Everything in postmodern politics is filtered through the lens of the news media. And if the media didn’t see you do it, then it didn’t happen. No one is better at pulling this off than that master of deception and betrayal, Yassir Arafat. But more on that in a moment. Although much has been written about the role of spinmeisters in the media I’m not talking necessarily about spinning here. First of all, not all spinning is bad. While some would equate spinning and lying, I would respectfully point out that it depends on whose ox is being gored. What I’m referring to is a much more insidious and acrid phenomenon called deconstruction. Listen: Deconstruction: A philosophical movement that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth. Deconstructionists assert that, ultimately, words can only refer to other words. The deconstructionist claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text. True meaning is relative, and can only be reconstructed from ‘virtual texts’ created by the deconstructionist himself. “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Bill Clinton I’m reminded of this recently after reading about that ship, loaded with a huge cache of deadly long-range weapons, captured by the Israeli military in the Red Sea. Here’s what FOXNews.com had to say about the incident: [The ship’s captain] Akawi, who was captured with his 12 crew members, [stated] that he was an adviser for naval affairs in the Palestinian Authority’s Transport Ministry and has been a member of Arafat’s Fatah movement since 1976. He said the smuggling operation was overseen by a Palestinian Authority official he identified as Adel Awadallah. Akawi said that after Arafat’s renewed call for a truce with Israel on Dec. 16, he expected his handlers to abort the mission. “That’s when I was midway. I expected to receive an order to stop it,” Akawi said. However, the captain said he was told by Awadallah to proceed. Pretty cut and dried, yes? Arafat’s handling of the affair was typically adroit and totally corrupt. CNN.com reported that Arafat, after meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the following: ”I have informed Mr. Solana with our decision to form an internal investigative committee to investigate what the Israelis are claiming regarding the ship issue. … “There is no doubt that if it appears that anyone from the [Palestinian Authority] is involved, and we don’t think so, then we will certainly question and punish them. ”[Emphasis added] Arafat’s timing, as usual, could not have been worse. Up to this time, the latest cease-fire looked like it might be gaining some traction; General Zinni was in town to shmooze all the usual suspects. But the capture of the ship blew that, as we say, right out of the water. To make matters worse, the radical Islamic elements (this time, Hamas) chose this time to kill four IDF soldiers. Now, Arafat is revealed again as the lame, deconstructing liar that he really is.
Tom Shales blasts Bernard Goldberg and his book hot new bestseller, “Bias”, calling him “laughable”, and “inept”. He takes particular issue with the event that made Goldberg a conservative media darling: an op-ed piece in the WSJ where Goldberg whacks Eric Enberg of CBS Evening News for flagrant bias in a report on Steve Forbes’ 1996 flat tax campaign: “First off, Engberg’s piece had carried the “Reality Check” label, which means, though Goldberg may not understand the concept, that it is by definition a signed personal piece, one designed to re-examine some item in the news… “Alas for him, Goldberg picked a poor example. Forbes’ flat tax was hardly the kind of issue that sharply divided proponents along liberal and conservative lines; some conservatives hated it…” “Quoting Engberg as having referred to one aspect of the Forbes plan as being its “wackiest,” Goldberg then asked in rhetorical high dudgeon, “Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a network news reporter calling Hillary Clinton’s health care plan ‘wacky?’ Can you imagine any editor allowing it?” Well, frankly, yes. But Hillary Clinton and Steve Forbes were not on an equal plane. She was first lady of the land and he was a national non-entity trying desperately to draw attention to his failing bid for a presidential nomination…. “Does Goldberg think that the press was particularly loving and deferential to Hillary Clinton? Has there been in modern times a first lady who suffered worse press and worse relations with the press than poor Hill? His arguments were drivel….” Goldberg and Shales both miss the point; Goldberg for attacking perceived bias (Hel-lo?!) and Shales for defending it. Does anyone think that CBS, et. al. is not left leaning? More importantly, does anyone notice or even care? Folks, whichever way a particular outlet leans, it leans that way for ratings, not for reasons of objectivity. Ratings, ratings, ratings. Because ratings bring in advertising revenue, the mother’s milk of the news media. If reporting one particular story and not another gains higher ratings, so be it. If reporting a particular story while leaning one way and not another gains higher ratings, so be it. Follow the money. The news media have never been “objective” and never wanted to be. Go all the way back to Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst: Their newspapers “branded” themselves via their non-objective viewpoints. I grew up in a major US city with two daily newspapers. In the 1960s, everyone knew that the morning paper was “liberal” and the afternoon paper was “conservative”. So what?
Postmodern political analysis must be viewed through multiple lenses. Those lenses include entertainment, media and information technology as well as conventional politics.
Perhaps it is best to give an example. The first personality that we can point to that showed all of these facets in one package — politics, entertainment, media, and information technology — was Muhammad Ali. I’m reminded of this again, with the release of the mainstream blockbuster biopic, Ali.
- Entertaiment: He was the first (and perhaps) only boxer to add the surface gloss of mainstream entertainment to boxing. Up to that point, boxers were the strong silent type. Ali was charismatic, savvy with a soundbite, and pretty (his own description, of course). He was a star — you literally could not take your eyes off of him.
- Politics: During the Viet Nam War, there was no more visible and controversial symbol of anti-war sentiment than Muhammad Ali. His refusal to be inducted into the military was a galvanizing event in the 1960’s precisely because he had so much to lose. He was on the cutting edge of the anti-war movement at a time when it was gaining mainstream acceptance.
- Media: The TV cameras loved him and the feeling was mutual. His legendary love-hate relationship with Howard Cosell gave him an entry into millions of living rooms.
- Information Technology: The then-emerging technology of live satellite broadcasts made Ali, for a time, the most recognized man on the planet.
In all fairness, there are some who question the legend of Ali. Mark Kram, writing in the Wall Street Journal, argues against the “totemization” of Ali, saying: “Mr. Ali wasn’t for civil rights; the Muslims were for black separation. He wasn’t for women’s rights; their place was in the kitchen or bed. He wasn’t against the draft, or for the counter-culture. Muhammad Ali was for Muhammad Ali — and the Muslims who used him so badly. He was the greatest fighter who ever lived. Why should he even be mentioned in the same sentence as Martin Luther King Jr.? His magnificent figthts are critically uncontestable. Why isn’t that enough?”
Kram’s point is that Ali’s social importance is overblown. But Kram is at once right and wrong. While it is true that he doesn’t belong on Mt. Rushmore, he did carve a niche for himself that others have since tried to emulate. In other words, he became the complex role model for others who came after him.
For example, here’s a quiz: What other nimble heavyweight can you name that had the master’s touch with political soundbites, was sexy as hell, dominated the media and had more cross-talk devoted to him on the Internet and talk-radio than any other sentient being of his time?