Yesterday, a very frustrated Cenk Uygur asked whether the American media were getting played by the Republican party, or whether they’re in on the game.  Well, let’s look at where a couple of the more repellent questions in Wednesday’s debate came from:

1) TPM and Will Bunch pointed out that the woman who asked Obama the "Why do you hate the American flag?" question in Wednesday’s debate had already appeared in an NYT story a couple of weeks ago… asking, "How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?"  As TPM and Bunch point out, it looks an awful lot like ABC actively sought her out because they wanted someone to ask Obama that ridiculous question.  Someone who wasn’t Charlie Gibson or Mr. Snuffalupagus.

2) Snuffy got one of his questions directly from Sean Hannity, who had been peddling the Weatherman story for months.  Maybe it had something to do with Hannity being one of ABC’s prize radio personalities:

Why does Sean Hannity connect so well with his millions of listeners? Is it because of his commitment to family? Could it be his community involvement? Perhaps it’s his love of politics and his genuine American spirit?

It’s because he is one of you.

Sean Hannity is the voice of the working class and champion of conservative values and politics.

If that’s true, the working class has a lot to answer for… but I digress.

And then there was Snuffy’s lame defense of the questions, where he essentially argued that asking frivolous gotcha questions is actually a brilliant way of assessing a candidate’s electability.  Which is apparently far more important than what kind of president they would be, or their plans to repair the Bush-inflicted damage they would inherit, or whether they would attempt to hold Bush and his minions accountable for their crimes.

Oh, and do you know Snuffy has on This Week this week?  Why, John McCain, of course.  Will he ask McCain whether he had an affair with a lobbyist, or (as Mike Stark suggests) about how he dumped his first wife for a newer, richer model?  No, of course not.  After all, the Republican voters have already picked their candidate, and apparently they didn’t need any shallow questions about flag pins or Inconvenient Pastors to make up their minds.  No doubt because they’re so much more bold and decisive and manly than we soft, dizzy hippies.

All of this incestuous coziness and media catapulting of Republican manufactroversies is why I sort of agree with Josh Marshall:

[W]e have now crossed an important threshold where the Republican operative cadre has sufficiently disciplined and trained the press (and more than a few Democrats) that their own role may simply be redundant.

…[M]embers of the prestige press appear to see… a positive journalistic obligation to engage in their own organized campaign of falsehood, distortion and smear on the reasoning that it anticipates the eventual one to be mounted by Republicans.

(This is especially striking when contrasted with Jonathan Alter on Countdown two weeks ago, saying that "it’s up to the Democrats" and not the media to put dents in McCain’s maverick image.)

Josh has perfectly encapsulated the what, but I think he’s missed the why.  The media don’t actively smear Democrats (and tiptoe around Republicans) because the GOP has duped, seduced, or bullied them (although that’s a convenient alibi), they do it because their Republican corporate ownership dictates it, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Sure, there are lots of journalists of integrity – Krugman, Froomkin, Pincus, Olbermann, and these people, to name a few – but they’re not the ones with the megaphones, they’re not the ones dominating our national discourse.

Which is not to say that the media are completely immune to pressure and shaming – they’re just a lot more responsive to it when it comes from the boss’s team.

(hat tips to Scarecrow, Peterr, TeddySanFran, and Mike Stark)