Thursday, July 15, 2004

Rumors about rumors about rumors

Jesse Taylor on the Cheney rumors:

You know, I want to see Cheney gone as much as anyone. But this Elisabeth Bumiller article in the Times is just ridiculous.

Privately, Democrats are talking about Cheney leaving the ticket. And, in the finest sense of "I'm not really spreading a rumor", Bumiller writes about the rumor's existence, rather than the rumor itself, which lends the rumor a strange kind of credibility (it's worthy of being reported, but I'll weasel out of actually repeating it). I can see why Democrats would do this, if for no other reason than that if it latches on, the ticket looks like it's sticking with a wounded duck, and if it doesn't - all they had to do was just bring it up for a few days in "private" conversations.

But just as the media shouldn't traffic in rumors without validation, I kind of fail to see the use in trafficking in reports of rumors. "Person X says that Group Y is talking about Bush's potential drug use in the Oval Office" is actually a dumber and less responsible story than "Does Bush use drugs in the Oval Office?", because by the time you've crafted the former story, you already know you shouldn't be reporting it with any credibility.

You know, Jesse is right. The media are obsessed with trivialities. They are very susceptible to the temptation to raise cocktail hour gossip into serious topics of national discussion. All it takes is one or two less diligent members of the press to do the elevating (that Bumiller wrote about it in the Times just adds institutional weight to the rumor) and the press will be off and running with the story for days and weeks (and sometimes years).

But there is a delicious irony in seeing the Republicans having to fend off "rumors about a rumor". They have become the masters when it comes to manipulating the media into spreading this kind of crap about Democrats. It's probably the one of the major reasons they have achieved any level of national success. That and the fact that the Democrats have been so long in waking up to what they were doing.

The Democrats are no longer asleep at the switch. I, naturally, give the credit for waking them up to equal parts Howard Dean and the influx of prominent bloggers into the upper echelons of the party (Internet denizens have long been aware of what was going on). They are getting better at dealing with the problem and, as this story indicates, they are not above using it against the Republicans.

We can argue about whether the ultimate result is a further eroding of the political dialog in this country. But I have my doubts that we can ever eliminate the problem. Barring that, I for one am glad to see a little balance being restored to the process. Indeed, it may be that this kind of "live by the sword, die by the sword" payback is necessary to get the Republicans to behave. When one side unilaterally disarms, is it any surprise when the other side picks up the sword and uses it to their benefit?


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