Just Maybe Gotcha Journalism Jumped the Shark

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There was an earlier time when Charlie Gibson moderated a dignified debate, and when George Stephanapoulos asked probing questions about real substance. But hey, they’re on the payroll. And when the paymaster says “roll in the slime,” they do slug impressions real good.

How good are they at playing slugs on TV?

For the first time, probably, in television history, debate moderators themsleves were loudly booed by the audience.

And the reviews! (h/t TPM)

Tom Shales, Washington Post:

At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates — or was he really patting himself on the back? — for “what I think has been a fascinating debate.” He’s entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

Greg Mitchell of Editor & Puplisher, at the Huffington Post:

In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.

Will Bunch of Philadelphia Daily News’ Attytood  in an open letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos:

But I’m not ready to make nice. What I just watched was an outrage. As a journalist, you appeared to confirm all of the worst qualities that cause people to hold our profession in such low esteem, especially your obsession with cornering the candidates with lame “trick” questions and your complete lack of interest or concern about substance — or about the American people, or the state of our nation. You embarassed some good people who work at ABC News — for example, the journalists who worked hard to break this story just last week — and you embarassed yourselves. The millions of people who watched the debate were embarassed, too — at the state of our political discourse, and what it has finally become, at long last.

Niall Stanage of the Guardian:

The hosts on last night’s ABC Democratic debate were shameful: don’t they realise America is sick of their junk food?

…most encouragingly of all, the public response to last night’s awful performance by the debate moderators was immediate and vociferous. As heckling erupted at the debate’s end, Gibson smiled wanly and said, “The crowd is turning on me.” Within three hours of the debate’s end, the ABC News website had received over 7,600 comments about the evening’s events. The overwhelming majority were negative.

Stephanopoulos and Gibson deserve every bit of opprobrium being thrown their way. They delivered a noxious blend of smear, innuendo and diversion.

Finally, and most revealingly, there’s The New York Times’ David Brooks, offering a contrary view:

…Democrats, and especially Obama supporters, are going to jump all over ABC for the choice of topics: too many gaffe questions, not enough policy questions.

I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.

We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.

He goes on to give ABC an “A,” Hillary Clinton a “B,” and Barack Obama a “D+.” But by then, Brooks had proven himself to be the Village Idiot, so his actually grading anything seemed comically presumptuous.

Only an idiot would write that “The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities.” No, the journalist’s job is to report that which is “interesting enough to the general public to warrant reporting.”  Getting the facts straight may or may not involve making politicians uncomfortable, but even when it does, not all vulnerabilities are newsworthy.

Although the quest for evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities may be ancillary to journalism, it was the staple of Chuck Barris’ productions such as The Newlywed Game.  Brooks has every right to consider Bob Eubanks a model for journalism. And I have every right to call Brooks an idiot.
It is a tale told by an idiot also to “remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis.” Expose what? That Michael Dukakis was a “card carrying member of the ACLU?” That was what Bush I charged Dukakis with being, you may recall — as if belonging to an organization dedicated to supporting the Constitution of the United States is somehow un-American. (Yes, this was the logic of the Lee Atwater led Bush I campaign).

What was exposed in the 1988 presidential campaign between Bush and Dukakis is how a campaign could manipulate symbols so that an American who had dedicated his life to public service could be re-branded as a subsversive. To Brooks, this rebranding is important. He embraces a plutrocratic political philosophy.

This plutocratic philosophy offers nothing to us, the masses of citizens, but domination by the rich, war, and ongoing economic and spiritual devaluation of life. Well, not quite. Just as ancient Roman patricians offered the plebians bread and circuses to keep them in line, so do ours. At least Democratic plutocrats offer bread and circuses; Republican plutocrats, just the circuses.

The only way to get citizens like us to vote for the champions of Brooks’ agenda is to distract us with “these sorts of symbolic issues.”

And that’s really why Brooks is such an idiot. He’s tipped the plutocrats’ hand.


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