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The Clark Fallout and “Faux Outrage Over Fake Scandals”

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: media, mainstream media, hype, Wesley Clark, John McCain, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Columbia Journalism Review,

Clark and McCainCampaign seasons inevitably produce high-pressure systems of willful ignorance, disingenuous oversimplification, and mountain-out-of-molehill overreactions on the part of the media in response to nuanced statements by candidates or their surrogates. This year has been no different; in fact, this election has seen the mainstream media hype machine working overtime—hysterically wringing every last drop out of items whose newsworthiness was dubious from the start—with an intensity that makes the media mileage gained four years ago from the Swift Boat Veterans or Howard Dean’s scream look paltry by comparison.

The Columbia Journalism Review contrasts two recent pieces by Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias that analyze the mainstream media’s willful distortion of certain statements—in this case, Krugman and Yglesias consider (with varying degrees of optimism) the longer-term legacy of the media hysteria that erupted over General Wesley Clark's assessment of John McCain's military service.

Krugman believes the era of “Rovian” attack politics is waning, that a contrite press might begin to tone down its “faux outrage over fake scandals.” But Yglesias responds that old habits die hard, and the days of overblown oversimplification aren't likely to end anytime soon: “If Democrats are really counting on responsible, substantive news coverage to hand them the election then John McCain has things in the bag.”

CJR’s own two-part analysis (here and here) of the media uproar surrounding the “Clark fallout” supports this pessimistic outlook. (Also check out the Carpetbagger's thoughts on how the media’s irresponsible treatment of the episode has spilled over into coverage of John Kerry’s recent Face the Nation appearance.)