This is one of my pet topics. What was once hard news has gradually morphed into tabloid gossip, shouting matches, and bi-polar self-righteousness that is passed off as fair and balanced reporting.
The news dee jays and spokesmodels are like permissive, self-serving parents who enable rapt children who plug into frothy politics like they were narcotic iPods.
And so the viewing audience is hooked on manufactured drama the way Boss Limpdong is addicted to Oxycontin:
It's appropriate that a book about the 2008 campaign -- Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's newly published "Game Change" -- has given us yet another example in which phony outrage over an out-of-context sound bite captivates the media all out of proportion to the offensiveness of the remark. The statement was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2008 comment that he expected Obama to fare better electorally than previous black presidential aspirants partly because of his lighter skin tone and lack of "Negro dialect" -- a term, incidentally, that the "Google Books" search engine finds in 3,780 publications, all before this year, none apparently racist. [...]
The most obvious reason is that it's a political game perfectly suited for our new news cycle. Episodes like the Reid comment provide "catnip for the news media," as Obama said, because of the new rhythms of cable TV and blogging, which intensify the old talk-radio pattern: polarized and combative, with guest experts and pundits chosen to parrot each side's arguments with requisite rage. Verbal missteps work well for cable because they require little explanation (so the fight can begin quickly); they lend themselves to simple partisan battles; and viewers can readily align their own emotions with one side or the other.
The media, of course, reflect our politics, and a second reason these flaps are so common lately is that they fit well with our divided and mutually suspicious condition. [...]
Then there's a third, less obvious reason that the outrage game is thriving: its connection to the politics of race. [...]
Ultimately, explaining all the subtleties of a linguistic concept like "Negro dialect" -- or any other touchy subjects that could trigger such an episode -- demands more time, patience and intellectual precision than the leading producers and avid consumers of our breakneck political discussions wish to indulge.
David Greenberg is a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers University and the author of "Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image" and other books.
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