“[The media] would still roll over for Bush in tonight’s debate, if only he had told his lies crisply and with folksy assurance.”
We find ourselves at a strange moment in American political history. Most people have internalized the rules of the game; everyone is an expert in the gestures that denote “authority,” “the common touch,” “love of country,” “excessive intellectuality” and so on. In this election, at least, no one even pretends that substance will win the day. Years ago, in his book “Mythologies,” the French culture critic Roland Barthes wrote about the way that mass-culture consumer societies create and maintain images, gestures, discourses that act as the filters through which we perceive the world. It is the double gaze that all of us have to some degree. It is the world of spin. We have all become implicit spinners. No one likes it and no one knows how to stop it. We look simultaneously at content and predicted effect, at what actually happened and how it will play. If it doesn’t play, it never happened. Conversely, even blatant lies, if they play, become true.
Watching Bush dissolve [in his first debate with Kerry], I reflect that this phenomenon, abetted by a cowed and lazy press, has played into the hands of this administration to a fatal degree. The media, unable to confront the propagandistic web of distortions and lies the administration used to make its case for war in Iraq, falls back on simply evaluating its effectiveness. Abdicating their responsibility to find out the truth, they vanish into a never-never land whose apparent cynicism (“it’s all spin anyway”) conceals its moral and intellectual vacuity. They would still roll over for Bush in tonight’s debate, if only he had told his lies crisply and with folksy assurance. Thank God he didn’t.