Maybe I’m just grousing right now about the endless spectacle of the media and politics, especially during a presidential campaign. Punditry like this, tethered to the whipping post of conventional horse race blather, has put me in a rather foul mood today.
Or perhaps it’s also because today is the birthday of H.L. Mencken, whose early-to-mid-20th century broadsides against American politics, journalism, Babbitry and Puritanism, as well as his passion for good eating, music, literature and cigars, remain a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the painfully measured political analysis we’re saddled with now. And the media hand-wringing that’s sprung up to counter it.
There are complaints that journalists cannot “call a lie a lie.” Yet this story from two weeks ago — written during the Republican convention, with a St. Paul dateline — explains that Sarah Palin did indeed support Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” before she opposed it. There are other examples of straightforward reporting on this subject.
An earlier post here quoted a high-profile political reporter calling McCain/Palin campaign’s “bridge to nowhere” claims “outrageous. And if you press them on it, they’ll fall because they know they can’t defend what they’re saying.”
Palin is no longer making any references to the bridge on the campaign trail. Not sure I understand what’s missing here to reflect that the Republican VP nominee clearly has said one thing and done another. Does the word “lie” actually have to appear in a straight news story?
The old political ploy to “Defeat the Press” is underway, and there are media critics incredulous that this is happening again. A reporter who’s covered national politics since 1960 writes that we shouldn’t be surprised. Or assume that this game is being played by only one party.
The truth has been under assault for decades. Mencken, who could hardly be accused of being “wishy-washy,” was on to this fairly early in his career. He covered far too many conventions, famously calling one “A Carnival of Buncombe,” not to know a journalist’s (or in his case a polemicist’s) best efforts to flesh out the truth may not make much of a difference at all. Myth often vanquishes the facts, if you subscribe to this view. Especially in the political arena.
In honor of Mencken’s birthday, I quote him here, at the risk of sounding like an elitist — or God forbid, a curmudgeon:
- “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”