How your 'free press' really operates

I'm not sure whether to bash New York Times columnist David Brooks here, or praise him for his honesty. But for better or worse, and I think you have to say "worse" here, this is how we're going to pick the next president:

We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.

Important to whom, David? To voters? Are you serious? Don't you talk to real voters in your cross-country cultural tours of Applebee's or wherever it is you claim to do your brilliant sociological work? Why don't you hang out at some gas stations instead of cheesy chain restaurants, and ask people who've just filled up their tank about "flag lapels," or see if the "Tuzla airport" even rings a bell with one person. I've even more baffled by the idea that Bush's tour of flag factories "exposed" Michael Dukakis. "Exposed" him as what? A Soviet double agent?

Basically an alarming new standard has been set in this election: The media is going to create a lot of inane, distracting issues in this campaign, and so here is the new test to become commander-in-chief in 2008: How well will you respond to the heat from our phony topics that we all agree will dominate our news coverage, whether anyone else really cares about them or not?

Just shoot me. Brooks awards an "A" to ABC's coverage, by the way.

Meanwhile, for some more inciteful reviews of the debate moderators, check out Tom Shales in the Washington Post, Slate's Walter Shapiro, Niall Stanage in the Guardian (the Brits think that we've completely lost it, as you might expect), and Josh Marshall over on Talking Points Memo.

And also not to be missed -- the Daily News' own John Baer, who's done award-winning work throughout the primary season, also watched the debate last night.

There followed a rehash of Obama's "bitter" words, of the Rev. Wright, of Bosnia and - proving there is no standard whatsoever when it comes to modern national political debate - a discussion of American flag lapel pins.

I don't know.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is this notion that voters, whose economy is crippled by a senseless, seemingly endless war, whose personal budgets are crushed by the price of gasoline and the cost of health care and, for many, college tuition, maybe, just maybe, aren't so interested in flag pins.

Also, 86 percent of readers who've bothered to vote say that ABC was "terrible" or "disappointing" last night.