Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Ozymandias of the West Wing

I was a bit surprised by the traffic my last Grand Rounds post generated, until I looked at my Sitemeter and found that a significant percentage of the new traffic had nothing to do with my apolitical post about stem cells research.  With great effort, I went through that post and removed all the political commentary.  I figured it might be more effective if I presented just the facts.  Anyway, part of the traffic came, not from that, but from the O'Neill NSC memo, which has gotten some renewed interest in the wake of the Downing Street memo.  

I've always been curious about what makes certain stories attractive to the mainstream media.  Conservatives accuse them of having a liberal bias, while liberals accuse them of sweeping things under that rug, if they might embarrass the President.  Various groups have tried to do research on alleged media bias, but they don't seem to find any consistent, replicable trends.  

Therefore, I have developed my own pet theory about the media.  They don't have a political bias.  Rather, they are looking for the next Pet Rock®.  Those of you aged 40 and up will remember the Pet Rock®.  It was a rock that came in a cute cardboard box, that cost a few dollars.  It was no different than any rock you might pick up off the ground, except it was a Pet Rock®.  Somebody must've made a gazillion dollars selling ordinary rocks.  It was an inexplicable fad that just took off.  There was no particular reason for the popularity of the darn things, it just sort of happened.  

News stories are like rocks.  One is pretty much like another.  But for some reason, some of them just capture the public's fancy, and take off.  Then the echo chamber starts.  Media professionals refer to that indefinable characteristic as "traction," as in "that story just doesn't have any traction."  But if the story turns into a Pet Rock®, then it has traction.  

The Downing Street memo story has traction.  There are scads of other stories that, from a logical standpoint, are every bit as damaging to the Administration.  This one is only a ordinary bad story, compared to Abu Ghraib etc., but it seems to be getting popular.  I though I would help build momentum by compiling a list of blogs that have commented on it, but that is not going to be feasible.  Blogpulse lists over 1,300 of them.  I went through the first 50, and they were all liberal blogs making negative comments.  I am tempted to conclude that conservative blogs are just staying quiet about it, although there could be some making exculpatory comments in the remaining 1,250.

The logical part of my brain says that we shouldn't be making a big deal out of this, since, as I've mentioned, there are many worse things.  But hey, it's not just a rock, it's a Pet Rock®.  It's a sad thing that it would take a fad to expose Bush as the Ozymandias of the West Wing.  


Torture?  No problem.  No-bid cost-plus contracts?  No problem.  Plamegate?  No problem.  Unjust war?  No problem.  Federal deficit?  No problem.  Widening income gap?  No problem.  Record levels of homelessness, child poverty, bankruptcy, and uninsured persons?  No problem.  Distortions and misuse of science?  No problem.  Loss of international credibility?  No problem.  Environmental damage?  No problem.  Pet Rock®, now that's a problem!  I try to be pragmatic: if it works, I'm all for it.

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