Politics, media and the politics of media.
Maybe it’s the power of the cartoon, but this has to be the toughest ad yet to target the Koch brothers and their effort to buy the US Senate.
The animated ad shows North Carolina Republican candidate for the Senate, Thom Tillis, performing for the Kochs, taking money from education and seniors and making it “magically” appear in his patrons’ pockets. State house speaker Tillis is in a tight race against Democratic senator Kate Hagan; whoever wins may determine which party controls the Senate.
Created by American Bridge, a liberal Super PAC founded by Media Matters’ David Brock, the Tillis spot is just the first in a digital-only “Kochville” series that will go after extreme GOP candidates supported by Koch money. And the number of ads that money can buy is mind-boggling. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “The secretive political network of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has aired more than 43,900 television ads this election cycle.” The brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is expected to spend more than $125 million alone. While American Bridge is supported in part by billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, its ad budget doesn’t even come close to that of the oil barons.
The hard-hitting Tillis spot may be deeply satisfying to those who know and dread the Kochs, but some commenters on The News & Observer site wonder if it will resonate with rural North Carolinians.
Fresh from finding yet another image proving that Obama hates America—the president gave a “latte salute” when he held a paper coffee cup while saluting two Marines yesterday (more on that raging scandal below)—Fox News has had to try hard to ignore the more hawkish Obama of the last few days. That’s the POTUS who’s been striking ISIS in Syria and who earlier today gave a robust speech at the UN calling for the world to fight terrorism.
Immediately following what he called “a stunningly abstract” speech, former Bush II UN ambassador John Bolton went on Fox and declared that Obama “doesn’t believe in American strength. He believes in the United Nations.”
The president, Bolton added, took the “opportunity to slam Israel.” (Maybe he meant Obama’s clear-eyed observation that “there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.”)
Next up on Fox was Ric Grenell, who has worked for Bolton (and for Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, until the right freaked out that he’s gay). Grenell homed in on something Obama didn’t say: “He said ‘extremism,’ ‘violence, ‘violent extremism,’ ‘religiously motivated,’ but never ‘Islamic extremism.’” The uncoupling of those words is a paranoid sore point with the right because it fails to insinuate that extremism is built into Islam.
But for the right-wing media, perhaps more telling than Obama’s failure to hold “Islamic” next to “extremism” was his holding a cup as he saluted two Marines while disembarking from Marine One in New York City on Tuesday.
“This salute by Obama may serve as a useful metaphor for his entire administration: sloppy, ill thought out, inappropriate, callous, selfish, and disrespectful,” a Red State commenter wrote. “Though, in his defense, he may have been running from that thing covered in a red bag that seems to be pursuing him down the stairs.” The “thing” the writer was referring to is Michelle Obama, in a red dress, following the president off the plane.
Last night, a “shocked” Sean Hannity asked Karl Rove, “Would President Bush ever do that?” Karl didn’t answer—because Bush did do that. Not with a coffee cup but with a dog, when, holding tight onto Barney, he saluted service members at Andrews Air Force Base.
So Rove avoided the question by letting loose a string of adjectives about POTUS: “We’ve got a chai-swillin’, golf-playin’, basketball trash-talkin’, lead from behind, I’ve got no strategy, Osama bin Laden is dead/GM is alive, a community organizing commander-in-chief. How disrespectful was that?” (It’s not clear if Rove was referring to Obama or himself.)
Rove also seemed to think that “latte” might not be insulting enough. “It’s not a latte salute,” he said. “It’s a chai salute, because he drinks chai tea.” Of course, we don’t know what was in that cup. But “chai” sounds more exotic, foreign, and thus effete than even a French coffee.
Karl Rove has committed felonies—uh, not felonies, I mean smears. To avoid any confusion, I’ll repeat: Karl Rove has not been convicted of committing felonies. But he has committed smears (not unlike the one I just committed on him). And, virtually unnoticed by the media, he has smeared again, yesterday on Fox News Sunday.
It was recently revealed that Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, had a most awkward moment sixteen years ago. Police raided a strip club near Coffeyville for drugs and found Davis, then 26 and unmarried, getting a lap dance. He wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing, no charges were brought against him, and even in Kansas, lap-dancing isn’t illegal.
