Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of a unique political speech. On November 13, 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew questioned the network news divisions' domination of the political debate, and the "narrow and distorted picture of America [that] often emerges from the television news."
Despite the very different times we lieve in today compared to the Old Media days of the late 1960s -- a time when the Big Three were a very dominant force in determining what Americans saw and discussed -- much of what Agnew said then remains a compelling critique of TV news today:
Setting the Agenda: "We cannot measure this power and influence by traditional democratic standards. They can make or break -- by their coverage and commentary -- a moratorium on the war. They can elevate men from local obscurity to national prominence within a week. They can reward some politicians with national exposure and ignore others. For millions of Americans, the network reporter who covers a continuing issue, like ABM or civil rights, becomes in effect, the presiding judge in a national trial by jury."
Is Barack Obama turning into Spiro Agnew? The White House's attacks on the Fox News smack of the distaste for media opposition espoused by Nixon's vice president almost 40 years ago but are being met with a decidedly different reaction today by the elite media.
Pundits have wondered aloud since last week why the White House would pursue a strategy that seems to be boosting the ratings of a purported 'opposition' news network. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough posited today that the White House's attacks on Fox News are designed to prevent the mainstream media from picking up on stories damaging to the administration (video embedded below the fold, h/t to NB reader Kirk W.).
Every time Fox breaks a story on the radical connections of a White House advisor or appointee, the news is potentially damaging to the administration. But damage is only really done if the rest of the media picks up on the story, reports it, and turns it into a national news sensation, a la Van Jones.
How interesting that ABC's Charles Gibson, as noted in this Associated Press dispatch, focused on Sarah Palin's foreign-policy bona fides when he interviewed her (a transcript is here). Also note the biased AP evaluation (bolds are mine):
John McCain running mate Sarah Palin sought Thursday to defend her qualifications but struggled with foreign policy ..... acknowledging she's never met a foreign head of state.
..... She also said she had never met a head of state and added: "If you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you."
Indeed. Palin's contention gains more support if you look at the prior experience of at least a couple of presidents and vice-presidents during the past few decades:
In one of what will surely be a long and tiring string of stories speculating about running mates, CBS’s The Early Show discussed which running mates helped or hurt their parties on Thursday. CBS political guru Jeff Greenfield asserted: "Now Richard Nixon once said, Harry, that a running mate can't help you but only hurt you and he should know, his choice of Spiro Agnew in 1968 proved to be a big embarrassment, thanks to Agnew's careless way with words." After Greenfield added who helped the ticket (LBJ, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore), Smith returned to mocking Agnew: "Alright, not to bring back up subjects like nattering nabobs of negativism."
It was the latest example of Greenfield opining on 1968 without mentioning to viewers he worked as a speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy in 1967 and 1968.