The media annoy me. And the "Village" of lazy, self-satisfied insider reporters and pundits who present conservative talking points as facts or analysis annoy me most of all. Right now they’re annoying me by describing the right-wing mobs disrupting Democratic town halls as if they’re some kind of spontaneous outpouring of "growing public doubts" about Obama’s healthcare plan, and not shills and dupes who have been mobilized by well-funded conservative groups and right-wing media stars.
If healthcare fails because shellshocked Democrats – and the rest of the country – think that these bullies are just ordinary Americans fearful about their healthcare, it will be the media’s fault for allowing the right-wing puppeteers to masquerade as a popular movement.
Which got me to thinking: What else has happened or not happened because of media malfeasance? Which popular policy ideas were turned unpopular and vice versa? Which politicians were undeservedly promoted or destroyed? Which scandals were inflamed, and which snuffed out? How would the world have turned out differently if we had a media full of fair, aggressive reporters and honest, insightful analysts?
I offer up a very partial list of what-might-have-beens; please feel free to contribute your own in the comments:
o Even if the ridicule and public outcry against his irresponsible witch hunt fail to rein in Ken Starr, Monicagate still does not become The Only Thing That Matters To Anyone for the remainder of Bill Clinton’s term. And anyone who suggests that Hillary murdered Vince Foster is never taken seriously again.
o Free of "wag the dog" innuendos, Clinton is able to pursue Osama bin Laden on his own terms. Even if he doesn’t capture or kill him, he is at least able to weaken al Qaeda significantly.
o John McCain easily defeats George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary. Damaged by his own unpleasant personality and revelations about his drinking, business failures, and National Guard service, Bush’s desperate "illegitimate black baby" smear blows up in his face.
o Al Gore cruises to victory in the 2000 election, with his sincerity, intelligence and calm a welcome contrast to his hotheaded opponent. Running mate John Kerry helps counterbalance McCain’s war hero status (attempts to neutralize him with Swift Boat Vets ads fail miserably), and Bill Clinton is an invaluable campaign surrogate and fundraiser. Democrats ride Gore’s coattails to consolidate their majorities in both houses. (Detailed timeline of the Gore presidency here)
o President Gore immediately pushes for legislation to improve fuel efficiency, cut emissions, and develop alternative energy.
o Between Clinton’s prior antiterrorist efforts and President Gore’s aggressive response to the August 6 PDB, there is at least a 50-50 chance that 9/11 never happens. If it does, Gore’s response is limited to Afghanistan, where he follows through to ensure bin Laden (or his replacement) is caught and that Afghanistan is able to rebuild on its own terms.
o Anyone who suggests that President Gore should invade Iraq is never taken seriously again.
o No Iraqupation, no warrantless wiretapping, no torture, no indefinite detentions without trial, no bombing civilians, no hundreds of thousands dead and maimed, no al Qaeda recruitment goldmine.
o If Bill O’Reilly still has a show in this alternate universe, he loses it when Andrea Mackris outs him as a creepy sexual predator. Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are social pariahs.
o No massive tax cuts for the rich.
o Oversight agencies are not gutted, so no food poisoning outbreaks or subprime collapse.
o Without a major war, unaffordable tax cuts, or economic crisis, there is plenty of money to implement single-payer healthcare reform, and it passes overwhelmingly as Americans quickly realize what a great deal "socialized medicine" is.
o Buoyed by the popularity of his healthcare plan, President Gore wins re-election in a landslide over Jeb Bush. Democrats further consolidate their congressional majorities, although most of the Republicans who voted for single-payer are able to hold on to their seats.
o Anyone who advocates bipartisanship for its own sake, especially at the expense of sound policy, is never taken seriously again.
o Rocked by corruption and sex scandals, stymied by the success of Democratic policies, and unable to get traction with lies, fear, or hissy fits, the conservative movement contracts dramatically.
o No-one has any idea who Sarah Palin or Joe The Plumber are.
I know, the what-if game is frivolous, and no-one really knows what would happen. But there is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that with an honest media, A) Al Gore would have been president, and B) He would have been immeasurably better than Bush. Every life lost in Iraq, everyone wounded, maimed, or tortured so Dubya could feel like a big shot, every job lost in the economic collapse, all of that is on the media’s heads. If they hadn’t acted like a bunch of simpering Heathers and turned Al Gore into the world’s biggest fibber and George W. Bush into the world’s best drinking buddy, all those Americans and Iraqis would still be alive and in one piece, and millions more people would be employed right now.
Do they bear sole responsibility? No. But collectively, the media have a huge influence on what the American people, including elected officials, perceive as reality. When they distort that reality, either out of laziness, ideology, or loyalty to corporate ownership, it increases the chances that people will make terrible decisions based on flawed information. And "terrible decisions based on flawed information" has been the defining feature of the last nine years.