics, NBC, MSNBC, etc, the Board of Directors for what used to be our electoral ship of state. People like Rove, Scarborough, Buchanan et all are just ticks on the bloated carcass they duly profess is our once proud nation. Horse puckey to quote your slacker fish day buddy.

Aside: my pony league coach had a box in the Polo Grounds for the first years of those Amazin' Mets. I've been rooting for them ever since Marvelous Marv caught at least one pop up and Willie ran the outfield albeit on sorely reduced wheels. I'm joyous they are in first and loved Delgado hitting one into Suffolk County but I've got a big time dread watching Reyes go 0-9 in the biggest series of the regular season. When #1 doesn't get on October can be a very short month.

Eric replies: Season ended yesterday, with Billy Wagner's career alas.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.