The Media Mischief Machine
The very first cookbook I ever bought was a paperback, Plats du Jour, published by Penguin in one of the first postwar attempts to introduce French cuisine to the English. I was charmed by the names of the authors, Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd and the illustrator, David Gentleman.
It was a very good cookbook for a beginner, not least because of its memorable language. among gems I remember – someone 'borrowed' the book years ago, so I can't check – was the injunction to reduce a clove of garlic to an 'almost molecular state' with the point of a sharp knife.
I remembered this injunction as I've watched senior American TV personalities, clothed in the most sententious gravitas, attempting to slice and dice words attributed to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright in order to cook Barack Obama's goose or at least, make mincemeat out of the probable Democratic candidate for President. Artists in the genre like Lou Dobbs, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity and Hank Scheinkopf have been busy condemning Obama for words allegedly uttered by the former pastor of Obama's church. These august honchos were joined by a mixed bag of newspaper writers like Pat Buchanan and Charles Krauthammer whose crude attempts at dismembering Obama's reputation resembled nothing more elegant than Jamaican goat thieves trying to butcher their prey preliminary to stuffing it into the trunk of their getaway car.
Barack Obama is not the only African American whose reputation came under media fire in the last few days.
The Los Angeles Times, one of the more important US newspapers, has had to apologise to Sean 'P Diddy' Combs, for a story which appeared to tie him into a felonious assault on rap star Tupac Skakur, later murdered by unknown killers in a lethal rappers' war that also claimed the life of 'Biggie Smalls, aka 'The Notorious Big'
The LATimes story was denounced by The Smoking Gun website, which said the newspaper had been the victim of a hoax, and by subjects of the story, who said they had been defamed.
"In relying on documents that I now believe were fake, I failed to do my job … I'm sorry". the LAT reporter, Chuck Philips said on Wednesday. The Times has also apologised and is preparing for expensive reparations to ‘P Diddy’.
I don’t expect any comparable apology from Fox, ABC and CNN or the other mainstream media who framed and defamed Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama using forged – doctored – video excerpts to create seriously damaging 'evidence'. What these perpetrators of fraud did was to homogenise and blend snippets of sermons including quotes from other people,whipped into a sauce tartare to mislead people into swallowing the lie that the pastor had said hateful things about the USA and was not a person for a patriotic American to be friendly with.
We have had this sort of outrage happen in Jamaica when Mr Seaga, three decades ago, triumphantly produced what he said were tapes from a PNP closed meeting, which turned out to have been doctored to produce shame and scandal in the society.
What the media have done to Wright and Obama could accurately be described as felonious journalism, attempting to pervert the course of democracy and create alarm and panic in the hearts of those who believe that their national integrity is precious and worth protecting and enhancing.
It was not so much an attack on Wright and Obama as it was an attack on the idea of community in democracy itself.
I do not expect any of these bushwackers to apologise. Those who may claim to have been themselves taken in by the forgery are just as guilty as the forgers, because, if they are journalists, they owe a duty to the public interest to ensure that what they publish is, as far as is possible, the truth. They owed a duty to their own integrity and self respect to have made sure that they were not peddling malicious falsehoods or suppressing the truth. They owed it to their human dignity not to have joined a lynch mob but instead to have attempted as best they might, to protect and safeguard the public interest.
Respect for the public interest is the one guarantee we have against lawnessness and anarchy. As Pastor Niemoller pointed out, if we do nothing to protect our neighbours against lawlessness and tyranny we can hardly expect anyone to speak for us when our turn comes to face the enemies of a free society.
Jeremiah Wright, in the sermon hijacked by Obama's enemies, was actually calling on the people of the US to examine their consciences, to understand that what happened on 9/11 was, however evil and horrible, explicable in the light of America's treatment of people in the world outside. He was not, as the doctored video appeared to show, celebrating with America;s enemies. He was calling for a kinder, gentler relationship with the rest of the planet. The line about chickens coming home to roost was a quotation from a serving US diplomat who in turn was quoting Malcolm X.
All the media's carving and slicing of the putrid forgery did not do Obama the harm that was clearly anticipated, or at least, none that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) could detect. If the controversy did harm anyone, it was Obama's opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The WSJ/NBC News poll is conducted by two psephologists, one Republican, Bill McInturff, and one Democrat, Peter Hart. According to the WSJ, Peter Hart called their latest poll a 'myth-buster'. But, the paper said:
"… both Democrats, and especially New York's Sen. Clinton, are showing wounds from their prolonged and increasingly bitter nomination contest, which could weaken the ultimate nominee for the general-election showdown against Sen. McCain of Arizona. Even among women, who are the base of Sen. Clinton's support, she now is viewed negatively by more voters than positively for the first time in a Journal/NBC poll.”
What’s worse from ClInton's perspective is that her lead among white Democrats plummeted in two weeks by one third, from 12% to 8% “That seems to refute widespread speculation -- and fears among Sen. Obama's backers -- that he would lose white support for his bid to be the nation's first African-American president over the controversy …"
Compounding the grief is that the poll suggests that in the hypothetical match-up for November, while Obama still edges McCain by 44% to 42% almost the same as before the controversy, Clinton who had a similar lead, now trails McCain by two points, 44% to 46%.
Even worse news for Hillary is that her ‘positive rating’ has fallen 8 points in two weeks to a new low of 37% while Obama’s fell two points, to 49%. Clinton’s negative rating – at 48% – is now 11 points ahead of her positive rating.
When asked which candidate could unite the country if elected, 60 percent said Obama, 58 percent said McCain and 46 percent said Clinton.
The First Law of Holes
Before this campaign I would never have thought of Mrs Clinton as stupid. Her decision this week to revisit the now moribund Jeremiah Wright controversy casts serious doubt on her nous.
She has broken the First Law of Holes, to wit: When you’ve gotten yourself into a hole, stop digging!
Clinton was apparently hoping to deflect attention from her monumental booboo about her visit to Bosnia in 1996 where she said she was sent because it was too dangerous for her husband, then President! She’d had to run for cover on the Tuzla airfield after landing, she said, head down against sniper fire. This was easily proved to be a total fabrication and has brought ridicule down upon her head.
One blogger, having viewed the video of the arrival ceremonies at Tuzla airfield sarcastically commented that among Mrs Clinton's tasks that day was to "frisk a suicide bomber disguised as an 8 year old girl”.
Another, then a UN liaison officer in Bosnia, says “It’s one thing for Mrs. Clinton to ‘misspeak’. It’s more troubling — and a test of her true preparedness for office — for the candidate to totally ignore a major United States policy triumph that took years to broker and somehow claim involvement by inventing a story of sniper fire, while the truth is that she visited a peaceful airfield and met children on the tarmac.”
If Mrs Clinton survives the sniper fire of the Pennsylvania primary in three weeks, I, for one, will be very, very, surprised.
Copyright©2008 John Maxwell