Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Most Worthless Thing On The Internet, Dying Magazine Edition

Today’s most worthless thing on the internet has crossover appeal: not only is it a web page not worth visiting, it might be the least essential piece of political journalism ever published. It comes courtesy of Time magazine, which apparently decided that this obscure new political movement called the “Tea Party” deserves more media attention than it’s getting.

Back when it was one of the few available sources of national and international news, Time used to be an iconic publication—it used to matter who was on the cover. This latest cover had the image of an elephant in a tea cup (get it? Metaphors! Visual shorthand!) and the astonishingly uninteresting headline, “It’s Tea Party Time.” Now, if Time was your sole source of political news, if it dominated the market the way it used to, this might be an interesting cover. “This is intriguing,” you might say. “Tea Party? And they’re taking over the Republican Party? I must read on!”

But, obviously, no one in the world relies on Time this way. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the news, even someone who gets all her news from The Daily Show, already knows more about the Tea Party than the Time article manages to communicate. On this subject, Time is hopelessly trailing hundreds of blogs and other print publications, but instead of trying to find a new angle on the Tea Party it rehashes events that have been covered already and spreads on a layer of vague generalities.

Among the things the article does not bother to discuss in detail are:

  • -The fractured nature of the Tea Party. There are actually many, many groups that compose the “movement,” and there are important ideological differences between them. Some are more free-market libertarian, some are conservative Christians; Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell do not have the same agenda.

  • -The money trail that leads from some “grassroots” organizations to the billionaire Koch brothers, which the New Yorker covered already. In fact, the Koches are not even mentioned in the Time piece.

  • -Glenn Beck is mentioned, but only in passing, and is lumped in with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity—which is odd because he’s widely regarded as the face of the Tea Party and just held that massive rally in Washington D.C.

  • -Most notably, the Time article only focuses on the recent crop of primaries and doesn’t acknowledge the two Tea Party candidates who have actually run against Democrats—Scott Brown, who won a Senate seat in Massachusetts at least partially because of his opponent’s incompetence, and Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd district, who lost his race thanks to Republican in-fighting.

Besides all of those omissions, which make the article instantly outdated, there’s also the problem that Time is a weekly, which meant it could keep up with the news cycle in 1923, when it was founded, but in 2010 it has no chance. Case in point: the Tea Party piece focuses a lot of attention on Christine O’Donnell, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware, and even compares her to the “leader of a rebel army.” But less than a week later she’s mostly known for admitting to practicing witchcraft, speaking out against masturbation, talking about feminism in J.R.R. Tolkein, and having a shady financial past. Not coincidentally, she’s trailing by 15 points in a recent Fox News (!) poll, which is not where the leader of a rebel army wants to be. None of that is mentioned in the article, although some of those developments came to light after the article was published. (Sort of argues for the irrelevance of print media, doesn’t it?)

To recap: Time published an article about a phenomenon that was already old news, revealed nothing new about the phenomenon, contributed nothing to the conversation about the phenomenon, and may have overstated the importance of one part (O’Donnell) of that phenomenon. The best you can say about that article is that it doesn’t seem to be factually incorrect. Actually, the best thing that can be said about the article is that it reassures all of those people who don’t read Time that they’re doing the right thing.

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