The two elections

The elections are really heating up. Yes, that's a plural noun, for America is making two important choices this Fall. The first choice is about whom to elect as President of the United States. The second choice is about which media to trust to bring us truth and useful insight on politics.

The two choices are inextricably linked, for, to a remarkable degree, the media have chosen sides. Allied with Kerry are the broadcast network newscasts, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Time and Newsweek, and most local newspapers. Allied with Bush are Fox News, the Washington Times, the New York Post, talk radio, and the newest and in many ways the most significant player, internet bloggers of a conservative cast. (There are plenty of Democrat bloggers out there, too, but so far they have not played a major role, other than raising money for the failed Dean campaign).

Gone forever is the pretense of an objective mainstream press, reporting the facts and letting the public decide. America's media have gone British. Our newspapers, like their British cousins, have a political agenda, and the readers they still retain know it. Of course, unlike the British press, they cling to the fiction of objectivity. But after this morning's major article in the New York Times 'investigating' the controversy   only the true believers in the inherent virtue of Democrats and villainy of Republicans can find the Times to be an objective sources.

After deliberately ignoring the charges in the book Unfit for Command, in effect declaring the book nonexistent (only to see it rise to number one on Amazon's best—seller list and number three on the New York Times bestseller list), the Times today publishes a 'news' story minutely investigating any contradictions in the testimony of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and all but ignoring the many contradictions in the stories peddled by Kerry over the decades. Apparently for the Times, a Presidential candidate with a history of making up a story about an illegal military incursion into a non—combatant state, and then using that fabrication on the floor of the Senate to influence debate about serious diplomatic and military matters, is of no concern whatsoever.

It doesn't require a close textual analysis or a timeline to understand the abdication of the Times in the truth—telling objective journalism game. Of course, true believer partisans will find the Times virtuous in its crusade. But that is precisely the point. By satisfying only partisans, the Times is by definition now a partisan paper, providing all the propaganda it sees fit to print.

More entertaining, if less momentous, is the on—air meltdown of formerly consequential television talk show host Chris Matthews.  He was interviewing firebrand author, columnist, and blogger Michelle Malkin, supposedly appearing to promote her new book — a topic she never got to raise, because Matthews threw her off the show. Michelle has published a detailed account of her appearance, complete with verbatim excerpts from the show's official transcript. Following his show yesterday, Matthews has little future as anything other than a partisan. It will, however, be entertaining if he attempts to present his side of the story.

But what about the other side of the coin? The players in the pro—Bush universe share a few interesting common characteristics. Other than the New York Post, which is America's oldest daily (albeit born again under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation), they are relative newcomers to the media landscape. Modern talk radio is roughly 15 years old, dating from the national debut of Rush Limbaugh. Fox News is roughly five years old. The blogosphere is not quite as old, and is really coming into its own for the first time this election cycle. Collectively, it is fair to call them the new media.

The second common characteristic is that these new media sources are presenting information which the other side studiously ignores, trying to condemn it to an Orwellian memory hole. This has enormous implications for the second of the two elections. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the argument, one side is presenting a fuller set of data than the other. On the new media side there is no comparable attempt to blockade information, precisely because they have no conceit whatsoever about their ability to make information invisible by refusing to acknowledge its existence. Hubris, the Greeks remind us, is a fatal conceit.

For the vital few, the un—persuaded and uncommitted folks in the middle, the difference between more information and less information is clear. That is why market share and mind share are flowing so predominantly in favor of the new media. It is also why the other side — it is fair to call them the old media — has made a fatal mistake in its handling of the Swift Boat controversy. People who care about news in order to come to a fair decision will never consciously choose to have only one side of the story. Partisans will, but that makes providers of such accounts into niche players, forfeiting the high ground.

A third predominant characteristic of the new media is that they strive for interactivity and continuous updating. The bloggers and talk radio update their content nearly continuously, and are forums of debate and analysis more than pure fact—presenting. Fox News is not harnessed to a once or twice—a—day schedule of news programs, as the broadcast networks are. And the greatest success of Fox News vis——vis its cable news competition lies in its talking head debate shows. A good part of that victory is in the fact that a broader range of opinions is presented than one can find on similar CNN and MSNBC shows, although, to their credit, both networks are presenting a wider range of hosts and guests than in the past, apparently learning that the public does not desire a narrower range of opinion.

Although the first election's outcome remains in doubt, and we may possibly inaugurate a President Kerry early next year, the second election has largely been won, simply by the fact that the old media have implicitly declared their concessions of partisanship, as exemplified by the New York Times and Chris Matthews. They have surrendered their most vital asset.

The growth and persistence of the new media is further evidence of victory, and the uncontrollable flow of information inconvenient to Kerry, which he has now been compelled to address, is all the proof anyone needs.

