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Jun 04 2008

Barack Obama, and the Stupidity of ABC News

Boy, do I hate TV news.

Barack_obama
I happened to watch Barack Obama’s speech last night. It was purely by accident — I was watching “Jeopardy,” and the speech broke in as breaking news — but I was extremely glad I did. My support of Obama is not unmixed, but I found myself surprisingly moved and inspired by his speech, and I haven’t felt that way about a politician in a long, long time. And I’m enough of a bleeding- heart liberal to feel a thrill of pride at the fact that America is nominating an African- American as the nominee for President in a major party. It was an historic moment, and I was glad to have witnessed it. (I’ll feel a lot more pride if he gets elected in November.)

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I was watching the speech on ABC News. Again, simply by accident: I’d been watching “Jeopardy” when it came on, and just kept it on that channel. The first part of the speech wasn’t very substantive: fairly typical Obama stuff about hope and the future, unity and healing, the wonderfulness of the American people. Inspiring, some of it, and it certainly seemed heartfelt… but there wasn’t a lot of there there.

But then he started talking about John McCain. He started talking about the specific, significant ways that his policies and proposals differed from those of McCain.

Abc_news_logoAnd at that point — roughly half a sentence into Obama switching from vague hopeful platitudes to specific policies — ABC cut in.

They kept the speech on. But they turned down the volume, and put George Stephanopoulos and some other yahoo on the screen. They switched over from airing Obama’s speech… to airing ABC’s commentary on the speech, with the speech itself burbling along in the background like Muzak.

I was furious. I sat there stunned for a minute, waiting for them to shut the hell up and get back to the speech. And as soon as it became clear that they weren’t going to do that any time soon, I frantically scrambled for the remote, and switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could fly. I was so glad I did, of course: it was an amazing speech, and it did, in fact, go into quite a few specifics about what Obama cares about. And — whaddya know? — a lot of what he cares about are the things I care about. Education; global warming; health care; science; an end to the war in Iraq. And he spoke about these things with both intellect and passion — a combination that is way the hell too rare in American politics. I still have a few mixed feelings about him, I still don’t think he’s the second coming of John F. Kennedy, but I am now totally on board.

But the more inspired I got by his speech, the angrier I got at ABC News.

What the hell were they thinking?

The tinfoil- hat conspiracy theory part of my brain kept asking: Is this deliberate? Are they trying to play the “Obama is inspiring but doesn’t have any policy specifics or detailed plans” story, and the “here is precisely where my proposals differ from those of my opponent” part of Obama’s speech doesn’t fit into that narrative… so they edit it out?

George Stephanopoulos
Or — and in many ways this is worse — are they just totally tone- deaf? Do they really think that their talking- heads analysis of Obama’s speech is more important and more interesting than the speech itself? Do they really think that this historic occasion — what amounted to the acceptance speech of the first African- American major- party candidate for President of the United States — deserved, at most, a couple/few minutes of sound bite, before the really important business of George Stephanopoulos gassing on?

Did they really think that, at this moment in history, what George Stephanopoulos had to say was more interesting and important than what Barack Obama had to say?

I don’t know how long they kept it up. Like I said, I switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could get me there, and I stayed there for the rest of the speech. But I don’t care. The fact that they did it at all, even if it was just for a minute or two, shows an insensitivity so appalling that it verges into flat- out racism. And it was a pitch- perfect example of what is wrong with political discourse in this country. Political news in this country consists largely of brief, sound- bite snippets from the actual candidates and newsmakers and people in government… sandwiched in between endless hours of yammering from reporters and pundits and opinion- makers, until the meta-news, the news about the news, becomes more important than the news itself.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me gassing on about this, engaging in this sort of meta-commentary and acting as if my opinion is important. True, I’m not interrupting a broadcast of a major speech to tell you what I think about it, but still. So you know? Go watch the speech. It’s much more interesting, and much more important, than anything I have to say about it.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    G Felis

    This isn’t ABC’s first offense against the substance of the American political process and the seriousness of Obama’s candidacy. Remember their repulsive, trivial-distraction focused Democratic presidential “debate”? Here’s a reminder for those who’ve forgotten:
    http://pol.moveon.org/enoughdistractions
    The ABC news desk has revealed itself to be the pinnacle of everything wrong with America’s mass media. They aren’t as transparent as Fox (faux) News, but clearly they are supporting a similar political agenda.
    The press was once seen as “the fourth estate” because oversight and critical evaluation of the actions of the powers-that-be is a vital part of a functioning democracy. America’s megacorporation-controlled mass media no longer realizes that vital function in any meaningful way.

  2. 2
    Ephemeriis

    Television news, in general, is crap. It isn’t about getting the news out anymore, it’s about ratings. And since everyone can air the same speech each station needs to add something unique to steal viewers away from the competition – their commentary. That’s why the assorted reporters and commentators are such celebrities these days.

  3. 3
    George Swill

    Why didn’t anyone broadcast what BRITNEY thinks about this? That’s what really counts.

  4. 4
    Kit Whitfield

    From an English perspective, it sounds like a fairly typical piece of US media evil. The people who own ABC will get a lot more profit from President McCain than President Obama. They want McCain to win. Obama is good at trashing his opponents without making himself look bad; ergo, ABC don’t want their viewers to hear him doing it. They can’t get away with cutting the speech, but if they talk over it, they hope nobody will notice the censorship.
    I don’t think that opinion calls for a tinfoil hat. Did you ever see the news broadcast of the ‘don’t taze me, bro’ incident where the newscaster’s first comment afterwards was, not ‘Shocking footage of brutality at a political gathering’, not ‘Free speech advocates called the incident disgraceful’, but ‘Well, I guess that’s the most excited anybody’s ever been at a John Kerry rally’? Ie, a kid was tortured for being mouthy, and the best response is a petty dig at the Democrats? American TV pundits are bad, bad people. That’s why left-wing bloggers like your fine self are so important: they can tell the truth without fear of firing.

