The Tucson shootings, three days removed, have reached the predictable place in the story arc in which media analysis turns into a meta-narrative about the nature of the coverage rather than the event itself. The victims, intermittently remembered, first were props for an analysis of political rhetoric, then a playing field for accusations of partisan opportunism and, finally, now are an excuse for media navel-gazing.
The coverage and meta-discussion have laid bare this essential truth: There is no longer such a thing as “the mainstream media.” Republicans, having long ago created a shadow system to avoid so-called liberal media bias, now seem to long for adult supervision of the brave new media world. Gone is the paper of record or the news anchor everyone in America trusts to calm us down and tell us what to think. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]
David Brooks, in today’s New York Times, writes:
Mainstream news organizations linked the attack to an offensive target map issued by Sarah Palin’s political action committee. The Huffington Post erupted, with former Senator Gary Hart flatly stating that the killings were the result of angry political rhetoric. Keith Olbermann demanded a Palin repudiation and the founder of the Daily Kos wrote on Twitter: “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin.” Others argued that the killing was fostered by a political climate of hate.
Brooks is one of many conservatives bemoaning the coverage. George Will, predictably, claims New York Times bias, Marc Thiessen cites everyone from Daily Kos to the Times to The Nation. Rush Limbaugh, amusingly, laments about the “state-controlled media, the drive-by media.”
“Mainstream news organizations” behaved irresponsibly, yet Brooks's identified culprits are: a large blog, content-populated by hundreds of random unpaid contributors; a former ESPN host with a show on cable news; and a blogger sending out contemporaneous commentary in 145 characters. [Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?]
And meanwhile, the leading Republican candidate for president responds to the tragedy first through a Facebook post and then via an E-mail filtered through Glenn Beck.
Most of the reporting on network TV and in the major newspapers and the major national magazines has been pretty measured and straightforward. And it’s a little late in the day for conservatives to complain about the interplay between partisan media and traditional media. But today’s reality is such that a news article in the Times and a 60 second piece on CBS barely register above the din of the blogosphere and the whine of right-wing talk radio.
No, the issue isn’t mainstream media bias. The real issue is that there is no mainstream media. The next time Rush or Thiessen (or Kos or Olbermann) want to complain about the mainstream, they should just look in the mirror.