In Politics and Media, Perception Is Apparently Reality

Photo by ReignMan
It does have real consequences.

Chris Cillizza, a blogger/reporter for the Washington Post who appears frequently on cable news shows, recently wrote this concerning the CBO jobs reports kerfuffle:

My job is to assess not the rightness of each argument but to deal in the real world of campaign politics in which perception often (if not always) trumps reality. I deal in the world as voters believe it is, not as I (or anyone else) thinks it should be. And, I'm far from the only one.

Before I rip into Cillizza, let's put this in even greater perspective. You might remember this quote from a Bush Administration official (most Beltway-insiders attribute it to Karl Rove) speaking to a reporter:

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Both of these quotes should give you pause. This is what the inside of Washington looks like, to both (some) of the reporters covering it and the political operatives who run it.

As Rove said, the Bush Administration was attempting to create reality; not operating within the confines of reality, but actually making the rules of the game up, and changing them if necessary, as time proceeded. This is a will to power gone overboard. Perhaps we need to dust off our Derrida and de Mann -- this is a Republican version of deconstruction cum post-modernism. The truth is what we say it is.

Fortunately, this did not work out for Rove quite the way he planned. His boss's neoconservative-infected/infested administration's attempt to act as an "empire" in Iraq failed (we're still studying it, as Rove predicted, just not in the limpid manner he predicted). The lesson, perhaps, is even when politicians try to command reality, reality sometimes sets them straight.

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As the recent book, "This Town" makes clear, much of what goes on in Washington is far different behind the scenes than in front of CSPAN.  "Access for success" is the order of the day, so reporters that "report" are going to find it very hard to get face to face with the members of Congress.  Then you have the phenomenom of "horserace coverage" where certain facts are ignored and the focus is how to milk the story for longer periods.  (Weak candidates get a light touch so they can remain in the race longer.)  If you want information, you have to dig it up yourself.  Pity too many voters rely on slanted sources for news.

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