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I Never Thought I’d Say This, But… March 20, 2008

Posted by Jeff in Election '08.
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…the cynics are wrong. Since Barack Obama gave his remarkably low-key speech on race in America on Tuesday, pundits have been of two minds. On the one hand, they say, it was sincere, thoughtful, high-minded, and treated Americans like adults. On the other, it was sincere, thoughtful, high minded, and treated Americans like adults. Mickey Kaus, among others, have suggested that Americans are too racist, too simple, and too absorbed in the sound-bite to appreciate it, and that because it “gave Archie Bunker a chance to tune out,” did nothing to help Obama. I don’t buy it.

First of all, Archie Bunker would never vote for Obama, and neither will the severely bigoted Americans like him. The speech wasn’t addressed at them, and Democrats would be well advised to ignore them rather than court their vote and lose progressives’, feminists’, and minorities’ in the process. Second, I don’t think that Americans are as stupid as many pundits make them out to be.

The last 40 years, of course, has seen the rise of sound bites, press conferences, and sensational manufactured news at the expense of real journalism. This doesn’t reflect on the consumer, however. The fact that Anderson Cooper’s exposĂ©s on poverty in Africa, investigative reports on corruption in congress, and hard-hitting blogs like TPM Muckraker have been so popular shows that Americans do care about knowing what’s going on in the world, and can handle in depth news and analysis.

The responsibility for reducing journalism to 24 hour coverage of Anna Nicole Smith lies not on demand, but on supply. When deciding where to assign journalists, editors and producers have two choices. They can have them sit in a studio or outside a courtroom and deliver prefab news reports that are guaranteed to draw an audience. Or they can assign them to sifting through documents, interviewing witnesses, and jetting about the world to dangerous places, with no guarantee of a story. Naturally they pick the former.

So, the consumers end up getting a bad rap. Because they will settle for the cheap gossip they can get even though they would prefer the expensive journalism they can’t, pundits claim they want gossip and are so toddler-like that they can’t comprehend a sentence longer than 15 words.

Don’t get me wrong. Americans are still materialistic, selfish, shallow, and bigoted. But that has nothing to do with whether Obama’s speech will resonate.

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