Why we need mainstream media

At the beginning of the Palin-Biden debate last night she peered into the eyes of every American. Look at me now, an unmediated Sarah said, winking cheekily at America, I'm authentic, I'm familiar, I'm You:

"I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator oryou want to hear, But I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also."

And for an hour and a half, a personalized Sarah continued to wink at America. By the end of the debate, she even had the cheek to launch her own Web 2.0 style critique of mainstream media:

"I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter even of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they just heard. I'd rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did."

That should have been the moment when all the progressive critics of traditionally curated media -- from shrewd Arianna to crazy Markos at the Daily Koz to Hegelian Steve, the ringmaster at the Gillmor Gang -- should have woken up from their democratizing dream by the nightmare of digital fascism. Take away the filter of mainstream media and you get the plebiscitory Sarah peddling comforting 19th century certainties to a complex(ed) 21st century audience longing for 19th century simplicity. The left-liberal blogosphere needs to wake up and understand that the mainstream media of professional journalists like Couric and Ifill is a progressive force that protects us from the reactionary politics of mass populism.

Here's an interesting research project for new media academics. Take two groups of undecided voters watching Sarah last night. One group watches her on the television, the other on their computer. Would the added intimacy of the computer make Sarah more or less attractive? I'd wager that the combination of Sarah's authentic brand and the more intimate experience of watching media on one's personal computer would make undecided voters more sympathetic to Sarah than the tv audience. Yes, it's the media rather than Sarah that is the message. And, from my perspective -- as a tax and spend big government liberal -- that message needs to be filtered.