Monday, September 07, 2009

Who lost in the Van Jones affair?

President Obama's green jobs czar resigned Saturday, after a long summer of embarrassing video after embarrassing video, damning quote after damning quote trickling out through the internet and Fox News. But Van Jones won't really lose by this; his fans are still his fans, and he will land on his feet. But that doesn't mean there are no losers.

Rahm Emanuel is a loser. How on Earth did someone with that long a controversial paper and videotape trail make it through the vetting process? All it took was a simple Google to find the interview in which he described himself as a communist, (the thing that first interested the right wing blogs), and all the rest followed easily. If you count forced withdrawals from consideration as well as resignation, this is what, the fifth or the sixth administration embarrassment in less than a year? Rahm has to go, if only as a symbol of the President acting.

But the biggest loser was the mainstream media. This thing started late June... but as of Sunday afternoon, the day after his resignation, I found the following: NBC and CBS hadn't even reported the resignation. ABC had a story dated 9/4 about the scandals, the day before the resignation. CNN covered the resignation, but not the stories leading up to it. Ditto for the New York Times and the Washington Post. MSNBC is the most interesting; they had a story about the scandals dated 9/4, but they included an implied lie: they said that Glenn Beck (right wing radio personality who pushed the Van Jones stuff the hardest) started talking about Jones after an organization Jones co-founded started a boycott of Glenn's show; in actual fact, the boycott began after Beck started playing the embarrassing tapes.

It's no wonder that UU Mom could say, "So, Van Jones's resignation was big news today. I didn't know about any of the circumstances that led up to his resignation;..."; if she were not an internet news junkie, or read foreign newspapers as I do, she'd never have heard a peep from the media. How is it that this story could percolate for months, the blogosphere going crazy over it, with the embarrassing videos being embedded in every post, and not one word be reported by ABC, NBC, CBS, NY Times, Washington Post, and CNN? Is it any wonder the right wing believes the mainstream media is merely the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, if a scandal can be big enough to force a resignation and not be covered? Ask yourselves honestly the question every conservative blog is asking today: do you really believe that they would have been equally silent if it were a Republican appointee serving under Bush? The alternative explanation is actually worse- that it's less a case of media bias than media incompetence. Heck, you'd think if the media were actively biased, they would have covered the story if only to put their own context and spin on it- silence implies incompetence, not objectivity. The reason this explanation is worse is that it's another nail in the coffin of American media. Going back more than a year ago to the primaries, when I wanted to fact check I went not to the New York Times, but to the London Times... they had better coverage of our elections. As did France 24/7. Hells bells, Al Jazeera had better, more in depth, more balanced election coverage than ABC, NBC, and CBS.

But the truth of whether the mainstream media is biased is less important in many ways than the perception. Rush Limbaugh's success can be attributed to the belief that his voice was the only alternative voice- his motto, "I don't need to give equal time- I am the equal time" resonated among tens of millions of Americans. The same is true of Fox News; even many of those who believe it to be biased say, "So what? So is everybody else, and this is the only one biased in my direction- a single channel to counter the bias coming from all the others is not too much to ask." A great many more Americans believe that Fox isn't biased at all- it's just that the other networks are so far to the left that the center looks right by comparison. As a friend once said, "Fox is biased? Let's see, forged documents used to attack the President: CBS one, Fox zero." As long as the public believes this, ratings for the traditional news media are going to continue to drop. The word of websites run from somebody's bedroom in their spare time will be given equal trust to the NY Times- and sadly, some of them will have earned it. If they go bankrupt, they can find the reasons in the mirror.

1 comment:

Bill Baar said...

The Real Barack Obama has been on top of the story from the get go. Here's a good summary here.