Still, the lap-dance story is fair game for supporters of Sam Brownback, the embattled Republican governor who’s running for re-election. On Meet the Press yesterday, Grover Norquist, for example, interrupted his anti-tax talk to relate the lap-dance incident (“with the naked lady”), which Thomas Frank later shot down as ancient small fry.
But over at Fox, Rove dramatically raised the stakes for Davis, saying that Kansas’s possible future governor had been “arrested”:
The governor’s race in Kansas is close. However, late last week, it was revealed that the Democratic candidate for governor had been arrested—or not arrested, he’d been detained briefly a number of years ago when he was an attorney for a strip joint and the police found him getting a lap dance.
Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace let it slide, presumably because Rove corrected himself. But the “correction” allowed Rove to repeat the word “arrested,” a word that, even when used in the negative, Fox viewers can now associate with Davis and repeat until it seems true. No small thing when many diehard Republicans in Kansas are so disgusted with the devastation wreaked by Brownback’s tax cuts, that they’re actually considering a vote for Davis.
Of course, Rove may have simply made an honest slip of the tongue. But “Bush’s Brain” has a long list of such ambiguous slips.
Most recently, he suggested that Hillary Clinton had suffered a “traumatic brain injury.” Several months after her December 2012 fall, which caused a blood clot, Rove said, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” She was hospitalized for three days, not thirty, and later that day Rove tried to deny (while simultaneously reinforcing) his innuendo, saying, "Of course she doesn’t have brain damage.”
“You could believe Rove’s denial—but you would have to ignore virtually his entire political career,” as George Zornick wrote in The Nation. “For decades Rove has been circulating nasty, personal rumors about political opponents and placing them in the public conversation, all while obscuring his fingerprints, making the rumors become the opponent’s problem, not his. It’s page one of his playbook.”
A protégé of the late Lee Atwater, the GOP dirty trickster who once boasted that “states’ rights” and “tax cuts” could be used as code words for “nigger,” Rove has been associated with whisper campaigns suggesting that his clients’ opponents were homosexual (Texas governor Ann Richards in 1994), pedophiles (a Democratic candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, also in ’94), or mentally impaired (John McCain in 2000). “Other rumors tied to the Rove-led campaign” in 2000, writes Think Progress, “included allegations that McCain’s wife had a drug problem and that his adopted Bangladesh-born daughter was an ‘illegitimate black child.’”
Rove is sparing Davis the “mental” and “homo” tags, but having him “arrested” just might do the dirty trick. (And it might help obscure reports, cited by Davis, that the FBI is investigating the fund-raising and lobbying practices of Brownback associates. Brownback has denied any wrongdoing.)
As for Davis, a Kansas state representative, he released a statement to Politico on Saturday. “When I was 26 years old, I was taken to a club by my boss—the club owner was one of our legal clients,” he said in the statement. “While we were in the building, the police showed up. I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
On Fox, Rove was, once again, in the right place at the right time to say the wrong thing.
Read Next: “This Is Exactly How Karl Rove Works”
Ken Burns’s fourteen-hour series The Roosevelts is giving a big ratings boost to PBS. And even with George Will rather gently criticizing FDR, the show makes a persuasive argument for more government involvement in the lives of the nation’s citizens.
But PBS is not so sympathetic to New Deal policies that it would ever welcome the hatred of malefactors of great wealth. In fact, it has often caved to the wishes of rich conservatives, most notoriously when it pulled Citizen Koch, a public television documentary that took on the Koch brothers. David Koch sits on the board and helps fund PBS flagship station WGBH in Boston; last year, he noisily resigned from another flagship, WNET in New York, after a different Koch documentary squeaked through and aired.
In her fascinating piece, “PBS Self-Destructs: And what it means for viewers like you” in this month’s Harper’s (subscription required), Eugenia Williamson finds that PBS has been kowtowing to the right and the powers that be long before Nixon or Newt tried to defund it, or David Koch silenced it by funding it:
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter that the Republicans couldn’t defund PBS—they didn’t really need to. Twenty years on, the liberal bias they bemoaned has evaporated, if it ever existed to begin with. Today, the only special-interest group the network clearly favors is the aging upper class: their tastes, their pet agendas, their centrist politics. This should surprise nobody who has taken a long, hard look at PBS’s institutional history. Yes, it’s tempting to view the last couple of decades as a discrete epoch of decline, with the network increasingly menaced by a cartoonish G.O.P. hit squad, helmed by Newt Gingrich as Snidely Whiplash. But the present state of PBS was almost an inevitability, the result of structural deficiencies and ideological conflicts built in from the very start.
