Of all people, Newt Gingrich exposes infotainment-orientation of mainstream media
By Mitch Trachtenberg
It’s finally happened. An American politician has finally said something so laughable that a Sabbath gasbag from the mainstream media, well, laughed at him.
No, it wasn’t the charge that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Not Ron Paul’s bigoted newsletters, or Newt Gingrich’s family-values-except-for-me platform, or Mitt Romney’s attacks on what is essentially his own health care program.
No. The media laughed because Newt Gingrich, having previously said that Mitt Romney had lied, agreed that Mitt Romney was a liar. It was the shock of someone going off-script.
Here’s Newt Gingrich quoted on ABC yesterday: “[Romney] set the tone of the campaign … by going after me negatively and dishonestly.”
Now that’s the proper way for a candidate to call a fellow candidate a liar. But CBS “reporter” Norah O’Donnell knew the script for American presidential campaign “interviews.” O’Donnell knew that she was to ask whether Gingrich would call Romney a liar, and that Gingrich would not answer, instead pointing out some of Romney’s lies. Following the script, O’Donnell gamely asked the following ‘question:’ “You said of Mitt Romney, ‘somebody who will lie to you to be President will lie to you when they are President. I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?”
Before we go back to the conversation, let’s pause and ponder this. Someone who goes after a competitor for running ads that are “negative” and “dishonest” is saying they are lying. Politicians are always suggesting that their competitors’ negative ads are lying. I really can’t recall a campaign in which politicians haven’t generally said things like “I think that’s disingenuous” or “that’s just not true.” True, the GOP has ramped it up, what with their people shouting “You lie!” (boy) at shindigs like the State of the Union.
I’d go so far as to suggest, based just on my conversations with people here in California, that some people think many politicians lie pretty often, about a wide variety of things. Perhaps even you have suspected that some politician somewhere might be a liar. I confess the thought has crossed my mind.
So, back to CBS. Newt Gingrich had just suggested that Mitt Romney was lying about his negative ads. The CBS reporter read him his statement saying as much, and asked if he were calling Mitt Romney a liar. Now, presumably, O’Donnell understood English enough to realize that Newt Gingrich had, in fact, called Mitt Romney a liar. But, being a well-trained “reporter”, er, spokesmodel, she was aware that according to the script Gingrich would turn the conversation back to Romney’s lies, talking about his campaign ads.
Gingrich tossed away the script. Asked, “Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?” Gingrich said something that, for a moment, was the pure, simple, unvarnished truth. He said “Yes.”
Back on the reporters’ side of the split-screen, we observe a moment of shocked silence. O’Donnell says, in a tone of disbelief, “You’re calling Mitt Romney a liar?” Then, in a petulant whine, “why are you calling him a liar?”
Gingrich responds with about a minute of, as far as I can tell, straightforward enough facts establishing that Romney, like perhaps every politician ever to be born, has said untruthful things; that is, that he’s a liar. CBS has a gasbag on hand for those who want more gravitas than O’Donnell can deliver, and Bob Schieffer rises from his slumber to ask if Gingrich could support Romney if Romney won the nomination. When Gingrich says, “yes,” Schieffer gets a tiny smile on his face. That grows to shaking-head-laughter as Schieffer points out that Gingrich is saying he’d vote for a liar before he’d vote for Obama.
Gingrich, for all I can’t stand him, was speaking truth to power. To his credit, here are his words: “Which part of what I said to you is false? Why is it that if I’m candid in person and I wanted to be honest in person, that’s shocking? If his PAC buys millions of dollars of attack ads to say things that are false that’s somehow part of the way Washington plays the game? Isn’t that exactly what’s sick about this country right now? Isn’t that what the American people are tired of?”
(Yes, Mr. Gingrich. We’d like the press to call liars on their lies. That would be a treat.)
More shocked petulance from O’Donnell. This man is staying off script! You can see the “reporters” listening to their earpieces. Wow! An exclusive! Big news!
Gingrich calls Schieffer a “professional reporter,” tells Schieffer he can check for himself, and outlines the various ways in which Romney has been lying. So Schieffer agrees, right? No? Schieffer disagrees? No, not that either. Give it a moment’s thought, and you can guess what’s on the script. That’s right, the segment’s time is just about up. ”Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker,” Schieffer starts. But he can’t resist slyly thanking Gingrich for coming on and (changed tone) “answering the questions.”
And then it’s time for some ads, to tell us how much better our lives are because of the efforts of one of CBS’ corporate sponsors.
I could never vote for Gingrich, and I realize that all he’s doing is twisting a knife into a fellow Republican by accusing him of nothing more than what Gingrich and just about every other politician alive is guilty of. But, for just a minute or so, I could hear truth on network television. No wonder the spokesmodel was offended. No wonder Schieffer was amused.
The United States supposedly cherishes freedom of the press. Indeed,in some hypothetical country, a free press is capable of rooting out corruption and exposing lies from the powerful. But in our country in recent years, the professional press is no less captured by the corporations than the government. We are fed scripted infotainment as news.
No, I’m not some conspiracy theorist who thinks people like O’Donnell and Schieffer are told what to say. But I am able to see that the mainstream media no longer shows any inclination to really explore policy alternatives, examine things that have worked or failed in other countries, look at serious approaches to problems. The media is interested in the horse race, and in political strategy. The campaign, for the media, is inexpensive entertainment that will bring in an audience. The last thing anyone in the professional press wants to do is lose access to a candidate by actually challenging them.
It’s rare these days for things to go off script. When they do, as with the Gingrich interview, it’s an opportunity to see exactly how worthless the mainstream media has become. Imagine, for example, if Schieffer had chosen to acknowledge the truth of what Gingrich was saying, and asked Gingrich if he’d ever lied himself, perhaps in a campaign. A reporter interested in such things would surely have a book-sized list of Gingrich’s lies to fall back upon. Imagine if O’Donnell had asked Gingrich whether lying was necessary in today’s campaigns. Gingrich was already off-script, bent more on a mission of destruction than on any campaign. Who knows what he might have said? Maybe the honesty would have continued.
Mitch Trachtenberg os a software developer and freelance writer living in the village of Trinidad in Humboldt County. He can be reached at mitchtrachtenberg.com.