The elections are really heating up. Yes, that's a plural noun, for America is making two important choices this Fall. The first choice is about whom to elect as President of the United States. The second choice is about which media to trust to bring us truth and useful insight on politics.

The two choices are inextricably linked, for, to a remarkable degree, the media have chosen sides. Allied with Kerry are the broadcast network newscasts, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Time and Newsweek, and most local newspapers. Allied with Bush are Fox News, the Washington Times, the New York Post, talk radio, and the newest and in many ways the most significant player, internet bloggers of a conservative cast. (There are plenty of Democrat bloggers out there, too, but so far they have not played a major role, other than raising money for the failed Dean campaign).

Gone forever is the pretense of an objective mainstream press, reporting the facts and letting the public decide. America's media have gone British. Our newspapers, like their British cousins, have a political agenda, and the readers they still retain know it. Of course, unlike the British press, they cling to the fiction of objectivity. But after this morning's major article in the New York Times 'investigating' the controversy   only the true believers in the inherent virtue of Democrats and villainy of Republicans can find the Times to be an objective sources.

After deliberately ignoring the charges in the book Unfit for Command, in effect declaring the book nonexistent (only to see it rise to number one on Amazon's best—seller list and number three on the New York Times bestseller list), the Times today publishes a 'news' story minutely investigating any contradictions in the testimony of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and all but ignoring the many contradictions in the stories peddled by Kerry over the decades. Apparently for the Times, a Presidential candidate with a history of making up a story about an illegal military incursion into a non—combatant state, and then using that fabrication on the floor of the Senate to influence debate about serious diplomatic and military matters, is of no concern whatsoever.

It doesn't require a close textual analysis or a timeline to understand the abdication of the Times in the truth—telling objective journalism game. Of course, true believer partisans will find the Times virtuous in its crusade. But that is precisely the point. By satisfying only partisans, the Times is by definition now a partisan paper, providing all the propaganda it sees fit to print.

More entertaining, if less momentous, is the on—air meltdown of formerly consequential television talk show host Chris Matthews.  He was interviewing firebrand author, columnist, and blogger Michelle Malkin, supposedly appearing to promote her new book — a topic she never got to raise, because Matthews threw her off the show. Michelle has published a detailed account of her appearance, complete with verbatim excerpts from the show's official transcript. Following his show yesterday, Matthews has little future as anything other than a partisan. It will, however, be entertaining if he attempts to present his side of the story.

But what about the other side of the coin? The players in the pro—Bush universe share a few interesting common characteristics. Other than the New York Post, which is America's oldest daily (albeit born again under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation), they are relative newcomers to the media landscape. Modern talk radio is roughly 15 years old, dating from the national debut of Rush Limbaugh. Fox News is roughly five years old. The blogosphere is not quite as old, and is really coming into its own for the first time this election cycle. Collectively, it is fair to call them the new media.

The second common characteristic is that these new media sources are presenting information which the other side studiously ignores, trying to condemn it to an Orwellian memory hole. This has enormous implications for the second of the two elections. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the argument, one side is presenting a fuller set of data than the other. On the new media side there is no comparable attempt to blockade information, precisely because they have no conceit whatsoever about their ability to make information invisible by refusing to acknowledge its existence. Hubris, the Greeks remind us, is a fatal conceit.

For the vital few, the un—persuaded and uncommitted folks in the middle, the difference between more information and less information is clear. That is why market share and mind share are flowing so predominantly in favor of the new media. It is also why the other side — it is fair to call them the old media — has made a fatal mistake in its handling of the Swift Boat controversy. People who care about news in order to come to a fair decision will never consciously choose to have only one side of the story. Partisans will, but that makes providers of such accounts into niche players, forfeiting the high ground.

A third predominant characteristic of the new media is that they strive for interactivity and continuous updating. The bloggers and talk radio update their content nearly continuously, and are forums of debate and analysis more than pure fact—presenting. Fox News is not harnessed to a once or twice—a—day schedule of news programs, as the broadcast networks are. And the greatest success of Fox News vis——vis its cable news competition lies in its talking head debate shows. A good part of that victory is in the fact that a broader range of opinions is presented than one can find on similar CNN and MSNBC shows, although, to their credit, both networks are presenting a wider range of hosts and guests than in the past, apparently learning that the public does not desire a narrower range of opinion.

Although the first election's outcome remains in doubt, and we may possibly inaugurate a President Kerry early next year, the second election has largely been won, simply by the fact that the old media have implicitly declared their concessions of partisanship, as exemplified by the New York Times and Chris Matthews. They have surrendered their most vital asset.

The growth and persistence of the new media is further evidence of victory, and the uncontrollable flow of information inconvenient to Kerry, which he has now been compelled to address, is all the proof anyone needs.