Saturday, September 13, 2008

Media Matters

A great article written by our friend Shea who is the Chair of Communications at Oakland University north of Detroit.

Media Matters
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, September 14-20, 2008

The Republican convention revealed two fatal weaknesses in the mainstream media, Most coverage substituted personal drama for substantive discussions of issues. Personalities were hyped over politics.

At the same time the media failed to cover police repression of dissent, the most brutal at a political gathering since 1968. The images of heavily armed police beating protestors, charging peaceful gatherings and throwing reporters to the ground came to the public only through independent media. The mainstream press, cowed and manipulated, missed what may well be a major turning point in government response to basic rights of protest.

Republican strategists skillfully exploited the media tendency to focus on personality rather than politics to ward off any serious examination of Sarah Palin. Selected to shore up McCain’s lack of appeal to far rightwing sectors of the Republican party base, and signaling his willingness to embrace divisive and extreme views, Palin came wrapped in a strategy designed to portray her as a classic American archetype: tough frontier woman. The image of her standing tall against the onslaught of the wilderness strikes deep chords in many Americans, feeling besieged by forces out of their control.

Key to portraying this tough gal image is an orchestrated effort to position her in opposition to a hostile media. The outlines of this strategy emerged shortly after her selection. Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager , told Fox News that the media would not be allowed to bully Palin into giving interviews. Why should they throw her into a “cycle of piranhas?”

One of the piranhas seemed to be CNN reporter Campbell Brown. In an interview with Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesperson, Brown tried to get an example of Palin’s executive experience. Bounds became agitated and continued to recite vague qualifications. Shortly after the interview, Maria Comella issued a sharply worded statement from the Republicans canceling McCain’s appearance on Larry King. "After a relentless refusal by certain on-air reporters to come to terms with John McCain’s selection of Alaska’s sitting governor as our party’s nominee for vice president,” she said, “we decided John McCain’s time would be better
served elsewhere."

In this strategy the media represents the forces of an uncertain, fearful world against which Sarah stands tall. In this way every questioning of her experience or her extremist views is transformed into an opportunity to show how tough she is. Thus she and McCain are transformed into strong, father-mother figures, standing up heroically against a wild, unpredictable world.

In this strategy actual positions and political policies become secondary. The American public is assured that, as uncertainty about the economy, jobs, and a hostile world grows, it can count on McCain and Sarah to ride to the rescue.

Meanwhile, outside public view because it was not covered by the mainstream media, the combined police forces of the Twin Cities, the FBI and Homeland Security targeted peaceful, lawful dissent. Nearly 300 people were arrested in the first day of the convention. Invoking the Patriot Act, independent journalists were targeted for arrest, their equipment seized. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and two of her reporters were arrested. SWAT0 teams invaded the house where I-Witness, the group responsible for documenting much of the police brutality in New York at the 2004 RNC, was staying.

These actions have led to a groundswell of protest. Over 60,000 people signed petitions for the release of those jailed and the ACLU will be fighting much of this. But behind this fight a new and dangerous pattern of infiltration, repression, intimidation and outright brutality is emerging. The inability or unwillingness of the mainstream media to report on any of this shows just how weak these piranhas really are.

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