Our politics has seemingly evolved into side issues break-dancing around larger issues — witness a truly revealing story in the New York Times plus the-fuss-of-the-day starting on the Drudge Report, which ehoed on the radio talk shows.
THE REAL ISSUE AT HAND: President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney got questioned about 911 in a historic meeting before the 911 Commission. Even though the White House insisted the Prez and Veep’s non-sworn testimony not be recorded, this literally involved life-and death issues: what happened in the days leading up to 911 and what should be fixed?
SIDE ISSUE ONE: THE NEWS STORY:: The NewYork Times’ a had a story on the fact that reporters, cameramen and photographers weren’t allowed into the Bush-Cheney-Commission meeting. As everyone knows, Bush and Cheney insisted on being together, sort of like the political Bobsy Twins. But there was a press and photo blackout.
So here was the lead on the Times piece:
- If an important meeting takes place in the Oval Office and there are no television cameras to record it, did the meeting matter?”
After noting how little time TV disdainfully devoted to it — NO PICTURES TO SEE — the Times said this:
- The White House’s insistence on a private, no-tech meeting made political sense: the president’s aides have no interest in allowing pictures that might make him look vulnerable under questioning or overly reliant on his older vice president. But the nonvisual event was so anathema to television that at one point, the CNN anchor Daryn Kagan said it seemed as if “the event took place in the 18th century.”
So, folks, we have now definitely entered the age of Marshall McLuhan — where the medium is the message. If there aren’t PICTURES TO SEE and there aren’t TAPES WITH VOICES TO HEAR the event is irrelevant (well, I guess so; it was the same way at my bris).
True, reporters would have been (and are) trying to get tidbits out of commission members to reconstruct what was said because there was indeed content in those three hours. Our issue isn’t with the Times report. It’s with what you realize when you read it: that because there were NO PICTURES TO SEE, the event didn’t matter.
This is why items of smaller significance with good pictures get huge play in the media…because PICTURES TO SEE means it gets airtime and is more significant. If it doesn’t get airtime it really isn’t significant even though it is (see?).
SIDE ISSUE TWO: Two Democrats (GASP!!!!!!) leave the meeting early. Will someone go to Whole Foods and send Matt Drudge two cases of Valerian Root?
We agree it was extremely dumb of Democratic Commissioners Bob Kerry and Lee Hamilton to leave early for prior commitments. Why? After loudly braying for weeks about how the President needed to meet with the whole commission for more than his promised hour, they got unlimited time…and they couldn’t be there to use it.
It makes them look (perhaps rightly) hypocritical: the President had to sit as long as they wanted him to, but they didn’t have to sit as long as the President needed for them to be there.
They win an award for the Political Janet Jackson Breast Reveal of the Year — revealing a double standard (and they didn’t need Justin Timberlake standing next to them to do it). But these two supposedly savvyy politicos’ decision to give their opponents a noose on which to hang them still can’t obscure the vital substantive issues:
(1)What was said?
(2)Were the commissioners satisfied with what they got?
(3)Can truly enterprising reporters now get reaction from others in Congress or sources close to the commissioners to get a sense of whether both sides felt issues and questions were completely aired?
4)The bottom line: in 2004 with the huge questions and challenges facing the U.S. everyone seems poised to pounce on questions of PROCESS (were pictures allowed? did everyone stay the whole time?) rather than POLICY.
The U.S. can survive failures of process more than it can survive failures of policy.
Thank God Kerry and Hamilton didn’t insist on leaving the meeting together……