Thursday, December 03, 2009

Politico Reaches a New Low

I wasn't sure Politico could stoop any lower than it did when it published seven highly subjective (to put it lightly) meta-narratives that the Obama Administration supposedly did not want to become public knowledge. Widely ridiculed, the column caused the periodical's credibility to take a severe hit, and unfortunately its turn towards right-wing distortion in opposition to fact seems to have continued. While none of us knows for sure what goes on behind closed doors, in true Politico style if I had to guess before I knew all the facts, I'd conclude that someone must be pushing the notion that it must incorporate more content that appeals directly to conservatives into each daily edition. Right-wing points of view have a place, but sloppy logic never does.

I do read Politico on a daily basis, if only to see media framing devices at work, and so yesterday I was incensed, to say nothing of dismayed to note that apologizing for rape apologists appears to be no big deal. Since the media is comprised of human frailties, it frequently mirrors the frustrations and the flaws of its creators. For example, an article published this week took Senator Al Franken to task for not taking questions from reporters and instead directing them to his own public relations manager. Exclusive stories and one-on-one scoops are the Holy Grails of the profession and with the continued decline of the industry, so one can understand easily why disappointment and resentment might build if one of the most colorful and newest Senators might wish to refuse to play ball.

Politico portrayed the decision to avoid contact with the media as evasive and obstructionist by implying that the Junior Senator from Minnesota was too staff-driven and not the soundbyte machine that some had hoped he would become once finally sworn in to take his seat. That the Fourth Estate would be surprised by his desire and strategy to be kept on a deliberately short leash strikes me as disingenuous at best. Candidate Franken wisely restrained himself from drawing too much undue attention during the campaign and during the exhaustive recount process that immediately followed last year's election made only short, safe statements while keeping largely out of sight until the situation was resolved. This was a carefully crafted design that did him well before and abandoning it now doesn't make much sense. Once established and having achieved some degree of seniority, Franken will have the freedom to branch out and speak his mind without fear of serious backlash or threat of losing his seat, but for the moment the most sensible solution is to for him to learn the ropes and avoid stepping on toes in the process.

The column critical of Franken's media management style took special effort to note that the Minnesota senator is one of only a very small number of elected representatives who do not stand directly at the podium to make statements to the press or undergo question and answer sessions. Reading between the lines, the column implied that perhaps the Senator had something to hide or was afraid of letting his true self and true concerns shine through. It cited an anecdote where Franken very nearly answered a reporter's questions before deciding instead to pass the inquiry along to his communications director. The disappointment and let down inherent in the entire column was clearly palpable and I have to say that while a part of me wished also for more candor from him, I also understood the Senator's dilemma and did not disagree with his choice of resolution.

Returning to the column referenced in the beginning of this post, I cite a particularly revealing segment to reveal a better understanding of the full picture.

In a chamber where relationship-building is seen as critical, some GOP senators question whether Franken’s handling of the amendment could damage his ability to work across the aisle. Soon after Tennessee GOP Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander co-wrote an op-ed in a local newspaper defending their votes against the Franken measure, the Minnesota Democrat confronted each senator separately to dispute their column — and grew particularly angry in a tense exchange with Corker.

People familiar with the Corker exchange say it was heated and ended abruptly — a sharp departure from the norm on the usually clubby Senate floor.

As rendered, the entire story reeks of false concern and shame. It is certainly true that the Senate as an entity is an elite club where partisan differences are often merely for show and bi-partisan friendships help grease the wheels of legislation, but a reliance on deep background sources to make a damning point always raises alarm bells to me. Nebulously defined sources of information remind one of celebrity gossip more than hard news. Some outlets, it needs to be mentioned, won't even use anonymous sources because they leave a column's veracity quite understandably open to question. Without credibility, a news article reads as fiction, defeating its entire purpose for existing.

Here is what actually happened. Here is how Senator Franken dared to create this supposed maelstrom of ill-will and resulting uncouth broach of decorum. In particular, note the first sentence of the paragraph and how it prefaces what follows afterward.

Franken, who declined to be interviewed, has said previously that the measure was inspired by the story of former KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones, who alleges that she was drugged, beaten and gang-raped at age 19 when stationed in Baghdad. She fought the arbitration clause in her contract, and in September the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Jones’s sexual assault allegations were not “related to” her employment, allowing her to proceed in court. KBR is fighting the ruling.

Yes, how dare Senator Franken not add a few choice bon mots to flesh out the interpretation of a contemptible act that one would think speaks quite sufficiently for itself. As for the he said/he said conflict, we are told that it didn't end up with F-bombs being dropped or with personal attacks being levied on the floor of the chamber itself, quite unlike the conduct of certain other Senators from a party that shall remain unspecified. The left-wing blogosphere has become a convenient target for Republicans and Trusted Media Outlets™, particularly if and when they get thoroughly bored with blowing spit balls at each other. People familiar with the exchange say their anger was heated and ended abruptly---a sharp departure from the norm.

“I don’t know what his motivation was for taking us on, but I would hope that we won’t see a lot of Daily Kos-inspired amendments in the future coming from him,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in the Senate Republican leadership. “I think hopefully he’ll settle down and do kind of the serious work of legislating that’s important to Minnesota.”

Silly me. I wasn't aware that the act of rape or violence were a bipartisan matter that might be best resolved by compromise. Could we say that a rape only traumatizes 3/5ths of a person while we're at it? Seems fair enough to me. You really confuse me, Senator Thune. You remind me of the mainstream media and its attitude towards little old us out here in the blog realm. First you say that the blogosphere isn't an objective source of news or information and is of no real consequence, but then you throw darts at us as though you were really paying attention all the time. One can't be on two sides of an issue at once, even though as a politician I'm sure you'd like to present that concept. One can be either one way or the other, but not both simultaneously.

[Franken] Aides point out that despite attacks on Republicans by liberal commentators like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann and on blogs such as Daily Kos, Franken never appeared on any of the shows or on the blogs to make a partisan argument about the matter, saying that the senator turned down entreaties to do so. Also, they point to the 10 Republicans who voted for the amendment as proof that it wasn’t a partisan measure.

Yet again, we are encouraged to believe that Senator Franken is somehow cowardly for not going on the defensive or bolstering his claims by directly speaking out in favor of them. While the blogs and the increasingly ravenous media love a contentious argument, the Minnesota Senator is wise to not draw undo attention to himself. Those who hog the spotlight risk taking the focus off of the reform measures that desperately need to be enacted and serve as an unnecessary distraction. One person is a much easier target than a collective group of people with similar goals. In addition to being common sense, this is also Public Relations 101 and the fact that Politico is either unaware of it or instead determined to provoke an exchange reveals that a once noble profession acts increasingly like a drowning man. Ignore those who are unhappily going down with the ship, because their spite and desperation reveals everything about them and almost nothing about us.

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