Much of it started with LBJ, who signed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) into being, but then punted:
Yet this spirit-enriching initiative hit some immediate procedural potholes. Johnson, responsible for choosing the corporation’s board members, neglected his task for months. Ostensibly this was due to some unfortunate developments in Vietnam—indeed, it was the height of the Tet Offensive. But John W. Macy Jr., whom Johnson appointed as CPB president, suspected other reasons for LBJ’s dithering. “The media and the academic community had increased the volume of their protest against the conduct of the war,” he wrote. “Would this extension of the media with federal backing add new sights and sounds of opposition?”
As it happened, it did.
Williamson follows up on the Citizen Koch incident with the grassroots climate-change group Forecast the Facts, which unsuccessfully tried to expel David Koch from the WGBH board:
Refusing to give up, they started a social-media campaign, chipping away at WGBH’s Facebook rating. They rented a billboard directly across from the WGBH complex in Boston to denounce David Koch, and projected KOCH FREE on various Boston landmark buildings. When the station hosted a climate-change panel in March, Forecast the Facts submitted questions about Koch’s presence on the board; a video of the event shows WGBH’s frantic efforts to keep the scientists from answering.
Then came the PBS annual meeting in May. The organization sent several operatives to try to deliver another 300,000 signatures at a WGBH breakfast. Southard was confident that such an enormous number would finally force the station’s hand. “They’d be ignoring the people who’d signed the petition,” she said. “PBS has a sterling reputation, and that should be important to them.”
But when [Forecast the Facts campaign director Brant] Olson got up onstage to deliver the signatures, wave a banner, and yell into the microphone, the sound was immediately cut. Security chased him down and handcuffed him, even as a PBS staffer held up a notebook to block any photography.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel on how we’ve been fighting to get money out of politics since FDR
If you were watching CNN or MSNBC coverage of the Senate ISIS hearing this morning, you probably caught a CodePink protester interrupting the beginning of Defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s testimony. She shouted, politely enough, “No more war,” “War is not the solution,” and so on. Armed Service Committee chair Senator Carl Levin repeatedly asked her leave—telling her, oddly, “You’re acting very warlike yourself.” She did leave, as other Coders waited to protest later and Hagel resumed his testimony. The hearing promised to cover (and did) some pretty urgent, consequential stuff, including putting US troops on the ground in Iraq and arming Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile, over at Fox, they were covering… Benghazi.
It’s as if Fox were staging a caricature of itself. But there was National Review’s Rich Lowry and nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen fuming over the latest Benghazi “scandal” with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum. When her show finally cut to the ISIS hearing, it did so at first with ragin’ John Bolton on a split screen.
It’s a caricature, but not a surprise. Media Matters released a study today showing that Fox ran nearly 1,100 segments in the first twenty months following the Benghazi attack.
Those are big, obsessive numbers—and they include only five Fox News afternoon and primetime programs, none of the morning shows, like MacCallum’s—but expect them to soar still higher when the House select committee hearings on Benghazi begin tomorrow.
“I’m baaack!” With those two words, delivered Arnold-style, Hillary Clinton revealed a lot about what’s wrong with her probable candidacy.
“Hello, Iowa!” she beamed from a stage at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola over the weekend. Then, raising her arms, she delivered the Terminator’s catchphrase, showing herself to be tone deaf to the negative perception of her as an indestructible robot, as “inevitable,” the same presumption that hamstringed her campaign in 2008.
Not to mention the annoying factor. “I’m baaack!” is the greeting from people whose return is at best tiresome.
Watch the video:
Maybe Clinton used the phrase to evince a get-back-up-on-your-feet gumption. That’s what it seemed to mean to her many fans, who cheered wildly at her return to Iowa, where she came in third place in the ’08 Democratic primary in a defeat she’s called “excruciating.”
But for the rest of us, quoting a cyborg is yet another sign (like her disingenuous comments about her wealth) that she’d make a poor candidate who can’t help but step on her own feet.
