Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan went at each other in Kentucky hoping to secure the votes of independent and undecided voters. After the debate, the analysis started and revealed the sorry state of political discourse in this country. Comment after comment focused not on the substance of each man's statements, but on how they looked and comported themselves. They might as well have been wearing bikinis on the New Jersey boardwalk.
CNN cut to its panel of experts and the first comment from David Gergen was, "...on substance I call it a draw, but Biden's body language and aggressive interruptions could cost him." What? What on earth does that mean? Gloria Borger chimed in with, "...they disagreed on almost everything, but Ryan may have been more appealing as he appeared earnest and calm." Are you kidding? This is what passes for analysis? If they disagreed on everything, then analyze the differences and articulate them. What is a draw? They disagreed on everything to a draw? It is a non-sensical comment.
On CBS, the comments again were style vs. substance. Nora O'Donnell observed Biden was too aggressive and his eyes were rolling and he laughed too much. (similar to comments about Gore sighing too much in his debate with Bush) What is this, New York Fashion week? Virtually no one made comments on the substance of the encounter, and when they did they focused in on the exchanges over the embassy attack in Libya. Libya really? The number one issue for Americans is the economy and jobs. Yet, the subject of Libya garners the most attention from media analysis?
What the Vice Presidential debate proved conclusively is the punditocracy, and news media in general, are incapable of reporting on anything substantial. The question was not whether either man lied or obfuscated...whether they stonewalled or refused to answer questions...whether their differences were significant or whether their positions are consistent with previous stances. Instead a "feisty" Biden confronted a "calm" Ryan and they represented a "generational" clash while they tried to "boost" the fortunes of Obama in Biden's case, or continue Romney's momentum in Ryan's performance.
After the debate we got the ubiquitous "instant polls". America was waiting breathlessly to know how "won". This is what these news shysters do best. The real goal of the corporate media is to keep the focus on the horserace and ignore the details. Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi points out if you prohibited news programs from talking about polls, they would have to go dark due to the lack of ability or desire to cover anything else. Without polls, what would they be left with? They would actually have to analyze and evaluate information. They would have to do research.
This week's Rolling Stone deconstructs Romney's tax returns from 2010 and 2011 and the analysis is devastating. Romney has used foreign trusts and tax shelters to shield tens of millions of dollars from taxation. It raises serious questions about his tax return from 2009 and whether it would show a payment of a serious penalty to the I.R.S. (and why Romney would not want it to be released) This is one story in one magazine and yet, no main stream media outlet has done anything even closely approaching such an effort including the business channels. Without polls, these various news departments would have nothing to report. Without pictures of the Libyan embassy in flames, they would have nothing to show you which explain why such a non-issue rises to such prominence in their coverage.
Corporate media is not interested, in fact it purposely avoids, substantive content. It's not flashy and doesn't grab attention. It's not visceral enough and not "hot" enough. It also doesn't serve their purpose for existing. Do they want Americans to understand all the benefits corporations receive in the tax code and their influence on American economic policy? Do they want to empower the occupy movement? Do they want to see a rise in populist rhetoric and public policy which could break up their monopolies and introduce competition into the industry? They need the status quo, and offering a beauty contest instead of a debate help's to reach their goal.
One other dirty, insidious secret operates here as well. True analysis is going to upset someone. If pundits observe Ryan rarely answered a question...if they point out the willingness of Romney to go to war over Israel...if they show the inconsistencies and lies in what Romney and Ryan say now vs. what they have been saying weeks ago...they could alienate some of their audience or their sponsors. They open themselves to accusations of partisan politics and the regressive echo machine would crank into gear and attack. If they point out Obama's increased use of drones...his policy of killing Americans without due process...his failure to control Wall Street or bring even one criminal charge against anyone...his surrender to insurance companies in his health care plan...they will upset the other side of the political spectrum. It is much better to focus on dyspeptic eye rolling and rude behavior because this is far safer than real reporting.
Watch the next debate. Listen to Obama and Romney. Notice how often Romney shifts positions or Obama fails to address a question. Note substantive differences and then watch and read the analysis and see if there is any match whatsoever. It's a disgrace and embarrassment for these "pundits" but one they gleefully embrace because the pay is good and the workload light.
There is a real choice in November. From Supreme Court nominations to the environment to the survival of the middle class and to a nation in which all boats rise. It's all up for grabs. It really is clear who represents what position. It's just the corporate media isn't interested in that choice. So this will remain a swimsuit competition and a debate about who has better legs.