God Bless the fourth branch

“…the campaign was little more than a permanent commercial advertisement for an elite political consensus, a commercial that served its purpose even if you were denouncing it.”
– Matt Taibbi

It’s been three weeks since the mid-term elections have come to their devastating conclusion. That crazy-eyed munchkin Nancy Pelosi is our congressional leader and Democrat Mike Beebe proved his manic overbite can win the hearts and minds of Arkansas who love guns and hate baby killers.

In the end though, after it’s all down, what does it all mean?

What … does … it … all … mean?






If you read the online diary entries that Sarah Overstreet and I wrote for the last day of Beebe and Asa Hutchinson’s respective campaigns, then you know it meant absolutely nothing.

The last day was little more than Getting Out The Vote. The whole meaningless affair and empty pageantry was never made more poignant than when Hutchinson came to his local precinct to vote.

No less than four photographers there, plus a camera woman and myself. We were all there to watch Hutchinson cast his ballot. An important side issue during the election race was early voting.

When Hutchinson was in Conway, I asked him why he didn’t just do early voting. He shrugged a little and said coming to vote on Election Day was a tradition.

I can only assume that he meant tradition and good, easy press. His fire station voting was nothing more than a cheap ploy to get press. The sad thing is, the media loved it.

This is a huge problem for Arkansas. Here, newspapers are posing as the ultimate source of information to the public and doubtlessly raising slight smiles when they hear that they are gatekeepers.

But in a state where the politics is “famously personal,” there is even a greater need for newspapers to be vigilant about the issues.

“Oh God yes,” said John Brummet, Stephens Media Group columnist, when asked if Arkansas politics is different than national politics.

“When you cover Arkansas politics you have access to the candidates … even for governor,” said Brummet, who has been covering Arkansas politics for some 30 odd years.

The access to candidates however doesn’t necessarily mean great coverage. The Associated Press bureau in Little Rock, when interviewed for this column, was noticeably hesitant to reveal how many people actually cover Arkansas election politics. They were almost secretive and finally said dismissively that they had “four or five” people on assignment.

Armchair journalists can also praise LexisNexis, which pulled up a search for Arkansas Democrat Gazette articles focused solely on the Arkansas governor’s race since August of last year. With a few exceptions, only one reporter for that newspaper, Seth Blomemely, seemed to be covering the gubernatorial beat, and only from the paper’s main offices in Little Rock.

* * *

It was interesting then to see the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s editorial about the Green Party and their candidates that ran for public office.

Mark Swaney, who came to a UA journalism class recently, was understandably upset about the editorial that said the GP Web site was “a little like overhearing an all-night rap session in the sophomore dorm. We hate to interrupt such beautiful theorizing with our old-fogey ideas about the real world.”

Never mind the fact this paper has on its editorial board an editor whose cultish belief in morality, righteousness and the apocalypse led him to vomit out a column, without a hint of irony, about how Fayetteville High School is a “cesspool.”

And forget the fact that the Little Rock editorial staff gave “objective” praise to Robert E. Lee in response to Martin Luther King Day.

John Howard Griffin said in “Black Like Me,” “Newspapers shirk notoriously their editorial responsibilities and print what they think their readers want. They lean with the prevailing winds and employ every fallacy of logic in order editorialize harmoniously with popular prejudices.”

He was talking about Southern newspapers that ignored race problems in the 1950s, but his statement is easily transient of newspapers anywhere in regards to subjects like politics. What’s troublesome specifically about Arkansas media – whose only state-wide paper is The Dem-Gazzy – and national media in general, is the presumptuous, holier-than-thou, attitude toward the public. It presumes to offer absolute truth and ultimate condemnation, as apparent with the GP article, without offering any true insight or even the hint of respectable journalism.

The Dem-Gazzy, before that article was written, had dedicated about 25 articles to the Green Party candidates and about one specifically concerning gubernatorial candidate Jim Lindall. Most of the press, however, concerned the Green Party’s fight to be called a legit political party and Lendall, was tied to goofball Rod Bryan without fail in almost every article.

But as Mr. Brummett so eloquently pointed out, the whole idea of campaign coverage is a vicious cycle.

“You cannot gain mainstream media coverage until you show yourself to be a serious contender. On the other hand you cannot be a serious contender without mainstream media coverage,” he said.

* * *

What the sad case of Lindall shows is that neither those running for office nor the media that claim “objective” coverage of the whole farce, is equipped enough to sufficiently cover the issues.

The politicians, as Hutchinson’s child ad shows, are little more then government sponsored ad men. And from my comfortable armchair, it seemed the media that so diligently covered the ad problem, never bothered to ask the important questions – whether the accusations by Hutchinson were legitimate and why or why not.

Instead there were the numerous quotes about Hutchinson finding the ad “amusing” and Beebe denouncing it.

It would be absurd and in fact foolish to assume that a single state-wide paper and another media group with a small bureau can cover the entirety of state politics with any thing resembling fair, accurate and balanced coverage.

The best thing the public can do to ensure that the best person is elected to office is to completely ignore what the candidates say behind the podium.

Attack and beat them relentlessly with real questions whenever you get the chance.

Ignore what sales-driven media says about anything – regardless of the party – and demand real coverage concerning the issues.

The mid-term elections were a carnival full of the usual freaks and geeks. Already, our great governor-elect is using his “common sense” and taxpayers’ money to fly with the Huckabees to a retreat. So…

What does it all mean?

Not a damn thing.

It’s a vicious cycle that’s going to keep spinning and spinning and spinning.

And no institute is better at spinning than The Media. God bless the United States and the fourth branch.

[Original piece available here.]


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