Return of the Narrative

By James McCarty Yeager

Citizens have learned a lot about the psychology of media during the primaries and general election of 2007-2008. The blogosphere has been especially valuable in revealing some of the more egregious mechanisms by which the corporate media shapes and influences events.

As we come down from the heights of the election toward the plains of legislation being readied for the new year, the new administration and the new Congress, it might be a wise precaution to review what we know about media psychology. Thus we can manage not to be surprised when the corporate chorus starts savaging the Democrats long before any cause or failure would make such repudiation necessary or useful.

Some principles never change.

• There is no such thing as a progressive multimillion-dollar media corporation. (This means you, WaPo, NYTimes and MSNBC.)

• As a means of suppressing some stories, IOKIYAAR has not been repealed, and IOKIYAAD will not be installed. (It’s OK If You Are A Republican is often the background of an underplayed story; the Democratic counterpart is never invoked.)

• The Media Heathers will twitter in one another’s ears to reinforce existing storylines at all times. (a.k.a. Beltway Heathers, the term refers to the D.C. press corps clique in particular, but the whole Washington/New York/Los Angeles TV/cable/print elite in general, whose typical obnoxious in-crowd behavior is satirized by analogy in Michael Lehmann’s 1989 film Heathers.)

The overarching narrative of Democrats in Disarray will be trotted out the day after the election and increasingly repeated. Meanwhile the interesting story will be the vicious infighting among the depleted remnants of Congressional and Senatorial Republicans. They will be divided into three harsh camps of post-Bush conservatism: Neo-cons, theo-cons, and corporate cons. (Most of those misidentified as “moderate Republicans” are actually corporate cons in disguise.)

The neo-cons have been disgraced by their imbecile and disastrous wars, the theo-cons by their aggressively anti-science stance, and the corporate cons by the economic crash. Each will wail of the others, “If only we had remained true to our brand of conservatism, they could not have lost us our rightful grip on power.” Yet on past performance the manifest and real disunion and confusion among Republicans will hardly occupy 1/10 the airtime or ink of the old Dems Disarray story in the first quarter of 2009.

George W. Bush’s historic role (as the Worst. President. Ever.) may serve to cripple the Republican Party for a generation, the American Army for a decade and the American economy for the immediate future. Only one of these is a good thing. Yet out of these dire circumstances arises an historic opportunity to dismantle the American empire, reanimate international institutions and reform 40 years of the excesses of capitalism.

Gene McCarthy said the Democrats lost sight of their true purposes not only with the Vietnam War but when Lyndon Johnson betrayed the New Deal by substituting Medicare for universal health care. Now we can set that right. And subsequently the economy was weakened by the Reagan Bush tax cuts for the rich and the Reagan Bush Clinton Gingrich Gramm DeLay deregulations of corporate predators. Now we can go beyond remedying those evils and pass an actually progressive tax code.

But Republicanism has an inherent advantage at all times. Its bromidic, if unsuccessful, certainties possess the mindspace of the upper middle class elite that dominates television, print, cable, downtown and country clubs, and Georgetown cocktail party discussions. There are not now, nor have there ever been, any NBC reporters married to community organizers, union presidents or radical academics, though apparently a spouse on the Federal Reserve Board is just fine. Therefore the Republican Party—even when wounded—is about twice as strong as it would be if it were not backed by the inherited wealth, real estate and social structure of the country.

One public tragedy is that the chubby, sloppy, shallow, controlling, ill-mannered, falsely bonhomous schlub Chris Matthews is the face of the adequate part of cable news. He is Sean Hannity’s slightly—but not completely—respectable media cousin. Between them they span the range of normal cable acceptability by consciously representing conservative Democrats and far-rightwing Republicans; and neither has ever objected to a single one of Bush’s unconsitutional expansions of presidential power.

Overall, you might say cable is the id, print the superego and broadcast networks the ego of the collective personality of American media. Of course the schema is not exact. Faux News, though broadcast, belongs in with cable. MSNBC and CNN almost rise to the level of the old broadcast news operations. Certain print portions of the Mighty Wurlitzer™ Republican Noise Machine are, morally, also part of the cable division. Meanwhile the left blogosphere is the pineal gland, the right blogosphere the hemhorroids, of the media body.

Dems in Disarray was not even suppressed during the Obama march from certainty as the nominee (April) up through certainty of election (September.) It just sat on the bench, waiting to be recalled. Once it has been revived, subsequent accusations based upon it will be twofold. First, it will be broadcast and written that the Dems are not enough like the Republican Lockstep Congressional Majority of 1995-2007 in receiving their orders from the leadership and then voting almost unanimously to carry them out. Second, it will be broadcast and written that the Dems are too much like the Republican Lockstep Congressional Majority, etc. Each condition will be cited as evidence of disarray. The manifest irreconcilability of the two, and the silliness of either in the face of what will be a long and successful roll of legislative accomplishments, will be ignored.

Get used to it. As Mac the Knife sings to the press photographer while resuming a respectable place in society as a small tradesman in the crime line, “So divide up those in darkness / From the ones who walk in light / Light ’em up boys, there’s your picture / Drop the shadows out of sight.”

They will do so. And thus the honor of the media is triumphantly vindicated once again.

James McCarty Yeager has spent 36 years in Washington, D.C., and it is beginning to show.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2008

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