Media's Obama Narrative Collides with Reality
It's been a week since a 90-minute debate shifted the narrative of the 2012 election. I had been trying to think if there was a comparable example of when a live television event had had such a profound effect upon what had been a widely accepted truth. When I read Toby Harnden's report of how Obama stepped off of the Denver stage believing he had won, it dawned on me.
According to Harden:
In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.
The Democrat said that Obama's inner circle was dismayed at the 'disaster' and that he believed the central problem was that the President was so disdainful of Romney that he didn't believe he needed to engage with him.
Had I witnessed such an equally profound and erroneous disdain before? Yes, in the American media's obsession with the strength of Saddam Hussein's army in 1990 and their utter disdain for the competence and integrity of the American military, particularly its senior command structure. In his post-combat press briefing, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf singlehandedly demolished a decades-old media and Hollywood narrative that senior military commanders were uniformly knuckle-dragging dolts and martinets. Ever since that briefing, the American media has tended to be respectful of the intelligence of members of our military -- not because their antipathy has necessarily lessened, but because they realized that their audience would no longer accept their characterization.
Last Wednesday can be seen as the moment when two of the narratives currently beloved by the American media gave way to reality. The first narrative was that Barack Obama is a man of exceptional intelligence and political skill. Obama is an entirely mediocre politician whose only exceptional skill has been the ability to make gullible liberals feel virtuous by finding him to be such an outstanding fellow. The second narrative was that successful businesspeople are uniformly greedy and cruel misers with narrow interests, pedestrian minds, suspect motives and limited leadership skills -- unless, of course, they support the progressive agenda, at which time they all become wise visionaries.
The facts had always suggested something quite different abut Romney. His charity and civic-mindedness are well-known to all who look at him without blinders. Over his very successful career as a consultant, Mitt Romney was often faced with situations in which he had to marshal facts to convince clients that short-term sacrifices would pay off with long-term gains. As a venture capitalist, he probably also had to squelch a great many fools in order to turn companies around, for it is close to axiomatic that leaders of failing companies have overestimated their own management and leadership skills while antagonizing talented underlings. The shrinks even have a fancy phrase for it: the Dunning-Kruger effect.
[F]or a given skill, incompetent people will:
- tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill
The interesting thing about Dunning-Kruger is that the research suggests that recognition of one's own incompetence does not necessarily lead to measurable improvement in skill. Clueless or self-aware, the idiot often tends to remain an idiot.
When you consider all the incompetent executives that Romney helped ushered out of the way for the good of the enterprise during his career, is it at all surprising that he completely had his way with Obama?
I suspect at this point that the real question is whether the media itself can learn. In 1991 they quickly abandoned a narrative of hapless military leadership after millions had witnessed General Schwarzkopf's briefing. Will last week's narrative-busting debate cause a similar revision? Will the media finally see Obama as a pedestrian politician of undersized skills and Mitt Romney as an exceptional problem-solver?
Or are the media so in love with their own narrative that it is now close to impossible for reality to intrude?
As I read some of the more hysterical reactions, I suspect that the media itself has a profound Dunning-Kruger effect problem of its own. It is sad to think the best we can expect is that a few members will become aware of how hapless they sound, even as they continue to deliver the same old Obama-praising claptrap disguised as news.