As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Link-Baiting And How To Do It

I write a lot about the media's penchant for conflict and meaningless issues. I don't think that can be better expressed by the attempt to whip up controversy over an American President appearing on a stage with a flag. I mean, it doesn't get more petty than that.

What's funny is that Mike Allen of the Politico flagged this (pardon the pun) as something that "cable's gonna go cuckoo over." Of course, when he says that, he's basically setting the agenda, because cable news producers read Mike Allen's "Playbook" column daily to get story ideas. Cable actually passed on this one - too stupid for CABLE - but Politico dug it because it was a conflict-inducing non-story. Which is their mission statement - to provide a useful conveyance for the disseminating of B.S. spin.

TNR has posted an internal Politico memo "revealing the organization's formula for 'must-read' coverage." Reading through CAPS-laden passages like these, I couldn't help imagining them read by Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross:

"We are not the AP or the New York Times" ... If we ONLY do what those two great organizations do, WE WILL NOT SURVIVE AND WE WON'T HAVE JOBS." [...]

"Speed kills. Velocity - SPEED + POWER (good sources, smart thinking) - will make you a winner."

And like Mamet's salesmen trying to talk their marks into investing in swampland, it seems the Politico is little more than a con. See, the Politico memo has a lot of instructions for reporters, including a list of questions Politico employees should ask themselves about prospective stories. Things like "Would this be a 'most-emailed' story?" and "Will a blogger be inspired to post on this story?" But it omits any mention of striving to ensure accuracy or quality. No questions like "Do I have the story right?" or "Am I being spun by my sources?" or "Is this story important?" (And certainly no "Does it really matter how much someone paid for a haircut?")

Maybe those questions aren't included because they aren't relevent to Politico's extraordinary mission statement, presented at the top of the memo:

THE MISSION: Politico journalism drives conversation in official Washington, making us ESSENTIAL READING for anyone who is or wants to be a player, and a KEY OUTLET for anyone who is trying to shape a political or government debate.

That's it. That's the whole mission. Nothing about informing people, or finding the truth. Instead, Politico sees its mission as being a "key outlet" for the "players" trying to shape political debates. With that as the Politico's mission, it seems unlikely they even care whether they're being spun, or getting the story right.

It's really quite unbelievable. It's like Karl Rove invented a news outlet and made sure the cable universe paid attention to it, so his smears could be once-removed.

You can see this mindset at work in Politico's latest story about Barack Obama's tour of the country (no link because that's what they want), which they intimate is Obama "pitting Washington Insiders against Real People," which is a fallback position for Presidents who have received critical coverage. In other words, Obama just hates us cuz he ain't us. Or, as Josh Marshall put it, "Citizens increasingly out of touch with Beltway Media."

Now this makes me mad, and I want to write about how foolish it is and how warped the mindset. But that would basically be playiing into Politico's hands. They don't want to inform, they don't want to be accurate. They want to generate "buzz." They want to make me angry. And they want a link.

A mass-boycott from the progressive blogosphere, if only for a day, would be nice.

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