  5. 5
    Allienne Goddard

    Um, “verges into flat-out racism”? I wonder if you might explain how this particular bit of media douchebaggery was racist. I’m certainly not saying it wasn’t, because I can be blind to the manifestations of racism, though I despise it. Hell, I miss sexism sometimes, and as a feminist I’m pretty well sensitized to it. But I don’t see how this particular offense is a result of racism.

  6. 6
    TheNerd

    This is precisely why I don’t have a TV. On the internet, there aren’t any talking heads to interrupt my news. Now, I’m not one to get into speeches – politicians don’t warm my heart or inspire me with hope – but at least if I choose to listen to one I can hear it uninterrupted.

  7. 7
    Greta Christina

    Here’s why I think ABC’s actions verged into racism, Allienne.
    A big part of why the speech was historically important was that it marked the first time that an African- American has been a presumptive major-party nominee for President of the United States. It was an extremely important moment in Black history.
    For two white pundits to interrupt this speech and talk over it, as if the moment weren’t worth paying more than a couple minutes attention to, as if what they had to say was more important and more interesting than what Obama himself had to say… yes, I’d say that verges into racism.

  8. 8
    Kit Whitfield

    That does sound pretty racist. I was assuming that they probably wouldn’t have done the same thing to a Black Republican nominee – but then, I doubt such a nominee would have talked about racial issues, so it’s pretty much a moot point. I suspect they’d have given him a less interrupted speech, though.

  9. 9
    Karin W

    The analogy that came to mind for me reading about this was when you go to some beautiful place, like the Grand Canyon, and people seem more interested in getting a photograph of the place than actually experiencing the beauty of the place. Something about how we’ve learned (well, not me, but some people) to see the Grand Canyon, listen to Obama, from a mediated perspective (a commentator, how it will look in a photo), rather than from the experience itself. We end up losing the authenticity of our experiences. And disbelieving our own experiences, and you know where you can go with that politically!

  10. 10
    Jocelyn

    I just finished listening to the speech – thanks so much for sending the link along – and all I can say is, WOW.

  11. 11
    Jon Berger

    I have no doubt whatsoever that it was deliberate. You don’t cut away from an acceptance speech by a candidate for President without planning it in advance and having a very good reason. This is like cutting away from the Super Bowl three minutes before the end of the second quarter — which they’d never NEVER do, of course, because football is IMPORTANT.
    By the way, on the subject of Obama’s reputation as a fluffball who talks real purty but doesn’t have any actual ideas, the thing is, he’s just never been in the habit of using major speeches as the forum for laying out policy ideas, because his policy ideas are complex enough that they’d be supremely boring if you had to sit there and listen to them. As policy ideas should be: a policy idea that can be reduced to a snappy 25-word sound bite is probably a pretty sucky policy idea. If you go to his web site, there’s a level of detail there that makes it impossible to buy into the “all he can do is say ‘hope’ over and over again” meme. The guy is seriously smart, and on top of that he’s got a really stupendously amazing campaign team. I can’t wait to see Plouffe as Chief of Staff.
    (Did I use “meme” correctly? That’s a word I got from this blog.)
    Anyone catch the McCain speech that same night? It was, like, the Worst Political Speech Ever, hands down. And for reasons unknown, he did it in front of a brilliant lime-green background, which ought to delight all the video geeks who want to put it on YouTube with Daffy Duck hitting him over the head with a mallet or whatever.

  12. 12
    Allienne Goddard

    Sorry for the drive-by comment, but to pick up the racism angle again: So, even if ABC would have treated Edward’s acceptance speech the same way as Obama’s, it is nevertheless racist because they should have shown greater respect for Obama’s achievement because of its historical significance? It would, then, have been sexist to do the same to Clinton if she had won, for parallel reasons? Am I understanding you?
    By the way, I am just trying to understand. My response sounds sarcastic, even to me, but I only slept two hours and I can’t seem to fix it.
    If I am understanding, it is a rather interesting argument which had not occurred to me. It would be dismissiveness and insensitivity which verges on racism. It does run up against the “special treatment” canard, but only if one discounts the unique importance of the event. Okay, I find that pretty convincing. Thanks.

  13. 13
    David Harmon

    In this case, I’d say the networks’ racism is perhaps secondary to their sheer arrogance. I’m hoping that after the election, a goodly number of reporters will be disinvited from the White House Press Room. And at least a few of the bloviators face hate-crimes charges (and/or “incitement to violence”).

  14. 14
    Sue Katz

    I agree that the coverage is appalling and such voice-overs are beyond annoying. Many of the commentators are so full of themselves that they don’t have room for intelligence, but I’m afraid I was very disappointed in Obama’s speech. I felt it veered away from his rather unique approach towards the standard “America-greatest-country-on-earth-god-bless-us” pap of American politics. And my worst fears were confirmed the next day when he addressed the right-wing Israeli lobbying group, echoing their very reactionary politics and wearing a linked American/Israeli flag pin (!). Sigh.
    Sue

  15. 15
    Cath the Canberra Cook

    Your link to watch the speech doesn’t work. I get this notice: “This is a private video. If you have been sent this video, please make sure you accept the sender’s friend request.”
    Try this one:

    (Some HTML in comments would be useful here; I tried to put in a link but the system won’t accept it.)

  16. 16
    Cath the Canberra Cook

    Oh hey, look, instant markup. Good enough!

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