Color me utterly uninterested that Rick Santorum uttered a naughty word or barked at a New York Times reporter.
But since it appears we have to be forced to micro-focus on such non-events during elections years, here are some ways to cover the “story” that seem at least somewhat relevant: Were the questions he was being asked fair? Was his response called for? If we are going to try some bend-over-backward extrapolation of how this small exchange with reporters acts as a trip to Delphi to view an advanced screening of President Santorum, what do we make of it? Is he a powerful man of conviction, or a McCain-esque hot head? OK, so none of these are actually interesting questions. But at least they are somewhat relevant to the election, if even in the most microscopic way.
You know what’s not at all relevant? What the New York Times reporter personally thought about Santorum’s quick outburst, and whatever other gossipy things he had to say about the stars in
CBS This Morning’s “tell-all” interview with the Times reporter* might be the best microcosm I can think of about what is wrong with journalism today. The job of the journalist is less and less about collecting data, uncovering hidden facts, or even holding up truth to power. Instead, it’s becoming an industry that thrives on treating its members as it’s own special kind of celebrity. Most cable news has been this way for a long time, and it’s success (sadly) drives the whole industry these days. The purpose of Hannity, Beck, Maddow, Olbermann, O’Reilly, et al has become Hannity, Beck, Maddow, Olbermann, O’Reilly, et al. Which is bad enough as it is, but it bleeds into everything else.
In this case, CBS This Morning allowed itself to become the latest Real Housewives-type reality show so that historical-footnotes-to-be Rick Santorum and a guy from the Times can continue their public cat fight, each temporarily boosting the Q rating of the other. And what’s sad is that this grasping for one’s 15 minutes is no longer the exception, it’s the rule.
Sarah Palin is an elected official, except that she’s not, because she’s a journalist, except that she’s not, because that she’s running for office, except that she’s not, because she’s nothing more than a media figure, except that she’s not. People now run for national office as a springboard to lucrative contracts with FOX. Or morning shows with MSNBC. Or whatever the fish it is that Herman Cain is doing.
The thing of it that really grates me, though, is that with all of these “journalists” I don’t get the feeling that the carrot they chase is a nice financial payday. Instead, when I look at them the impression I get is that more than anything they just want to be famous. They want to be celebrities that others look at and fawn over, giggling and whispering about their import. I never got the sense that Andrew Breitbart’s goal was to change the American landscape so much as it was to be “the man,” which is why it always seemed so hard for him to have people who were not him in front of the camera. I think the same thing about Keith Olbermann.
Is this Gray Lady-fingered episode the worst example of journalists being “All ABout Me” that has ever happened? Hell, I don’t think it’s the worst example from this past week. (Though I confess seeing a print journalist from the NYT involved makes it all that more sad in my eyes.) But I know that my fellow bloggers at other sites are going to be driving up our nations bandwidth discussing either how awesome it was that Santorum put that commie fish wrapper in its place, or that the NYT reporter put that fascist pig in his place. Few, I suspect, are going to to be saying what should most be said about this weekend’s hubbub: that the goal of a journalist that forced an answer from a Presidential candidate should not be to cash in to become an “instant celebrity.”
*Sorry, I refuse to use the reporter’s name in this post. He’s a freaking reporter. For a newspaper. Unless he’s buying me a beer at the airport bar, I should never have reason to know his name.