From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
Welcome to the 2016 Piranha Tank, Republican Presidential Candidates
Meet the press.
Remember that Atlantic piece on ISIS that everyone raved about, and that is really changing the way people think about that Islamist terrorist group? Graeme Wood put tons of work into it. He completed lots of interviews with some particularly unsavory characters, which must have taken a lot of negotiation. Enormous amounts of research. The lengthy article walks through some complicated concepts and a lot of history and geography.
Journalism work like that is hard. It requires a really good reporter/writer/researcher/thinker, good editors, and a publication willing to be patient.
Not everybody is that good. Not every editor is that good, and not every publication can afford to be that patient.
No, the simplest and easiest news story that can create a stir, and get web traffic and attention, is the “can you believe this guy said this?” story. (Lord knows, I’ve written my share of them.)
And just about any Republican at any level, in office or out of office, is fair game for a national “Can you believe this guy said this?” story. (Dave Weigel identifies the “Republican lawmaker” story trend here, where controversial comments from little-known, usually powerless GOP state legislators become national news.)
A news piece, a column, a television segment, or a radio riff on the questions, “Does Barack Obama love his country, yes or no?” “Is Barack Obama a Christian, yes or no?” – man, that’s easy! It’s like playing lineman — you just take a side and start hitting people.
It helps to know a bit about Obama, but the question is basically a stand-in for “Do you like President Obama or not?” If you don’t like him, you find it quite plausible that he doesn’t really love the country as it is, or you find his claims of Christian faith phony and unconvincing. If you like him, then asking the question is a de facto slur.
Ask those questions, and watch the comments sections burst into flame. The phone lines at the radio stations are sure to light up. And for the mainstream media, those questions to a candidate – “Does Barack Obama love his country?” “Is he a Christian?” — are the easiest way to force a political figure – like a Republican presidential candidate — to create news.
We’re seeing furious columns about Guiliani’s comment – and Scott Walker’s refusal to disavow Giuliani – from Mike Barnicle, Charles Blow, Mika Brzezinski declaring “It’s not hard to be human,” and so on. And this is a seven-day-old story.
Republicans should be considerably concerned by this media environment; the press is desperately hungry for material to reinforce the Republicans-as-villains storyline, and will do anything they can to turn an uttered word into a seven-day story.
There has been no shortage of news coverage — and criticism — regarding comments I made about President Obama at a political gathering last week in New York. My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart. My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance.