Newspaper logo

MEDIA CRITICISM:

Open Letter to Keith Olbermann about Media's Treatment of Obama

by Jordan Miller

You media pundits should make judgments about candidates on the basis of political concepts or ideas. Don't turn political punditry into an episode of "American Idol."
Dear Keith:

Since you're a man of rationality and good humor, I'd like to discuss a couple of points about the Clinton/Obama phenomenon which may or may not have occurred to you.

First of all, it's pretty obvious that there is a bias in favor of Barack Obama which, by definition, involves some denigration of Hillary Clinton. For example, last night, candidates began their speeches after the polls had closed, and nearly the whole time Sen. Clinton spoke, she was surrounded by various images of Sen. Obama. When he spoke, he was, quite naturally, surrounded by images of himself.

Secondly, a comment made by you or Chris Matthews (I think it was you, actually) about Sen. Clinton, as she mounted the stairs to the dais, was something to the effect of "Oh, there she goes clapping." This is especially ironic when you realize that this put-down could be as easily applied to Obama inasmuch as he claps almost constantly when he gets at the podium.

These are two small examples, but I think they typify the contrast in the pattern of treatment afforded the two candidates.

What's disturbing here is that the media in general have overwhelmingly helped create the hype that itself has become part of the Obama juggernaut. I know many Obamans, and nearly all speak in general, globular terms about why they like him: "He's the future," "I believe he'll bring change," "African-Americans deserve a chance," to name just a few.

One retired bookseller wrote to a friend of mine about his attending an Obama rally and he mentioned how many people had tears in their eyes. They were all involved, he wrote, "not in a political campaign, but a MOVEMENT" (caps his).

And there's the rub. It's SUPPOSED to be a political campaign, not a movement, because we need pragmatic ideas—rational thought by politicians of good will and good sense. Obama's youth is part of his appeal since he stands on that side of the generational chasm and, even though I question his rhetorical style and intellectual maturity, I do understand the enthusiasm he evokes: his youth, his race, the symbolism of his race. Loving Obama is a form of reparations, which it ought not to be. And not only do you and your colleagues in the media underscore these aspects of his appeal, but you also, consciously or unconsciously, demean Clinton's advantages. And, most notably, your denigration of her is almost never about her political positions or ideas, but about her laugh (a "cackle"), or her incessant clapping, as I mentioned earlier, which, by implication, is some sort of silly, girlish ploy.

Obviously, pundits are meant to make judgments, but let them do so on the basis of political concepts or ideas; let them discuss those ideas, compare them, parse them. But don't turn political punditry into an episode of "American Idol" or, worse yet, turn the bumper-sticker idea of "Change" into whatever one wants it to mean or use "Hope" as a new brand of worshipful Faith, a form of religiosity which has been all too prevalent in our country these past seven years. Obama should be required to join the political discourse and his audiences need to think about what he says as well as take him to their hearts.

There's no substitute for the process of rational thought, and I very much fear that you and your colleagues during this campaign have aided and abetted the deterioration of that process for a complex of reasons, most of them all too subjective.

Yours sincerely,
Jordan Miller


Jordan Miller may be reached at editors@academychicago.com.


Copyright © 2008 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on February 11, 2008.