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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Media madness

It's been hard dodging fingers in the media as Barack Obama and Congress trade blame for the gridlock that makes it likely a punishing set of automatic federal spending cuts kicks in this weekend.

What's been overlooked in the crush of news conferences and Sunday morning talk show appearances is the role of the media itself in the farce that is playing out in Washington.

But that all changed on Friday when Bob Woodward, yes, the man who helped trigger a new era in investigative journalism, put down his reporter's notebook and offered an opinion that Barack Obama "moved the goal posts" and bears the bulk of the blame for the sequester stand-off.

That put Woodward squarely into Republican talking points, and triggered a rebuttal from a junior Washington Post colleague along with a Twitter storm of controversy.

It also revealed how poor a job the political press corps, already fixated on 2016 presidential candidates, does in covering policy in general and this mess in particular.

Republican strategy since the launch of the Obama administration in 2009 has been one of obstruction. The House has voted more than 30 times to repeal Obamacare -- and for virtually nothing else. The Senate has seen the filibuster used for just about everything.

Yet the media continues to lean on the crutch of "objectivity," an antiquated Joe Friday just the fact's ma'am approach, that attempts to balance partisanship on each side, even when reality shows otherwise.

Even more repugnant is that the reporting focuses more on tactics than realty. Have you seen any serious reporting on the claims of gloom and doom offered by Obama or the layers of fat arguments put forward by the GOP?

The reality can't be explained in 10-second sound bites or 140-character tweets. Why do we need a heavy military presence in Germany and Japan to deal with Cold War threats that evaporated with the collapse of the Berlin Wall? Why do we need tanks and multi-billion dollar fighting machines when warfare has turned to drones as the weapons of choice?

On the domestic side, with oil costing $90-plus a barrel why are we subsidizing oil company profits? And do the massive companies that represent a large swath of the agricultural industry need to help we used to provide family farmers? Why are banks too bring to prosecute?

And why do people only pay Social Security taxes on the first $120,000 or so of income, closing off a source of revenue that can afford to pay for their retirement?

And why has the media repeatedly failed to recognize that Republicans who now preach austerity once declared "deficits don't matter" and blew up a budget surplus to pay for two off-the-books wars.

All good stories, far easier to report than the Watergate scandal that made Woodward a journalism icon. And all stories that have either been short-shrifted or ignored as the Washington press corps has slowly moved from afflicting the comfortable to becoming part of them.

Woodward's abandonment of reporting for some poorly-sourced opinion truly marks the end of an era of journalism. Maybe it will also serve as a wake-up call to the reality that the media needs to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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