“An Interesting transformation for the network journalist: the ability to get on the air, which was crucial to any reporter’s career, grew precisely as the ability to analyze diminished.”
The Powers that Be – David Halberstam
It is no surprise to anyone that today’s political ideals have struggled to remain in the field of objective analysis. Interestingly, it is historically recognized that societies like ancient Greece used their original esoteric principles of astrology (which was astronomy, originally) to glean political principles of power-structure, as a sort of societal divination. Whether this can be considered true objectivity either is given to speculation, but the point remains an interesting one: theoretically using the objectivity of Nature and the “Heavens” to administer politics, instead of leaving it to the error of man’s domain.
Each and every human—regardless of how aware they are of it—has a need for objectivity, which is quite a paradox in and of itself, since each and every person exists through subjective perception. In the long run, it could be phrased that in order to separate the subjective existence from the objective interplay, the desire for objective data sets helped catalyze what would be considered as “empirical science” in ancient and modern societies alike. Perhaps the most important reason for gathering these sets of data, was originally in order to aggregate and compare; meaning that in order to compare to something, one must first fully understand the initial point of comparison; but in order to truly understand this initial point, one must compare their aggregated data of this initial point with different sets acquired by others (to put this is in a very crude, broad sense). This is the cycle of social interaction.
In light of the upcoming American Presidential Election, it is becoming increasingly important to not only learn the objectivity of political ideology, but to begin understanding political ideologies through an aggregated sense of awareness. Instead of taking each candidate or President on their own, it is arguably much more important to analyze the collective context of the American (and any) political system as a whole. To narrow this analysis down a bit more, it is unquestionably important to critically assess where the starting point of analysis will be–and what better subject to begin with then the White House’s current presidential oaf: Barack Obama.
Even the name, for all it represents, makes most people chuckle in sad irony today. Obama: a sick masquerade of “Hope” and “Change.” With this puppet politician’s departure from office, the public is confronted for the first time with what is soon to be “President Barrack Obama: A Data Set”—the entire objective documentation of his presidency. While, indeed, for the sake of empiricism, it would be best to wait until the entire set has been completed, in regards to the topic at hand, completion is a moot point—the real intrigue here is Obama’s deep presidential ties with the cultural incorporation of the Internet.
Important to note: this doesn’t necessarily entail all of the President’s decision-making, but rather whatever kind of decisions were directly made through means of his presidency. Presumably, the President has made at least some of these decisions, although the extent of any president’s political autonomy in today’s day and age is questionable at best. Inarguable, however, is the clear cultural media shift that has taken place during Obama’s presidency; and the most curious of all, is that he was not the first President that could be considered as part of this data set. No, this has not been the first noteworthy political administration of power, but the third: the second being with John F. Kennedy and the cultural shift of the television, and the first being Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the radio (in terms of this analysis, at least, as there could likely be much more expanded upon here). As well, these are not creation timelines of these media, but rather analyses of when they became a focal incorporation within American culture—all being originally catalyzed by political office.
With Obama, America witnessed the evolution of social media, like Facebook and Twitter. These happy-go-lucky social-conventions became full-blown political experiments, with Mark Zuckerberg now having close ties with the FBI and CIA and a laundry list of “in-between-the-lines” Facebook encoding, including all sorts of privacy bugs, Facebook’s controversial editing of the user agreement, et cetera. Twitter has also received its fair amount of controversy for topics such as censorship, with questionable Military Intelligence connections that can be noted during the Color Revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia, among other examples. Today, it seems that Twitter has become the host of what could be looked at as the Internet’s chess board. One can see heavy interaction from virtually all organizations; from Anonymous, WikiLeaks, CIA, the White House, Fox News, and even actual reporting and activism; all the way to all established religions, and the very best and very worst of what Pop Culture has to offer. They are all operating on the same game board. With Obama’s presidency (certainly not without precursors beforehand), one can clearly note the heavy use of social media in all forms of media, whether in advertisement commercials, television shows, food packaging and labels, or breaking reports on mainstream news, and so forth.
Important to note are the fundamental pieces required for a media paradigm shift, which are: the relationship between the politician and the citizen, and between the politician and the news reporter. Roosevelt was the first to explore the subtle manipulation of the voices who spoke to the people, and this is something else Obama has taken note on. A quote from Julian Assange during a prior Russia Today interview helps shed some light on this idea, (Assange, despite the previous dig, does indeed conduct some solid journalism–the only question is where his motives ultimately lie):
“Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Whistleblower Act than all other presidents combined. In fact more than twice as many. Of course he says ‘That’s espionage,’ but there’s no allegation that any of these people have given their secrets to a foreign government. The allegations are that they are working with the media.”
The Obama Administration has clearly observed the significance of the relationship between the voice of the reporter and the ear of the citizen, noting the delineation of the voice as well, and it now seems that they would intend to snuff it out–and with 1400 American military bases in over 120 countries, it seems that both US national and foreign policies have begun to blur together under the umbrella of surveillance. (That’s not even mentioning Obama’s military implementation of drone assassination programs against “terrorists,” or his questionable use of facilities like Guantanamo Bay, which he promised the people he would close)
Moving forward, the next data set of note is the man who has single-handedly stimulated the American “Conspiracy Theory” culture more than anything else: John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a president known to be apart from many of his colleagues, going on record against ambiguous secret societies, demonizing the centralized banking systems, and harnessing the potential of the television in order to connect with his citizens and establish a revolutionary discourse between the person and the politician. This proved wildly more successful than anyone had planned and it gave Kennedy too much political pull for one man, and in the long run he was put in his place.
