Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brokaw and the "Middle" Myth

So, apparently Tom Brokaw sees himself as heir to the Tim Russert legacy. In the aftermath of the Olbermann-Matthews demotions, while he denied being overly-involved (an MSNBC source claimed he had advocated hard against Olbermann and Matthews because he felt the objectivity of the network was at stake), he admitted how he felt. “I think Keith has gone too far,” said Mr. Brokaw. “I think Chris has gone too far.”

And certainly the tongue-wagging at MSNBC that led to the demotions wasn’t confined to Brokaw. An MSNBC source cited by the New York Observer said, “Every day-side anchor, every producer, everybody was told the word on high is that no more edge... Be especially careful not to inject any sort of opinion or ridicule or anything like that. Play it straight down the middle.”

There are two problem with this reasoning. The first is simple: why worry, when FoxNews would never bother with such dithering despite their obvious Right-bias. They would instead make the argument that their reporting is necessary in the face of the liberalness of the rest of the media (which ties directly into current Republican campaign rhetoric about the Liberal Elite Media).

And this segues into the other problem: one’s perception of the middle is a function of where one positions himself/herself and where he/she positions the opposition. It isn’t an objective line, across which the Right and Left are equidistant. As I pointed out in the anecdote that started this post, two people can judge the same media left or right of center depending less upon the media itself than where they sit.

Brokaw himself provides a perfect example of the flaws in the reasoning, an example of someone who positions himself as centrist and objective, and yet falls into the thrall of the Right.

FAIR issued an action alert after Brokaw said several times during the DNC that the Democrats had to “be careful” about attacking McCain’s service record. This after both Clintons had praised McCain’s service and sacrifice. FAIR asked an important question: “Nothing in Hillary or Bill Clinton's speeches suggested any criticism of McCain as a Vietnam veteran--in fact, they both praised his service to his country--so Brokaw presumably isn't referring to Swift Boat-style attacks on his military record, but to criticism of McCain in general. Exactly how “careful” does Brokaw believe Democrats must be in challenging their political opponent in a presidential election?”

Brokaw’s response was infuriating: “My comments came before Senator Clinton and President Clinton's speeches—and, in fact, they did finesse the issue. It is disappointing to see you try to make a piñata out of me to promote your website. Any fair reading of my remarks would support that conclusion.” First, it is just wrong given that one of the comments FAIR initially cited was in response to a question following Bill Clinton’s speech. But, further, he actually gets snippy and defensive (piñata? please.) when challenged on his own objectivity and centrism, when it is fairly argued that his comments set him to the right of someone else’s perceived center.

It’s about time we all challenge the notions of an objective center, the Right’s repeated calls for (false) parity and the mass media’s cowering aspect in the face of Republican challenges. The Right has no illusions about what they are doing – throwing a tow rope and hook on “center” and dragging it right. And it is time we demand that media stop trying to walk some imaginary centrist line and remember that democracy operates best, and the center becomes a real(er) place, when an aggregate of disparate voices is heard.

Kicking the perceived-leftists from anchor spots merely allows Right-leaning media, which accepts no mandate to maintain the center, to dictate the terms of the discourse. And when we are talking about corporate-owned media, that is the discourse of moneyed-interests and status quo.

And have you taken a look at our quo the last eight years? Because that is the menu, re-packaged as “change,” that the now-even-better-protected Republican ticket is serving up.

New York Observer: Hard Fall: What Happened to NBC?

FAIR: Brokaw Warns Dems to Lay Off McCain

FAIR: Brokaw responds to FAIR


the beige one said...

I'm still pretty peeved that this maneuver happened at all. Perhaps if it wasn't made so damn public, I might be able to buy a "Brokaw is a more seasoned correspondent, he's done the job before and brings a more measured tone" argument.

His protectiveness of McCain is bothersome, but I've seen footage of him grilling right wing gasbags during the RNC last week.

I don't mind him too much, I guess is what I'm getting at, and, at worst, he's still a damn sight better than Chris Matthews or Charles Gibson.

JJisafool said...

That's the problem - he claims the middle and we trust him in that, but when someone points out that his words may not place him so middle as he likes to think, he gets pissy and claims he's being used as a pinata.

I could give a shit if O'Reilly flips out at being challenged, but when it is someone I'd be willing to trust, someone who has taken it upon himself to fight for objectivity, I gotta call bullshit.