Thursday, January 10, 2008
No More Tears, Please
No more tears, please. I don't mean from Hillary Clinton — I mean the media saying that she cried, which isn't accurate, as far as I could see. The Yahoo page yesterday showed the graphic above. If you can't read it clearly, it says "Debating the crying issue." "Analysts have turned Hillary Clinton's tears into a national debate." It also links a Huffington Post entry titled "Double standard?" and has a video link called, "See her tears."
(Good grief. Had it been a slower news day, one of the networks would've grabbed the post-Brit-Brit Dr. Phil for his special brand of obtuse comment wrapped in faux-folksy Texas cornpone psychobabble. But there's still time.)
There's other copies of the video out there, but check out this YouTube version:
She gets choked up, her voice quavers, she's emotional. But she doesn't have a public breakdown. And I don't see any tears. Do you? And really, is this that hard for the press to get right?
The media just luvs their narratives, truth be damned, and this week alone has provided a bevy of examples, most of them focusing on the Iowa Caucus, the New Hampshire Primary, and moments in-between, such as Hillary Clinton's show of emotion. ThinkProgress has a good roundup of some of the vapid reactions to it.
And this is how it always starts. A notion gets fixed in the public memory, whether accurate or not. This isn't far removed from the wildly over-inflated furor over the Dean "scream" or the media spreading the lie that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. I've never fully understood all the hoopla over Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah moment," which to me has always seemed ridiculously overblown by the media ever since. It's not as if criticizing her was difficult or required courage, even if it was calculated. (Any other takes?) But at least that actually happened. So often, the media's herd mentality has them trampling in a mad, happy rush over the truth. If you watch the ThinkProgress video, you'll see many pundits referring to Hillary Clinton's moment of emotion as a "Muskie moment." Now that she's gotten a boost in the polls, they're referring to it as an "anti-Muskie moment" or even an "Oprah moment." (I actually heard Oprah interviewed about Hillary's "moment." I've still escaped hearing Dr. Phil on it, though!)
However, it's wise to remember, thanks to our friends Bob Somerby and Digby, that even Ed Muskie didn't have a "Muskie moment." It looks like Muskie crying was mostly a media invention, by one reporter in particular. His name? David Broder. Some things don't change that much.
Of course, there's nothing wrong per se with crying. But the media imbues the most trivial occurrences with cosmic significance, and if there is a shallow angle to be taken, they will take it.
What's also ironic is that Hillary Clinton (if reports are to be believed) has gotten teary or at least "glassy-eyed" in public previously, as recently as December, as considered by Steve Benen. But it wasn't a big deal then, and to my knowledge, the press wasn't playing video of it constantly. The video is what put this moment into such big play, as did the video and audio for Dean's "scream," as did the video of George "Macaca" Allen. I only wish Cheney's "Go fuck yourself" to Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor was captured on a cell phone, but no such luck.
As I've written before (probably far too often these days), I'm not a big fan of Hillary Clinton. I'm probably overdue for explaining why in more depth in a separate post, but the big reason isn't a surprise — she's parroted some of the worst BS of Bush and Giuliani in relation to 9/11, Iraq and Iran, and she's been a saber-rattler with Iran. But I would like to see her challenged on that, and for other substantive reasons. There's no question she's been subject to some really misogynist bullshit over the years, and certainly she's received a fair amount of crap during her presidential campaign simply for being a woman. Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson, among others, have shown it's still more acceptable in the national political discourse to be a sexist than a racist. There are so many genuine reasons to criticize Hillary Clinton, it's really pretty pathetic to attack her because of her gender.
Why is any of this important? Even if you dislike Hillary, even if you think she's a phony, even if you think her emotion was feigned, or if you simply don't think she'd be the best candidate for president, there are at least four key factors I see. One, more specific to this case of bad coverage but more general as an issue, there's a double standard for women, and sexism should be challenged. Two, the media should be able to get a simple fact right. Three, the media should be substantive rather than shallow. Four, most importantly, the media always do this, and the pattern they've followed for the past decade or two has been to rail on every Democrat, mainly for bullshit reasons, while sucking up to Republicans. That's been Bob Somerby's main point lo these many years, and many other splendid bloggers have dug into the same dynamic. The press continually try to play kingmaker, and they are consistently horrible at it. Why else would they have promoted Bush not once, but twice?!? They are not a bright bunch, nor do they have good judgment. It doesn't matter who the eventual Democratic nominee is. Maybe it will somewhat if it's Obama, since currently they mostly adore him. But we can't count on that, and theirs is a broken, shallow, vapid system. It needs to be challenged at every turn, because even if it occasionally eliminates someone you don't like, eventually, it will be turned against someone you do like. (Ya know, "first they came for the Al Gore supporters, and I did not speak up, for I was not an Al Gore supporter..." and all that.) One way of getting better candidates over time is demanding better coverage right now, and always.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)