Note to Mainstream News Media: You're Not Blogs and Everything Is Not Legitimate News:
Think back for a moment to 2004. That was the last chance we had to wrestle with whether or not President George W. Bush, up for reelection, had completed his minimal duties as a member of the Air National Guard in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a story with a paper trail, credible people involved, and a presidency in the balance. The right dismissed the whole thing as a made-up controversy, a conspiracy theory by liberal losers, and, hey, what about John Kerry and those Swift Boat vets? Until the strange and mysterious forged documents showed up at CBS (the existence of which neither proved nor disproved anything about Bush, but it did discredit the story), the news media was actually discussing whether or not it was true. Republicans were apoplectic at this questioning of the President's military street cred.
The point here is not to revisit that issue. But can you think of another time in the reign of the Bush the Lesser that any other story that debased Bush got any traction in the media? The National Guard story was legitimate news. What if, though, CNN spent days examining Bush's cocaine use? Or the allegations that he forced a lover to get an abortion? Or that Laura Bush, as a teenager, intentionally killed an ex-boyfriend? We're talking about a media that, for the most part, wouldn't even look into whether or not Bush was legitimately elected in the first place or wouldn't investigate the administration's claims on Iraqi weapons prior to going into a war.
The Rude Pundit's not saying that the fringe stories, about coke, abortion, and murder, should have made Wolf Blitzer's radar. They shouldn't have. He's not commenting on whether or not those are true or false. However, to report them as more than an interesting blip is to legitimize them and to legitimize those making the allegations.
Let's push this further. What if CNN or MSNBC interviewed 9/11 truthers on a daily basis during the Bush administration? Even if the hosts scoffed at them, what if, on a semi-regular basis, someone who thought 9/11 was an inside job or that Flight 93 was shot down was allowed to comment on issues related to that day and allowed to say that the Bush administration destroyed the Twin Towers to bring down the nation in order to maintain power? You know what would have happened? Shit would have burned. Conservatives would have exploded with rage, Democratic politicians would have had to condemn the people who said it, and the news networks that gave the truthers time and investigated what they said would have faced boycotts and threats.
Which all leads to what we deal with today: why the fuck are we even hearing about things like whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States? It's not a real story. Why the fuck are there serious discussions on the news networks over whether or not the Obama administration's ultimate plan is to turn America into some kind of socialist dystopia? Or about whether or not Obama is like Hitler (a report that CNN actually did)? Or whether Obama wants to set up "death panels" to kill old people? Why are guests allowed on who believe these things? It ain't censorship to not give a platform to maniacs. This ain't just a complaint about Fox "news," although Fox is certainly Public Enemy Number 1 (and "public enemy" here means "enemy of the public") or your Limbaughs and Becks. It's that nothing is beyond the pale at this point. No longer is anything, on its face, too absurd or baseless to discuss. Stupid people believe stupid things, and there will always be opportunists there to exploit stupidity - politicians, pundits, news people.
As the right seeks to delegitimize the Obama presidency, as the media is willing to be complicit, as few brave Republicans are willing to call "bullshit," we are, as Thomas Friedman points out today, heading into truly dangerous territory. Sure, people have always called for the heads of their leaders, but they used to have to stand on street corners with cheap microphones and amps. Now, when they write that the military might have to overthrow Obama, it sits in a browser tab right next to the Washington Post, and most people can't tell the difference. We need arbiters with spines. The media were spineless arbiters during the Bush administration. Now they are spineless and filterless, political relativists, if you will, not willing to ignore what needs ignoring, not willing to condemn what needs condemning.
Someone's gonna get hurt. Hell, someone may already have over in Kentucky.
(Just to be clear: the Rude Pundit's no conspiracy theorist - he doesn't believe in ghosts, gods, or grassy knolls, and he thinks that 19 dudes with box cutters lucked out on September 11, 2001. Yeah, yeah, send your emails.)