By Gene Lyons

No Conflict, No Story

December 12, 2012 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 31 Comments A+ / A-
No Conflict, No Story

As yet another make-believe Washington “crisis” looms, it’s tempting to suspect that the most fraught interludes in American politics derive from turning government into a TV show. Artificial deadlines, imaginary cliffs, villains and heroes; a state of permanent emergency. These well-worn dramatic devices have been the stuff of serial melodrama from the “Perils of Pauline” through “24.”

No sooner had the 2012 presidential election blessedly ended than journalists started handicapping the 2016 presidential election overnight.

Next, new crisis was declared. OMG! The Fiscal Cliff! OMG!

Without a conflict, see, there’s no story.

So must we therefore govern the country according to the narrative conventions of spy thrillers to boost cable news network ratings and to insure pundits and politicians plenty of TV face time?

Apparently so. However, is it really good for our democracy that many otherwise normal Americans recognize figures like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) or Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on sight? To put it another way, if I weren’t a subscriber to the NBA League Pass, would I too stand in danger of turning into a “fiscal cliff” junkie between now and January 2—feverishly flipping from MSNBC to Fox seeking fresh excitement and outrage?

In his 1997 book Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, James Fallows explained a lot about what drives such coverage. “Why do [journalists] want to appear [on TV], when so many reporters make fun of the shows?” he asked. “The most immediate payoff is the simple thrill of being noticed and known. Political-journalistic Washington functions much like a big high school, with cliques of the popular kids, the nerds, the rebels, the left-outs, and so on. To be on TV is to become very quickly a cool kid. Friends call to say they’ve seen you. People recognize you in stores. Whether people agree or disagree with what you said (or whether they even remember), they treat you as ‘realer’ and bigger than you were before.”

And that was back when 24/7 cable TV political programming barely existed. Since then, print reporters have quit dismissing TV. (Most were only pretending to be snobs about it anyway.) Now they ponder how to become the next Ezra Klein.

The rewards, Fallows made clear, can be heady. Celebrity journalists, “have that extra, sizzling experience of seeing strangers’ heads flip back, for a second look (‘Is it really him?’) as they walk into restaurants or through airport corridors… [T]he recognition is almost entirely judgment-free…TV’s effect is mainly to make you bigger than life. For each hundred acquaintances who will say, ‘I saw you on the show,’ only one will say, ‘I agree [or disagree] with what you said.’”

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No Conflict, No Story Reviewed by on . As yet another make-believe Washington “crisis” looms, it’s tempting to suspect that the most fraught interludes in American politics derive from turning govern As yet another make-believe Washington “crisis” looms, it’s tempting to suspect that the most fraught interludes in American politics derive from turning govern Rating:

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Comments

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B6RROC4IUESHT322QS5VJVPYRM Lynda

    The more these so-called discussions continue the more I feel the best course of action is to do nothing. Start over again with the new Congress in January and take the issues one at a time. Tax cuts for the majority first. That one should be much easier after the country has given up on the GOP…if they haven’t already. There is no reasonable offer that is good enough for the party of NO, so withdraw the current proposal and come back in January. There is no need to panic as there is substantial time for working out a deal. This is not the time for the Democratic Party to be offering concessions to the minority party. The election is over and the GOP lost.

    • ceverettham

      It isn’t over for the GOP until Democrats take control of the house in 2014. To bad for you it won’t happen. Democrats still can’t do much in congress the way it stands.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fern.woodfork Fern Woodfork

      This Here Is A Clear Sign We Will Stay United And Get Rid Of The No Good Do Nothing Congress Filled With The GOP/Tea Party American Taliban!!! We Must Vote Their Asses OUT In 2014!!!

    • TheOldNorthChurch

      Lynda your comments would make some sense, however the Congress coming in is virtually the same as that going out. I do agree that the best action right now is let the Tax Rates expire as they were intended, then spend 2013 putting together a comprehensive well debated plan.

      Oh and by the way without compromise there will no plan, the Republicans are the Majority Party in the House of Representatives. The question is will they make a concession to the Democrats?

      By law all Tax Bills must Originate in the House, not the Senate. Until the next Affordable Care Act battle in the Courts we will see if that is changed by the Supreme Court. Roberts ruled that the mandate was a Tax for good reason – the bill that pasted originated in the Senate. However, Taxes can not be Constitutionally challenged until they become effective. The “Tax” becomes effective in 2014 and is now being challenged as Unconstitutional because it was Originated in the Senate. A Federal Judge has just allowed this to proceed on this basis.

    • neece00

      I hate that we have gotten to a place in our country that compromise is a dirty word. How will anything ever get done on either side, if we don’t compromise. Although, historically speaking, the democrats are much better as compromise than the republicans.

