How bad are our media? How bad is our democracy?

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

First off: predictions.

I predict tomorrow this country will still be a mess. As for the rest, let's talk tomorrow (though I do have a feeling about Ned Lamont ...).

OK, how bad?

So bad, I'm afraid, that newspapers must apologize for exercising common sense. Here, the Wilmington Star-News in North Carolina issues an abject apology for not writing in great detail about the fact that a former presidential candidate who is not running for anything flubbed a joke. No really. "We -- and we alone -- dropped the ball on the Kerry story." Remember, the joke was there on paper, and Kerry's explanation is therefore incontrovertible. All that has been read into it is, therefore, nonsense. He really was trying to make fun of Bush, not the troops -- of whom, by the way, he once was one, unlike the entire Republican leadership who have caused this horrific mess, to say nothing of the idiots in the press who played it as if it were the most important story since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

But things are so bad, our media are so mindless, that they now must now apologize for doing things right. The Star-News explains that "we inadvertently omitted an important story." My goodness, they even have to explain it's not a conspiracy run out of The New York Times. It terrifies me that providence put the fate of so many members of humankind in the hands of a political system so self-evidently stupid.

Meanwhile, here, Paul McLeary writes of Howard Kurtz's chat with readers of The Washington Post. One questioner took the "news media" to task for hyping the Kerry BotchedJokeGate gaffe last week:

The reader fumed, "I'm really frustrated the way the news media at large played up the Kerry gaffe time and time again last week ...Who decided to make this story as big as it was?"

Kurtz, channeling Kerry himself, tried to loosen things up with a bad joke, explaining that "[t]he secret committee of biased journalists, a select and shadowy group" were the folks responsible for pushing the story. Nice try, Howie, but don't quit your day job.

The real laugh line, however, was still to come -- even though Kurtz was being serious. "Actually, as I noted a moment ago, it was John Kerry, by escalating his rhetoric after what he admits was a botched joke, who sent this story into the media stratosphere. The fact that several Democrats publicly criticized or distanced themselves from Kerry's joke-gone-bad didn't hurt."

So, by Kurtz' reckoning, Kerry "sent this story into the media stratosphere" all by his lonesome. Count us surprised. We had no idea that Kerry wielded so much influence over reporters and their editors, who sent the reporters out to run the story into the ground.

Kurtz' failure to acknowledge the media's role in driving this saturation coverage is typical of the establishment press. We are simply observers holding a mirror up to society, the deluded sentiment goes. (What we are, actually, is an insecure bunch of copycats who simply can't lay off a story once it has been "legitimized," i.e., published elsewhere.) There was a great example two weeks ago, when Virginia Senator George Allen's aides "leaked" sexually explicit portions of his opponent James Webb's novels to the Drudge Report. On October 28, two days after Drudge ran the story, the Washington Post weighed in front page with its own take on the passages, noting that "Allen's aides" had been "trying to get other news organizations to write about the excerpts for weeks." Left unsaid was that the Post's editors presumably didn't find the passages newsworthy enough to bother -- until some other editors decided they were, that is.

Sad, sad, sad.

Meanwhile, also, Paul Glastris asks, "Has it really gotten to the point that journalists are so fearful of being mau-maued, or losing their contracts as TV commentators, that they're afraid to express basic, incontrovertible facts?" Here. More on robocalls / voter suppression here.

Other stuff:

""The deaths of young people are a terrible, screaming waste, but no less terrible is the feeling that, for many years, the State of Israel is wasting not only the lives of her sons, but also the miracle [of the creation of the state], the opportunity to create an enlightened and democratic nation here." By David Grossman, not me, but I'd say much the same thing about the "miracle" of the United States as well.

By Larry Johnson, not me.

By Eric Boehlert, not me.

By The Economist: "An Israeli academic who argues that Israel should confess to a deliberate campaign to expel nearly 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 is courting controversy at home."

Quick, someone grab a loofah:

"[Bill O'Reilly's] aura of command is fascinating... I left Mr. O'Reilly's super-hot domain trying to think of whom he reminded me. It came to me: Gen. George S. Patton, complete with ivory-handled revolvers on his hips, couldn't exude more confidence, certainty, and know-how than Bill O'Reilly." -- Liz Smith (I forget where I read that).

Word of the day: "Altocracy." "It seems that benefits accrue to the tall beginning almost from birth, and then keep accruing, leading to what is, generally speaking, a society where the tall lead and the short follow -- an 'altocracy,' as Hall puts it." Here.

Alter-review by Tony, NYCD:

FRANK SINATRA -- VEGAS. Four CDs and a DVD consisting entirely of unreleased live performances by the Chairman Of The Board from 1961-87. If you're a casual fan, this 4 CD/DVD box set may not be for you. Three of the five discs are from 1978 and later, and while you get multiple versions of rarely performed chestnuts like "Get Me To the Church On Time" and "Without A Song," there's no "Strangers In The Night" or "That's Life" or "All The Way" or "It Was A Very Good Year." Novices are instructed to pick up the single disc 1966 classic Sinatra At The Sands and proceed from there. But if you're a die-hard Sinatra fanatic who's as excited by the prospect of an unreleased 1982 Caesars Palace show as a wee-small-hours Sands gig from '61, and want to hear him tackle songs from "She Shot Me Down" more than "Songs For Swingin' Lovers," then this is the set for you. Glorious, previously unreleased (and mostly unbootlegged) shows spanning a quarter century on the Strip, beautifully mastered and packaged. And the Chairman is in great form throughout. Even if his pipes in 1987 weren't what they were in 1961, he always knew how to get the feeling of a song across. This is sure to quiet all the fans who complain that the Sinatra estate isn't moving fast enough with from-the-vaults releases -- for a little while, anyway.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ken
Hometown: Edmonds, WA

The Washington Post comes out with this the day before the election: "Soldiers in Iraq Say Pullout Would Have Devastating Results." The article includes: "The soldiers declined to discuss the political jousting back home, but they expressed support for the Bush administration's approach to the war ..." and "Leading Democrats have argued for a timeline to bring U.S. troops home, because obvious progress has been elusive ..."

The day before the election.

Gosh, it's almost like the WaPo's got some kind of goal or something.

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