Last week the Republican party pulled a fast one on the US press and got a reaction it may not have been not expecting. Mickey Kaus posits three models in how the media has gone about the business of reporting politics.
Local politicians, take serious note! Model one is simple. “There’s the press, and the public. The press only prints “facts” that are checked and verified. That’s all the public ever finds out about. The press functions as “gatekeeper.” Okay, even in Ireland, we’re past that stage.
Model two should also be familiar.
It’s contingent on “the rise of blogs, which (along with tabloids and cable) often discuss rumors that are not “verified.” The public finds out about these rumors, as rumors. And it turns out that blogging obsessively about rumors is a pretty good way to smoke out the truth (see, e.g., Dan Rather).
But he notes that “Blogs and tabloids are a sort of intermediate nethersphere between public and the elite MSM that serves as a proving ground where the truth or falseness of the “undernews” gets hashed out. Stories that are true then graduate to the MSM.”
Here’s the decisive shift:
We are now, I think, making the next logical leap, to a model in which unverified rumors about public figures are discussed and assessed not just in the blogosphere or the unrespectable tabs but in the MSM itself. I say welcome! With NYT reporters and bloggers all openly discussing unverified reports,, whatever is true will become un-unverified that muhch faster. And the public is proving, by and large, to be quite capable of distinguishing between stories that are true and rumors that are still being investigated.
He goes on to note:
Once reporters start peppering campaigns with questions, after all, I suspect it will be impossible to keep a lid on whatever rumors the MSM is peppering the campaigns about. That’s particularly true in a “synergistic” world where a reporter like Howard Fineman not only writes for Newsweek but also appears on cable shows that have an imperative to discuss whatever is hot now. It’s particularly true in a Drudgian world where the activities of MSM reporters-what they’re working on, what questions they’re asking–is itself news for the Web. In that world, the line between “checking out” tips and open discussion of at least the non-actionable rumors can’t really be maintained and shouldn’t be, given the truth-divining virtues of widespread publicity (which functions as an APB to the citizenry to come up with evidence).
Refering to McCain’s senior press man and alumnus of Karl Rove’s 2004 ‘Breakfast Club’ complaints about the behaviour of the mainstream press:
It’s tempting to assume Steve Schmidt’s cries are cynical, reflecting a desire to gin up a war between his candidate and the intrusive, condescending elite media–a war in which voters will side with his candidate. doesn’t he just do his job, under Model 2, and answer the MSM’s questions?
But it’s also likely Schmidt’s anguish is at least in part authentic shock at the looming inability of even Model 2 to keep a lid on unrestrained speculation. When even MSM reporters start behaving like bloggers–when candidates’ can’t squelch discussion of their rumored sins, but have to wade into a non-stop public debate about them–the job of a campaign strategist will get a whole lot harder.