Progressives Can Help Obama Win Debate Spin


Et tu, Chris?

One thing I think many liberals realized fully during the hyped run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the corporate media’s craven complicity in the bloodshed.

Former New York Times reporter Judy Miller’s shoddy reporting of Saddam Hussein’s so-called weapons of destruction—they didn’t really exist—was parroted throughout the mainstream media, especially on cable news shows on CNN, Fox News and even MSNBC.

The media gave cover to a conservative White House administration intent on war in breathless, sensationalized reporting designed to lure viewers and advertising dollars, and they didn’t let facts get in the way. I remember participating in an anti-war march in downtown Oklahoma City right after the invasion, thinking how surreal and divided the moment in time had become, divided between people who would consider alternative facts and arguments that strayed from the existing media narrative and those who simply wanted blood revenge for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This division didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was encouraged by the corporate media, including such supposedly respected outlets as The New York Times, and sponsored by their corporate advertisers.

Now, thousands upon thousands of deaths later, there’s been no real media accountability. War makes for good television ratings. Good ratings mean more money.

I wanted to remind my progressive readers—those who participated in the protests either figuratively or literally and those who maybe were too young in 2003 to be completely cognizant of the media lies—of all this as President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney get ready for their second debate Tuesday.

My message is simple enough: Do not trust the corporate media. Take action outside its rhetorical and financial frames to present reality-based arguments about the debate.

The presidential race for the infotainers on the cable news shows, in particular, is nothing more than a ratings cornucopia and a way to maximize profits for the companies which employ them. If there’s no real race, then that’s a lost financial opportunity. If the media stars, such as Wolf Blitzer, can actually create a presidential race based on spin, distortions and lies (pretty much what is known as cable television news these days), then that is what they will do.

Under this scenario, then, the spin that will come from the next two presidential debates will be highly suspect. What the infotainers will be “arguing” is not really who won the debate but who won the perception of who won the debate. That’s a fine distinction, but it’s worth considering for a moment.

After the last presidential debate, progressives were too easily swayed by accepting the terms of the mainstream media that Romney won because of Obama’s supposed “listless” performance. Yes, Romney won the spin of the debate, but in any honest, non-partisan assessment, that’s all he won. Obama was composed and articulate as usual. Romney backed off previous positions and moved to the center, leaving behind huge gaps of confusion. But many progressives seized on the “listless” rhetoric and ensured Obama’s defeat in terms of media spin.

There is even some speculation that if Obama goes on to lose the election it will be because the progressive hacks on MSNBC and throughout the media bought into the conservative narrative that Obama failed miserably in the debate. I think that applies to non-hack progressives as well.

When I suggested on my Facebook page, for example, that Obama had actually won the debate, my progressive friends were quick to set the record straight and tell me how wrong I was.

Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, puts it this way: “Ask yourself this: can you even imagine Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh tearing their hair out over a weak debate performance by Mitt Romney the way that liberals have been over President Obama's? I can't.”

And then this from Drum, who makes another great point about the liberal response to the debate:

Liberals, by contrast, almost seemed to enjoy wallowing in recriminations. It was practically an Olympic tournament to see who could act the most agonized. As a friend just emailed me a few minutes ago, "I can't tell you how many liberals I've had to talk off the ledge today."

All this agonizing is over fictional spin and the perception of who won, not who actually won or what was actually said, and this spin is created to increase ratings and make money, not to be accurate. The media, especially cable news, doesn’t have to be accurate to survive. Look at all the journalists still working in television news that were completely inaccurate in their reporting about the run-up to the Iraq war, which then resulted in thousands of deaths. If fact, accurate reporting might well mean financial doom for a cable media outlet these days.

Conservatives, frankly, seem to recognize all this much better than progressives, although I had believed the 2002-2003 experience of watching the immoral, media war cheerleading had convinced progressives to remain forever skeptical.

As a progressive, I like some of the things they’re doing at MSNBC, but I don’t trust that network to do anything but serve its own financial interests, just like CNN. MSNBC, the supposed “liberal” network, joined in the “listless” spin just like everyone else and to the point of absurdity. Could Chris Matthews have screamed any louder about Obama’s failure? (Note the above, self-centered video clip.) Maybe the Obama campaign wanted to rouse people from complacency. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the one real “liberal” network in the country was instrumental in promulgating a false storyline that led to Obama’s defeat?

So, with Romney moving up in the polls because he’s a “winner” all of a sudden, progressives need to be prepared for the immediate aftermath of the next debate. The spin over the next debate will go something like this:

After a poor first debate performance, President Barack Obama came out swinging Tuesday night, but . . .

This will be the most progressives can hope for. The mainstream media outlets want a close election, and they’re going to get one. What will fill the ellipsis? How can progressives spin the spin?

Here are some obvious suggestions:

  • Use social media to promote the reality of the debate, not the pundits’ spin. If you can say something good about Obama’s performance, then put it on Facebook or Twitter during and after the debate. Vote in any online poll about the debate that you encounter. It’s a question of arithmetic, as both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden keep reminding us, and networks do follow social media.

  • Find opinions that run contrary to the mainstream media spin if it’s inaccurate, and post those opinions on the Internet and/or get them to friends. If MSNBC has anything nice to say about Obama this time around, and it probably will, then get the message out. If not, get on its web site and point out the false claims.

  • "Like" Facebook comments or retweet messages that go beyond the spin, and continue to do so until the next debate. The conservatives are still spinning the Romney and the Biden/Ryan debates. Why can’t progressives do the same?

I’ve been writing about politics for a long time, first as a journalist in the 1970s and 1980s, and now as an academic and writer. I continue to dislike the hands-on side of politics, the money it costs to run campaigns, the manipulation of the media spin and attacking rival candidates on an ad hominem basis, and so forth. But I still believe that in our divided age it's unwise to check out of the system and concede defeat through apathy. We also have new opportunities through social media and the Internet to make our points.

Obama is clearly the right choice for president this election year, even for most of the people who won’t even vote for him. With only three weeks to go until the election, progressives need to step up and start acting like it.