It Really Is Time for TV News to Grow Up.

A moment of wishful thinking, if you don’t mind. About a week ago CNN’s Soledad O’Brien had Romney spokesman/flack and ex-New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu on her show. Political junkies know that Sununu is not just a crusty old bastard, but a veteran deep DC-insider crusty old bastard, a guy who long ago came to understand how the mutual stroke fest of politics and media goes, what the rules are, and who to avoid for routinely breaking those rules.

The fascinating thing that happens in what should have been just another completely forgettable celebrity anchor-flack interaction was that O’Brien clearly decided ahead of time that not only was she going to go in armed with actual homework, but also crusty bastard or not, she was not going to put up with Sununu’s bullshit. Here’s the link to what happened.

For those of you too busy to watch … O’Brien, armed with various fact-checkers’ indictments of the Romney campaign for flagrantly “misleading” assertions about Medicare “cuts” in Obamacare, demands that Sununu acknowledge reality — those damned pesky facts — and explain how what is verifiably not true can be asserted as truth just because it is emitted as an official campaign position of Team Romney. Sununu doesn’t like this, accuses O’Brien of being in the tank for Obama — as by inference would everyone else who refuses to accept unreality as reality, and what’s false as what’s true.

But she doesn’t back down.

Sununu eventually departs, looking an awful lot like a gaseous hack, and probably was on the phone to CNN’s news chief and a couple of Time-Warner board members within the following hour, threatening, by God, to hold back an “exclusive” with Mittens or Paul Ryan in retribution for a network anchor so flagrantly violating the accepted rules of political theater. Since then O’Brien has played the same fact game with Our Boy, T-Paw, who at least had his usual sociopathic good sense to laugh and smile while accusing her of … being in the tank for the Democrats. Later she also had a fine moment questioning Christine “I Am Not a Witch” O’Donnell about what exactly she means when she prattles on about “socialism”. (Spoiler alert: O’Donnell doesn’t know what she means.)

You may have heard that over the next nine weeks the two campaigns are going to drop something in excess of a billion and a half dollars of ad money into the television industry, mainly corporately-owned television stations in major media markets in the so-called “battleground states”. Viewers elsewhere, like us here in Minnesota, will get a taste — a nauseating one to be sure — of that action, but still, our local network affiliates will enjoy a very nice, very fat windfall of easy money from the theatrics of the election season.

The point is that it really is time for TV news to grow up, and it may be happening, in part because the internet and social media can roast a reporter’s reputation in a heartbeat if/when they get played for a chump — which is what they look like if they don’t come armed with homework and a touch of “confrontation”, instead of merely observing the hoary rules of the game. We all know the vibe: the chummy, excessively respectful/reverential celebrity “get” attitude where even the most flagrant deception/lying is tolerated as “just part of the shtick”. Did you catch the poor rube in Denver who accepted Mittens’ conditions for a … five-minute “exclusive” with her station?

Conversely, some like O’Brien, by remaining persistent and poised in the face of rhetorical turpitude and blustering accusations, very quickly build a reputation among colleagues and sectors of the cyber-universe for having gonads where so many others dare only to perform a limp eunuch flop.

If there’s a trend building, why now?

Well, for one very significant thing, this year’s Republican campaign(s) are so far over the line in terms of flagrant distortion — which they shamelessly repeat in the face of repeated repudiation — that the sheer damned outlandish bogus-ness of their charges becomes the story. This allows normally queasy reporters to easily substitute out the usual “he said – he said” in their interviews about Medicare “cuts”, or Obama stripping work requirements from welfare, not to mention the “legitimate/forcible rape” fiasco. Where that average corporate TV employee/reporter, under implicit orders to be “balanced”, is reluctant to wade anywhere close to where they might be accused of “taking sides” or being “confrontational” (God forbid!), it becomes a different context when the essence of an entire campaign strategy is an unflinching wall of deception and outright lies. At that point, demanding a direct answer to already heavily reiterated facts becomes a much less risky game. There’s cover. It’s OK, because, “Hey, everybody’s talking about it!”

Also, and here I concede a dense whiff of wishful imagining, I suspect that among the actual press corps, the buffoonery of the entire GOP election cycle to date, is having its effects.

Much as they have a journalistic responsibility to play “fair”, treating a candidate like Romney as though he has (detectable) serious beliefs, and pretending that guffaw-inducing caricatures like Todd Akin, or (today’s contender for the Gaffe Crown) Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, or GOP executive committee member Pat Rogers who is still standing up for George Armstrong Custer, have anything like adult credibility is a whole series of bridges too far. More to the point, continuing to pretend otherwise, that these are mature, intelligent, sensible people is simply asking too much. When a guy presents himself with a fright wig of orange hair, a red rubber nose, a garish smile and size 52 shoes it’s fair game to treat him (or her) like a clown, or risk looking like one yourself.