    • kdisg

      Lynda: your so right my friend. Obama could hand them rverything they ever wanted as a party and that wouldn’t be enough because it’s as the children of the gop say it’s coming from that “black man in the white house” I knew this was coming when I watched in 2008 shoirtlky after the election Mitch McConnel tell the gop audiance to make sure and vote NO to everything so everybody thinks Obama does NOTHING and he will be a one term president, never considering the country was in the worst recession since the great depression due to the BUSH gop policies they created, never thinking of all the americans hurting (that pay the salery they get every week) UN-AMERICAN is what they have turned into targeting woman, seniors, gays, middle class etc. They now have a hatye list of americans so long were all on it. They hate us all and I hope they ALL get voted out because I will NEVER EVER vote for a republican UN-AMERICAN again. Imagine wanting to get rid of the clinic that does millions of cancer screenings for woman along with breast exams, then cut medicare si big oil can keep paying NOTHING in taxes. what ever happened to middle class, unions getting closed because republicans dont like unions, remember everyone unions built the midle class. I’m ashamed of republicans becoming UN-AMERICAN, what did we regular hard working, family raising, tax paying americans ever do to them????

      • jarheadgene

        What did we ever do to them….unfortunately some of us were convinced to be part of them and to vote for them…..and then…..we turned off FOX news. Imagine what would happen if they went off the air. We may end up getting a real democracy back. And not one that is bought and paid for and one in which voters aren’t hoodwinked to get votes.

        • kdisg

          Jarheadgene: Fox “make it all up as they go along news” as we call them in this house are really funny. Fact checking has become so easy now that most americans have internet and every word oout of those bullsh_t story telling Fake reporters cvan be and is checked and shown to be lies. like the debates when fact checking Romney turned into n all night job because he was telling so many lies BUT some people actually believe them and the Kock brothers eve after putting over a trillian dollars and lie telling ads and still lost. Maybe folks started checking and finding out the Kock brother are as bad at lie telling as FOX “make it all up news. lol Obama was suppose to be a one term president because they worked so hard to outspend him, they lost and now ALOT of americans know just how UN-AMERICAN the gop has become. This very morning there closing unions in Mich, the republican hate the midde class to now. were all on the hate list it’s gotten so long full of hate for us regular, hard working, family raising, tax paying, ( and not 14% only) americans. woman, gays, seniors, disabled, middle class and white men who arent rich are all on the gop new UN-AMERICAN

      • patuxant

        It is nauseating, isn’t it, to see the hatred overtake co-operation and bi-partisanship. I had a friend who gave a “thumbs up” on FB to the question, click if you LIKE Boehner to stand up to the President. I just shook my head. Boehner is an obstructionist but merely for his own self-interests. It is disgusting to hear him rant on about how the President isn’t “serious” and how there are no specifics to the proposals coming from the WH. Like what? He is talking about his own party!

        • kdisg

          I remember on more than one occasion Obama saying EXACTLY what he wanmted and what his economic team has avised. Many leading economists remember how this country prospered under CLINTON, there suggsting the same plan Obama keeps mentioning, but the doners of big oil, etc will slow the big cash to them if they dont give them what they want, forget about us hard working, family raising, tax paying (and not only 14%) americans, just cut medicare for their kids, disabled, homeless and woman so we can keep those nice lopoles for big oil and the rich.

  • Jim Lou

    Any crisis is good for TV and other media. This attracts attention and thus viewers. This of course leads to increase revenue.

  • 1Reddevil

    I wish the president was 1/4 as smart as he tries to act.A 3 year old child knows they can not spend more than they have.This country was not founded on 1/2 of the people supporting the other 1/2.If taxes get to high company’s will move offshore.(Look at Google )40-50% tax increase on the rich will mean 40-50 % of nothing is nothing.So then we loose what they are paying now.I can honestly say i am not proud to be an American.

    • old_blu

      So move!

    • Ghmac

      Huh? 3% tax hike on the rich, they will barely feel the bump. Their income has increased by 10 in the last 15 years, while the other98% has gone down. They are below the tax rate of 1951, with the country population much larger. They own more then half the wealth of the 98%. Their companies are doing better then ever. And recently they are finding out producing everything off shore doesn’t help business, the supply line is too cut up. Plus we need to build new infrastructure, do home energy, support education, you can’t send that off shore. Don’t let them threaten you, it is all about greed. Even the republican congress men are afraid to stand up and be counted because they are afraid of losing their job from another republican. Pure and simple it is the greedy party.

    • MRD1056

      fThese companies are already moving all manufacturing overseas now when corporate tax rates are the lowest in history you moron. Its not about taxes its about overhead. These patriotic American CEO’s are trying to save a buck by paying chinese workers 8 cents and hour instead of paying American workers a good living wage. So don’t blame the president dumbass blame all your Republican CEO’s.

      • neece00

        I really like your response, bravo.

    • ryueire

      You don’t make any sense. Are you saying the wealthy 1% are not private individuals, but companies and also are paying 40-50% tax or are you implying they are being charged 40-50% more as a tax increase? Both are false statements, by the way.

      And companies outsource foreign because of cheaper labor costs. Case in point: Walmart, who have the 5 richest members of a family; yet manufacture in 3rd world countries where their are no safety regs or welfare for workers(including children). These are jobs lost to American workers ALREADY, before the increase on tax revenue on the 1%.

