Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That's News to Me

It is not longer a surprise when the media tries to gin up a controversy over something Michele Bachmann allegedly said or did. After the many false alarms, I think most savvy news consumers, and the majority of her 6th district constituents, have taken to applying the "boy who cried wolf" standard to these reports. Ironically, the media's zeal to "get" Michele Bachmann tends to inure her to any criticism, even that which might be legitimate.

Legitimate is certainly is not the description of the current kerfuffle, summarized in all of its glorious distortion by this headline:
Bachmann urges "armed" revolt over climate plan
And this one in the Star Tribune:
Obama's energy cap-and-trade plan has Bachmann talking about a revolution
Typically it takes some time and effort to unpack the real facts behind these flash mob controversies. (I went through the exercise during the last election, debunking the panicked shrieking about Sarah Palin.) However, this case is easier in that I happened to have been on the other end of the phone line from Michelle Bachmann when she made her comments on NARN, First Team last Saturday.

To say the least, I was surprised that this interview made the Star Tribune and quasi-national news. Michele's comments didn't even merit a raised eyebrow among those in the studio. (And we have a very low standard these things. For example, during the commercial break, every brow in the room looked like the Gateway Arch when I announced I was considering Taco Bell for lunch.)

Taken in context, her comments were unremarkable. Certainly colorful and enthusiastic, but unremarkable for a conservative representative of a conservative district. I suspect that orientation is enough to put any of your comments on the wrong side of most reporters. But to help sell the story to the less jaundiced, they helpfully stripped all context from these remarks:

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people - we the people - are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States."
Restoring the context, surrounding this statement (and her entire point for being on the show) was her promotion of two public forums she's hosting with a researcher on the consequences of the upcoming Obama energy tax schemes. It was obvious that her comments about "arming" related to arming oneself with information and the "revolt" was about citizens opposing this legislation through normal channels (petition for redress of grievances, right to assembly, make known you're willing to force the bums who vote for it to look for other career opportunities, etc.)

Add context and you lose the story, of course. So, instead, the tactic employed is to play dumb about the full story, throw out a fragment of her words, get a defensive reaction from her staff, then print that in a skeptical "they say she meant this" fashion. Her reputation sufficiently harmed in the public mind, mission accomplished.

Compounding this unfair treatment is the inconsistency. If you gave this level of microscopic scrutiny (often provided by the local Dump blogs) and used the same reporting tactics on any politician, you could gin up just as many controversies and headlines and Bachmann has endured.

Let's give it a shot. Let's pick, oh I don't know . . . . Rep. Betty McCollum. The woman rated as the most liberal congressperson in the US House. (Does that sound at all representative of the people in St. Paul and Ramsey county? I digress).

Scanning through her public statements over the past few years, picking an average, garden-variety statement. Let's see, here's one about the GOP convention in St. Paul. What does she have to say?

OMG! Brace yourselves:

"The Republicans can take their convention to Guantanamo Bay where security won't be a problem"
Suggested headlines for our friends in the media:

McCollum Suggests Waterboarding of Republican Delegates


Republican convention has McCollum talking about terrorists

Go get 'em boys.

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