The Narrative Is Uncontrollable

These days, activists are fascinated by the representation of power less often than they are about how power is actually exercised. The White House, today, is moaning about the same dynamic. Shirley Sherrod's case is powerfully symbolic -- an exemplification to Democrats of the way that Fox News and the tack-dropping wing of the Republican Party has come to influence how the executive branch operates -- while to the White House, it's a distraction ... something that is less about justice for Shirley Sherrod (which is already being achieved because she's getting publicity, recognition that she should not have been fired) and more about a small snafu that the media is gorging itself on.

Wall Street reform, whether you think it's a good thing or not, whether you think businesses will be overburdened or not, will change the way that power is distributed and held accountable. It will change lives and livelihoods.

The Idea Conservatives and the White House can complain all they want about the focus of the press or the activists, but this is the way the world works. The White House -- any White House -- struggles to drive a narrative. Drudge used to drive a narrative. Now Fox News, and how liberals and the White House react to Fox News, drive narratives.

The power of the logos is apparently so profound that, say, the New York Times' framing of the torture debate influences the brittle minds of Americans in such a way that this editorial choice becomes not merely wrong, but sinful. Then, elaborate theories of motivation are constructed to explain why the Times, instead of doing what was right, did something so egregiously wrong. The literally dozens of stories that the Times published over the past eight years breaking new ground about the conditions at Guantanamo Bay, innocents who were punished, attempts by the White House to quash dissent -- it's as if these efforts to actually say to the reader ... here's what I've figured out about this important subject -- matters less, or should matter less, than a feel-good but unwinnable debate about the motivations of the editors who decided to wait before publishing the National Security Agency wiretapping story, for example.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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