The Zombie Media

J. Fell

Just over twelve hours since the announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, we are seeing the media do what they do best: walk lock-step in an arbitrary counter-intuitive distraction, having declared that: "Since George Bush has named a nominee, the Leakgate story about Karl Rove will now be out of the headlines." But how can that be when, as the ABC News poll reports:

"The leak investigation is seen as a meaningful issue: About three-quarters call it a serious matter, and just over four in 10 see it as 'very' serious . . . . Fifty-three percent are following the issue closely - a fairly broad level of attention."

You heard the press, though: the nomination takes Rove out of the headlines. It's not as if they have a CHOICE in the matter. It's what psychologists call an "external locus of control," where you see your life as being controlled by forces beyond your power. So once a simplistic notion gets thrown into the media echo chamber, they are helpless to suggest otherwise -- even though they're the ones who introduced the concept. (Jeez, America, I guess you just don't understand journalism.) A missing girl disappearance? Oh yeah, that can be covered big time. And apparently: it is SO over with Jude Law and his fiancee. Uh huh. Yeah, see, he got caught with the nanny. Can you BELIEVE it? Anyway, as they were saying, there's just no TIME for the story about a possible criminal in the White House.

But given the intense interest in the case, and its unprecedented importance (another president resigned over similar criminality), why wouldn't their number one story simply go down to number two while another story breaks? The answer has to do with the same thing that got the president and the media laughing hysterically at Bush's: "Nope, no WMD under here" skit, even while troops continue to die over his assertion, during the national press dinner. He's one of their own, and whatever off-ramp they can take (including the repeated mantra that -- contrary to the polls -- the public just doesn't care about a federal crime being committed), they will take it.

(You have to respect the media's track record on things like this. Remember when they had the choice of picking between coverage of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton's efforts to strike Osama bin Laden? I think they showed their uncanny ability to sniff out the real story, and the one with the most lasting import. You cover Monica, then accuse Clinton of trying to distract from it when he goes after bin Laden. Duh.)

Their self-imposed prohibition (vacation) on not speaking about Rove is a bit like when you're a kid and someone calls "dibbsies" on the front seat while traveling in the car. Hey, once someone calls it, that's it. You can't get around dibbsies. Can you speculate about judicial hearings that won't start until September as to what might be said? Well, yeah. That's journalism. Can you discuss Karl Rove's actions and contradictions to date (including those still not being talked about) so that the public better understands them, even though the grand jury could go until October? Heavens no. Did you not hear dibbsies?

It's just over twelve hours since Bush's announcement, and already the Rove story is conspicuous in its absence. (Embarrassingly so.) Even before sh*t canning it, the press kept melodramatically saying how COMPLEX the Leakgate case is. After all, it's so hard to say: "The White House sought to punish someone who informed the public that Bush's WMD intelligence was flawed, by breaking the law to out his undercover wife." (Man, I better go back and review that sentence to try and make heads-or-tails of it. How the heck can Americans grasp such a tangled storyline? As the polls indicate: far better than those whose job it is to cover it)

The media's view towards their job is much like a spot they used to run in this market for Michael J. Fox's show 'Spin City.' The hapless mayor is in his office watching the news, which is covering a growing riot in the streets, when he looks up and says: "That's awful. Someone really ought to do something about that." He, too, shares the media's external locus of control.

(This morning, Hardball is still running a commercial for its "week long" investigation into Leakgate, just as they did all day yesterday. So far that week has consisted of a show about it Monday, then quitting to spend Tuesday's show on meaningless and incorrect babble about Bush's potential choice, and undoubtedly shoving it aside again tonight -- while still running commercials for it. That's journalism, folks.)

So the question is: Can the media walk and chew gum at the same time? The obvious answer: Most of the time they can't even walk, so hell no. Plus someone already called dibbs. No talksies about the criminal in the White House. They're here to discuss Jude Law, and how darned cute John Roberts' kids were last night. After all, if that's not a qualification to sit on the high court, I don't know what is.

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