TV's frenzy over Palin story is no surprise

by Jonathan Storm

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

4 September 2008


Oh, those darn media! Who do they think they are? CNN’s Campbell Brown questioning Sarah Palin’s motherly concern in running for vice president, knowing her pregnant daughter would be held up to international scrutiny and ridicule.

“Did we see her making the same comments when John Edwards entered the presidential race with his wife suffering from cancer?” a disgusted Karl Rove asked a shocked Bill O’Reilly on Fox News.

No. That was because Edwards is a Democrat, so the folks on Fox were doing it.

The media are under full frontal attack from the Republicans over their treatment of the Palin selection.

But if John McCain is surprised at the response of an institution that goes into full frenzy when George Clooney gets a haircut or Lindsay Lohan holds hands with a girl, he really is too out of touch to be president.

The reaction of television to the surprise pick of an unknown former beauty princess who looks like Tina Fey, and has a cute teenager impregnated by the bad-boy high school hockey star, was as predictable as heartburn after three cheesesteaks.

It’s over the top and out the window, sure, but it’s what TV and most of the rest of the media do these days. Barack Obama set ratings records last week, but everybody hates the media, and now Republicans have an easy target. Is that at least part of the reason Palin was picked?

The shotgun-wedding story should be off limits, scoffs the GOP machinery as it rushes the young father to the convention for photo opportunities with the candidate.

“When the substance isn’t there,” Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne said Wednesday on MSNBC, “you attack the media.”

And that kind of elitist East Coast blabber is attackable, too.

Almost poignantly, at a Ron Paul rally in Minneapolis on Tuesday, former pro wrestler and ex-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura loudly lamented: “That’s what our news media is spoon-feeding us today, the dumbing down of America.”

You could see it on C-Span2, which, like its non-interfering cable big brother, feeds the dumbing down as it unfolds, unedited, without comment, which, for those of us used to a little Lohan with our raisin bran, can also be a chore to watch.

Not nearly as much, however, as the crazily fragmented world of cable news, littered with logos, banked-up with boxes, crammed with Chyrons (which is what they call all that streaming folderol at the bottom of the screen) - and, these days, all weirdly shimmering in red, white and blue. It can get mature eyes rolling at headache-building speeds in about eight minutes.

My up-to-the-minute HD flat-screen (the old tube finally blew a couple of months ago) is 720 square inches. At times, during CNN’s Situation Room this week, the actual televised action - the part synchronized with the sound - occupied less than 50 of them. That’s less than 7 percent of the screen. It’s not much better elsewhere.

With some of the coverage, though, you wish it were smaller. Democratization of the news is all the rage these days.

CNN has its iReports, where Jane and Joe down the way, talking into their computer cameras, get to sound just as stupid as Bill Bennett or James Carville, but with lousier production values.

The nitwits are at the gates on MSNBC, as Chris Matthews leaves his windy Hardball post outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and descends into the crowd, begging wackos to step up to the microphone. One guy claimed he was on the V.P. short list, while reciting a Web site where you can see him speak in tongues.

At least Keith Olbermann isn’t around to bicker with Matthews on “Hardball.” The apparent on-air animosity between the two has been causing ripples.

“Is there no control? Is it Lord of the Flies?” Jon Stewart asked gracious NBC anchor Brian Williams Tuesday night on The Daily Show, which suffers slightly at these conventions by running a day late.

“Every family has a dynamic all its own,” a nonplussed Williams responded.

“But does MSNBC have to be the Lohans?” Stewart asked. What a pro, finding that delectable image that all America craves.

The convention coverage coup comes tonight, when Obama enters the storied No-Spin Zone with Fox’s O’Reilly at 8 p.m. in a deal brokered months ago, according to Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, when Obama sat down with Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch, no less.

Obama’s acceptance speech last Thursday drew a record 38 million viewers, with CNN getting almost twice as many as Fox, and more than any of the big broadcast networks.

Conservative Murdoch has to know the stunt is sure to steal more thunder from the Republican message, which has been pretty much atomized already by Hurricane Gustav and the Palin V.P. pick, but that’s not the point.

It’s not politics that drives TV, no matter how much the left and right complain. It’s ratings. How much you want to bet O’Reilly asks Obama about pregnant Bristol Palin?

//Mixed media