Tuesday, May 30, 2006

God Bless Eric Boehlert and "Lapdogs"

I have always enjoyed Eric Boehlert's media criticism, first at Salon.com and, later, the Huffington Post. So I was eager to get a copy of Eric Boehlert's "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over Bush", which came out earlier this month.

A masterful work, Boehlert's book focuses on how the Washington press corps, and journalism as a whole, have let down the public in their civic duty. Looking at the media narratives and memes that permeated the last five years, including the Swift Boat lies, the attack on public broadcasting and the Downing Street Memo -- among other areas -- Boehlert has pulled together an amazingly cogent argument here that he is able to back up with statistics and after-the-fact analysis. It kept me entranced throughout.

While I hate to admit it -- and Boehlert's book bears this out, in part -- the Republican 'noise machine' is amazingly effective; a good offense by conservatives on the media has put the press on constant defense. One thought constantly reverberated through my head while reading Boehlert's work: Could you imagine the effects if this President were actually competent and every move wasn't a mis-step, the power that would be in play with this machinery? The press would be chiseling a spot for Bush themselves on Mount Rushmore.

For myself (and apparently others), the stand-out chapter focuses on the coverage found in ABC's "The Note", an influential news summary that the authors describe as "what you need to know about politics at that critical moment in the news cycle." I haven't looked at that site myself all that much and Boehlert does a great job in deconstructing its coverage and its Republican lens of focus.

My only quibble is that, and it's a major one, is that a great deal of the book should not be news to those who have read some of the progressive news sites out there already (like Media Matters for America and the Daily Howler, who he credits in the introduction) or the aggregator media sites like Romenesko that often linked to Boehlert's media criticism (as well as his peer group on both sides of the political fence). This is a great starter book for those interested in politics and the intricacies of the Washington press; my great-uncle, who borrowed my copy and hasn't even really read on this area before, was amazed at the book. But I was hoping for more from Boehlert, something that hadn't yet been covered, something new that would blow my mind-- rather than a collection of disparate strings.

But I digress, as thes quibble are only because I have been a fan of his work for so long. And it's good to get his 1,000-foot view on subjects that he wrote at in his column earlier, just after they happened. This is a powerful compendium of media mis-steps the last 5 years-- here's to book #2 from Boehlert.

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