So you've probably heard by now about how MSNBC suspended the dickslayer, Mark Halperin. A suspension was warranted, but that's hardly the real story. I've been talking about the loser pundits who inhabit our airwaves ever since I started blogging. I've also cried for some real journalism out of cable instead of an environment where lies are allowed to swirl around sacrosanct. I wrote a piece back in 2008 called: C&L's Accountability for the Punditocracy Proposal But that's only part of the problem.
Greg Sargent's take is pretty good.
I care less about Halperin’s use of the word “dick” than I do about the argument he and Joe Scarborough were making — that Obama somehow stepped over some kind of line in aggressively calling out the GOP for refusing to allow any revenues in a debt ceiling deal. This notion that Obama’s tone was somehow over the top — when politics is supposed to be a rough clash of visions — is rooted in a deeply ingrained set of unwritten rules about what does and doesn’t constitute acceptable political discourse that really deserve more scrutiny. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite, legitimate disagreement when Michele Bachmann says deeply insane things about us not needing to raise the debt limit, but it should be seen as an enormously newsworthy gaffe when she commits a relatively minor error about regional trivia. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite, legitimate disagreement when Republicans continually claim that Dems cut $500 billion in Medicare in a way that will directly impact seniors, even though fact checkers have pronounced it misleading, but it should be seen as “demagoguery” when Dems argue that the Paul Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it.
Halperin has certainly done his part to encourage these unwritten rules, and so maybe there’s a certain poetic justice in the fact that he’s now been suspended indefinitely for violating them, but still, this is over the top. I care that Halperin uncritically claims that Drudge rules the media world, and acts accordingly. I care that Halperin published a book that accused public officials of using explosive, racially charged quotes that were paraphrased, without guaranteeing their accuracy, in order to gin up media controvery. I care that Halperin does dumb things like parroting GOP predictions of a big victory when all available evidence is pointing the other way, as he famously did in the runup to the 2006 elections. I don’t care as much that he used the word “dick.” Suspending Halperin indefinitely for this only reinforces the bogus idea that a crass and dumb slip into foul language is worse than all this other stuff we see on a regular basis.
Digby talks about The Village that Halperin lives in:
This really is nonsense. It's not the word "dick" that's the problem, fergawdsake. It's not pictures of dicks either. It's that these people have contrived this absurd set of shallow manners in which saying dick or taking a picture of a dick is wrong while lying, manipulating and cavalierly risking the country's future (which is what Obama was allegedly being a dick about!) is considered perfectly acceptable.
It's the perfect manifestation of the Village. A bunch of decadent aristocrats pretending to be virgins and nuns, moralizing over trivia as a "lesson" for the rubes, all the while indulging in a debauched orgy of power and privilege.
Plainly, refuting a falsehood doesn't keep it from doing harm. The solution isn't some cheap fix, first giving end-of-the-world play to some incendiary fantasy and then inserting a line that says the preceding was utter rubbish. The real problem goes to the core of traditional news practices. As Greg Marx noted in a sensible Columbia Journalism Review posting, the solution is "making a more concerted effort not to disseminate false or dubious claims in the first place."
Isn't that simple? All the media has to do is fact check a story first and present the truth instead of repeating lies over and over again in the interest of "balance". Then we won't have to worry about an ill-informed public not getting the information they need on important issues. Issues that actually have an impact on their lives, like health care. Unfortunately, that appears too much to ask:
As the saying goes, what really matters isn't what people think, it's what they think about: Debunking falsehoods is fine, but the more that news media embrace it as if it's a cure-all, the worse we'll all be. The solution isn't to refute, it's to ignore. End the practice of rewarding the most sensational, the most irresponsible, the most baseless allegations with top-of-the-news billing. The media bury worthwhile news all the time; how about burying the worthless stuff?
There, however, the problem isn't so much with reporters, it's with their bosses, the ones who insist on running the screaming footage from "town meetings," on giving dramatic lies a prominence they don't deserve -- ensuring an audience, but also ensuring the lies a public life no reasoned refutation can end.
"He said, she said" has always been a dubious way to report the world. "We say" helps, but only a little. The real solution is simple: It's called news judgment.
Don't you love that? "News Judgment." What a miraculous concept. I wonder how we could actually make that happen?
The crap that's endlessly debated when they are clearly falsehoods or worthless have weakened this democracy. Many Americans have no idea what a "Debt Ceiling" is at all and then are asked what America should do about it. Rick Perlstein wrote this on his Facebook page a few days ago:
Rick Perlstein Often folks ask me how America can be saved from its present course. Not by changing wingnuts—they will always be wingnuts, same methods and worldview since the 1950s; and not by changing the hearts corporate plutocrats—ditto, since the dawn of corporate capitalism; BUT SHAMING MEDIA GATEKEEPERS WHO LEGITMIZE THEIR ANTISOCIALITY AS MERELY "ONE SIDE OF THE ISSUE" IS UTTERLY NEW WITHIN THE PAST THREE DECADES. To wit...
Andrew Breitbart uses his network of Web sites and their legions of followers to bring conservative media red meat.
The NY Times considers what Breitbart does as red meat only instead of accurately explaining that he's a rube out to hurt people. Why do you think Spiro Agnew and Nixon hated the press? because it wouldn't stand for their tactics. In this environment, Nixon not only wouldn't have been impeached and exposed as the crook that he was, but he would be heralded as a King.