The Russian invasion of Ukraine has injected a renewed sense of focus and seriousness into American politics and journalism.
The freshman GOP legislators are once again in the headlines, this time for heckling the president during the State of the Union address. That stunt is only the latest in a long line of attention-grabbing performances that include setting off House metal detectors, raffling off sniper rifles, and attending an event where Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich Putin 5 things to know today about the Russia-Ukraine conflict Israeli prime minister meets with Putin to discuss Ukraine Lawmakers in both parties see limits on US help for Ukraine MORE was cheered and Adolf Hitler praised.
Each of these actions was thoroughly covered by mainstream journalists along with the full array of politically obsessed newsletters, tweets and blogs, left wing and right. Greene and Boebert have molded themselves into a caustic version of Laverne and Shirley: a quirky duo dominating the media’s primetime lineup of outrage. They excel at a publicity game in which everyone wins — except those of us who are exhausted by endless polarization leading absolutely nowhere.
Granted, performance has always been a key ingredient to political advancement. Ronald Reagan often said his acting background was not an obstacle, but actually pivotal to his success. But for Reagan and most other politicians, performance was only a means to an end. It was a tool used to convince voters about a set of policies and goals. The performance had purpose.
For Greene and Boebert, the performance is the purpose, period. Bills they’ve sponsored or co-sponsored include proposals that read like clicks-and-ratings catnip for Twitter and cable news networks: “The Religions Freedom Over Mandates Act,” “The Keep Schools Open Act,” “The Close Biden’s Open Border Act,” and “The Kyle H. Rittenhouse Congressional Gold Medal Act.”
Each of these stunts then gets tossed into the machinery of anger, where the news cycle is really a rage cycle that profits a host of interests. It works like this: Greene and Boebert do something “shocking” for the sole purpose of getting attention; the media gives them the publicity they crave, while stoking the viewer fury needed to attract substantial audience numbers. The two House members then use those headlines to raise money and run for re-election to the House, where they can devise even more ways to command attention from an eager media. Meanwhile, liberal opposition groups use that same apparatus to rally their side against whatever Greene and Boebert did and to fund-raise for liberal causes.
Greene and Boebert are, of course, not alone in hogging the spotlight. Many on the right will point fingers at The Squad, a group of four progressive Democratic representatives lead by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The Squad undoubtedly have engaged in their own version of political theatre and aren’t known to recoil at the sight of a television camera. But it’s not exactly the same. A lot of people may disagree with their goals; democratic socialism can be a tough way to attract voting majorities in this country. Nonetheless, theatrics aside, they talk about actual plans and priorities. It’s not all show.
But the hunger for attention by some on The Squad doesn’t help their goals. It feels like these legislators truly believe they are skillfully manipulating the media, even-though this often winds up backfiring. Once a controversial soundbite captures headlines, polarized tribes are rapidly deployed — and even the slight potential for serious discussion is lost. The Squad then becomes yet another one-dimensional Washington political caricature, consigned to the same category as Greene and Boebert.
The whole gimmick needs to change with the times.
The U.S and Europe are witnessing a genuine invasion right now.
It is not some exaggerated culture war: It is real war.
Rifles are not props in the hands of children sent out as Christmas greetings; they are weapons that Ukrainian fathers, sons, mothers, daughters and grandmothers are using to defend their homes and survive. Russians officials shouting “fake news” can now sentence journalists to 15 years in prison.
The least American media outlets could do — as its correspondents risk their lives to bring Ukraine’s trauma to light — is ignore the phony controversies and plastic performances coming out of certain Capitol Hill hallways.
Yes, Greene and Boebert are members of Congress. To that extent, they matter. Were they to do something of substance, it should be reported. That’s journalism.
But too often they are little more than stunt doubles standing in for the real thing. The media knows this and benefits from it.
It’s time for the show to end. Reality has intervened.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.