Monday, the New York Times rejected an op-ed piece written by John McCain in response to a June 14 editorial in the Times, written by Barack Obama. Obama’s op-ed included several stinging rebukes of the presumptive Republican nominee’s Iraq policy, and contained a variety of inaccuracies, misinformation and groundless accusations.
CNN, had the good sense to run McCain’s response on July 21, but even they cast a doubtful light on it when they called it a “lengthy critique of Obama’s positions on Iraq policy ...”
Obama’s editorial contained 13 paragraphs and 912 words. McCain’s response? Twelve paragraphs and 879 words.
Times editorial page editor David Shipley justified his rejection this way:
The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans. It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece.If you’ll notice, Shipley’s brief comment contains two misguided elements of the modern-day American journalism. First, it removes any hint of objectivism (“…worked for me …”). Second, it underscores the tit-for-tat nature of the national press corps (“… an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece.”)
McCain has a right to be angry, and -- more importantly -- he has a right to be heard.
This injustice has now been compounded by the current one-sided love-fest between Obama and the media in the Middle-East. Instead of picking up pieces from their correspondents on Obama’s visit to Iraq, Jordan and Israel -- like they did when McCain went overseas -- most of the major networks have sent their top anchors there, only to throw the presumptive Democratic nominee softball questions, like they did in the primary.
In the competitive world of journalism, every story is self-propelling, but feeding frenzies can turn on a dime. The press changes its mind like most people change the channel and the principals of the former are lucky to even get a mention in the midst of the latter.
But, as we see here, a sexy story doesn’t need to have sex. Most of the time, it doesn’t even need to have an audience. American media is largely a copy-cat industry, with editors and producers taking the position that if the other paper or network is dumping a ton of resources into a story, then it must be newsworthy. This “piling-on effect” soon generates more information than the public wants or needs. Very often, the coverage is dictated not by a rise in circulation or viewers, but by the need to outshine the competition.
When it comes to election coverage, the mass media in America has a simple formula for coverage: if it’s a presidential election year, you can’t get away from it. If it’s not, you can’t even find it. When there is a presidential election, there is typically a range of viewpoints and even entire channels devoted to one particular side. Conservatives tune in to FOX News or read The National Review. Liberals watch MSNBC or read Rolling Stone.
But what happens when the tables are tilted and the media, as a whole, panders to a particular candidate, clearly wanting that person to win?
The transition to totalitarianism doesn’t happen overnight. All too often it begins with a genuine desire to right some long-standing wrong. Before long, the switch is made and no one’s the wiser. Surely, America has stop-gaps, but what if the charm and wit of one politician are enough to overcome them? How does it happen?
It starts when “news” becomes “propaganda” and when one voice is shut out in favor of another.