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Media Beat

Tweedledum, Tweedledee



The news narrative from Washington that’s beamed to tens of millions of American TV sets every day is contoured around a basic contest between Barack Obama and the Republican minority in Congress.

That’s one way to look at the political circumstances at the outset of the president’s second “100 days” in office. Partisan division is the customary framework for portraying the twists and turns of hardball politics along Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital.

Within the currents of “mainstream media,” the commentators are inclined to choose sides. So, we have the fulminating primetime stars of Fox News Channel, led by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. In a role reversal, ever since the inauguration of President Obama, they are far more eager to lambast the man in the Oval Office than praise him.

Over at MSNBC, the cable network’s primetime leading lights — Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann — are working the opposite side of the media street. As of Jan. 20, 2009, their mockery of the president is a thing of the past. In fact, with some occasional exceptions on a few issues, Maddow and Olbermann do not criticize President Obama.

Much of what we get in mass media is a mixture of such perspectives, with a lot of “on-theone hand, on-the-other-hand” journalism in between.

But what about views outside the corporate-funded media spectrum? Call them “very liberal,” “progressive” or “left-wing,” there are many smaller media outlets where other voices can be heard on a regular basis. They challenge the assumptions that fuel not only what’s been called the right-wing noise machine but also the socalled liberal media.

There’s the “Democracy Now!” program that airs on listener-supported radio and TV nationwide. Also, the country has a myriad of local or national radio shows, independently produced on barebones budgets. And there are countless websites — Alternet.org, CommonDreams.org, Truthout.org, Fair.org and ConsortiumNews.com, just to name a few discerning ones — that provide news and commentary from a progressive perspective.

So far, strongly progressive media outlets have run a fairly wide gamut in their treatment of Obama’s presidency. Rather than sticking to a single political “line” about the new administration, many of those outlets have wisely offered a range of assessments.

That range has included enthusiasm, disquiet and outrage — with some commentators routinely praising the new president, others providing mixed responses and still others lambasting Obama as little better than a faker.

The most negative coverage of Obama from the left has tended to see him as a tool of the same old power elites, with progressive rhetoric that masks a business-asusual reality. This narrative holds that Obama is little more than a shill for the corporate military-industrial complex — from his appointment of Wall Street men for the economy to his retention of Defense Secretary Robert Gates for military policy.

It’s too bad that such analysis (which varies from exaggerated to right-on-target) doesn’t get a wider hearing in mass media. Inclusion of such perspectives would move us beyond the limited two-sided debate that usually ping-pongs between mainline Democrats and mainline Republicans.

Rarely given much ink or airtime in mainstream media, a strong leftist critique of President Obama is inclined to depict him as scarcely distinct from Republicanism on key issues. In effect, he’s described as a Tweedledum to the GOP’s Tweedledee.

Sometimes, as with Obama’s military escalation in Afghanistan, the comparison seems to be all too apt. Tweedledum and Tweedledee might fuss and fight with each other, but what binds them together is much more adhesive than might be apparent. In Lewis Carroll’s words:

“We must have a bit of a fight, but I don’t care about going on long,” said Tweedledum. “What’s the time now?”

Tweedledee looked at his watch, and said “H alf-past four.”

“Let’s fight till six, and then have dinner,” said T weedledum.

“Very well,” the other said.

©2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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