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Friday, November 16, 2007
(12:50 PM) | Stephen:
Working The Refs

If a Presidential campaign - especially that of a Democrat, and Oh God Yes! if it's that woman Democrat - plants a question in an audience, then it's NEWS.

But if a news organization, such as CNN, decided to plant a question at a Presidential campaign debate, that's apparently just business as usual.

This is just another example of the utterly exquisite ways in which the GOP has been working the system to their advantage. Think of it like this:

I was a Resident Director at a small Christian college in the KC area. We had some really good sports teams, and since athletes actually lived in the dorms and took an active role in campus life - one of the basketball team captains was an RA for me - they were quite popular. We had a small gymnasium at that time, with the space between the basketball court boundaries and the bottom bleachers being very narrow, just a couple of feet. It was a terrible place for other teams to play, a hard place to be a referee, though our students did keep it clean. They were just loud.

I had one kid in my dorms who was really good at working both the refs and the other team. He realized that everyone expects yelling and screaming, lots of noise. AH would yell and scream, of course, since that is a big part of the fun of a basketball game. But when he really wanted to work people over, he would get quiet. He would stand at the sidelines next to a player trying to inbound the ball or next to the ref and just keep up a low-volume but very steady stream of patter. Commentary on what the other team was doing in terms of fouls, faking out the other player as to who was open, stuff like that.

I started watching him do this, and it was amazing. He really did get into the refs' and other players' heads. I watched the refs get distracted and miss calls, I saw the other players get confused and irritated. AH was, more than anyone else, our 6th player.

The shrieking about a "liberal media" is only one aspect of the GOP's plan to work the refs and the other side. As this strategy has aged it's become less and less important. The rank-and-file still believe it and will engage in loud, obnoxious yelling and screaming about it. But in DC they've been working on other ways to work the refs.

When you were a ref at one of our basketball games and you got anywhere near AH, you got a constant barrage about the other team. He didn't really go after the ref, not when he got quiet. His whole strategy was to get the ref on our side, to make him laugh, to turn him into a friend. And to point out, constantly, every little thing that the other team was doing. Since the other team didn't have anyone doing that, it was pretty effective.

That, of course, is where we are in the media's political coverage. They've been under constant pressure from millions of people to stop showing a "liberal bias," while powerful politicians and wealthy business people have been very busy making friends, being pleasant at all the right events and in all the right ways. They've flattered and flirted and made them laugh, all the while keeping up a very quiet yet steady - and reasonable sounding - patter about the Democrats, about every little thing those Democrats have done.

The GOP has included the media in their inner circles. They've invited them to not only witness decisions and events, but to participate in making those decisions and events happen. And because of all this, the pundits identify personally with the people of the GOP even if they don't support any of their politics.

That's how we get utter nonsense like this from Andrew Sullivan:
I have always found it very hard to actually hate George W. Bush. He maddens me, his policies have shaken my political allegiances and identity to the core, but I've always found him pretty congenial as a person from a distance. I'm glad I've never met him because I'd probably be totally suckered. Even on some of the deepest betrayals - spending and torture - I think his main crime has been criminal negligence and shallowness, not evil. But I do despise what he has done to this country, the wreckage in Iraq, and the dishonor of the torture/interrogation policies. I despise what he has done to conservatism, and the economic and environmental debt he will pass to the next generation. But I really, honestly don't hate him personally. Certainly not in the same league as my visceral dislike for the Clintons.
The GOP spent years working on media figures for exactly this result. Report after report has come from people who know Bush personally that he's arrogant, crude (he likes fart jokes), proud of his ignorance and in possession of a truly terrifying temper. He's condescending, especially to women, and generally acts unprofessionally all the time. By contrast, George H.W. Bush would apparently have the company of Bill Clinton than his own son and Senators from both parties have expressed admiration and affection for Hillary Clinton as a fellow Senator.

Cinton didn't set aside the Constitution, didn't ignore our laws and our rights, didn't lie to the entire world in order to start a vanity war. He was impeached for lying about a sexual escapade during a grand jury investigation. Here's a question, without Googling for it, do you remember what that grand jury investigation was even about? Did Clinton lie about anything else, especially anything that had to do with the ostensible purpose of the investigation? Of course, everyone - especially that execrable Ken Starr - knew that there wasn't anything to investigate. That's why he veered so far off course, why he spent over $50 million and never managed to do anything of value.

Clinton regularly reached across to the GOP to pass legislation, even to the point that progressives now feel like we got a bad deal. Certainly he didn't just issue edict after edict from the White House and expect them to be obeyed. Nor did he ignore the GOP completely and use White House influence with the press to keep GOP politicians and officials off the air. All of these things Bush has done and more, but he's the "genial" one. He's the scion of one of our nation's wealthiest, most powerful families, he's the one that grew up with friends that have titles like "Prince" and "King" in front of their names, he's the legacy admission to Yale, and somehow he's also the "regular guy."

Bill Clinton earned every damned thing he's ever gotten. He came from the little town and grew up poor, he stood up to his abusive stepfather, he's the one who had to accomplish things by being the best and the smartest and the hardest worker. Bill Clinton personifies the American Dream - which of course is another reason for those privileged, cocooned elitist snobs in the national media to sneer at him and despise him.

All of this to say that I don't believe there is a "conservative bias" in the media. I do, however, believe that there is a GOP bias, a clear practice of favoritism, of double standards, of ignoring the very real corruption and lawbreaking that's currently happening in every level of the Republican party while focusing on stupid things like wondering if Hillary Clinton prefers "pearls or diamonds" or if Barack Obama wears an acceptably jingoistic lapel pin.

The refs have been played to a degree I wouldn't think possible if I couldn't see it with my own eyes. It helps to have shallow, unintelligent clowns like Russert, Matthews and Broder as your refs, of course, but they couldn't have come all this way on their own. They lack the imagination for it.

We need to fight back, of course, work the refs harder than the other side. But the goal needs to be fairness, not to merely twist the system so it favors our players. And the continued development of commentary and news sites - from TPM to DailyKos - will help as the stranglehold those few elitist snobs have on our national discourse is weakened.

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