It’s the future, stupid

It’s the future, stupid

: Howard Kurtz and a few folks he quotes finally start calling media on paying attention to mudslinging instead of what really matters: our future as a nation.

I think we will look back on coverage of this campaign with all the pride of our pre-9/11 Condit and shark coverage. Says Kurtz (my itals):

Is absolutely everything fair game for the press these days?

From the contours of John Kerry’s war wounds to George Bush’s failure to take a National Guard physical to a book’s disputed allegations of drug use at Camp David, the media seem consumed these days with excavating the down-and-dirty past.

All too often the details are murky, the evidence secondhand, the documents doubted, the arguments driven by high-decibel partisanship….

If journalists devoted the same investigative energy to the candidates’ efforts to bolster Medicare and Social Security or deal with the mess in Iraq — as opposed to precisely what happened on the Bay Hap River in 1969 — perhaps more people might find campaign coverage compelling.

“Here the campaign is dealing with terrorism and war, but we’re still capable of losing ourself in matters 35 years old that belong on ‘Jeopardy!’ or ‘Trivial Pursuit,’ ” says Frank Sesno, a George Mason University professor and former CNN anchor. While he blames Kerry in part for putting Vietnam at the center of his campaign, Sesno sees an “almost ridiculous contrast” between the country’s problems and the media’s obsession with old controversies.

I’ll let you decide whether the same is true of blogs. Are blogs raising the standards of media or lowering themselves to media’s standards?

As we’ve discussed here before, all this is often cloaked under the tattered blanket of “character,” in an effort to make mud matter. Today’s free Wall Street Journal link looks at coverage of “character” in the campaign:

A bruising fight over “character” has taken center stage in a presidential campaign that once seemed it would hinge more on Iraq, terrorism and the economy.

Character is the crux of the battle over the Vietnam-era behavior of President Bush and John Kerry, as well as the prism increasingly used by both campaigns to refract the debate over current issues such as taxes and Medicare.

The Democratic National Committee has fanned questions in recent days about President Bush’s National Guard service because “the issues about the president’s military service go to his credibility and his character,” said party Chairman Terry McAuliffe in a weekend interview. “If you lie about your military record, you lie about creating jobs. You lie about the deficit. You lie about fully funding education. You lie about a real prescription-drug benefit.”

Similarly, the Bush-friendly Vietnam veterans who challenged Mr. Kerry’s combat heroics and postwar protests say their push has accomplished their broader purpose of sowing doubts about Mr. Kerry’s integrity. “We have…touched off a national debate concerning John Kerry’s character and leadership ability,” said Roy Hoffmann, founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, in a statement Friday….

The character tilt to the campaign so far has helped Mr. Bush and could continue to give him an edge if it remains the dominant theme through the fall. Republicans have been more persistent with personal attacks against Mr. Kerry than Democrats have been against Mr. Bush, and polls show Mr. Kerry’s negative ratings rising more sharply than Mr. Bush’s. While Democrats vow to fight back, it is harder to change public perceptions of an incumbent president than a lesser-known challenger.

Democrats also risk taking the focus off the economy, health care, and Iraq, where polls show voters still have serious concerns about Mr. Bush’s record. A character debate “is clearly much more effective for Bush because it takes him away from the issues,” says Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, which analyzes public opinion. “Kerry has to talk about how bad conditions are.

Everybody’s guilty this season.

Everybody has mud on their hands.

And a year from now, we’ll see some commission wonder why we as a nation didn’t pay attention to terrorism… or the health-care crisis… or education…. or the economy…. It’s because we couldn’t see through the mud on our glasses.

: Here is my post about character and the campaign.