Friday, November 06, 2009
Quick, who's Mayhill Fowler?
If you're part of around 96% of America, the name probably escapes you. The other 4% -- comprised of die-hard political junkies, news reporters and anyone who makes it a point to never forget an embarrassing moment for the president -- will recognize Mayhill Fowler as the woman who inadvertently caused a 15-minute media firestorm back in April of 2008 when she recorded a speech by Barack Obama in which he said that small town America clings to guns, religion and anti-immigrant sentiment out of a sense of bitterness for being perpetually screwed-over. The statement was shocking only for the fact that it was pretty much true, but that of course didn't stop the mainstream media from ramping up the noise level in its echo chamber of contrived conflict and Obama's political enemies from pouncing on the then-presidential candidate, claiming that he was some kind of snooty elitist who was out of touch with the average hard-working, easily malleable American.
In no time, a moment of audacious honesty and somewhat laudable insight that deserved a lot more consideration and a lot less indignation was suddenly transformed into -- wait for it -- "Bittergate."
I bring this up because I'm curious as to whether anyone with a brain would actually think that Obama's comment on the resentment some middle-class voters feel -- and where and how that sentiment is directed -- was one of the single most important moments of the 2008 presidential campaign. Well, 61-year-old Mayhill Fowler -- who overnight went from being a self-described "failed writer" to being the sagging face of citizen journalism -- apparently does. She's now written a book that partially deals with "Bittergate," one in which she coincidentally and not surprisingly paints herself as a sort of Woodward and Bernstein for the digital media age.
Obviously, I'm not going to diminish the importance of the work of many of the tirelessly dedicated, often unpaid bloggers and writers who make up the shock troops in the new media revolution; they truly are the future of journalism in many respects. But one of the ways that neophytes in any field give themselves away is by not being able to distinguish the truly spectacular from the merely mundane. The Obama "Bittergate" story was the political equivalent of a high-speed car chase: It was only a big deal while it was happening, and once removed from the context of breaking news it doesn't really hold up. Those who thought that Barack Obama was an overeducated snob who looked down his nose at the ignorant masses had already heard the dog-whistles from the far-right and therefore believed that long before he made the comment about bitterness, religion and guns; they'd continue to believe it even if Obama had never said a thing to confirm their preconceptions.
In other words, no, contrary to Mayhill Fowler's somewhat self-inflating hype -- and God bless her for quickly learning the game and understanding what it takes to milk that 15-minutes for all it's worth -- "Bittergate" was not in fact "The Story that Rocked the Obama Campaign." It was a quick blip on a radar screen that at the time was filled with a hell of a lot of static.
The Huffington Post: "Bittergate: The Untold Story Behind the Story that Rocked the Obama Campaign" by Mayhill Fowler/11.5.09