Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin, the Presidential campaign and the media. What's happening?

Which is going to dominate? The propaganda theme-driven Washington political media or the currently growing journalistic feeding frenzy surrounding Sarah Palin and spreading to the McCain campaign?

Bush has pulled even or ahead this last week largely because of

1. the normal convention bounce.
2. the novelty of choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The bounce was extended because Palin permitted the Social Conservatives to abandon their objections to McCain and buy into him as their "leader." The excitement of the Social Conservatives has fed back into the McCain campaign and the campaign is doing whatever it takes to extend that process even further, hopefully for another eight weeks.

But the Palin choice was high risk with low vetting and no broad consensus that she could carry as heavy a load in the campaign as has been thrust on her. The secrecy of her selection and announcement was bought at a very high price.

Everything now has to focus on shoring her and the social issues she represents up as the central focus of the campaign. It's like shoring up a badly damaged building the inspectors have already declared totaled. That's where all the lies are coming from. They know so little about her that there are no prepackaged defenses for the various faults that keep popping up. So they are reduced to making stuff up.

But they are stuck with her, since without Palin the McCain campaign is reduced to explaining why they do not represent four more years of Bush/Cheney. That is clearly a losing position as the recent switch to a campaign theme of "We're for change also." demonstrates.

It doesn't help any that the choice of Pain as his running mate is an admission that to get elected President McCain has had to completely surrender to the Republican extremist religious right. The McCain camp has to "dogwhistle" to the right-wing religious extremists in ways that the independents don't catch on to.

This is complicated by the fact that the McCain campaign has been unable to roll Palin in under the McCain media themes to protect her. The media really is treating her differently from the way they treat the already "well-known" McCain. By "well-known" I mean that the media already has an accepted set of themes to apply to McCain. Those themes have simply not spread to Palin.

I'd speculate that the McCain camp has been shocked to find that they could not just roll Palin in under the protection of the McCain media themes. But she made too big a splash with her selection and acceptance speech for that to be possible. The news audience wants details and the media (those not tasked with the propaganda function of defending her - FOX, etc.)are trying to meet the audience demand.

Now the declining elements of the media who consider themselves to be non-propaganda journalists have found enough blood in the water to begin the journalistic equivalent of a shark frenzy. To counter that the propaganda elements of the media and the McCain campaign are throwing out everything and anything that might tamp down the journalistic frenzy. It's desperation. That's the source of the lying. They have eight weeks and they are in the sprint to get past the finish line before they are buried by their lies.

I don't think it is going to work. The same journalistic norms of going along with the pack that make the media themes such a powerful a way to avoid contradictory new information are now beginning to work in reverse. Those norms are escalating the journalistic frenzy.

So in the next eight weeks, the real question is which is going to dominate the media? Will it be the journalistic pack frenzy or will the theme-driven propaganda media be able to regain control?

In many ways the fate of America and of the world depends on the answer to that question.

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