“Gotcha” politics has got to go. And I think that time is here and now. I want to thank George Stephanopoulos (who has, in my humble opinion, lost all credibility as an intelligent political voice), Charlie Gibson (who never really had it) and ABC for making it possible.
Finally, we are having a debate about debate; about political discourse and about the media’s coverage of politics via soundbite, innuendo and a series of “gotchas.” Last night was, perhaps, the tipping point; the straw that broke the camel’s back. A ninety minute debate and for the first 45 minutes, not one bit of policy was discussed. Not one merest suggestion of an issue was raised.
Call me an elitist, but to question Barack Obama as to whether he “believes in the flag,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) would be insulting, if it weren’t so ridiculous. That Obama chose to actually answer showed him to be a man a lot more tolerant than I would have been. (Beside the fact that I’m not a man.)
This country is in an endless and fruitless war. This country is in a recession; threatening to veer into the sort of stagflation I remember when I was just getting out of college in the late seventies. Global warming is breaking off big chunks of ice fields (and George Bush’s plan is to begin to cut emissions in 12-15 years-that is, after they’re allowed to peak in 10 years.) Our cities’ infrastructures are crumbling and our military is stretched too thin; Iran continues its nuclear program and in Afghanistan, the Taliban grow more powerful (hey, I thought we won that war) with each passing week. And the media want to talk about David Ayers, a 60s radical. Hey, Congressman Bobby Rush was a 60s radical too. And former Tom Hayden. Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (he, the son of Richard J– who helped all hell break loose in 1968 at the democratic convention) thinks its ridiculous to bring up William Ayers, who is a professor at the University of Illinois.
But yesterday, Obama countered. He called this for what it is; and for what it is not. The time has come, he said to talk about substance. The post-debate coverage has been less about who said what, or who did what, than the substance of the questions themselves. And I say it’s about damn time. Criticism of Stephanopoulos, Gibson by people like Tom Shales, <i>Editor and Publisher </i> and others in the media and public life have dominated the discussion.
Last night Obama made a surprise appearance on the <i>The Colbert Report,</i> placing the word “distractions” on Colbert’s “on notice” board. Distractions like the trivial questions coming from the real issues, when the issues are as serious as they are in this election, are not useful and are examples of lazy journalism. I’m not saying ONLY policy issues should be discussed; and character is an important thing to examine. But when “journalists” insist on spending 75 percent of their coverage on distractions, and not at taking a hard look at the differences between the candidates (including the differences between the two democrats and John McCain) they are doing us all a disservice.
So, maybe, finally, in the aftermath of the ABC debate, the main stream media are put on notice to discuss issues; real substance. Not whether a candidate “believes” in the flag. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.