GLENN GREENWALD: This is the justification that reporters use repeatedly whenever they focus on insipid, substance-free stories. They pretend that if it were strictly up to them, they of course would focus on the serious substantive matters that the country faces, because they’re politically sophisticated observers. The problem, they say, is that Americans, the sort of heartland voter whom they patronizingly look down upon is interested in these sort of personality-based Drudge-like issues, and therefore they have no choice but to report them, since these are the issues that are going to predominate in our political process.
Now, leave aside the question as to whether or not journalists holding themselves out as political journalists have an obligation to focus on the more substantive matters, independent of what they can do in order to generate as high ratings as possible, even if you assume that political journalism ought to simply feed the public whatever the public wants, there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the American public is more interested in Barack Obama’s bowling score or whether he wears a lapel pin than they are in how our political leaders are going to address the grave economic insecurity that the country faces or extricate ourselves from the debacle in Iraq that’s becoming increasingly savage and brutal without any end in sight. This is a fiction, an invention on the part of political journalists to justify their never-ending coverage of trash.
And in fact there’s much evidence to suggest—and you can ask any political elected official—that when they go back to their district, what they hear continuously are grave complaints from their constituents and others about just how ridiculous and inane political coverage is and how dominated it is by matters that have nothing to do with their lives and with the problems that they face. And these journalists believe that they’re sort of spokespeople for the people in the heartland and speak for them and patronizingly say that they’re interested in these insipid issues and that’s why they’re covered. The reality is there’s no connection between the establishment journalistic class and the people whom they claim to represent, and the reason they cover those issues is because they, the journalists, want to cover them, not because the people want to hear them.
AMY GOODMAN: At one point in the debate, Senator Obama voiced his frustration with the questions by the ABC moderators.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I think what’s important is to make sure that we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last forty years.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Obama talking to the moderators. Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, he’s absolutely right about that. I mean, what’s so ironic about this is that ABC melodramatically touted this debate as one that would confront grave constitutional questions. It was in the National Constitution Hall, and that was how they touted it.
If you look at public opinion polls, the American public knows that there’s something fundamentally wrong with our country. Eight out of ten Americans think the country is dramatically off track. We have one of the most radical and hated administrations in modern American history, that has dismantled our constitutional framework, that has brought us into extreme economic precariousness and disrepute around the world. And yet, here are our leading journalists asking these type of questions as though those are the things that Americans want to hear.
And what happens is, whenever you point out that it is the media that is rendering our political discourse so toxic in a way that really disserves the American public, the way that Obama did, most journalists will immediately start banding together and attacking whoever the critic is who points out the media behavior. And so, you had all journalists across the board—Roger Simon in The Politico, Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic, and especially David Brooks in the New York Times—essentially attacking Obama for being too petulant or for being too soft and incapable of withstanding the hardships of political battle, as though there’s something adversarial and substantive about what it is that they’re doing, rather than trashy and petty.
And again, you saw—there’s a column from David Brooks this morning, who always thinks he’s the spokesman for heartland American values, who says that the reason why things like John Kerry’s windsurfing tights and John Edwards’s haircut and Barack Obama’s bowling score are relevant is because that’s what the American people care about. And Barack Obama, who’s spent the last fifteen months going around the country and speaking to the American people, knows that that’s not the case. Everyone knows that that’s not the case. But when you point out the corruption of the journalist class, of course, you then immediately become the target of attack by the pack mentality in which journalists operate.