January 12, 2010

Eric Boehlert has a great piece up discussing the way the press allows Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin to rule their world.

Not content with its lapdog coverage of President Bush over the past decade, the Beltway press has adopted a new, super-soft way to deal with Bush's former vice president, Dick Cheney, as well as GOP media star Sarah Palin. Journalists have set aside what had been decades' worth of guidelines and embraced special new rules for how Cheney and Palin get treated.

In a word, it's stenography.

That's how too many scribes have covered Cheney and Palin in recent months, allowing them to dispense tightly controlled pieces of information, which journalists then trumpet as breaking news. And yes, the trend is unprecedented in modern day American politics.

It's actually a two-fer. First, it's unprecedented because the Beltway press has never showered attention on political losers, such as Cheney and Palin. Meaning, the press has never cared what a former VP had to say about current events right after leaving the White House (think: Dan Quayle), or what a failed VP candidate had to say just months after losing in a landslide (think: Geraldine Ferraro). Traditionally, pundits and reporters disdain political losers (think: Mike Dukakis). But for Cheney and Palin, the rules have been generously reworked.

The second oddity is that journalists now allow Cheney and Palin to completely dictate the media ground rules and afford them the chance to have one-way relationships with the press. Palin, for instance, perhaps still bruising from her woeful 2008 media performances, still hasn't allowed herself to be interviewed by a single independent political journalist since she launched her book in November. Instead, she mostly communicates with the mainstream media via Facebook. And now that she's signed on to join the Fox News staff, the chances of Palin ever speaking with the serious press seem to be less than zero. That lack of openness stacks the deck and leads to dreadful bouts of stenography; of literally recording what controversial Republicans say, and nothing more...read on

You never see Cheney or Palin in a situation where they are forced to either debate someone or are even asked to defend their views by the media. All Cheney and Palin have to do is send a press release to Politico or write something on Facebook and it's taken as fact by the media. You can bet that Palin will never be on a Fox show in which she is forced to debate a progressive. She'll always just be there to answer questions by hosts who agree with her opinions -- one-on-one on Fox & Friends, Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. The internal politics will be interesting: Glenn Beck is the Teabagger King and probably views Palin as a threat to his authority. Likely we'll see her on Hannity a lot.

Since her book came out, has Sarah Palin been interviewed by any member of the press other than her loyal Fox brethren and wingnut radio talkers?

The truth is that since the launch of her book last November, Palin has refused to sit down with a single serious, independent reporter. Instead, she's stuck close to lifestyle interviews (i.e. Oprah and Barbara Walters) as well as taking questions from her professional right-wing media enablers.

Can you imagine the media caterwauling if, for instance, Hillary Clinton published a book and then refused to sit down with a single nonpartisan cable TV host, radio talker, or political reporter from a major newspaper or magazine? If Clinton roped off the press while she only did interviews with The Nation, Rachel Maddow, and Air America? The Beltway press would go berserk mocking Clinton for her timidity. But Palin completely snubbed the D.C. press corps, and rather than calling her out, journalists rewarded her with probably tens of millions of dollars in free book publicity. (Not that most Americans even cared about her book launch.)

And if Palin continues to avoid the press then they should stop quoting her Facebook page. How lazy can our media be? Yeah, that lazy.

Then there's Cheney. Have you ever seen as much press being heaped on an ex-VP as soon as they left office?

And let's not lose sight of just how extraordinary it was for Allen/VandeHei/Harris to even care what Cheney had to say in early February of 2009, because I can't stress enough how completely unprecedented it is for any major Beltway news outlet to turn to a dislodged vice president as a partisan newsmaker less than one month after he left office. And for Cheney to be the object of Politico's newsroom desire last February was even more bizarre since the Republican had just completed his stint as arguably the most unpopular politician in modern day White House politics. (Somewhere Richard Nixon was smiling.)

That is not an exaggeration. According to a CBS/New York Times poll at the time of the Cheney's White House departure, his job approval rating stood at a how-is-that-possible 13 percent. Yet despite his historically poor standing with the public, and despite the fact that his party had just been trounced in an electoral landslide, and despite the fact that former VPs were never considered to be newsworthy just two weeks after they packed their White House bags, there was the Politico brain trust in February 2009, sitting at Cheney's knee ("Suddenly a man of leisure ... his own mood was relaxed, even loquacious") and treating him like he was still vice president -- treating him like he was a popular vice president. Treating Cheney like a man with all the answers.

Of course, Cheney probably was at least as responsible for the disaster that was the Bush administration as W. -- and so when he sat down to spew vicious attacks on the Obama White House, it not only should have been portrayed as the breach of protocol that it was, but each journalist should have considered it their duty to bring up the Bush administration's actual record in dealing with terrorism and the economy -- glass houses being crappy stone-heaving sites and all.

But then, real reporting is much harder work than stenography.

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