When media folk want to validate their prejudices, they commission a poll to verify them, a junk in, junk out phenomena.
It is a foolhardy fallacy to think that people believe everything they read. The opposite may be true: We are dealing with a readership that has “come of age” and tends to be hypercritical. But you cannot form a sound opinion around an empty space: People cannot mentally grope data that has never registered in their minds. The media’s sins of commission pale in respect of their sins of omission. And, of course, if it’s not there, a poll cannot measure it.
Here is a harmless example: In September, a political commentator wrote a column asserting that Cindy Sheehan’s protest against the war in Iraq was rendered ineffective because people were too easily distracted. The column was titled, “Weather Distracts Nation From Iraq War.”
“As a nation,” the commentator wrote, “we seem to be unable to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Iraq, Iraq - whoa! Look at those gas prices! Gas, gas - whoa! Look at that hurricane!”
No doubt the writer had her own reasons for wishing to keep the nation’s eyes fixed on Sheehan. But there is abundant evidence, much of it printed in the newspaper for which she writes, that nothing short of Armageddon would distract the media from focusing on the Iraq war -- particularly those aspects of it that are nettlesome to President George Bush.
It is true that Ms. Sheehan’s Washington protest was shoved off the front pages by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But then, “All Cindy All the Time” would have been – indeed, is – an insufferable bore.
And here we arrive at the nub of the problem. It could plausibly be argued that by the end of September 2005, the nation had a surfeit of Sheehan reportage. We were up to our necks with Cindy, and most of the incidents reported were, in any case, plucked from an anti-Viet Nam war script more weathered than New Orleans.
See Cindy say “this country is not worth dying for.” See Cindy say her son Casey “was killed in the Global War of Terrorism waged on the world and its own citizens by the biggest terrorist outfit in the world: George and his destructive neo-con cabal.” See Cindy refer to foreign terrorists in Iraq as “Freedom Fighters.” See Cindy refer to President Bush as "a lying bastard… that jerk… that filth spewer and war monger... that evil maniac,” and wonder plaintively, while the cameras are yet rolling, why the president should refuse to meet with her a second time.
During Cindy’s first audience with Bush, she was a bit more passive, perhaps because her new friends – particularly International Answer, one of the sponsoring groups of the Washington peace rally and a front group for jihadism -- had not yet stuck their pitchforks in her.
See Cindy arrested by Washington DC police for obstructing a public pathway. See her booked and returned to the street for photo ops.
How retro 70’s can you get?
War protests are necessary, even advisable. But this protest was bound to alienate the affections of those who had come of age in our brave new world.
Even former New York City Mayor Ed Koch – no rightist; Koch thinks the president should bring the troops home , the sooner the better, and deposit the whole mid-East tar baby into the hands of the United Nations – was prepared to write off Sheehan after her Washington DC performance.
“Many Americans, myself included,” Koch wrote in one of his columns, “now see her as a person who has come to enjoy the celebratory status accorded to her by the radicals on the extreme left who see America as the outlaw of the world. These radicals are not content to be constructive critics. They are bent on destroying this country.”
It wasn’t Katrina or Rita that elbowed Sheehan off the front pages: It was Cindy’s runaway mouth, her too ardent friends, and a host of incurious reporters who omitted in their stories many of her quotes presented here.
You just can’t do that and expect to be convincing in an age as robust and foolproof as ours.