John Dickerson is Really Overplaying his Hand

16Jun08

Slate’s headline story today is the Hillary supporters that may or may not jump ship to McCain. John Dickerson, the political director, is especially concentrating on the female Clinton supporters who feel wronged by the system, and are cutting off their reproductive rights and self respect despite their faces to vote for a man that dumped his first wife after she became a cripple and called his second wife a “cunt” in front of reporters. Of course, instead of writing about the maddening fallacies of the arguments of such people, Dickerson embraces them because it gives him more to write about.

I checked in with Irma [a Clinton supporter] recently. I’d started to hear a second wave of anecdotes about women who first claimed they’d vote for McCain but then switched back after giving Obama a second look. Irma was not one of them. She was even more opposed to Obama after hearing about his stimulus plan and what she saw as his wishy-washy position on Jerusalem. She thinks he’s an inexperienced empty suit.

Those of us who cover the presidential race love women like Irma. She has a strong point of view, and she allows us to write about conflict. This is not only entertaining, it’s where you usually find the important fights that influence electoral contests.

Dickerson suggests that the press has put the narrative in front of the issues, and that he “loves this.”

This statement is completely infuriating, and should be for everyone, not just Obama supporters. We are allowing the press to give voice to illogical whack-jobs for the sake of a story, not our democracy.

We allowed the narrative after the nomination to be one which Clinton dictated, that her loss was due to sexism, not that she had run a poor campaign. In his description of Irma’s views, Dickerson paraphrases her views, not bothering to refute them, finding her harboring of misinformation and malcontent somehow amusing. For Dickerson, this is, after all, a racial battle, a gender battle, a generational battle, and not one of differences on policy, of which little could be made of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a health care mandate or Pakistan’s military sovereignty.

The danger innate in making this race a narrative is that narratives are fictional, and often are not contigent upon any truth. Examples in this campaign are already plentiful–the press runs with story that rumors persist Obama may be a Muslim (noting parenthetically that they are false), and all of sudden someone like Irma thinks he is weak on support for Israel, and is almost certainly ignorant on Obama’s unusually aggressive view of going after terrorists in Pakistan without regard for Pakistan’s sovereignty, if Pakistan refuses to act. 

Then we have the infamous one that took a major misstep from Clinton to expose. Clinton’s claim of “experience” always just seemed to sound right to most people–her name was easily recognizable, especially for older voters, and thus playing this angle seemed to work. She was so gung-ho about the concept that her, Penn, and McAuliffe decided that she should talk about the time she faced sniper fire in Bosnia, after corkscrewing her way into a landing, with her then teenaged daughter at her side. She liked the story so much, she told it a couple of times afterwards, and it wasn’t until a nearly exiled member of the press and a totally disregarded comedian exposed the story as a fabrication. When their narrative had been impaired, the press simply laughed it off for the most part, and started pushing Clinton’s next claim that she was the hero of the white working class, all while being part of a $109 million dollar family.

It may not be worth it to beat a dead campaign, but lessons should be taken from what Clinton was allowed to pull off, and why the press loved it. We will, no doubt, continue to hear about McCain’s “maverick” brand while he changes his position to the absolutely Wrong party line. There is such a desire to see an equal fight in this campaign; the coverage has been more fitting to the NBA finals rather than a presidential campaign.

One has to ask of the media, just when will they stand up and just say a candidate or party is flatly, patently wrong on the issues. If the Nazi party gained traction in America, would they repeat their party line? Are we that complacent to just let this go on? And is the press that complicit?

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