Entry from June 7, 2010

One of the commentators on my last post seems to have thought that the point of it was to brag that I saw the Gore split coming ten years ago when I made my own comments on the phoniness of Al’s supposedly passionate kiss, planted on a surprised Tipper, on the stage of the Democratic National Convention. Lest there be any confusion on this point, let me stress that I make no claims of prescience. I was as surprised as anybody by the announcement of the former second couple’s separation. All I meant to suggest was that, whatever the actual state of their marriage, about which I never claimed to have any special knowledge, “The Kiss” was no reliable indicator of it and nobody but a journalist would have been likely to treat it as one. If anything, the patent cynicism of the gesture should have suggested the opposite of what it was intended to suggest.

In other words, I was trying to make a point about the media, not about the Gores. Howard Kurtz’s column in today’s Washington Post provides a further illustration of how media bias does not consist only of the disguised political opinions of those who are supposed, ex hypothesi, not to have any, or not to allow them to obtrude upon their “objectivity.” There is a deeper form of bias, as I argue in my book, Media Madness, which is built into the very idea and concept of the media as it has come down to us from the heyday of advocacy journalism in the 1960s, and this kind of bias is what we see in the continual juxtaposition of the breakup with that iconic moment of togetherness. Mr Kurtz writes of how “the saga of Al and Tipper has struck a cultural nerve, not least with the people who chronicle such things” — that is to say, the media — at least partly because “what made the split an ideal television story was The Kiss — the convention lip lock in 2000 that the media hyped into a turning point, and which now provides a poignant video loop for a failed marriage.”

Irony that can be understood by everybody, in other words, is what makes this a TV story, but it masks the deeper irony that the original demonstration of marital happiness was itself, because of the presence of the TV cameras and thus the staged nature of the occasion, an indication (for those with eyes to see it) of the opposite of what it was meant to indicate, namely a marriage treated as if it were valued for its political utility and not for itself or, still less, for the private feelings of the couple themselves, whatever they may have been, on which every marriage depends. These feelings, being unvalued by the Gores in the way that such things generally are valued, which is by being reserved to the private sphere, were presumably given little or no consideration and so in retrospect, the Kiss should have been seen as an indication of what was to come, rather than what the media invariably mistook it for..

Howard Kurtz concludes:

Unlike the recent breakups of John and Elizabeth Edwards, or Mark and Jenny Sanford, there was apparently no extramarital soul mate involved. Yet many journalists insisted on casting the dissolution of the marriage as a sign of the times. It isn”t that they care deeply about Al Gore, but that they view the story through a personal prism.

The “personal prism” is that they were willing accomplices in their own self-deception. The logic of the media demands that such acts as “The Kiss” must be taken at face value and not treated with the skepticism they deserve and that anyone without a vested interest in the deception would naturally treat it with. What do I mean by “the logic of the media”? Just this. Because the essential function of the media as we now understand it involves dragging that which is hidden into the light of publicity, and because the justification for this act of exposure must always be the unveiling of otherwise hidden “truth,” we are led to the false but inevitable conclusion that that which is submitted to publicity’s glare must be true or it wouldn’t be there. All that I claim to have foreseen is that the public exposure of things conventionally expected to remain private has no truth value. If anything, it is more likely to indicate untruth than truth, especially when, because they think their private feelings do them credit, the subjects are complicit in their own exposure.

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