Posted by: coloradokiwi | May 9, 2008

Well, I suppose a fat MAN will do…

Apparently we now have a Democratic nominee, although the contest is technically not over, and probably won’t be properly over for another fortnight.  How do I know this now?  Because Tim Russert and the rest of the corporate media blowhards have said so.

I do not say this with snark.  This has been my private assessment to various folks with whom I’m in regular email political discussions.  The fact is that the math for Clinton has been all but impossible for more than a month now, but this has only been officially acknowledged in the MSM after Tuesday’s primary, in which she was trounced in North Carolina and won Indiana just barely.  (That the media pundits should overwhelmingly switch from a “horse race” narrative to “it’s over” despite that those results didn’t really change much is worth a whole other post.)  At any rate, now that the media is thoroughly convinced Clinton is done, she in all probability is done:  superdelegates can side with Obama without fear of hefty scrutiny, voters may feel a vote for Clinton is a throwaway vote (then again maybe not, more of which below), and perhaps most importantly, the real story about the unlikelihood of a Clinton nomination given the math and what she’ll have to do to make Obama “unelectable,” a story that has been the subject of print and blogger analysis for weeks, will hit the idiot box in full.  In short:  now that the corporate media has decided to throw their lot in with Obama, Clinton’s path to the nomination no longer even has the bare semblance of legitimacy that this same media has been giving it.  Which comes to my next point.  Let’s let the estimable Digby lay it out for us:

…there’s nothing wrong with political junkies sitting around the virtual pot-bellied stove and saying the race is “over” or exhorting her to drop out. We’re citizens and, in some cases, political players. There is, however, something unbelievably distasteful about a handful of powerful, millionaire, celebrity pundits “declaring” such a thing and having the paper of record breathlessly report it as if it was decisive and meaningful.


Who the fuck anointed Tim Russert as the final arbiter of anything? His job is to analyze the political landscape not declare the decision as if he were some kind of Roman Emperor giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. It’s bad enough that these gasbags put those thumbs on the scale as hard as they do, but actually taking the initiative to say when the race is over is even worse. To coin a favorite Village phrase, “it’s not their place.”

Amen.  None of these media gasbags are any more informed than the rest of us, at least not in the era of blogging, instant online results, and the private lives of obsessives, to really do some thorough analysis.  Why should a bunch of socially isolated millionaires, most of whom are doing the bidding of corporate interests (whether consciously or unconsciously — paging Antonio Gramsci), state so flatly the “will of the electorate,” as if delivered from on high?  And as Digby states later in the post, we should not forget that, even if you’re a fan of Obama and welcome this pronouncement, it should chill you to the bone that they feel they have the power and influence to do this, because you can bet your ass they will feel no qualms about doing this to Obama, should the occasion present itself. 

That said, I’d like to point out a couple of things.  First, Digby bitches about this now, but there weren’t a lot of posts I recall seeing that illustrated how the MSM was keeping Hillary afloat in much the same way.  First, there’s the fact that (briefly alluded to above) all but a very few pundits and analysts deigned to point out that Clinton’s chances of getting the nomination have been questionable verging on the impossible for some time now.  I’m not suggesting they should have harped on her then as they are now.  But rarely was it ever mentioned that:  

1. The delegate math, barring a truly momentous change in the electorate, was going against her.

2. Despite her campaign’s claim to the contrary, she was unlikely to even pull even in the popular vote (which is not the agreed-upon metric for deciding the nominee anyway).

3. Although in pre-general election matchups both she and Obama beat McCain, and she does do better in the “big states” than he does, she is an albatross for down-ticket races in solidly red states, particularly out West; Obama, meanwhile, actually picks up a few Western states, and is much more competitive overall in every state, meaning that down-ticket races are more competitive and the GOP has more turf to defend.  This sort of analysis was utterly missing.

Secondly, the MSM devoted an inordinate amount of its coverage to the Jeremiah Wright scandal, which, while I suppose “newsworthy,” completely supplanted any substantive coverage on actual issues while simultaneously furthering the distasteful narrative of Obama’s “problem” with “real hard-working blue collar whites.”  (Aside:  it must be Obama’s elitism, and not the racist tendencies of Rust Belt whites, that is the problem; it’s a curious thing that “hard-working” whites west of the Mississippi overwhelmingly favore(d) Obama to Clinton.)

So, Digby’s question of “who the fuck do they think they are” still holds, but really we can trace this back much further (which she does in a different way), which includes the ways in which they kept Clinton afloat.

However…

I question the MSM’s influence.  First of all, not everyone watches cable news or even the network news any more, particularly if you’re under, say, 85.  Secondly, even those ratings, while in the millions, utterly pale in comparison to the number of voters out there, who have hugely varying degrees of interest in and information about the race/candidates.  Also, let’s talk about media effects for a moment.  First of all, it’s well established that media effects are not direct:  nobody sees or hears anything in the media and simply replicates this in practice (this view, often known as the “magic bullet theory” or “the hypodermic needle model” was disproved more than fifty years ago).  There are also chains of influence in one’s social network, whereby media influence may be quite indirect:  while the seed of influence may be planted by the media, consensus is worked out through social networks.  And keep in mind these models and perspectives are still not the whole story about how media effects operate, and there’s considerable controversy about the findings and methods in the entire field of media effects.  Not that, of course, actual experts who study the media are ever consulted (ahem), but we really should be much less cavalier about how powerful the media is, from where their “conventional wisdom” arrives (and how), and the extent to which this influences individuals, and what their subsequent action will be.  To this end: the Wright scandal appears not to have damaged Obama that much; voters in remaining states may decide to angrily flout the media’s conventional wisdom, or alternately, reinforce it; despite poll after poll showing that issues are important to voters this year, so far we’ve gotten the usual sensational sideshows (again, worthy of a whole other post or even a series).

In sum:  the influence of the media on such matters is not currently well known or well established, and it’s also abundantly clear that the MSM is not very well in touch with what voters are doing/thinking.  Your guess is really just about as good as theirs (probably better, since you might have time to actually think about what you say before you have to say it on live television).  

So I guess what I’m saying here is this:  the MSM’s anointment of Obama is the final nail in the coffin for Clinton’s media narrative, and therefore her campaign, by virtue of the fact that they will no longer carry her water as to the rationale that she has to carry on.  This is not the same thing as influencing the decisions of individual voters, nor does it suggest that voters are listening to Tim Russert’s opinion as their guide, rather than that the MSM is now focusing on the sheer math of the contest of which many voters may have been ignorant to this point because it wasn’t well covered before.  While the MSM still exerts considerable influence (particularly with respect to framing and salience), this influence is not direct and not as powerful as many people seem to suggest.  

 

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