Packer on the media

Really liked this George Packer post (from just before Iowa) about how the media is so beaten down by the absurd Republican hyperbole, that they hardly bat an eyelash when Rick Santorum basically calls Obama a traitor.  The crazy has gone so far and is so pervasive that reporters just aren’t interested in calling it out anymore:

In the tenth paragraph of a page A15 Times piece, Rick Santorum accuses Barack Obama of engaging in “absolutely un-American activities.” What are they? The article doesn’t say. The quote appears without explanation or comment, in an article entitled “Santorum’s Challenge: Broaden His Appeal Beyond Evangelical Christians.” Nor does the line show up anywhere else on the Web—apparently no reporter in the mob following the candidates through the last days before the Iowa caucuses thought it worth writing down, and no blogger thought it worth repeating. It was just a throwaway line, a hunk of spoiled red meat tossed at the crowd in a Sioux City coffee shop, no more newsworthy than saying, “It’s a great day to be an Iowan!” And the crowd ate it up, applauding lustily. According to the Times, Santorum, surging in the polls, “became emotional at times.” He “wore a beaming smile on his face.” He said that he was running for his children’s sake. A supporter from a nearby town said that he liked Santorum for his avoidance of hyperbole: “Santorum doesn’t make crazy statements.”…

The second is that this kind of gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it’s not worth a political journalist’s time to point it out. In 2008, when Michele Bachmann suggested that Barack Obama and an unknown number of her colleagues in Congress were anti-American, there was a flurry of criticism; three years later, when a surging Presidential candidate states it flatly about a sitting President, there’s no response at all. Certain forms of deterioration—like writers using “impact” as a verb, or basketball coaches screaming about every foul—become acceptable by attrition, because critics lose the energy to call them out. Eventually, people even stop remembering that they’re wrong.

And the third, related point is that, once demagogy and falsehoods become routine, there isn’t much for the political journalist to do except handicap the race and report on the candidate’s mood.

Yep.  And, just to make it clear… Democrats do not do this all the time to.  There’s a massive asymmetry here and there’s no point pretending otherwise.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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