Points for Pointing Out Press Parroting Points

Last night, “The Daily Show“‘s John Stewart tickled Campaign Desk’s fancy with his segment on two of our pet topics: conventional wisdom and talking points (and the press’s role in shaping the former and parroting the latter).

“It’s not easy keeping up with current events,” Stewart sighed. “As soon as you catch up, errr, more happens. That’s where conventional wisdom fits in. Conventional wisdom is the agreed-upon understanding of an event or a person.” Stewart’s examples: John Kerry flip flops and George Bush “has sincere heartland values and is stupid.” Said Stewart: “What matters is not that the designation be true, just that it be agreed upon by the media, so that no further thought has to be put into it.”

Stewart then showed clips of CNN’s White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux on July 6 (the day John Edwards joined the Democratic ticket) holding up the Republican National Committee’s 28-page dossier on John Edwards (which called Edwards a “disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal”) and noting that the Bush-Cheney campaign had also released their talking points on Edwards.

“Talking points,” Stewart interjected. “That’s how we learn things. But how will I absorb a talking point, like Edwards and Kerry are out of the mainstream, unless I get it jack-hammered into my skull? That’s where television lends a hand.” (Campaign Desk would add that print journalists do their part as well).

Stewart ran clips from CNN and Fox News of assorted pundits and partisans (e.g., Lynne Cheney and the Bush campaign’s communications director, Nicolle Devenish) sounding the talking point that John Edwards is “way out of the mainstream.” After a few more clips and a few more quips, Stewart ended the segment with this: “Keeping up with current events is easier than you think. Talking points. They’re true because they’re said a lot.”

And sometimes, it’s the same people “saying them a lot.” For example, it should surprise no one that today The New York Post’s Deborah Orin interprets Hillary Clinton being invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention as another John Kerry flip flop (in this case, Orin opts for the synonym “about-face”). And Orin goes on to sow some conventional wisdom — sourced to “some Democratic insiders” and “other Democrats [who] have speculated” — that the Kerry camp initially feared Mrs. Clinton might overshadow both John Edwards and Teresa Heinz Kerry at the convention.

Wait, wasn’t John Edwards the one doing all the overshadowing, according to last week’s conventional wisdom? Keeping up on current events is hard.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.