This is, of course, not to say that his ingenuity with television media had him murdered directly, but that this disposition of vitality and ingenuity that he brought to the media seemed to be a primary factor in the motivations behind his assassination. If Obama revolutionized the context of information-exchange between the politician and the community, and Roosevelt laid the groundwork to begin with, then Kennedy revolutionized the emotional context between the politician and the citizen. He made it seem as if Americans were truly in this together, and that even if he was just a voice or a moving picture, the people felt touched. To them, it was almost as if the President had gone through all this trouble just to graciously fill them in on what was happening, and henceforth Kennedy became the “President of the People”—not of the politicians, nor the corporations.
From here, it is crucial to state that this is not at all meant to lionize JFK as many people are so quick to do–as every president can attribute his success, to some degree, to a successful propaganda campaign. Kennedy was a pampered, somewhat self-centered man from a wealthy elitist background, and he was not an angel in any sense of the word. Aside from his relationship with Marilyn Monroe and a marriage he seemed to agree to for solely political reasons, Kennedy also had ambitions of manipulating the people through media, but he felt as though it were a two-way street. Naturally, there was always going to be a leader that people needed to follow (reminiscent of the Plato’s “Philosopher King” and the Pharonic God-King philosophies), yet he felt that people had a right to understand how they were being led, and not just blindly obey. That is what separated Kennedy from the rest of the politicians, and has especially separated him from the likes of Obama. To end this point of analysis, and consummate the impact that his aforementioned media manipulation had, is a quote form David Halberstam, author of The Powers That Be, from 1979:
“In truth however, the Kennedy candidacy and presidency created a whole new balance of power. Not only was the influence of the opposition party diminished but in a far more basic way the whole balance of government was changed, with the presidency growing in power at the expense of the other branches of government. It was no longer Democratic President and Republican opposition, but Presidents against all else, with partisan differences muted.”
With Roosevelt and the incorporation of the radio transmission into politics came the groundwork for many cultural shifts, like the personable president speaking to everyone in their own homes (something Kennedy took serious note of and studied vigorously) to the updating of the entire infrastructure of the national media’s network. Reporters were no longer predominately discussing regional issues, but at this point were beginning to analyze much larger and more complex sets of data, such as national and even geopolitical implications. As mentioned before, another of Roosevelt’s achievements was the way he dealt with the network reporter, realizing that they not only had a loud voice with which to speak to the people, but that they were also part of the people themselves. Roosevelt was known to attend poker nights with many of his reporter friends, and was quite close with some of them, but was never afraid to put anyone in their place, and for this he had a generally unbridled respect, which showed through in the news that the reporters generated. Quoting David Halberstam once more:
“He was also very skilled, once in office, at using peer pressure to keep reporters in line, isolating any journalist who asked too difficult a question, making him look ridiculous. There was a small group of regulars who sat in the front-row seats at all White House press conferences and who were totally Roosevelt’s men. They laughed at every joke and pun; the others called them The Giggle Club. There was no doubt that the president used them effectively…”
It should be mentioned that FDR essentially “wrote the Bible” on media politics, and was the pioneer of the tactics that both Kennedy and Obama utilized during their terms in office. Roosevelt was a politician from an era that Kennedy was seeing the end of, and an era that Obama has helped extinguish. It was an era in American history where a President had a certain amount of nobility—graciousness towards the people, one could say. They realized the connection they had to their citizens, and instead of trying to be really personal with them to hopefully skip over most of the politics (like Obama), the era belonging to JFK and FDR used their relatability as a vessel for their politics. This obviously doesn’t amount to much more than propaganda overall, but the objectivity of these data sets should be brought up again. Furthermore, it is important to determine what ends the propaganda was serving, because the ends certainly bear weight for the means. Perhaps an important lesson that can be drawn from the metadata is that inherently every politician is a little two-faced at best.
This article’s purpose isn’t necessarily claiming specific analytical findings, but rather proposing that these three sets can be synthesized in order to understand the legacy of the Media President and the implications that this bears on the culture it is a part of. The Media President is a recurring theme in American culture (and naturally others as well that have been unexplored) and the people have clearly not seen the last of the Obama-type legacy, as both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton have made an absolute side-show spectacle of media relations campaigns, the likes of which have never been seen before in the political sphere.
While Obama’s terms in office have indeed revolutionized the relationship between the politician and the citizen, there is an overwhelming majority of Americans who are looking to tie up a lot of the loose ends that Obama has carelessly left at the end of his presidency; loose ends that his Administration continues to shove behind bars under the Espionage Act and more. Unfortunately, the presidential campaigns of 2016 seem to mark a new low in American politics, and a rational person cannot help but wonder how much these politicians really care about relations with the public at all anymore. Instead of persuasive, suggestive dialogue, the tact seems to be totally forgotten, and modus operandi for politicians today is to shove their ideas down a person’s throat before another politician can get there first. These days, most Americans have been culled into being a consumer, and Obama was politically bred to look like a producer, but what he has ultimately produced is secrecy, surveillance, and ambiguity. But hey, at least he’s talkative with the people, right?
Trump will most likely continue casting himself as the “anti establishment” candidate (despite rampant evidence to the contrary), and Clinton will “promote equality” or however she’s trying to spin her campaign; it seems to be anybody’s guess at this point. With any luck, more people will realize these media-spin traps before the votes have been cast. Vote Nobody: Lead Yourself 2016.
Sources: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/07/10/mark-zuckerberg-awarded-cia-surveillance-award/, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/25/twitter-facebook-uprisings-arab-libya, http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/01/26/twitter.egypt.wired/, http://www.rt.com/