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Something Stupid | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

Something Stupid

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New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman complains that the McCain campaign is "making America stupid." This from a leading voice in the media who once explained to Charlie Rose that America must invade Iraq in order to tell Arabs to "suck on this."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Forty years after President Richard Nixon resigned, our leaders have become even less accountable.

Years of ideological cheerleading and stenographic coverage of the Bush administration by the MSM have empowered the McCain campaign to believe it can get away with linguistic murder. It sees an opportunity to exploit the elite media's infuriating combination of arrogance, ignorance and smug self-importance to lie its way into the White House. And given how unpopular the media have made themselves, it just might work.

Take Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson. Much of the debate has focused on Palin's lack of familiarity with the words "Bush doctrine." But what of Gibson's ignorance? His question demonstrated no comprehension of the ambiguity and amorphousness the alleged doctrine has acquired in the wake of its failed application in Iraq. I hate to say this, but Charles Krauthammer is actually correct when he argues, "And at least she didn't pretend to know--while he looked down his nose and over his glasses with weary disdain, sighing and 'sounding like an impatient teacher,' as the Times noted. In doing so, he captured perfectly the establishment snobbery and intellectual condescension that has characterized the chattering classes."

True, Krauthammer is deliberately clouding the issue. It's one thing not to know that Paul played drums on "The Ballad of John and Yoko" because Ringo was out of town. It's quite another not to know the name of the Beatles' drummer. But Gibson's condescending pomposity allows McCain/Palin apologists to muddy the issue of her ignorance by pointing to Gibson's own. Again, Gibson may or may not be stupid. His questioning of the Democratic candidates during two debates was filled with misstatements and a laserlike focus on issues of nonexistent significance. But as with so many members of the punditocracy, his apparent stupidity is adulterated with so much arrogance that sympathy with his putative targets becomes all but axiomatic.

Another example, about which I've seen little or no discussion: Gibson asked Palin, "What if Israel decided it felt threatened and needed to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?" Palin responded, "Well, first, we are friends with Israel, and I don't think that we should second-guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security."

Where to begin? Well, yes, Palin's answer may fly in a nation where it can be politically suicidal to question anything about Israel. But it's idiotic when it comes to "real life." Seriously, you're not allowed to second-guess any action your friends think they need to take to defend themselves? What if you think they're wrong? What if you have better information? What if you think your friend is going to get a whole bunch of people, including your friend and yourself, killed? What, after all, are friends for?

And sorry, Charlie, but Israel already "feels threatened" by Iran and has been considering its minimal military options quite publicly. The ABC anchor poses the question of Israel deciding to "take out the Iranian nuclear facilities" as if it were a stroll through Central Park on an autumn afternoon. But anyone who knows anything about these facilities and Israel's capabilities knows that Israel has no conventional option to "take out" Iran's nuclear program. Israel's only option to "take out" the program--rather than perhaps delay it slightly--would be to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran. So Mr. Smartypants was in reality asking Palin if she supports the mass murder of millions of Iranians, along with the likely counterattacks against Israel and the United States all over the world because of something we can all agree Israelis already feel. And Palin said yes. Twice. And Gibson, failing to understand his own question, let that go. (God forbid anyone in Iran or anywhere else takes this nutty conversation seriously...)

Recently the media have begun to pick up on the McCain campaign's strategy of brazenly lying to the public whenever convenient. Even the ladies on The View got angry and called the campaign's statements "lies" to McCain's face. Among the most egregious were the allegation that Barack Obama had called Palin a pig and the accusation that he favors sex education for children too young to read. And yet many in the media cling to the belief that it is the calling of a reporter to report a politician's lies without apparent prejudice. In the Washington Post, not only did Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin take no position on the truth or falsehood of McCain's dishonest allegations; they waited a full eleven paragraphs before noting that the Obama campaign believed "all of the accusations against him are a reach, if not fabrications."

I called the deputy editor of the paper's national section, Bill Hamilton, and left him a lengthy but polite voicemail message inquiring as to his paper's policy regarding passing on untruths to its readers. (Remember, this same newspaper ran an article, earlier in the campaign, on the question of whether Obama was a Muslim without bothering to inform its readers that the charge was false.) I received no response.

Kudos, therefore, to the news pages of the New York Times for demonstrating the courage and self-confidence so conspicuously lacking at the Post. Not only did the paper's coverage explicitly demonstrate the falsehood of the accusations; a front-page story examined the phenomenon of McCain trying to lie himself into the White House.

Post readers had to go to its op-ed pages to find the truth. There, among many former forsaken McCainiac pundits expressing similar views, Ruth Marcus explained that "John McCain's campaign has been more dishonest, more unfair, more...dishonorable than Barack Obama's."

Too bad for the country that the paper's news pages--like so much of the MSM--can't handle this simple truth.

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