Sunday, October 5, 2008

Discourse analysis

I'm not a huge fan of David Letterman, and though I've been mildly entertained by his one man campaign against McCain over the last week (McCain having been silly enough to cancel an appearance on The Late Show & then reappear on the floor of the CBS studio down the road - hell hath no such fury as a late night compere spurned), this piece with Brian Williams from NBC news is interesting. Very interesting.

Williams of course has been locked out of an dialogue with McCain/Palin camp as part of the general definition of his type of media as that elitist conspiracy determined to stop Mom & Pop America from enjoying its moment of glory in the electoral sun. And much of his approach is couched within the needs of a journalistic manner that forsakes criticism for something closer to understanding - the journalist as therapist, with a client more than willing to misinterpret or manipulate the therapeutic relationship, substituting insight and honesty for constructed truths intent upon fashioning a mediarised definition of self.

And like a good therapist, Williams keeps giving the space needed to reel the McCain/Paling camp into something like dialogue. The problem is that it is very unlikely that given weeks if not months of the GOP tactic of smearing the media with all responsibility for a campaign blunder or error of governmental judgement, McCain/Palin can now re-engage with anyone in the media other than the pundits who have remained their mouthpieces. The ridiculousness of this is revealed by Palin's attacks on Katie Couric. (If Palin's minders failed to insist upon a preview of Couric's questions and then failed to train Palin up to speed, I can only assume they're really Nader supporters).

What Williams and Letterman represent are media positions intent upon claiming independent status, which in the US version of truth and democracy is, as Letterman jokes, provable "as I've got the paperwork". McCain/Palin GOP '08 are increasingly relying on any hope of success upon winning over the notional independent voter and the Reagan Democrats from the MidWest and some southern states. Michigan's already been conceded (thank you Congressman McTrotter) and Ohio's looking nasty. It just may be that the GOP tactic of attacking the media as an unmediated space until defined by them may be starting to backfire.

Firstly, if media spaces such as The Late Show can provide a beautiful moment of discourse analysis from about six and a half minutes on, then the general level of debate and engagement is higher than we have come to mockingly expect. Secondly, the untrammelled access to infinite media sources undermines the GOP tactic of entirely focusing upon a constructed media space such as Fox - particularly when you are trying to engage with the swinging independent voters. It serves perhaps to reinforce those already rusted on, but leaves the undecided as "free agents".

The dialogue between Letterman & Williams is interesting in itself - I should imagine very very carefully scripted and a piece that should be compulsory viewing in every journalism & discourse analysis course. The multiplicity of technique, the space of undetermined or disputed meaning, and a rather brilliantly crafted play of advocate and devil. The upshot? McCain/Palin can no longer risk engaging with the mainstream media they have worked so hard to beat off. The problem is, all of the bleating about liberal elites will only convince those ready to be convinced. And the edge in Williams' negotiated therapeutic position does not bode well for any rapprochement with McCain 08. Somehow I doubt John McCain will be dialling 1800 NBC NEWS anytime soon.