ABC News Presents the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858
April 19, 2008
Whenever the discussion turns to the omnipresence of brain-dead conservative spin points in our mass-market news media, and the general crappiness of television news in general, someone will sooner or later make the point that in past eras the news media were even more nakedly partisan than anything we’ve seen on FixNews, and more contemptibly juvenile than the standard-issue news twinkies. The corollary being that earlier generations of Americans have been afflicted with versions of Rupert Murdoch, Richard Mellon Scaife and Good Morning America, and yet the republic managed to survive.
I dunno — I have my doubts about that. So does publius at Obsidian Wings:
LINCOLN: In my opinion, slavery will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, did an Elijah H. Johnson attend your church?
LINCOLN: When I was a boy in Illinois forty years ago, yes. I think he was a deacon.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you aware that he regularly called Kentucky “a land of swine and whores”?
LINCOLN: Sounds right — his ex-wife was from Kentucky.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you remain in the church after hearing those statements?
LINCOLN: I was eight.
DOUGLAS: This is an important question George — it’s an issue that certainly will be raised in the fall.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce him?
LINCOLN: I’d like to get back to the divided house if I may.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce and reject him?
LINCOLN: If it will make you shut up, yes, I denounce and reject him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce and reject him with sugar on top?
STEPHANOPOULOS: No takesies-backsies?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whoa, so you would consider a takesie-backsie?
LINCOLN: That’s not what I meant…
This part is destined to be an Internet classic:
GIBSON: I noticed, Mr. Lincoln, that your American flag pin was upside down…
LINCOLN: Yes, the wind caught it. Now, as I was saying…
GIBSON: We get questions about this all the time over at Powerline and on Hannity’s talk show. Mr. Douglas has said this is a major vulnerability for you in the fall. So I’ll ask again – do you love America?
LINCOLN: (scowling with a forced smile). Yes.
GIBSON: If your love for America were ice cream, what flavor would it be?
LINCOLN: (pausing with disgust and turning back to camera) Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
DOUGLAS: He didn’t answer the question Charlie. This fall, that question is going to be on the minds of the American public. I’ve proudly stated that my love for America is Very Berry Strawberry.
The antics of Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday night appear to have been a watershed in the way people view TV news. Stay angry, folks, because the rot runs deep, and cleaning it up isn’t going to be an overnight project.
I’m not saying media reform will make everything better. But until this country returns to the idea that the airwaves are public property, to be used for the public good, and the fairness doctrine is restored along with restrictions on media ownership, mass-market TV news will continue to get worse. What ought to be a servant of democracy has become its nemesis.