17. September 2008 · Comments Off on The Persistence of Plastic Turkey Memory · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Media Matters Not, My Head Hurts, Politics, Rant, sarcasm

A running gag at Tim Blair’s blog over the last five years or so has been reports of the appearance of the eternal bird in the dribblings of various writers, entertainers and columnists. That is, a sneering reference to the pictures of President Bush holding a supposedly plastic turkey, in a series of pictures taken at his surprise Thanksgiving visit to troops in Iraq five years ago. Explained and debunked over and over again by eyewitnesses that it was a real turkey, for display at the steam tables where the main entrée was being dished out, put together by the mess-hall staff and that such displays are actually commonplace at military mess halls… the plasticized version of this meme appears yet again, unscathed, rather like a turkey-shaped Freddy Kruger. The bird is not only the word, it is eternal. (Spotted yet again this very morning, as I contemplated this essay while being dragged around the block by the dogs.)

Obviously, this is a convenient short-hand for the people who enjoy sneering at George W. Bush and are too damned lazy to rustle up something a little more current than the old plastic turkey story. Tim Blair and his commenters get a lot of mileage – and a lot of hearty chortling – but the fact that the meme is still current after five years and a ton of energetic debunking is kind of depressing. It proves that Joseph Goebbels was on to something when he observed the effectiveness of telling a big lie and sticking to it… even at the cost of looking ridiculous. If a story is repeated often enough, it will be believed by a depressingly large number of people: 9/11 was an inside plot by the Bush Administration, Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was completely blameless in the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the 2000 election was stolen, the Swiftboat veterans’ claims about John Kerry were all debunked, that US government were Saddam Hussein’s biggest supplier of military equipment… oh, add your own favorite here, the list is practically endless.

Such memes persist because they are repeated incessantly by all sorts of people, against all available evidence to the contrary. The most depressing aspect is that in a lot of cases they are repeated by media figures that once I would have expected better from – and applauded by audiences that I also expected better of. (Garrison Keillor being a particular offender. I can barely stand to listen to Prairie Home Companion these days, and I used to love that show.) Now I only hope for better. Sad to say, that hope is growing fainter and fainter by the hour… especially over the last two weeks. As if it wasn’t bad enough to suspect our very own dear media folks of being lazy and careless in vetting stories in the last election cycle, as if it wasn’t bad enough that 60 Minutes could air a blatant hit piece just before election day, based on shaky fact-checking and dubious memos in an attempt to throw the election to John Kerry… as if the hurricane of vitriol this time around didn’t reach a new and unexplored depths with the Palin-faked-pregnancy story, now it looks as if mainstream media has moved solidly into place as a propaganda arm of the Obama Democrats.

Not just the dirt-digging on Governor Palin – it’s the asymmetrical dirt-digging. Plus the final edit of her interview with Charles Gibson, with her answers judiciously edited to put the worst complexion on them… (sample of it here) plus the staging of it in the studio, plus his hectoring manner, so very different from his interview with Senator Obama. Really, it does give one pause. Then consider the cover shoot of Senator McCain, for the Atlantic Magazine, with such very artistic and well-considered outtakes doctored by the photographer….

Just some examples from the last couple of weeks… but still, very revealing ones, about the various aspects of the current political scene. I wouldn’t go so far as to make a blanket insistence that the whole lot are in the tank for the Obama campaign… but I sure as hell wouldn’t assume anything about their impartiality, either. Were I a media advisor to a Republican nominee to high office, I’d certainly be advising a quick pre-interview google-search of the interviewer’s name… and for the nominee to bring along his or her own own camera crew.

(Thanks Sigivald – corrected!)

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