      Walmart sell foreign made goods in the US and hire American workers at their store locations for minimum wage and for no more than 30 hrs per week to keep from paying health benefits or pensions.
      This is exactly the kind of shit Romney advocated for the auto industry to go bankrupt so that the unions could be broken up. Make those that can least afford to sacrifice, sacrifice more for the greater good of the few.
      Obama wants to spend on infrastructure, education, technology, and developing better sources of independent energy. He doesn’t just talk it, he actually wants to apply these to improve the chances of future American generations to remain competitive globally. And yes, spending is required, but not massive, irresponsible spending for needless wars or for no-bid contracts to cronies or lobbying corps out to buy the GOP meal ticket.

      I agree, you should not be proud to be an American if being one is to be selectively ignorant of facts and being too stubborn or lazy to look at all sides of an argument.

    • neece00

      You have been listening to the wrong news program if that is the take you have come back with. And as old_blu said, so move. If you are so ashamed of this country and are so disgusted with the policies and our President( at least my President), then move. Don’t let the door hit you on the rear end as you leave.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.gordon1 Elisabeth Gordon

      Well, with twisted rhetoric like yours, I am not the least bit surprised to hear you say that you are not proud to be an American….turn off Fox News and read the article….domm kopf!

    • Justin Napolitano

      OK, then when all of the rich move all of their money off shore and they now own everything who is going to buy their stuff? If government does not have enough money to support our infrastructure, schools and military then we will have become a a much poorer nation even though the rich now own everything. I nation is only rich if most of its citizens share in that wealth.

    • jarheadgene

      You got slammed with FACTS by many here. Please stop listening to FOX’s Yellow Journalism it is ALL HOGWASH. Oh and if your statement about 3 year olds is True…. What does that say about George W Bush?

    • http://twitter.com/bigal953 Alandro Berry

      @reddevil: Check your history. The GOP said the same thing you are sayings now when Clinton raised taxes. History proves that your statement is untrue but living in the FOX bubble you will continue to believe this total BS.

  • futurepast44

    It’s good to have my long-time perception corroborated by Mr. Lyons, who has an accurate hammer and lots of nails. I seem to remember that all the furor about the “debt” and the “deficit” began in earnest after the Affordable Health Care act was passed. “NOW what can we do to terrify the populace and discredit the President?” I can see the GOPpers saying one to the other.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JMT6C3LHLJDD4RX4NB4KY5ICAE gargray

    The Republicans are trying to get back in to their coocoon, when they come out they will be the same moths that went in. I don’t think they will ever be a butterfly with pretty wings. Maybe a grasshopper would be better description they hop all over the place and never get anything done, except eat holes in everything they land on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/clyde.snider.3 Clyde Snider

    And what about the Mayan calendar? In 9 more days we won’t have to worry about it at all.

  • howa4x

    The fault for all this is laid at the media’s door. Think of CNN and wolf Blitzer. Everythng he says is hyped. I call it he hype hour. The new format for news as this show is to have both parties attack dogs there to comment on every peice of news. Even the weather report is called extreme weather not just there will be showers today. Fox is on one side and slants the news completely, and MSNBC is on the other side. Network news is just there to hype the big pharma who supports them. All news has degenerated into sound bytes.
    We are also to blame since we have lost our collective ability to discern facts, and see historical trends. I hear people constantly parroting Fox. They don’t realize that what they are isn’t factually correct. In an argument on healthcare reform I had a woman actually say to me very adamently, that she dosen’t want a chip implanted in her head, because Glen Beck said that was the goal of government. We can’t have a discussion on death and dying because now it’s death panels. If you’re for a war you’re a hawk and against it you’re a commie. If a woman talks about contraception she is a slut. We seem to love the drama like it’s an extension of our favorite TV show. Most don’t comprehend the issues but love the back and forth. As long as we support he divisivness of politics they will just play to the cameras

  • elw

    I agree 100 percent with this. TV and cable news is a joke. I do not watch it, it is a waste of my time. I often wonder how many times do the pundits have to be wrong before everyone turns them off? How many false allegations, made up crisis or scandal does it take for people to just turn the channel? It would seem more than are already part of history. I think we should have a Public Health campaign that teaches people how band the daily-24 hour news cycle is bad for their health. As for me I watch movies, get my new off the Internets, and smile when some hysterical Conservative tells me my taxes are going up.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_F7PEOIWPE27D6VSCGLX2JRFLNI tuco_bad

    Obama will cave in, just as he did two years ago.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CW65XXSV7JU3DG4S3WBB6AWH2Y David

    I said from the beginning that go over the damn cliff, come back to the table ready to do something that will benefit all Americans and not just Corporate America

  • patuxant

    Today folks? 12-12-12…if you are superstitious that is!

  • Jack Wormer

    I guess that croc about “…Give me your tired and poor…..” has remade the US into a nation filled mostly with folks with an innate INFERIORITY COMPLEX that needs to be compensated for via materialistic excess and IGNORANT DRIVEL!

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