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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Just the speculation, ma'am....

"This just in: every guess we made about who Bush will nominate to the Supreme Court was wrong! We've spent hours grasping at trial balloons without a clue about what we were talking about. More after this..."

While I doubt you heard that lead-in on CNN (I know you didn't on Fox, the We Love W and We're Never Wrong Channel), it doesn't really matter because that's what happened anyway. The 24-hour news cycle's demand for fresh meat has turned rumor and innuendo in reportable nuggets. Gossip might be a nice word for it, but the fact is our so-called news leaders jump at anything to appear to be live and on-the-scene. (How else to explain the fascination with missing, attractive white women or their mothers whose natural angst is turned into accusatory soundbites for worldwide consumption).

In the hands of masters, and the Bush Administration is masterful, rumor and speculation can serve a number of tools. The more Machiavellian among us think the Roberts announcement was deliberately timed to take the heat off Karl Rove. Plausible, yes. Likely, no. The timing was more likely dictated by the congressional calendar that calls for introducing the nominee before the opposition does -- the way the Democrats introduced Robert Bork.

The networks and the web were all too willing to participate in the GOP plan. Floating trial balloons of various names on various right ends of the political spectrum serves the dual purpose of diverting attention from the real person -- and making him look better than the alternatives.

To be fair, it's a time-honored tradition practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike. What's changed is the 24-hour news cycle, the intense competition, endlessly talking heads on cable and the nasty and brutish dialogue that passes for debate in this country. Coming in tandem with the sharp decline in media standards, you get heresy, speculation and rumor passed off as "breaking news."

In the in interest of full disclosure, I should point out I was as gulty as the next person when I carried the notepad and micro recorder. Maybe that's why I consider myself a recovering political reporter. And don't worry Karl, you'll be back on the front pages before you know it.

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