Most of the press didn’t mention this awkward moment. They were abuzz instead with their usual, insufferable will-she-won’t-she game, marveling at how adept she was at teasing them.
“I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” Hillary told the Iowa crowd, bringing up Chelsea’s pregnancy and adding slyly, “Then, of course, there’s that other thing.”
But voters also have other things on their minds. When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked some twentysomethings at a Des Moines coffeehouse the rah-rah question—“When you look at Hillary Clinton, what do you see first—a politician, a woman, a president?”—they didn’t respond in kind.
“I think people see kind of the cronyism on Wall Street,” a woman named Carla told Mitchell.
“I’d love to see the first woman president, but it doesn’t matter more to me than my progressive values.”
UPDATE: After a movie-quote geek-out in the comments section below--was Hillary channeling The Terminator or Poltergeist II or maybe even The Shining?--The Colbert Report nailed an absolute doppelganger Monday night. It’s in the first two minutes:
Pop phrases migrate and mutate over time, as they’re used and re-used, and fused. The Schwarzenegger catchphrase “I’ll be back” was born in the first Terminator, in 1984; when “Poltergeist II” came out two years later, there was some sense even then that “They’re baaack!” was conversing not only with the 1982 Poltergeist’s “They’re heeeere!” but with “I’ll be back.” Randy Quaid’s tauntingly defiant “I’m baaack!” in 1996’s Independence Day was likely a child of both by-then classic movie catchphrases. Schwarzenegger’s cyborg clipped it to “I’m back” in Terminator III (2003), and variations of the “[pronoun] [verb] back” formula have been interchangeable in popular usage ever since.
But all this misses the larger point. For years, Hillary has been called, charitably, too studied, or, as Joe Scarborough said Monday, “a robot.” Many people cringed when she reached for “I’m back” even without pegging it to a specific movie. That’s because, whether the reference was to Arnold, a little girl in a ghost movie, or a guy seriously pissed-off at his alien abduction, the phrase suggests horror, revenge, and/or a threat. Jon Stewart picked up on that Tuesday night, showing Hillary’s arm-raised “I’m back!” and finishing the thought for her: “...even though you fucked me over!”
“Homeland” is back. Not just the Showtime drama, which is returning in October, but the word, with all its totalitarian-lite implications. As if they flipped a collective switch, pundits, politicians and President Obama transformed America overnight into “the Homeland,” a place both pastoral and martial, where fearsome invaders are always heaving at the gate.
And the word has Chris Matthews hopping mad. “I am very uncomfortable with the phrase ‘homeland.’ It strikes me as totalitarian,” he said in a long rant on Hardball earlier this week:
It’s a term used by the neocons, they love it. It suggests something strange to me. Like who else are we defending except America? Why don’t you just say ‘America’? Why doesn’t [Obama] say we defended against attacks against this country? As if we’re facing some existential Armageddon threat from these people. Do you buy the phrase ‘homeland’? I never heard it growing up, never heard it in my adulthood. It’s a new word. Why are we using it? Is there some other place we’re defending? What are we talking about when we say ‘homeland’? What’s it about?
Actually, it’s not a new word at all. When used to refer to America (and not the “homelands” of other people, as in “the Palestinian homeland”), “homeland” first hit these shores in 2001 just weeks after 9/11, when George W. Bush formed the Department of Homeland Security. The word became an overnight sensation as media figures—though few real people—robotically substituted it for “America.” In his 2002 book Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, Chris Matthews himself solemnly invoked the term.
But today Matthews is right: “Homeland” gives off an authoritarian vibe. It evokes the Russian Motherland, the German Fatherland and, worse, the Nazi’s “Heimat,” or homeland.
Watch the video:
Matthews can be unintentionally hilarious when he chews on a bone, which he does like no one else in the press. But his emotional overreactions to what seem like mere pet peeves can be a mood ring for the national psyche. Whether it’s a tingling up his leg over the charismatic 2008 Obama (which in all honesty had other people’s limbs tingling, too), or a fury at Republicans clipping the adjective Democratic to the rodent-like DemocRAT, the man is often on to something.
And now he’s a human thermometer taking measure of war fever. This time around, he doesn’t want to be played like a chump, as he was when he initially supported the invasion of Iraq and said, in 2003, “We’re all neo-cons now.”
Now he’s not. “WMD. Homeland. It’s the language of the neocons,” he says. “It’s the language to get us further into wars.”
“Homeland” immediately puts us on a warlike footing, but with extra goodness built in. (In 2001 I wrote, “If at worst ‘homeland’ sounds a bit totalitarian, at best it sounds like a new line of Campbell’s soups.”) It has all the easy and shallow patriotism of “USA! USA!” but with loads of gravitas.
“Homeland” is more specific than “America”—it encourages us to visualize ourselves getting bombed or buried under debris from falling office towers, to see America as a fortress that can and will be breached.
And the heightened ability to visualize horror is what’s driving us now toward war (or, as John Kerry puts it, “a very significant counter-terrorism operation”). Americans’ big shift toward supporting air strikes in Iraq and Syria came only came after seeing the beheadings of two Americans on video. Visuals, or “optics,” rule. (See “Has The World Been Bamboozled By The ISIS PR Machine?”)
In the first episode of the coming Homeland, agent Carrie Mathison is dubbed “the Drone Queen,” and she doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe that’s because she can’t visualize the people she’s blowing up as more than stick figures. In Season 2, Homeland was one of Obama’s favorite shows. Will he still be a fan?
Read Next: Leslie Savan on the media’s obsession over the optics of Obama’s ISIS speech
As the whole world watches President Obama’s address on combating ISIS tonight, you can depend on the US media to obsess over the “optics.” Is he coming across tough enough, Putin-y enough? Will his demeanor please the Republicans and frighten the terrorists (or vice versa)? And what does his suit have to say about all of this?
From Obama”s refusal to cut short his vacation after the Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine, to golfing after commenting on the beheading of journalist James Foley, to his wearing a beige suit (which the press mistakenly called “tan,” a bad habit of white folks, as people of color know), the media has lately been speeding up its favorite game—spitting out millions of words about image (the old word for “optics”) instead of substance.
I’m torn: I write about the nuances of imagery all the time. It holds tremendous power, public figures must know how to advertise themselves, the medium is the message and all that. But today we have so many layers of media interpreting imagery, from cable pundits to billions of tweets, that it’s getting harder for people to see for themselves.
We don’t know how much optics scolds like Maureen Dowd and Fox News have played into Obama’s decision to strike in Syria. But Eric Boehlert reminds us of what happens to journalists when they continually opt for optics: it weakens their already compromised ability to analyze issues, much less reality. Compared to optics babble, he says, analysis “is more difficult, more rigorous, and it’s much needed.”
And Boehlert chronicles how journalists have actually agreed at times with this or that policy but decide to harp anyway over this or that vocal inflection:
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus recently agreed that the country’s current immigration failures were the “fault of House Republicans.” She then proceeded to pen an entire column attacking Obama’s “erratic” style because he “looks weak” and he “looks political” in his decision-making.
The same went for Post colleague Dana Milbank: Obama’s comments about the threat Islamic State posed to the United States were “probably true,” but unnerving nonetheless. Why? Obama wasn’t projecting enough panic, apparently. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argued that while Obama’s recent foreign policy commentary “reflects a prudent disinclination to repeat past mistakes and overreach,” he non[e]theless failed to deliver “savvy, constructive P.R.”
“Worrying about image projection and the degree of savviness in the Administration’s P.R.,” noted media critic Jay Rosen, represents “signs of a press corps that can be deeply unserious about international politics.”
You can read more on the Media Matters blog.
If you want to put your finger on the problem confronting Chuck Todd, who made his much-ballyhooed debut as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, you don’t have to look much farther than the two “fun new features” introduced on the first show.
Todd said the recurring segment called “Who Needs Washington?” will explore politics beyond the Beltway, which this week meant interviews with mayors of cities that are “going it on their own with little of Washington’s help or dysfunction.” The second new feature is “What everyone in Washington knows but is afraid to say.” This week the thought that dare not speak its insight was “what Hillary Clinton’s really up to.”
But maybe what everyone on Meet the Press is really afraid to say is that Todd’s mission is at best inherently self-contradictory: although his new show desperately wants some outsider cred to boost the ratings, it’s not willing to risk its insider status to do so.
