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August 25, 2003

Test Post: Recall Cliches at the LA Times

Columnist Peter King has "seen it all." Voters can stay in bed.

Mickey Kaus points out how cliche-ridden and lifeless was Peter King’s Aug. 20th op ed on the Califorinia recall mess, which is worrisome because the Los Angeles Times plans to publish King regularly as the recall unfolds. Kaus’s judgment is correct, and I would add that the kind of cliches King serves up are specifically journalistic.

There’s the “nothing new under the sun” cliche where the world-weary journalist tries to calm everyone down by saying he’s seen it all before, even if you haven’t. There’s the “don’t expect the Lincon-Douglas debates” cliche, in which a veteran observer reminds us that media age politics rarely produces a vigorous contest of ideas. There’s the gratuitous pop culture reference with its lame humor, which is supposed to make the journalist seem up on things, even though he disdains those things: “The buzz for now seems less like a political awakening more like the constant chatter one heard during the first run of ‘Survivor.’ Who are you for? Stacy or Dirk? Arianna or Cruz? Should we vote Gray off the island or not?”

And there’s the “hapless voters” cliche, where the journalist reminds us how little real influence the public has because politics, after all, is the property of slick professionals who manipulate the rest of us. King writes:

In the end, sadly, the recall campaign promises to be just one more contest of resumés and slogans, framed and conducted by a familiar and largely interchangeable cast of professional handlers, pollsters and speechwriters for whom the recall represents, as much as anything else, an unanticipated payday.

Note how self-flattering these cliches are to journalists and journalism. “Don’t get excited, there’s nothing new here” flatters the journalist because it flattens history into the endlessly repeated patterns arising from journalism’s own master narratives. “Don’t expect a contest of ideas” flatters the journalist’s preferred angle of vision, which is tactical and (allegedly) de-mystifying of politics. Those “hapless voters” are like children. Journalists, this cliche says, are the adults bringing unfortunate news (“sadly…”) of the way the world really works.

Just one more contest of resumés and slogans, says King. Here’s his message to California voters: Stay in bed, kids. But remember to get all your recall news and opinion here.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 25, 2003 10:45 AM