Kathleen Parker

One can understand why Howard Dean feels that the world would be better off without the press, as he suggested recently to a group of bankers.

Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, was responding to a banker's complaint that candidates speak only in sound bites.

His solution: ``Have candidates in to meetings like this and bar the press.''

Now there's a concept from a man who should know.

Few have benefited less from media exposure than Dean, who will be forever remembered as ``The Scream'' for his war whoop during his 2004 presidential election bid.

Then again, Dean of all people should also know that citizen journalists are everywhere, even at banking conventions, and that nearly everybody has a video phone and access to YouTube.

``Barring the press,'' alas, would require human extinction. Another concept for another day. Meanwhile, we know what Dean meant. And, doubtless, many Americans reflexively agree. The media are not beloved by many -- at least not until the many consider the alternative. Saddam Hussein didn't like the media either.

But Dean has a point, which is that the omnipresent, omnivorous (not omniscient) media more often distort than reveal the truth. Driven by corporate profit motives, media conglomerates pander to the least noble of man's appetites and become ``infotainment,'' as Dean put it.

We've all bemoaned the shallowness of news coverage that pays lip service to issues while plumbing the depths of paternity when an illegitimate child is born to a money-filching, drug-addicted stripper. Oh sorry. I mean a widowed mother who worked her way up from small-town obscurity to prominence through the visual arts.

Thus, inadvertently, Dean was making a case for the written word. When we speak of media today, after all, we're really talking less about newspapers and magazines than of cameras and video screens. In a world where television, YouTube and the Internet dominate the media field, visual imagery necessarily dominates discourse.

If one were to play the word association game with top presidential candidates, saying the first word that a person's name inspires, that word most likely would be visual -- or possibly auditory. In either case, both are captured by film and tape, as opposed to words on the printed or virtual page.

Admit it: Say John Edwards, we think hair; Hillary Clinton, pantsuits; Barack Obama, so far, a smile; Mitt Romney, starched shirts and soap; John McCain, forever a POW; Rudy Giuliani, the man from Ground Zero.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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