Talking to America’s big-city mayors is hardly new—Sunday shows have always been bringing on local pols who claim to be better at governing than the national leaders. And while the very existence of a Sunday Beltway talk show would seem to hinge on telling you what “everyone in Washington knows” and you don’t, as it turned out, neither Chuck nor his panelists had anything new to say about “what Hillary’s up to.” (And since when was anyone in the media afraid to speculate about that? The only fear you smell is their fear of admitting, “I don’t know.”)
As MTP fell from first to third place during David Gregory’s misbegotten reign, NBC brass realized that something was wrong beyond Gregory, but they weren’t sure what. “The show needs more edge,” NBC News President Deborah Turness recently declared. Format changes, she suggested, will include a panel of journalists questioning guests, as the show did in its earlier, better days. “The one-on-one conversation belongs to a decade ago,” she said. “We need more of a coffeehouse conversation.”
So just how edgy or coffeehouse was yesterday’s show? It stuck to a one-on-one interview, of President Obama, but it usefully tweaked the format so that the panel discussion was interspersed with the interview.
But only one panelist conceivably had “edge,” or his visibly tattooed armed did, anyway: Buzzfeed reporter John Stanton, who’s been a guest on Chris Hayes’s and then Steve Karnaki’s Up—a show that’s edgy enough to not broadcast its need for that quality.
But the other panelists included the usual inside-DC suspects and MSNBC stalwarts: Andrea Mitchell, who has her own MSNBC show and is married to former Fed chair Alan Greenspan; The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, who pops up on MSNBC to convey the most conventional wisdom in the most conventional way; and Joe Scarborough, now promoted to an “NBC News senior political analyst.” It’s possible that Joe could bring the edge of his sarcastic annoyance as well as coffeehouse demeanor from Morning Joe. But on Todd’s show, Joe wasn’t allowed to play the alpha male, and he was on his best network TV behavior; he even had only nice things to say about Obama.
Try as he might—and he only might—Todd may not be able to escape the safe blandness endemic to network Sunday shows.
The shadow all the NBC anchors are trying to outgrow is Tim Russert’s, who was MTP host until he unexpectedly died in 2008. Russert had a reputation for “gotcha” journalism, in a good way. He’d use the technology of his era—tapes from the archives—to confront a guest: back then you said that, but now you say this. Some guests were rattled, but the show soon acquired a chummy atmosphere—seasoned pols would lean in and say, “You sure are good with those clips, Tim,” and then chuckle through an analysis of spin. “Meet the talking points,” critic Jay Rosen calls the show.
After all, the hosts and producers didn’t want to alienate the guests they’d need to book down the road. Even more, of course, they didn’t want to alienate the corporate sponsors. Corporations advertised on the Sunday shows to influence policy legislated by the target audience of “thought leaders.” The shows were dominated by companies like GE, Northrup Grumman and Archer Daniels Midland, who helped determine what policies and scandal were not talked about on Sunday shows. Yesterday on MTP, Koch Industries ran its big national ad that says, in so many words, they’re so powerful you’re better off working for them than boycotting them.
The idea is that these corporations are above right/left politics, a delusion the news media helps perpetuate by repeating the false equivalency canard that both political sides are equally guilty of any wrong. This Sunday, Todd kept suggesting that it won’t make any difference if the midterm elections result in a Republican or a Democratic senate majority, because gridlock will rule the day. (Obama gave a decent explanation for why that’s crazy.)
In trying to brand the show and himself, Todd has been repeating his own slogan of sorts: “It’s not politics that people hate, it’s that they hate the politicians that don’t know how to practice the art of it.” That sounds plausible, but it also sounds like a reluctance to examine underlying structural issues to focus instead on the personalities of the moment.
In fact, you might say, it’s not Sunday shows audiences hate, it’s Sunday show hosts.
But as Jason Linkins wrote, “A New Host On ‘Meet The Press’ Isn’t Going To Solve Its Problems.” He made a great case for why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight “beats ‘Meet The Press’ coming and going. The show literally wandered right onto ‘Meet The Press’ Beltway turf and delivered a report [on the nutritional supplement industry] with a sophistication that no Sunday show has pulled off in years.” It wasn’t just the jokes that made it work, but “the show wanted to have a point” and demonstrated a “real respect and genuine concern for their audience, instead of trying to get over by posing as an ‘insider’ operating under a veil of savviness.”
