Monday, March 14, 2005

The Evil Bubble

Mon Mar 14th, 2005 at 09:48:22 PSTAs Agent Smith would say"I had a Revelation" today.
It started this morning when I heard an NPR report about Bush's plans to hit the rally circuit to drum up support for his now gasping Soc Sec. plan. I thought about the ways the GOP controls access to these rallies and wondered "how do you build support for anything when you are only preaching to the converted?"
Then I read a Chicago Tribune Article detailing the unprecedented extent of deliberate media manipulation (paid pundits, fake newscasts, and Gannon featured prominently) that this administration has engaged in since day one (are the sleeping media giants awakening? )
And then it hit me: The Bubble is not an accident, The Bubble is not (only) to Protect Chimpy from the sharp corners of the real world where everyone doesn't adore him. The Bubble is both evil and brilliant. The Bubble is the nuclear bomb in Karl Rove's basket of media distortion and manipulation tools. In short, if we want to win back this country. The Bubble must pop.

During the 04 campaign the bubble was occasionally mentioned in passing when it generated a "Man Arrested for wearing a T-shirt" type story, but it received little, if any serious analysis. Most commentators chalked it up to W wanting to energize his base and left and essentially decided he was making a big mistake. .In the meantime however, the media dutifully covered these rallies as if they had actual news value. Every nightly newscast was sure to carry a few seconds of W saying something stern and forceful and then being drowned out by a near-orgasmic crowd response. The front page of the paper never failed to carry the pictures of W surrounded by a Sea of Adoring Faces. And of Course W won.

The bubble issue began to heat up after he got elected however, when it was clear that Bush's plan was to hit road to drum up popular support for his Social Security piratization. Media types noted with some surprise how tightly controlled the attendance was for his rallies, since these were no longer explicitly partisan events. Nonetheless, it was clear WH was going to extreme lengths to see that nobody got through the front door of his rallies that hasn't already consumed a sufficient quantity of Kool-Aid. Dan Froomkin has a recurring feature in his blog/column White House Briefing for WaPo online called BubbleWatch that details exactly how hard the event tickets are to get for someone not already of the GOP persuasion (Reportedly tickets were unavailable unless you had a least one child Herbert or Walker, and/or had a picture of dear leader tattooed in a place where it can been seen and meditated on during Martial, church approved, for the purposes of procreation only, physical relations)

As I noted above, at first blush this would seem at least to be a fantastically stupid strategy: You have a potentially dangerous and massive program, the public support for it is rapidly slipping away, so your response is to spend all your time touting its benefits to people that already agree with you ? Add to that the president is a notoriously bad speaker and absolutely incapable of improvising, and you have a real chance at PR disaster in a live environment. It would seem the LAST place you'd want the president.

But never forget the TurdBlossom Factor. Karl Rove is many things ( a prince of darkness spat out of the Netherhells, for being too slimy likely being one of them) but he is NOT stupid. To think he has ever taken an unconsidered and carefully planned breath, is a mistake. So what the hell is he up to with W's Magical Mystery Tour? In a word, controlling the message and making the TV News his bitch.

Its all about the pictures baby. Whenever Bush holds a rally, it is, nearly by definition, News. This means the news outlets (particularly those of the 24-hour variety) are dutifully obligated to cover the event. And in our substance-lite media environ that usually means 3-5 seconds of sound byte and a shot of a crowd going bugshit in adoration of his every syllable. The words don't matter and the substance is nearly irrelevant half an hour into the speech Bush could drop his pants and start singing "I'm a little Teapot, and the crowd would still cheer wildly, and the TV news could still only cover the ten seconds where he says "Social security is bad mmmmkay?" cause they have already packed their news van for the next stop.

But Rove does get that wonderful picture every day in nearly every newscast and all the local papers. And that picture, that visual is the whole point of the exercise. Americans Love a Winner (cue George C. Scott as Patton). When something is popular, in the common imagination it is also good. If all your neighbors like something and you don't, you've been socialized from school and TV to wonder what's wrong with you? Why do movies advertise themselves on tv as "the #1 movie in America?". The ad doesn't say anything about the movie, but then it doesn't have to. In all to many people's minds if its #1, why it must be good. The leading brand of this or that never fails to tell you so, why? Because in the back of your mind you think "well if all my fellow consumers like it......"

Its precisely that effect Karl wants to achieve with these rallies. He doesn't care if people come out of these meetings informed. He really could care less if any hearts and minds are changed by the President's rhetoric (" well I Was opposed to private accounts, but when George Bush explained the marginal cost of money vis-avis traditional financial instruments and the instability of the LIBOR funds rate, well I jumped right on the phone to call my congressman to support the bill). What Karl wants is that you see a picture of Our Leader, surrounded by devoted cheering fans every day. He wants you to subconsciously accept that W is a good and popular leader. He wants you to feel outside the mainstream, and unpopular if you oppose him.
So long as the news cameras dutifully record their piece of call and response from the speech; that exactly what Karl gets. And witting or not, the media are willing partners in this manipulation. They get the lovely pictures, they taped their footage for the evening news and move on.

The media needs to stand up and take responsibility for their misuse. We need to demand that whenever a rally shot is held, the reporter should also report the attendance policies of the rally. For that matter why are these rallies even being covered at this point? The president's message isn't going to change, he been reading from the same prepared script (lightly revised whenever the pollsters test new wording) for months now. If he's not going to say anything new then why does the NEWS feel the need to broadcast it?.

Assign one pool reporter and one camera in case he strays from the text and makes real news, and if he doesn't donate the film to PBS. Make it clear to him that as long as he holds fake rallies, he can expect to face only minimal coverage. The media is fond of whining how badly they are treated by this administration. However they also never seem to defend themselves against the attacks either. Its time for the media to Wake up, and stop being such a willing partner in their own prostitution

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