The Politics of Pageviews

It was definitely a low point for journalism.

In an exclusive interview, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, “We call you the duck. You have a very sort of placid and even way of presenting but you are just working for justice underneath,” she said. “Would you quack for us?”

Maybe Perry genuinely adores Holder, but it was still hard to watch. Fox News analyst and host of ‘MediaBuzz’ Howard Kurtz called it “the most cringe-inducing thing I have seen since GloZell Green was in the bathtub of Froot Loops before interviewing the president.” Indeed.

There’s no denying the Obama administration’s love for all things media – online, social and traditional. The President has recently been interviewed by everyone from YouTube star Green and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to Re/code’s Kara Swisher and of course the Super Bowl softy with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.

Just last week, the budding media star did a two-minute selfie video that has over 1.7 million views on BuzzFeed. Since Americans now spend an average of 10 hours a day with their eyes glued to some sort of screen, you probably have a better chance of running into Mr. Obama on a daily basis than most of your friends and coworkers.

And therein lies the rub. To say Obama has played our ADHD (Attention Deficit and Heavily Distracted) culture like a video game guru is an uber understatement. While much of this media mastery may seem light-hearted and casual, it’s not. It’s a calculated strategy to push his personal brand and political agenda on the people.

Make no mistake, this is not business as usual for a President of the United States. It’s entirely unprecedented. And it’s Orwellian. He’s supposed to lead the people, perhaps be a man of the people, not be in the people’s faces so frequently it’s creepy. It makes 1984’s Big Brother seem underexposed by comparison.

The strategy has been remarkably affective.

Every White House has had a bully pulpit, at least since Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase. But as Dorothy discovered when she walked out of her black and white barn into the Technicolor Land of Oz, we are so not in Kansas anymore, folks. Whether you’re at home, at work, or on the move, you’re immersed in the wonderful world of media.

Television is one thing, but the Web allows anyone to reach everyone. It’s the most powerful media platform in the history of the world. The only downside is that the Internet leveled the playing field. Anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can be famous, so it’s nearly impossible to get over all the noise. Unless of course you’re the world’s most powerful person. That changes everything.

The bully pulpit uniquely allows the president to rise to the top of the news, show up on the home page, and generate the most views wherever he appears on any medium online or offline. Whether it’s CBS, cable news, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, or the Wall Street Journal, wherever his brand appears, it’s sure to go viral everywhere.

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech for everyone, not just the media. The problem is everyone is the media now. What often passes for journalism today on the Internet is whatever’s popular, and that of course includes whatever the president says. And it’s tweeted, retweeted, posted, and liked on 6 billion cell phones.

That might be fine if we were as discerning and thoughtful as we once were. Sadly, we’re not. We’re simply too distracted to do a whole lot of critical thinking these days. We’re simply too busy playing with our stuff, our gadgets, our toys, to question what we hear. We take every sound bite at face value – exaggerations, outright lies and all.

Remember, this is the culture that’s irrevocably altering our way of life and energy policy over global climate change hysteria that may not be a threat or even exist. This is the culture where questioning pseudo-science – what we used to call the scientific method without which we’d all still be living in the dark ages – makes us deniers.

This is the culture that’s bringing back whooping cough and measles – diseases that were nearly eradicated – because some actors said the vaccines cause autism. These are the same sort of people that believe Wi-Fi fries our brains, being vegan is healthy, aspartame is deadly and plastic causes cancer.

This is the all-consuming culture that buys anything and everything and buys into every Hollywood diet, magical remedy, miracle cure, weight loss system, nutritional supplement, vitamin drink, toxin cleanser, self-help book, motivational speaker, inspirational blogger and personal improvement fad on God’s green Earth.

Why do I find the combination of a pervasive communications medium, a media-addicted zombie populace, and political leaders that know exactly how to exploit them terrifying? The real question is why don’t you?

When the world’s most powerful man has an Orwellian presence that pushes his political agenda everywhere there’s media and a screen – in other words, everywhere – that’s cause for great concern.