“What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit. Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. The relentless spinning is enough to make anyone dizzy, and some of our most important political battles are about competing views of reality more than they are about policy choices...”
OK. One of the most important things the mainstream print media and broadcasters do every day is to decide what is news and what isn’t.
Partisans squawk all the time about biased coverage of the news, which happens. And, it can be galling when a bias leaks into what are supposed to be news reports, rather than editorials, OpEds, etc. Yet, the real power to promote or diminish people and ideas comes from being able to decide to put a story on the front page, or page 37, or no page at all.
Now comes the story of the exchange of words between President George Bush and Senator-elect Jim Webb at a recent White House reception. For background -- in case you’ve been on another planet this week -- here are links to two stories that will give you the lowdown on this brouhaha: “In Following His Own Script, Webb May Test Senate's Limits”; “Taking Sides on Webb’s Remarks”.
What I’m saying here is that this story about ruffled black-tie feathers at what was a traditional social function is a page 37 item; it should have appeared in the Style section of a daily newspaper. It should have merited about 300 words, at most, and gone away the next day. Instead, it has been at the top of the political news for days.
My answer indicts three factions: This story has been seen as useful by Bush supporters, as well as Webb supporters. And it has served a bunch of editors looking for an easy way to come up with enough copy to fill a political news space that has to be filled every day.
My answer is another angle on the bullshit factor in today’s way of reporting news by the mainstream media. What I’m saying here is that this little exchange between Bush and Webb meant little, if anything. If the reports about the incident are accurate, both men chose to pass on the opportunity to ignore a little barb in the words of the other. They are the same age, from very different backgrounds, and my guess is they don’t like one another all that much.
If Bush’s supporters want to think Webb was being boorish ... so what. Who cares? If Webb’s supporters want to think Bush was being imperious ... so what. What’s new in any of that? That is exactly what those groups of partisans thought last week, too.
Of course, fooled into thinking something important had happened, the political blogosphere exploded with outrage. The Bush backers unanimously see Webb as a hothead who will fail miserably in DeeCee. The Webb backers see Webb as a bigger hero than ever, because he bucked up to a president they loathe.
Not much news in any of that, either.
Furthermore, to suggest that this tempest in a teapot is indicative of what will be Webb’s inability to understand the sausage-making Washington culture, or to work with his colleagues, is pure spin.
To me, all it says about Webb is that it looks like he plans to be the same guy, no matter who he’s talking with. Perhaps Webb is going to try to avoid the game of being off-the-record or two-faced, at certain times, with certain people. He wants to be the same guy all the time.
So, the news is that Webb plans to continue to be Webb. And guess what -- Bush is planning to keep being Bush. End of story.