Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mad Max on "The President and the Press"

I have a buddy -- he's real -- that, online, I call Mad Max. He embraces the name that was thrust upon him. Just like you and just like me, he's a little mad sometimes. Mad as in angry. Mad as in a little crazy. But, again, we all go a little mad sometimes.

Oh, I just remembered what that quote is from. Hmmm. I probably should have used a different quote. Oh, well.

Seriously, Mad Max a good guy. If you are in need, he'll help you any way he can. I think a lot of Mad Max.

He doesn't get on The Twitter, but he will show up on The Facebook. He'll leave some comments on other people's pages that get right to the heart of the matter, but he won't post much political stuff of his own. He's smart enough to use The Facebook as a stress relief. Cute kitties are his distraction from this crazy world.

He sent me this, because he's trying to keep his pledge to keep his activity on his page on The Facebook nice and light.

I have his permission to share with you.

The President and the Press

A few thoughts on the deterioration of press relations in the present day

These are just impressions of a casual observer of world events and history going back some 100 years. Certainly not scientific or learned – just some thoughts that occurred to me this evening, I'm not even sure why.

Any writing like this can devolve into a partisan thing right quick, a vicious attack on one side or the other. And that is exactly what this about, so I'm going to do my best to remain utterly neutral and objective over this little idea that somehow planted itself in my mind and won't let me go until I write it out and find someone who can get it out to others.

My subject is the relationship of "the Press" – once a few major newspapers, now a wide variety of media including late-night talk shows and Internet blogs – and "the President" – an elected official of the United States of America.

To make one thing perfectly clear: bias in the Press has always existed. We are all human, and have likes and dislikes. To say those perfectly human emotions do not affect our perception – and our relating our perceptions to others – is a lie. On the other hand, there have been many different types of Presidents – liars, scoundrels, corrupt, clean, dishonorable and honorable, good and bad -- and the conundrum for the Press – and for History – is to figure out which is which.

There was a time in my memory where there was a clear separation between the two, and they existed on two different planes of importance. The Press was definitely important – always has been – in reporting the news, investigating corruption, being honest, and thereby building trust, if not with politicians, celebrities, and sports figures, at least with the populace. There was also a time when the President – the highest elected office-holder of the land – was seen to be on a higher plane; you may not like him or her, but you didn't attack him, his character, his family, on a daily basis. Because there were greater dangers out there, and he was, after all, the Commander-in-Chief, and when all Hell breaks loose, God forbid, we need to come together behind our leader. There is no question every President all the way back, maybe even to George Washington, had his detractors in the Press, but overall, when it came down to it, there was at least some measure of decorum.

The country united with Woodrow Wilson, not at all a universally popular leader, a man who ran on the platform "He Kept Us Out Of The War." But when we went into what was then called The Great War, the country united. It happened again most famously with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on December 7, 1941, and continued until the day he died in office, and carried over to Harry S Truman.

It began to break down with Lyndon Johnson, but let's face it – the Vietnam War was longer than WWI or even WWII. The popular support gradually and then precipitously diminished and the Press criticized his administration, but it did not attack with the utter viciousness we see today. And it did not attack his family.

Nixon again came under attack, for a variety of reasons, many of them justified. Professionally, analytically, with deep research and well-founded / well-sourced information, the Press took him on, and they took him down.

And then, I think, something changed.

The Press realized they could take down someone they didn't like anyway, even while a war was on. They realized their power. And that other subset of the Press that began to emerge – the late-night comedy, Saturday Night Live, had a good few years diminishing the character of a man they didn't like – Gerald Ford – because he tripped a couple of times. Never mind that two lunatics tried to shoot him during his short administration – it was all good comedy – and the late-night "Press" and the established Press had good fun with it throughout.

Four years of Jimmy Carter proved to be enough for just about everyone, and near the end there was great fun made of "askin' Amy about nuclear war" and the dreaded "Killer Rabbit" incident.

And then there was a pause. The Press didn't like Ronald Reagan at all, but he gave them little to make fun of. He reapplied the honor of the Presidency by keeping a significant aloofness from the Press, speaking to the country right over their heads on rare but significant occasions, leaving the Press to quarrel about what he said amongst themselves in the newly-created format of a "talking-head panel."

George H. W. Bush continued the honor of the Presidency but had some significant failings with his base. A weak economy did not help, and he lost to what I consider the major pivotal figure in this amateur analysis – Bill Clinton.

There can be no doubt the Press loved Bill Clinton. But why? Certainly his policies might attract their personal feelings, but the same could be said for Lyndon Johnson, and near the end of Johnson's last year the Press was ready to throw him out.

My answer is that he seemed to love them. What other President of the United States had appeared on a late-night show playing the saxophone? That in itself remains a famous image. And in my mind, a vast diminishment of the importance of the office of the President. He wasn't "Up There," he wasn't "The Commander in Chief" – he became our buddy. Our best friend. And who likes to lose a best friend?

So the Press lost a best friend – twice – in the 2000 election – Bill had to leave office, and their new best friend, Al Gore, lost in a squeaker that came down to a few butterfly ballots in Florida. This was a bitter pill, and one that still sticks in their throat. For 8 years, George W. Bush – but not so much his wife and children – was vilified in the worst possible ways. This marked a clear departure from past practice.

And then along came Barack Obama – young, handsome, telegenic, great speaker. AND – what else did he do? He went on all manner of late-night talk / comedy shows, gave interviews to all manner of friendly Press, even appeared with internet blog posters that would otherwise have remained unknown to everyone. He was our best friend – We had a best friend again!

But best friends don't last, and he had to go away, so the Press picked a new best friend.

But she lost.

This, I believe snapped something in their minds. I also believe, to return to the point of this essay, that the Press no longer see the President of the United States as a person of great responsibility, a responsibility that would crush most of us, but as a person who should be someone they like. And if he's not the best friend they wanted, they'll revert to a Lord of the Flies bullying and eventual murder, if they can get away with it.

There, in a nutshell, is the problem between the Press and the President of the United States. One is an office established in the Constitution of the United States of America. The other are a pack of wild and dangerous children feeling lost.
Mad Max may be a little mad. But he's not crazy.

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