Sunday, October 26, 2008

Joe the Plumber gets his 15 minutes

Coverage on voting issues barely makes the cut with Joe the Plumber dominating the news
Courtesy of Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism

Wurzelbacher must be the most talked about plumber in the news. The media has descended on him with a fury of ‘investigative journalism’, checking everything from his tax records to his voting records. As it turns out he is not a licensed plumber and his first name is not really Joe.According to Jonah Goldberg of the New York Post, the news media has declared war on McCain's Everyman. Joe, he claims, is just being punished by the media for exhorting "revealing but embarrassing answers out of the media's preferred candidate". He represents individualism in opposition to Obama’s ‘collectivist’ policies to "spread the wealth around."
These media critics’ question seems to be: why is the media attacking Joe? The question should be why is the media even covering Joe so feverishly? Between October 13 and19 Joe the Plumber became the No. 3 campaign storyline of the week (filling 8% of the election news hole) according to the Campaign Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Joe is even being asked for his insights on Social Security and off-shore drilling, by Couric and Huckabee.
When it comes to election coverage, the media narrative is dotted with pseudo celebrities to create controversy - Reverend Jeremiah Wright, former radical William Ayers, and Alaska Trooper Mike Wooten, just to name a few. No doubt McCain shamelessly used Joe to symbolize the middle class man with the American dream. With the 25 mentions of his name in the presidential debate, some talk about Joe the Plumber was inevitable. But the media has catalyzed the process and catapulted him to his newfound Britney-Spears status. According to the celebrated plumber himself, he said he was surprised to hear his name so predominantly featured in the debate. "That bothered me. I wished that they had talked more about issues that are important to Americans." Well, I wish the media would talk more about issues that are important to Americans instead of creating and destroying 15-minute celebrities.

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Just excellent. Superb use of supportive (and at times wryly funny!) links. The Britney-Joe the Plumber link was a nice catch, on your part. The occasional grammar/style glitch, as in: one can't "exhort" answers out of someone; did you mean *extort*? Also, I would have loved to have heard you talk about the ways in which symbolic figures become media texts, texts that contending groups fight to control the meaning of. Postmodern theorists call this a "contest of narratives"---a war of stories, in which competing ideologies fight to make their interpretation of what someone or someone (a pop icon, a movie, a news story) means *the* official interpretation. In this context, isn't it legitimate for the media to investigate Joe's background? If he's meant to symbolize Joe Six-Pack, yet in some arguable ways is not representative of Middle America, isn't that news? Still, you make an excellent point when you argue that he became a black hole, sucking coverage away from more substantive issues. Would have liked to have heard you ask: How could Joe have been used as a springboard into more substantive issues? Talking about him could have been a way of talking about issues that matter, such as: why do blue-collar Americans consistently vote against their own economic interests, stampeded, by fearmongers who conjure visions of the "socialist redistribution of wealth," to support policies that favor the wealthy?