Alex Massie

Read All About It: Readers Resist Porridge

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Glenn Greenwald, elitist scourge of the modern media's cosy elitism, has been on a tear lately. He complains that the media focuses too much on trivial froth and not enough on serious issues. Why, he asks, does the media, ignore (relatively speaking) John Yoo's now-infamous (and rightly so) "Torture Memo" while devoting acres and hours of attention to Barack Obama going ten-pin bowling in Pennsylvania?

The crux of Greenwald's argument is:

And as Eric Boehlert documents, even Iraq -- that little five-year U.S. occupation with no end in sight -- has been virtually written out of the media narrative in favor of mindless, stupid, vapid chatter of the type referenced above. "The Clintons are Rich!!!!" will undoubtedly soon be at the top of this heap within a matter of a day or two.

"Media critic" Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post today devoted pages of his column to Obama's bowling and eating habits and how that shows he's not a regular guy but an Arrogant Elitist, compiling an endless string of similar chatter about this from Karl Rove, Maureen Dowd, Walter Shapiro and Ann Althouse. Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson devoted her whole column this week to arguing that, along with Wright, Obama's bowling was his biggest mistake, a "real doozy."

Obama's bowling has provided almost a full week of programming on MSNBC. Gail Collins, in The New York Times, today observed that Obama went bowling "with disastrous consequences." And, as always, they take their personality-based fixations from the Right, who have been promoting the Obama is an Arrogant, Exotic, Elitist Freak narrative for some time. In a typically cliched and slimy article, Time's Joe Klein this week explored what the headline called Obama's "Patriotism Problem," where we learn that "this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right." He trotted it all out -- the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama's angry, America-hating wife, "his Islamic-sounding name."

Needless to say, these serious and accomplished political journalists are only focusing on these stupid and trivial matters because this is what the Regular Folk care about. They speak for the Regular People, and what the Regular People care about is not Iraq or the looming recession or health care or lobbyist control of our government or anything that would strain the brain of these reporters. What those nice little Regular Folk care about is whether Obama is Regular Folk just like them, whether he can bowl and wants to gorge himself with junk food.

As it happens I have some sympathy with Greenwald's views, but only some. Megan McArdle responded here and here, while Dan Drezner chipped in here. Both Megan and Dan (disclosure: Megan is a pal and I've had drinks with Dan) suggested that Greenwald was somewhat over-stating his case. Greenwald in turn suggested that Megan and Dan's arguments were excusing the media's failings and that this was because they'd both initially been in favour of the Iraq War. (I was too.) Hmmm.

Anyway, all this made me think of this anonymously-penned piece of Fleet Street wisdom.

Tickle the public, make 'em grin,

The more you tickle, the more you'll win;

Teach the public, you'll never get rich,

You'll live like a beggar and die in a ditch.

That judgement on jounalism, I should say, was delivered in the 19th century...

What do people want to read? Well, let's have a look...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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