This post from Greg Sargent got me thinking. It’s a good post and his points about Romney are spot-on. The centerpiece of Romney’s foreign policy appeals, at least rhetorically, is complete bunk. But that doesn’t matter. This is, of course, indicative of a larger problem with our press
corpse corps, where zombie ideas just don’t die, because they can always find brains to eat.
So, as I said, this got me thinking. It’s really hard, as a political junkie, to try to convey to other not-as-politically-interested people the ubiquity of these memes. The Romney one is a good example. Because these ideas, that Obama is soft/apologetic on foreign policy, doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, etc, are everywhere (notwithstanding the dip after OBL’s death). Gingrich, Santorum, Hannity and O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Steyn are just a few other fans of this construct. It might be easier to come up with a list of professional Republican politicians, consultants, campaign people and carnival barkers that haven’t said this than to compile a list of those who have (stand tall, Ron Paul!).
And here‘s my point: that last graf doesn’t come close to conveying the omnipresence of this narrative. Sure, the assertion is backed up with a link for each person, but that totals less than ten total media spots. There’s no comprehensive database of media that people can access to try to understand, quantitatively, the prominence of a narrative. Lexis comes closest to fulfilling this role, but is not comprehensive.
Basically, I’m imagining a database, one that covers at least television, radio and print (tracking the Internet would be useful, too, but even for this thought experiment, which is entirely speculative, trying to do this with the Internet seems too daunting). This database would record each episode, show or column and make detailed notes on the narrative/opinions each commentator espouses. Obviously, in terms of mass com research norms, this would be an absolute nightmare to reliably code and it would take a bunch of people to do this. Laura Ingraham’s critique of Obama, which I still think fits into the “weak/apologetic” category, is less direct and outraged than Limbaugh’s.
But I think it could be a really powerful tool. Imagine being able to attach a concrete number to the amount of times that someone pulled the “apologizing for America” crap or the “anti-business policies” junk or any of the other classic canards. For this to work, the project would have to have a very good search function, one that allowed you to enter a key phrase and get a number back that spanned different types of media, while giving the option to peruse those results to verify their authenticity and relevance. But I think this could be really useful. If Sargent had been able to point to a report or result that says “Romney has said this 50 times” or that “this narrative has appeared hundreds of times over the past two years,” I think that makes the argument stronger, especially to people who don’t follow politics on a daily basis (who aren’t reading Greg Sargent, and haven’t heard of him, I know, but bear with me).
When I make my millions…