Todd is smart enough to recognize the problem, but to really shake off that toxic insider status, he might consider Jay Rosen’s advice:
I think it would be wise for Chuck Todd to see himself and his colleagues, Washington journalists, as part of the class that has screwed up politics.
And maybe, in taking over “Meet the Press,” he can begin to address some of how that happened.
“Leadership, thy name is Ron Johnson.” So announced Mike Huckabee yesterday on Fox’s Outnumbered. Even as the image of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman, was being tarnished by a video allegedly showing him stealing from a convenience store, the media had already found the hero of their story. He was Ron S. Johnson, the State Highway Patrol captain now in charge of law enforcement in the St. Louis suburb.
He’s just what most media want—someone who seems to transcend the left/right and black/white divides and can bring people together. Thursday night, the bald, buff African-American state officer banished the militarized St. Louis County police force and walked with protesters to oversee a peaceful, almost joyous demonstration. Johnson, who was raised in the area, hugged demonstrators, told several young men with tattoos that his son has tats too, and, most important, listened to people.
Johnson also instantly grasped how the surveillance video threatened the perception of Brown’s character and, by extension, the character of all black victims of police violence in the news. And he was subtly critical of Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson for releasing the tape. “I think [the robbery and the shooting] are two separate issues. People in our country commit crimes every day,” Johnson said in an interview with KSDK on Friday. “I don’t want to mix the two. I’m not going to say that one justifies the other, OK? And I think if we’re going to give answers, we need to not give hints. We need to say it.”
The “liberal media” saw his appeal right away. His photo ran above the fold on the New York Times front page two days in a row. Wonkette headlined a story “A Snark-Free Welcome to Captain Ron Johnson, New King of Ferguson,” and went on to say, “Speaking on behalf of the liberal media cabal, we’re behind you, Ron Johnson…”
At the same time, Johnson urged responsible moderation and respect for private property. “In our anger, we have to make sure that we don’t burn down our own house,” Johnson said in a Friday news conference that he turned into a community meeting. Conservatives in particular liked that he said, “This is not a black-and-white issue” (which is not exactly true). And, like Huckabee, they loved his story about his daughter asking him if he was scared in his new role: “I said, ‘Just a little.’ She said, ‘Daddy, I want you to remember when Jesus asked Peter to walk with him in the water. When Peter got scared Jesus picked him up and said have faith.’” “Today,” he told the crowd Friday, “we need to be just like Peter, because I know we’re scared.”
Such a charismatic black male was not around in the aftermath of previous police and would-be police shootings of young black men, not for Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis, when their deaths became potential teaching moments. Those stories ended up as yet another nasty excuse to battle publicly over the nature of black men—are they choir boys or thugs? The schism has become such a media trope that after Brown’s killing, African-Americans started posting side-by-side photos of themselves at #iftheygunnedmedown, one that seems to confirm a “gangsta” stereotype and one that doesn’t, and speculating on which one the press would feature if a cop shot them.
By the weekend, Johnson had all but replaced Brown as the central figure in Ferguson’s drama, a protagonist both sides were eager to celebrate. Of course, it’s slippery at the top, and you never know how long media approval will last or how events will change. Last night, according to NBC News’ Mark Potter in Ferguson, a few rocks and bottles were thrown during the demo, and police threw “some” tear gas. After midnight, he said, looting started again, but protesters tried to stop it.
But there’s no denying the service Johnson has done for his community by defusing an apparent police riot that had gone on for most of a week. He doesn’t walk on water, but he acted bravely in the eye of a national media storm. And not everyone can do that.
Nowhere was that made clearer than when Johnson stood next to the nervous and evasive Governor Jay Nixon. Nixon is a cautious Democrat who nonetheless found the courage last month to veto a critical anti-abortion bill. Interviewing both of them on Friday, CNN’s Jake Tapper said the St. Louis County police apparently hadn’t bothered to contact some eyewitnesses. Was the governor concerned about the quality of the investigations? Nixon, deferring to other law enforcement agencies, wouldn’t quite answer.
But Johnson stepped up and, speaking directly to any eyewitnesses, said, If you know something, find me here “tonight, and give me your name and number” and I’ll make sure it gets done. “I’ll do that.”
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