Its depressing that much of the US Presidential campaign has descended into ad hominem. Not just between opposing candidates, but of the media too. It is through this that Sarah Palin justifies her refusal to hold a press conference – because the press are apparrently biased and will do nothing more than attempt “gotcha” questions. Its difficult for the media to repudiate such claims, without seeming, well, a bit biased.
Jay Rosen articulates the problem:
Now what happens if one of the two campaigns for president consistently ignores or simply runs over the fact checkers in the press, choosing culture war on the checkers as a better option, and making direct attempts to de-legitimate not unfair or crappy stories but whole river systems of quality news, like, say, the New York Times… while the other campaign… doesn’t do any of those things, consistently, even though it is hardly innocent when it comes to distortion and selective memory. Such a scenario could happen: a wild imbalance in liberty-taking with verified fact, as an index of different paths to victory and different coalitions under assembly. How is that situation to be reported, especially if it becomes a pattern and reporting the pattern is likely to fuel it?
Clearly if the media are delegitimized, then that’s a real problem for democracy.
One would have thought that the Internet, which gives us all near Funes-like memory, would help here. Surely the availability of counter-examples and refutations of any given smear would ensure that the truth – whatever it may be – will eventually prevail. This is clearly the idea behind Obama’s Fight the Smears sub-site.
But in the specific case of the McCain-Palin campaign, I wonder whether the blogs and the written word have actually reached the limits of their power. Andrew Sullivan persists with his Odd Lies of Sarah Palin series, and is branded a shrill partisan for Obama for his troubles. Does Sullivan have enough readers to persuade swing voters against the Repbublicans? Does his blog impact on the wider public consciousness? Although the Daily Dish has hundreds of thousands of regular readers, I would suggest they are mostly from a very particular blog-reading, politically aware demographic. The message – particularly one presented over a number of weeks in blog form – might not get through to other types of undecided voter. Since Sullivan posts so regularly, it might even get lost in the noise of his other blog posts! Wading through several pages of argument, and following links to obsure sites that apparently prove one thing or another, can be a wearying task, even for those who have the time.
Since blogs are not always the best medium to convey this message, perhaps video blogging might be. Just as TV documentaries are a useful way to convey political arguments to time-poor citizens, so a YouTube video can prove, with images and sound, the essential truth in a given argument. For example, this video discredits many of the anti-Obama smears in a quicker and more effective manner than the Fight the Smears website:
People trust their eyes and ears more than they do the words of an unknown website or a hostile blogger. When the media are under-attack, video may be the means by which the truth can find its way to the voters. In a world where print journalism condescends to TV journalism, this is an important point to remember.