Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Now...Barack Obama"

Neil Postman, writing in 1985, on the culture of TV news in America and the affect it has had on reason, context and presidential politics, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 110:
My point is that we are by now so thoroughly adjusted to the "Now...this" world of news--a world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events--that all assumptions of coherence have vanished. And so, perforce, has contradiction. In the context of no context, so to speak, it simply disappears. And in its absence, what possible interest could there be in a list of what the President [of the United States] says now and what he said then? It is merely a rehash of old news, and there is nothing interesting or entertaining in that. The only thing to be amused about is the bafflement of reporters at the public's indifference. There is an irony in the fact that the very group that has taken the world apart should, on trying to piece it back together again, be surprised that no one notices much, or cares.
Is this not the perfect soil in which a President like Barack Obama could gain root? Beyond the difference one might have with him on policy is the glaring way in which he can say one thing and the opposite thing in the same sentence. There is firmly held liberal ideology, but then there is crass disinformation. And, sadly, this has little to do with Obama himself (though he perhaps is the grandest exploiter yet) but with we who vote for him. And lest you think that I am harping only on Obama, as Postman makes clear, it all began with Reagan (quoting from a NYT article in 1983):
President Reagan's aides used to become visibly alarmed at suggestions that he had given mangled and perhaps misleading accounts of his policies or of current events in general. That doesn't seem to happen much anymore.

Indeed, the President continues to make debatable assertions of fact but news accounts do not deal with them as extensively as they once did. In the view of White House officials, the declining news coverage mirrors a decline in interest by the general public.
Today news organizations do have "fact checkers" who pour over speeches and press releases. Some twelve AP reporters were assigned to fact check the new Sarah Palin book. But for all the fact checking going on no one seems to care. There is no outrage, no protesting. Presidents, senators and, God help us, preachers, relay contradiction after contradiction and we the people do not bat an eye lash. Unless, of course, they lie about sex.