It’s bad enough when the mainstream media engages in ersatz psychology and semiotics. It’s even worse when this pseudoanalysis has a bias–it’s like Colbert’s truthiness, except that it’s not funny (italics mine):
Consider, then, the cheesesteak.
While running for president, John Kerry ordered a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese. The sane response to that fact is, of course, “who cares?” The media response was to mock Kerry for ordering the “wrong” cheese. Supposedly, it reinforced his “elitist” image. Kerry’s cheesesteak order continues to draw media attention years later.
During that same campaign, President Bush told Pennsylvania voters “I like my cheesesteak ‘Whiz with,’ ” which The New York Times dutifully reprinted, spelling out for readers the contrast Bush sought to draw: “Mr. Kerry made the mistake of ordering a cheese steak last August and requesting Swiss cheese — when the choices included Cheez Whiz, American and provolone — for which he was widely lampooned.”
But Bush was apparently lying. A less credulous reporter than those employed by the Times — Kathleen Carey of the Delaware County Daily Times — did some investigative reporting and found that Bush actually orders his cheesesteaks not with Cheez Whiz, but with American cheese.
Did the media tell the story of Bush’s lie about cheese — about cheese! — over and over again? Were we constantly told how it reinforced his image as — well, as a liar? No. Of course not. The lie was thoroughly ignored by nearly every news organization in America. (ABC’s Jake Tapper included a video clip of Bush claiming “I like my cheesesteak Whiz with” in a segment last year. No mention that Bush was lying.)
So: John Kerry commits the utterly insignificant act of ordering a sandwich with Swiss cheese. The media pounce, declaring it an example of his supposed elitism and mocking him for years. George W. Bush, during the same campaign, lies about the cheese he prefers on his sandwich in order to pander to voters. The media not only don’t mention the lie, they don’t portray it as an illustrative anecdote that reveals his dishonesty or undermines his carefully crafted “authentic” image. Instead, The New York Times plays up the contrast between Bush’s purported preference and Kerry’s “mistake.”
It is difficult to imagine anything more absurd than lying about your preferred cheese. Yet that absurdity did not lead the news media to endlessly repeat this illustrative anecdote — or, in most cases, to mention it even once.
The point isn’t that the media never report damaging information about conservatives — that is obviously not true. It’s that the media endlessly repeat the same negative anecdotes about progressives over and over again, and do not do the same to conservatives.
It is… odd that one never reads political coverage about Republicans that goes something like this:
Republican candidate X runs a real risk of being viewed as out of touch, or even greedy, because he advocates lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans, including X himself.
Surely, economic policy that would affect millions of his fellow citizens is as revealing of ‘character’ or a deep, personal failing as ordering the ‘wrong’ cheese on a sandwich is? I’m beginning to think that the problem is that the average political reporter is simply unable to process anything that is conceptually more difficult than condiments.