Our political Quote of the Day comes from MSNBC’s First Read’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg who raise the issue of whether the new and old media (put them together and you get the genereal “conventional wisdom”) are missing the boat on Barack Obama and the Obama administration:
*** No pain, no gain? In a way, last week epitomized President Obama’s 10 months in office. There was lots of seemingly short-term pain — members of Congress calling for his Treasury secretary to resign, more P.R. snafus over the stimulus, the chattering class criticizing his Asia trip, and his approval rating dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s poll. But there also was long-term gain — the Senate on Saturday moving one step closer to passing health-care reform and a growing economic consensus, via the New York Times, that the stimulus is working despite all the P.R. headaches it has caused. Indeed, this short-term pain/long-term gain for Team Obama occurred during the presidential campaign. For all the hits they took (Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, “bitter,” the PUMAs, Bill Ayers, Landstuhl, even Joe the Plumber), they were always working toward the prize (270-plus electoral votes). And remember this: If you simply judged the last three months of the 2008 campaign by which campaign “won” the daily news cycle, McCain came out ahead. That’s perhaps the best example of the short-term/long-term.
It’s a good point: on the political front, the “conventional wisdom” in 21st century America now consists of the narrative given on right and left radio and cable talk shows, traditional media, and new media such as blogs and (increasingly) Twitter.
The conventional wisdom’s dirty little secret is that much of it turns out to be about as accurate as tabloid psychic predictions.
A zillion of them are made each month and when they don’t turn out to be true you don’t see any revisions of them. They are quietly swept under the rug as more are made — predictions often made with ideological cherry picking analysis and/or absolute, often smug certainty. (One tidbit: before he was on MSNBC Chris Matthews was once sited as having a VERY good record for political prognostication, in the days when he was a serious print columnist versus a political show biz talk show host blasted by the right and by the left).
“Pack journalism” doesn’t always now mean that someone has to totally agree with someone ideologically. Once a narrative takes hold, it keeps going. It used to be that the New York Times set the news cycle’s agenda, back in the days when newspaper actually mattered. Now, some progressives charge(and conservatives hope), Fox News and Glenn Beck seem to be setting it.
And a reminder of what I have noted here since the blog started in December of 2003:
The media cycle is the politician enters the fray; the politician rises; the politician suffers a setback; the politician is doomed and finished; the politician has an amazing comeback which negates the conventional wisdom which the media created.
There is an “arc” to overall political coverage — not intentional but it used to be that the traditional media practiced it, now it’s new and old media.
And, today, more and more analysts who started out more or less in the center tend to veer more right or left due to either polarization or because in terms of a career you get noticed more if you’re on the hard left or hard left. (Which raises the issue as to whether American’s center is shifting or steadily vanishing..)
The bottom line: much of the analysis you read in the new and old media (including on this site) may be a big, fat “NEVER MIND WHAT WE SAID!” in the future. The key for new and old media reporters and writers is: do you get sucked into the latest politically emotional pack journalism frenzy?
Or do you take a deep breath, exhale and try to stand back and look and give your best take whether it agrees with or doesn’t agree with the ongoing conventional wisdom (which does not mean that take will hold up any better) — as First Read did in the post above?
(This post has been revised since it’s original posting..)
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan thinks the unfolding conventional wisdom may be missing something:
I think Obama’s handling of the economic crisis has been about as good as it reasonably gets; I think his handling of Iran is equally adroit; I find his relentless emphasis on reality in Afghanistan a good sign; I suspect the only way to get health insurance reform is the way he has attempted; I think the stimulus was necessary and sufficient; and I think unemployment will be coming down when he runs for re-election. On those issues I differ with him on – accountability for war crimes and civil rights – I can see the cool and cunning logic of his moves so far. The depth and complexity of the problems he faces remain immense. Perhaps he will prove incapable of surmounting them. But his persistence matters here. And we are not yet a year in.
He is strategy; his opponents are tacticians. And in my view, their tactics are consigning them to a longer political death than if they had taken a more constructive course. I could be wrong on all this, of course. History makes fools of us all. But this is my take as of now. And my relief at his being there remains profound.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.