RIP: The Press


Reading the recently deceased David Foster Wallace’s book on John McCain (McCain’s Promises: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope) made me realise why, throughout this very long and overhyped American election campaign, I have been happy to leave the analysis to the information scribblers.

First of all, you have to care. I mean really care, and although I live in America, I don’t vote here, so I hardly see how my view on either candidate is going to change the outcome. Why is it that Australians will talk about the US elections with passion while forgoing our national issues that really matter? Healthcare; water, anyone?

Second, you have to think that the election process is organic, that this is the will of the people. I don’t. Political spin and the Byzantine methods of making sure that outside powers never have a flocking clue what is going to emerge in the American political landscape is the USA’s specialty. Call it democracy. Call it what you like, but I assure you Obama’s emergence is about as organic as those sets of twins being prammed about in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

One telling little piece of evidence was the utterly pukeable piece in this month’s Vanity Fair on Rupert Murdoch, which of course rehashed the usual information on Our Dear Leader. His fallout with Lachlan (really?) his love of newspapers (yeah, and basically any media at this point that is influential) his successful children (um, Rupert as Dad sort of helps) and of course, Wendi, the groovy, conveniently Chinese chick who has made him friends with people like the guy from Facebook and others. Murdoch talked about his endorsement of Barack Obama and the handy way his kidlets organised fundraisers for him in London which I reckon might, you know, help Obama in that little power circle known as the World.

Third, the endless media coverage and photo opportunities, debate and publicity stunts are – just as Foster Wallace will tell you – noise. Hot, media-distracting noise. The world’s media has become a bunch of schoolgirl cheerleaders forgoing analysis of some pretty serious issues for another boring piece on Palin (eek! ergh!) versus Obama (Our Hero). All sorts of brilliant people are now wasting their time endorsing either candidate and writing endless blogs that seem rather like drunk conversations between adolescents. Um, I get it. Palin is weird, Obama is great – can we, like, give it a rest now?

Fourth, if you have ever seen the dorky press corps at a political press conference in the States, you will have some idea about the sycophantic scribblers that are called journalists these days. It’s all semantics and buddy-buddy with this press aide and that press aide and smarmy consultants trying to get all friendly with you so you’ll spill your guts and tell them what you are thinking of writing in your article. Red herrings, made-up rumours, there is no end to the charm of the political aide with a story to plant, despite the fact that he is utterly charm-less and often a sickly pale of white. For some reason though, the scribblers love all this and think themselves VIP by hanging on to their every white lie.

As Foster Wallace so brilliantly noted aboard the McCain Express, the important scribbler boys are often neat with blue shirts, khaki trousers and somehow have interviewed all the important political leaders in foreign countries, gone to their house for dinner and talked about Melanesian death rites late into the night.

(When I talk to a leader of a foreign country, on the other hand, he is often laughing at me because I know nothing about the real agendas in their country, forgot to put a bra on under my see-through shirt and ask all the questions you normal people want to know. Like, are they with China or the US? How much money are they making from Chinese resources? And: where can I go to dance in this country? The Significant Political Leader has usually seen my questions in advance via some backdoor in my computer that the Yanks configured for other purposes. This makes it doubly hard to sound brilliant but I generally knock them off balance by throwing the script away and arguing with them regardless. Thus it almost becomes a real interview, but of course the fact remains they are not going to tell me anything. Ever.)

Fifth, the interaction between journalists and politicians is so orchestrated, so manufactured in its endless ritual that journalists have lost sight of what the audience wants to know and hear. I know that Obama must be a great guy, and clearly Palin has been sent in to make it a bit more fun, but the spin has destroyed all the guts and glory of a good political stoush.

Give me an off-message candidate any day, and I’ll start caring about politics again and stop reading New Idea to get by.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.