Joe Blow explains why:
The Smartest Attorney I Have Ever Known (SAIHEK) is a former White House Counsel. He tells the story of when the NY Times approached him about writing an essay defending a Bush 41 or maybe a Reagan policy. He asked, “you’re not going to get me to do all this work, then give it to an op-ed writer who will write something debunking this, then not publish my essay, are you? Because you guys did that to ______ and he told me about it.”
“No, of course not,” the NY Times editor said. “We’d never.”
So the SAIHEK, a guy who should have known better, spent several hours out of a couple very busy days where he really didn’t have several hours to give, writing a cracking essay defending Administration policy. He faxed it to the Times. He waited several days and was thinking about calling the editor, when he happened to open the Sunday Times, and there was an op-ed thoroughly hammering the Administration policy. There were several arguments in it, and each was a clever rebuttal to the arguments of the SAIHEK. They were even in the order that they’d be written, if they were directly in response to the order of the Smartest Attorney & etc.’s op-ed. He didn’t bother calling the editor back because he presumed he’d be told they never got the fax.
As the SAIEK puts it, “I learned a very important and highly sophisticated lesson from that experience. Don’t trust the media.”
It is amazing how many intelligent people who know the media is not on their side readily fall for this sort of thing. I turned down several requests to appear on Alan Colmes’s show a few years ago after I wrote certain columns that proved to be controversial because I knew that I would only be there to serve as cannon fodder. At the time, my media jujitsu was insufficiently developed to permit me to go on a national show with the confidence that I could get my points across no matter how the host tried to spin things.
The thing to always keep in mind is that the media are two-faced and shamelessly dishonest. They always smile and act friendly when they are hunting for a get. They are friendly right up until the moment that the microphone goes live, at which point everything changes. Their voice, their demeanor, even the look in their eyes is transformed. And if you betray any sign of weakness, they are very good at identifying and exploiting it to rhetorical effect.
This is why so many guests on various news shows so often look bewildered and taken aback when they are being interviewed. You are seeing, or hearing, the guest’s first introduction to the media figure with their attack face on. They’ve been told how interesting their thoughts are, how fascinated the viewers or listeners will find them, and how much the media figure has wanted to discuss this with them. They’ll be assured that it is not a hostile interview, not at all. And then, the moment the red light goes on, the mask drops.
However, if you are sufficiently prepared and you understand their tendencies, you can use their instinct to attack perceived weaknesses against them. As Jill once pointed out, they are binary thinkers, and binary thinkers are the easiest people to manipulate no matter how smart they are. The key is that they are superficial and limited to rhetoric so they have neither depth nor the ability to distinguish between real and false dialectical weaknesses. Get them lunging for X, and then you have them by simply showing X to be Not-X. And the more controversial or outrageous to PC sensibilities X happens to appear, the more irresistible they find the lure.
Remember, the media game is all about perceived credibility as opposed to the real thing. They are in the business of producing rabbit food.