I don't watch a lot of TV, but when I do, it isn't usually cable news. Living, as I do, in new media, I'm already generally up to speed on what they are talking about. CNBC has good financial news, even if they do conflate the health of the stock market with the state of overall economy. CNN will give you an accurate pulse of the median views of the mainstream media. Fox will give you a moderate to very slightly center-right take on the day's events. I always had a vague sense that MSNBC was very left-of-center. Last night, that vague sense was confirmed. But, I also realized that MSNBC lives in an alternate universe.
Today, it was reported that jobless claims spiked higher...yet again. The CBO reported that, through the last 11 months, the federal government has spent almost $1.3 Trillion more than it took in. European banks are on the edge of collapse and the entire world economy balances precariously on the edge of a global depression. If the US economy hasn't technically yet entered another recession, it is only a matter of time before it does.
The housing market is set for another downturn. The number of Americans in the labor force is at historic lows. There is no prospect for economic recovery at any point in the future. I could go on and on, but you get the point. The economy is teetering on the edge of another collapse and government debt has so suffocated us that we are flirting with a period of permanent decline.
And yet, at last night's GOP debate at the Reagan Library (!), neither John Harris with Politico
nor Brian Williams with NBCMSNBCCOMCASTGE, asked a SINGLE question about these issues. Nothing about government spending, debt or the economy. Instead, we were treated to almost 90 minutes of questions on HPV vaccines, immigration, FEMA, TSA, welfare, poverty programs (more in need after 2+ years of Obama than ever) and science. Science?!?
Seriously, do John Harris and Brian Williams need an up-to-date calendar? Are they stuck in the 90s, when the economy seemed fine and all we had to worry about were so-called 'social' issues, 'smart growth' and school uniforms. We thought we were fat and happy then and could afford the luxury of the 'small' issues. We aren't anymore, but that is all they fed us. If I closed my eyes, I don't know that I could have told you whether this 'debate' was for President of the state legislature.
Now, of course, John Harris and Brian Williams aren't really idiots. They know perfectly well what year it is and what issues consume Americans these days. They know the economy sucks and is likely to get worse. They understand that large swathes of the country are worried about government spending and our debt. They realize that over 70% of Americans think the country is on the wrong path. But, asking any of those questions would afford the GOP candidates the opportunity to criticize the media's protege, Barack Obama. Obama is a product of journOlisters like Harris and Williams. They glide-pathed his way to the White House. But for them, his approval ratings would be in the teens. Last night showed how far they are prepared to go to keep him in office.
The 'tell' was revealed early. In the first minute, Brian "I'm-a-lot-more-lefty-than-you-thought" Williams signaled that he was going all-in with Aces and Eights. He made a reference to the bad economy and stated that "Americans" blame it on eight years of Bush. (!) Never mind that Obama and the Democrats had two years and $1 Trillion of our kids money to indulge their lefty policy fantasies. He then went on the attack against Gov. Rick Perry, using flawed talking points from ThinkProgress to try to undercut the very real Texas jobs miracle. That it was his opening play tells you how much that record terrifies them.
John Harris later nervously stepped up to the microphone (how much were his knees knocking under the table?) to cherry-pick excerpts from Rick Perry's book to goad the other candidates to declare Perry unfit for polite society. Most, fortunately, didn't take the bait. Of course, as Andrew has pointed out, they were all already on the hook by even participating in this "debate."
It was, simply, not the finest hour of Presidential debates nor journalism. But, it also almost doesn't matter. The public has moved on from the world Harris and Williams cling to. It is unfortunate the the GOP still plays this game, but I think they will slowly learn the lesson. Brian Williams, with his seven-figure salary and rapidly declining audience, is a dying breed. John Harris, who has pushed Politico further to the left then MSNBC, looks like the guy who arrived late to the party. He finally clawed his way to a position of influence in the mainstream media at the exact moment that influence is collapsing.
I hope their performance last night is studied in future journalism classes. They showed us what it looks like when you slip the bonds of journalism and become partisan hacks. Old media is dead. Long live the new media.