Monday, September 08, 2008

Peggy Noonan: The Press and New Dark Forces

In her September 6, 2008, column Peggy Noonan writes of a possible disturbing degeneration in the press:

We have had these old press fights in the past – they were a source of constant tension when I was a child, when Barry Goldwater came forward as a conservative and the press scorned him as a flake, and later when Ronald Reagan came up and the press dismissed him as Bonzo.

But this latest fight commences on a new and wilder battlefield. The old combatants were old school gentlemen, Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite; the new combatants are half-crazy cable anchors, the lower lurkers of the Internet, and the anonymous posters on the comment thread on the radical website.

This new war on new turf is not good, and carries the potential of great harm. Everyone really ought to stop, breathe deep, and think.

I am worried they won't. A friend IM'd the day after Palin's speech, and I told him of an inexplicable sense of foreboding. He surprised me by saying he shared it. "Calling all underworlds reporting for duty!," he wrote. "The bed is about to fly around the room, the puke is about to come out." He meant: this campaign is going to engage unseen powers and forces. He meant: this campaign, this beautiful golden thing with two admirable men at the top and two admirable vice presidential candidates, is going to turn dark.

John McCain has been treated like a joke this campaign. The only reason there is fairly equal coverage now is that the public is wild about Sarah Palin. The press would be beseiged if they didn’t cover McCain-Palin (as poor Oprah Winfrey has found out). Were it not for public fervor, Sen. McCain would still be getting 1 minute of coverage questioning his positions, age and health to every 5 minutes of admiring news and commentary about Sen. Obama.

The treatment of Gov. Palin is just the snarl that has been hiding behind the press smirk.

Maybe Peggy did not notice the condescending treatment of Sen. Clinton. If you buck what the press thinks is the right choice, you’re dead meat. Geraldine Ferraro is maligned for suggesting that Sen. Obama’s race helped him (just as her gender had helped her years earlier); Bill Clinton is a racist; Hillary is a liar; she's utterly selfish for not dropping out before Sen. Obama gained the number of delegate votes needed to win the nomination.

How many months into Sen. Obama's campaign for the presidency did it take for the Associated Press and the New York Times to look into sermon/teaching content at Sen. Obama's church? How many months, er days, before there were AP and NYT stories on Gov. Palin's church? If the butcher can put his thumb on the scales without being noticed, of course he looks like a decent guy. Apparently Peggy hasn't seen the thumb.

Noonan notes the demeaning treatment of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater. She completely ignores the hatred that winks through time and again in the treatment of George W. Bush. If that’s not dark, what is?

Is there really a big gap between scorning a candidate as stupid and incompetent (Reagan and Bush) and a liar (Bush) and scorn for being an unfit mother and having a pregnant daughter? I don’t see it.

Unfortunately Noonan doesn’t understand that things turned dark a long time ago. Even longer ago than the 1960's or 1980's. One only need read some of what was said and written about Abraham Lincoln.

The press has never been made up of "old school gentlemen". It has been raucous, mean-spirited, and partisan since the beginning of this great nation.

There are no dark sources in hiding that have not already been let out. Crushing people behind closed doors just looked more civil. It only looks darker now because the new media shines a light on it.

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