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Jewish World Review August 19, 2004 / 2 Elul, 5764

James Lileks

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Time for Old Media to make like McGreevey | Many thousands of years ago, a Sumerian invents writing. Trembling with excitement, he transcribes a description of the events in his workshop. He has captured time! He has pinned down history! He takes the clay tablet to a friend, beaming with pride. The friend squints at the tablet, then peers at the inventor.

"What, you believe that rag?"

Which is to say that distrust of the press is rather well-established. For good reason. In the old days when big cities had a score of squabbling papers competing for the public's penny, journals made stuff up. They sat on some stories, heralded others, all to advance the interests of the party they supported. TWO DECADES OF STEADY WORK!, shouted the pro-Tammany Hall papers; COURTHOUSE CONSTRUCTION ENTERS THIRD DECADE, said the anti-Tammany sheets. Each insisted its paper was fair and true. Really. Utterly honest.


The same assertion prevails today, without the wink. Since the Second World War papers have draped themselves in the holy cloak of Objectivity. Reporters are no longer participants in the daily scrum of human events but Olympian observers who reside in the clouds, yet still note the humble ant. This doesn't fly anymore, if it ever did. The game is up, and it's time for everyone to admit: They have a side, and they're pulling for it.

The 2004 election may be the last presidential contest in which the mainstream media sets the agenda. They've had competition in previous elections — cable news, talk radio. Now it's blogs.

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Bloggers have driven the Christmas in Cambodia/Lucky Hat story because they're often the obsessive sort with lots of time on their hands. They're not interested in the sort of reporting hamstrung by the demands of objectivity. (If you haven't read the story in this newspaper yet, Google it.)

Your average seasoned campaign reporter, on the other hand, has written the daily story a hundred dozen times. There's a template:

"The Candidate appeared in State A, where he leads/trails by X points, to address a cheering ground of XX,. Flanked by Governor B, who may/may not face his own challenges in the fall, The Candidate attacked his opponent for `failing to lead' and `leading toward failure' while promising he would give all Americans `the right to a future in which everyone in America is part of America.' At the same time, his opponent addressed a rally in State C, where he leads by X points, and slammed The Candidate for `flip-flopping like a fish on a dock' on curtailing/expanding prescription drug benefits for senior illegal aliens."

When you deal with stories like this every day, you may miss the importance of offhand statements. When the candidate says he got a hat from a CIA agent in Cambodia, you write it down and print it. If it sounds odd or fishy, well, what do you know. Push the issue and you might find access has dried up. Report and move on, that's the ticket.

But bloggers have no such restrictions, which is why John Kerry is dealing with the Christmas in Cambodia/Lucky Hat stories now instead of years ago. Will the issue bob a few times and sink again? Only if the dino media reel it in. The new media still don't have the heft of the big papers and the network news outlets. A million pounds of feathers spread over the nation still doesn't have the same impact as a ton of bricks dropped on the nightly news.

But if the oldsters don't give the story the same attention lavished on Bush's National Guard duty, that tells us something. It might even suggest they're pulling for Kerry. No! you say. Impossible!

Could be. Which is why it's time for the big media to do a James McGreevey! Get it off your chest! This is your truth: You believe in the principles of liberalism, and you think they'd improve the nation. Drop the pretense! Go partisan. Turn the dials up to 11, and let the bloggers keep you honest. If nothing else, it would be fun to sit on the train and look at the guy whose partisan paper screams KERRY PLANS TO INVADE SUMERIA in 90-point type.

Huh. And he believes that rag.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


08/12/04: Another Swing Vote: the Sufferers of Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome
08/05/04: Is Kerry's Problem nuance? Or is it obfuscation?
07/30/04: Intimate liability
07/26/04: Sandy Berger's classified wardrobe
07/15/04: Pretty faces, ugly words
07/08/04: Genocide can't happen if we banish the word
07/01/04: Dropping political discourse level
06/24/04: Kerry's Science Buddies and the Silly Sanctity of Life
06/17/04: Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton!
06/10/04: Whatever happened to respect for the presidency?
06/03/04: Tales at the intersection of war and popular culture
05/20/04: Athletes on Notice: Strive Unflaggingly
05/13/04: America likes Rumsfeld, and the Dems can't take it
05/07/04: Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War
05/05/04: New cell phone does everything, but there's a problem...
04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks