Kevin, in a post about congressional Republicans' abuses of power, writes:
Unfortunately, this kind of backroom drudgery can't compete with runaway brides. So how do you get the public to pay attention to this kind of stuff? I'm not sure. But "playing by the rules" is a pretty ingrained American habit, and this brand of Republican hardball would be widely unpopular if someone could figure out a way to dramatize it. Who will figure out how to do it?
I think that's correct, and it reminds me of a larger point I've been meaning to make. Taken as a whole, politics today is rife with corruption, unethical behavior, perverse incentives and powerful forces that make our government work against the interests of its citizenry. And yet there's nothing the press can say about it, not because Americans won't listen or brides keep heading for the hills, but because they don't allow themselves to.
I alluded to this a few weeks back when I wrote my post on DeLayism. What DeLay has done with Jack Abramoff is corrupt, but it's small potatoes compared to his determined and wholly successful effort to make an alliance with lobbyists central to his, and the Republican majority's, continued power. DeLayism is true corruption: far reaching, corrosive to Congress's ability to legislate, and responsible for a raft of nasty, brutish legislation that's directly hurt ordinary Americans. And yet you'll find no papers reporting it, no hint of scandal about it. Why?
The news media isn't allowed to swarm practices that are "business as usual", no matter how bad they are. So entrenched, institutionalized relationships that may be much more corrupt, shocking and unethical than the scandal du jour are ignored in favor of the, well, scandal du jour. A good example is CAFE standards: oil would be cheaper and Americans would have to buy less of it had Congress continued forcing auto companies to make more fuel efficient cars, as they did in the 70's and early 80's. But thanks to a flood of money from Detroit, legislators have left the auto industry to its own inefficient devices. Now, there's no doubt that an increase in CAFE would've been good for the consumer and good for America's energy independence. There's also no doubt that its not happened because the auto industry wields so much political power. But, despite being far worse -- and far more harmful to the average American -- than Jack Abramoff or Monica Lewinsky or Travelgate or Whitewater, newspapers won't, can't, make a peep about it.
It's not that they don't want to. Much of this stuff surfaces in the occasional Pulitzer-attempt, those long exposes you occasionally get in top newspapers ferreting out corruption or investigating politicians. But on a day-to-day basis, the media can't create stories from the everyday fabric of politics, they can only report on events or actions outside the expected. So you can't report on DeLayism, only his relationship with Abramoff. You can't make a stink over political slavishness to the auto industry, but you can give endless headlines to the high gas prices said slavishness has helped produce. So it's not just runaway brides competing with institutionalized corruption, it's the media's inability to report on anything except unexpected corruption that really twists the knife. And runaway brides, for their part, turn up, and their fame fades. News protocols, unfortunately, have none of the same transience.