“Everyone here thinks Obama flip-flopped on Iraq except you Rachel,”said Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, to his sole liberal panelist among five (arrayed like the start of the Brady Bunch), Rachel Maddow.

“Yeah with five conservatives what’s the surprise,” said Maddow, laughing, a little forced.

“Well you’ve got that Hillary cackle down right,” said Scarborough, piqued at which point Maddow flashed a look of pure hatred, before they went to a break.

Maddow, an east coast leftist, is usually paired in these things with more congenial and reasonable interlocutors, but things are getting snippy in the right-dominated 24 hour news channel empyrean, for obvious reasons. John McCain is doing badly everywhere, and his campaign appears to be, well, arthritic. Barack Obama, now wearing not only a flag pin, but suits with about two inches of extra shoulder, is setting the pace.

As this entrenches, based almost entirely on the fact that Obama is willing to talk about big things, and changing them, while McCain appears, well, in Colombia a long way from the action, the news empyrean is becoming increasingly detached from the reality.

In a strange process today, Obama did two press conferences — one in the morning — at which he said that, once he had spoken to on the ground commanders, he would “refine his plans”.

That echoed around instantly as a repudiation of his “out by 16 months” policy, and Obama decided to meet it head-on — with a second presser, that began; “OK let’s do this again because it seems I wasn’t clear enough the first time.”

Nothing in Obama’s statements suggest any substantial departure from his policy, and for the bulk of the American people, the Iraq war has faded substantially from their consciousness. A clear majority still want a rapid withdrawal.

The news focus should have been on the degree to which Obama’s general policy is feasible or wise — instead there were endless hours of baiting about flip-flopping, parsing of sentences, of the meaning of “refine” and so on.

This is American 24 hour news TV in its decadence, an endless cycle of talk shows that, according to the Pew research centre, are watched even sporadically by no more than 20% of the population. As the economy has tanked , foreign policy become tangled in confusion and everyday life become more difficult for tens of millions of Americans.

At times when “values politics” become paramount such shows can lead the debate — especially when American broadcast journalism is so supine. But when reality starts to bite, at the petrol pump and elsewhere, then both life and mainstream sources — such as network TV news from which 70% of the population still get their information — diverge, and the latter are forced to actually go out and report reality. The “news” channels continue on their merry way.

The effect is bizarre. To watch Fox News at the moment is to watch TV from Topsy-Turvy land, where McCain is still the “representative” of the American people, not running eight points behind. Around and around it goes, the flip-flops, the value question, the fist-bump, the handshake with the Weatherman, and so on and so on.

Will it, by sheer repetition, have an effect on the campaign? Any stray thoughts that this might be wearing away at the Obama platform is stayed by what the “news” channels currently remind one of — Chris Mitchell’s Australian in the lead up to last year’s poll.

And Independence Day tomorrow, and a chance to buy Songs of Praise for America Vols 1-3 — not available in stores. Not on this planet anyway.

In other news, Larry Harmon, better known as Bozo The Clown, died today. That will be a big pair of shoes to fill.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey