Lipstick and boxer shorts

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For the last few weeks, MSNBC’s election coverage has become so viscerally partisan that you could sense that the coverage was coming close to threatening the fundamental journalistic tenets of broadcast journalism. Namely, that keeping your nose clean with the FCC was paramount.

With the advent of 24 hour news operations and campaign rapid response squads, the business of maintaining balanced coverage has begun to conflict directly with the irresistible force of hot ratings. As Keith Olbermann has become more and more blunt in his analysis of Republican messaging, the parent NBC News operation has struggled with growing ratings and spiraling doubts about the impartiality of the left-leaning Olbermann, and to some extent, his fellow commentator Chris Matthews.

Today, the dispute boiled over as MSNBC executives removed Olbermann and Matthews from anchor positions for the forthcoming debates and election night converage, substituting the more conservative David Gregory. The move comes after Olbermann was shifted back to New York for the Republican confab after getting into on-air tiffs with Matthews and Morning Joe anchor Joe Scarborough.

The media circus obscures the fact that no matter how much the public thinks the story is about the candidates, it’s actually about the filters through which we learn the “facts” on the ground in the campaigns. These thin-skinned primadonnas are the real candidates, sitting at their desks in their boxer shorts and waiting for the moment of inspiration where they can frame the dialogue for the next 10 segments. Tim Russert’s death has set off a mad scramble for power at all levels of the network; the race comes in a distant second.

The same framing continues in the tech space. Google’s Chrome beta has set off a similar dance, most recently proffered by Tim O’Reilly as he promotes Joe Wilcox’ analysis of Microsoft’s apparent cluelessness regarding its mobile platform. Wilcox’ premise is that Microsoft has lost search and should start a Manhattan Project to catch up in mobile. O’Reilly frames the Microsoft box as one where he bets Redmond will try and block Chrome with a lightweight Windows XP Home on so-called Internet tablets like the one TechCrunch is building. He then blasts the straw man as backward-looking defensive competition that only buys you time, and not enough of it at that.

The only problem with this scenario is that Microsoft shows no sign of doing any such thing. Everything we’ve seen actually confirmed about both Mesh and Silverlight shows a healthy regard for the changed landscape of today’s Net OS, and just because Google has done some smart stuff with open source code and Chrome doesn’t mean Microsoft can’t or won’t. What then is the goal of O’Reilly and Wilcox’ gambit – to frame the race between a gorilla caught in a squeeze between an outmoded software development model and an increasingly fragile hardware base, and a nimble competitor who can fuel continued growth by harvesting the mobile platform right out from under Microsoft’s nose?

Or is the real impetus for the story not about Microsoft v. Google, but Tim’s Internet Operating System branding v. Web 1.0? He quotes Wilcox:

Chrome is not a Web browser, it’s an application runtime. Chrome is really Google Gears with a browser facade.

Punchy and simple, like Sarah Palin’s lipstick punchline about the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom. How about this one: Mesh is not a synchronization engine, it’s a pubsub router. Built on open source and standards. Just like Chrome.

The political debate has calcified not so much at the participant level but in the announcer booth. Conflict sells, and sound bites rule. Palin and McCain outperformed expectations with record ratings, and NBC reacted by shoring up its fair and balanced and utterly predictable license schtick. But they are playing a dicey game here, because they have only a short time to backpedal if it turns out that Obama and Biden and Hillary can triangulate the real change under way and turn the joke around.

Biden’s rejoinder recalls an older lipstick line, the one about a pig, as in Palin’s prettying up of the horrendous situation eight years of Republican mud have sunk us into. If the Democrats win, what is David Gregory’s next assignment? Certainly not his current job as White House correspondent. The liberal commentator on Fox replacing Alan Colmes?

And if Microsoft does just fine thank you with something very similar to Google’s brilliant Chrome strategy, stealing the Change mantra from under Eric Schmidt’s nose and going open 24/7/365. Firefox has been running the IE show now for about 4 years, and Google is doing nothing to slow down that momentum with Chrome. What if there are people across the aisle in both parties who recognize they have a common objective to hold each of their platforms intact?

Tim O’Reilly leaves us this thought at the bottom of his post:

What’s so ironic is that if Microsoft started thinking about the user again, instead of thinking about protecting their business, they could do great things.

What makes you think they’re not thinking about the user? And what makes you think Google isn’t protecting their business with Chrome? And Microsoft’s too? What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Not a damn thing.

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