Is Howard Dean Really Michelle Bachmann's Role Model?
by Trish Nelson
As long as we're all just sitting around waiting to see what happens on the debt ceiling, it seems like a good time for a nice long rant about the media.
This morning when I saw a Politico piece comparing Michelle Bachmann's campaign to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign it was the last straw. [Full disclaimer: Blog for Iowa is a direct descendant of the Dean for America campaign]. Jonathan Martin's points seemed to make some sense in a very campaigny superficial kind of way, but the true nature of these two campaigns could not be more opposite. To give credit, Martin included a quote from Joe Trippi who said, in effect, “yeah, but we actually built our movement from the ground up, we didn't have it handed to us on a silver platter.” But other than that, the article exemplifies how most of our media operates – missing the true essence and complexities of events and stories, and instead focusing on the most superficial aspects.
The second to last straw was when I received a suggestion by a smart progressive friend who I respect that we change the Steve King “He Said What?” widget on Blog for Iowa to a Michelle Bachmann “She Said What?” widget. To which I replied, why would we do that?
Crazy Steve King is after all, an Iowa congressman who is now being challenged by a very formidable Democratic opponent with name recognition and money and everything, for the first time ever. In contrast, Michelle Bachmann's campaign is simply the current bright shiny object that gives the mass media something to write and talk about because they don't do actual investigative reporting anymore.
Which led me to this thought: How quckly our minds turn to mush once a media narrative takes hold and settles in. So let's go there.
Here's how it works: The mediocracy picks a narrative they like. Next, they run it into the ground talking about it endlessly. Then they invent reasons to justify why they continue to talk about something so trivial. When they hit the jackpot in the process of making something trivial seem important, it actually achieves importance because after all, now everyone's talking about it! It is most ironic when they are deriding someone for doing something just for the media attention.
So, how do they choose a topic? A good narrative is one that allows the media to build more narratives on top of the original topic. In the case of Michele Bachmann's migraines, for example, they can roll out experts on past presidential health issues, medical experts on migraines, pundits from the left and right to discuss various aspects of the “issue”, feminists to discuss whether or not it is sexist, campaign strategists giving advice, and on and on.
Always there is an element in a good mass media narrative that triggers some sort of emotional reactivity in us (the masses). The Michelle Bachmann migraine story makes a great media narrative because millions of people suffer from migraines and can identify with this topic from their own personal experience. So we, the masses, respond, we get involved, we write something about it. We begin to participate in the conversation, on our blogs, Twitter, FB, etc., sharing personal anecdotes of our own, thus building the conversational momentum and keeping the media narrative going. And that is, after all, the purpose. The whole idea for the media is to find a topic that has enough of the right elements so that they can keep it going for as long as possible and then some, because the bottom line for them is that they have air time to fill.
Because after all, why should a presidential candidate having a migraine condition be an issue of such great national importance? Migraines are certainly not a life threatening illness. Is a migraine episode really any more “debilitating” than a bad case of the flu? Okay, she may have a migraine episode during the course of an important event if she were ever to become president… But of course she is never going to become president, so there really is no reason to be discussing her migraines.
And that brings us to the larger pretense – the pretense carried out by the national media that she could actually win the presidency because of the Tea Party, a powerful grassroots movement, right? Just like Howard Dean's! And so, here we are, squandering precious media resources discussing Michele Bachmann and her migraine condition.
I predict that this narrative ultimately sees more air time than the topic of President Obama killing Osama Bin Laden, although probably not as much air time as the Dean scream which set a record.
So let's review:
The media coverage of our national debate on topics of the day is no more reliable than a whisper stream in a high school study hall.
The “Tea Party” is not a grass-roots movement even though almost everyone in the media continue to write and speak of it as if it is. The Koch Brothers' astroturf tea party crusade is actually part of their plan to wage war against President Obama. (If you haven't seen it yet, this is a must-read: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.) The Kochs' tea party town hall debacle of last August paved the way for the GOP to take control of the House in the mid-term elections,
That was one year ago. The media, including newspapers, utterly and thoroughly failed to report accurately what that was all about. Fast forward to today:
And what does the media want us to talk about? The candidate has migraine headaches.
Finally, one has to wonder whether some of the ire from the so-called progressive left toward President Obama isn't in some way a product of the unchallenged lies in the media. Negativity begets negativity, the pile-on effect, etc. But more than that. We know that the right wing plants callers on talk shows claiming to be “lifelong Democrats” or independents who supported Obama, who now supposedly feel “betrayed” and even say they believe he is no better than Bush. And I have seen nationally prominent “progressive” bloggers (who also happen to be paid pundits) go on the TV and self-servingly misrepresent something Obama has said. I have received e-mails from trusted progressive groups suggesting President Obama is about to do something terrible, and citing an article that I checked out, only to have it turn out that it did not say what they said it said. And I have witnessed “progressives” bashing President Obama for something they thought he was going to do, but never acknowledge it later when they turned out to be 100% wrong. Just sayin'…
So let's be careful out there! IMHO, we would all do well to remember three things:
1 – Things are not as they appear in the media (even in the progressive blogosphere).
2 – Michelle Bachmann is not going to become President of the United States, no matter how much the media makes it look like she could.
3 – When you see the words “tea party movement” substitute the words “Koch Brothers astroturf tea party crusade” in your head and consider correcting your local media when they make the mistake.
It'll help keep you sane through trying times.