That obviously is the ground-level press corps and their anchor brethren. It’s their faces hanging out. They’re the ones getting mocked on Jon Stewart and YouTube. I strongly suspect a whole other attitude (continues) to pervade the offices of their supervisors and executives. Those would be the people tallying up the campaign windfall and conveying an “understanding” to the minions, that “confrontational” isn’t something to pull on your best clients.

The Conscious Strategy of “Legitimate Rape”.

The first thing that crossed my alleged mind when I heard about Todd Akin’s shall we say, remarkable abuse of biological science, common decency and common sense, was that “This is no surprise to the crowd that put him where he is.”

No one rises to the party nomination for U.S. Senator without being thoroughly vetted, not so much by “average voters” as by well-connected, usually deep-pocketed party elders … and their minders in the national party. Particularly in Missouri this  year.

As has been exhaustively repeated the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill, is pretty much a sitting duck. All the Republicans really had to do is put up someone who bathed regularly and knew the difference between a fork and a spoon to guarantee a win … and take a giant step closer to making Mitch McConnell Majority Leader.

Maybe Akin performs his ablutions regularly, but the fundamentals of what is real and what is — as The Great and Wonderful Austin said in the previous post — medieval religious hysteria kind of escape him. He’s a modern troglodyte, but by strategic design he has plenty of company.

The like of Todd Akin is very much what today’s modern Republican elders, overseers, party professionals and strategists are regularly endorsing and financing.. I’m certain Akin saying what he believes in his out-loud voice disappointed them, but it sure as hell didn’t surprise them, if for no other reason than what Akin believes about gynecological function is essentially no different from what, I strongly suspect, dozens of other “true conservatives” currently taking up space in Congress also believe.

Do the names of Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Bob Aderholt, Jeff Flake, John Boozman, Brian Bilbray, Gary Miller, Sand Adams, Allan West, Paul Broun, Raul Labrador, Joe Walsh, Dan Burton … and Michele Bachmann to name just a few, mean anything to you? While most know better than to say — out loud and on TV — what Akin said, what do you think those deep thinkers discuss privately when it comes to “legitimate” or, (equally absurd and offensive) “forcible rape”?

It as been pointed out that the Tea Party’s intellectual leader, Paul Ryan, co-authored with the bumbling Mr. Akin, the short-lived legislation deploying the term “forcible rape”, (as opposed to, I don’t know, the kind where the woman touches up her lipstick and gives the drunken thug her best “come hither” look). Ryan’s purpose in exploiting that term — i.e. pandering to the most superstitious, know-nothing instincts of his base — was to blunt an imagined scheme by Planned Parenthood to qualify all teen pregnancies as statutory rape … and have taxpayers pay for abortions.

It’s a “moral” thing with this crowd, you understand. Not that they’ve added anything to the prosecution of the characters who melted down the world economy.

With Karl Rove pulling his money out of Mr. Akin’s campaign, I see no way the pathetic doof survives. But the modern GOP has a deep well of like-minded “talent”. The party hierarchy has actively recruited and sponsored a small army of mini Torquemadas, people of often astonishing ignorance but reliable recklessness who can be counted on to advance the hierarchy’s primary objective — reduced tax rates for themselves — while creating no end of collateral damage along the way.

The lesson the party minders will take away from Mr. Akin’s “lapse” is a fresh set of talking points of “what to never say in public”.

 

“Legitimate Rape”

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin is the GOP’s nominee seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.  Today, in an interview with the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, he was asked about the legality of abortion in the case of rape,  an option the Congressman opposes:

Host: “What about in the case of rape, should it be legal or not?”

Akin: “Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of the things as in, ‘How do you slice particularly tough sort of ethical question?’ It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.  But, let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something…”

You can watch the whole interview here.  The exchange is in the second segment about 4 minutes in.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of police-recorded rapes in the United States from 2003-2010 are as follows:

  • 2003:   93,883
  • 2004:   95,089
  • 2005:   94,347
  • 2006:   94,472
  • 2007:   92,610
  • 2008:   90,750
  • 2009:   89,241
  • 2010:   84,767

Remember, of course, that many rapes go unreported.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have jumped all over this comment.  I just got an e-mail from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the subject and Senator McCaskill was Tweeting about it within a few minutes of it airing.

The Congressman, of course, tried to walk his statement back as a misstatement: ” In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

Unfortunately for the Congressman, this is not a case in which someone “misspoke” in an inartful way the way Obama and Romney and Biden (and – sooner or later – so too will Ryan) have done several times.  This was a mistake in the sense that Congressman Akin erred in telling us that his world view includes the beliefs:

1) The incidence of  rape – non-consensual sexual intercourse – is rare thus implying that the vast majority of those reports above are made up.

2) If a woman was indeed raped her body would somehow reject the rapist’s sperm to prevent fertilization.

Both of these beliefs are objectionable in the extreme and cannot be forgiven as misstatements.

The second one reminds me of the Dark Ages’ test for witches: tie a stone around a woman and throw her in the river. If she survives, it is a sign of witchcraft and she should be burned at the stake immediately.  If she doesn’t survive, well, at least she went to her heavenly reward with an unsullied reputation.

Amazing.

– Austin