Newsweek Trashes American Idol as Too Much Like George Bush

While President Bush concludes the lame-duck days of his presidency, Newsweek is still trying to look down its snobby nose with disdain. Arts writer Marc Peyser has found the television equivalent of Team Bush in this week's magazine:

Start with the title: in England, the show was called "Pop Idol"—but when it migrated here in 2002, it apparently needed an infusion of patriotism. So, much like freedom fries, "American Idol" was born. If that kind of rah-rah branding doesn't conjure thoughts of President Bush – go on, world, you know you idolize us – I don't know what does.

Once again, liberals can't resist mocking people who think America is something special. But isn't this a little weird since the magazine has spent the last four years idolizing Barack Obama like a screaming pack of teenage Beatle fans?

It seems that Newsweek's Peyser is stealing shamelessly from TV critic Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, who floated the same Bush-Idol thesis last year. Or will he claim liberal groupthink?

At least Newsweek is associating Bush with something popular, which is a little shocking since it's always trying to knock his popularity down another peg:

"Idol" is the quintessential television show of the Bush era not just because it's been the most popular show of his tenure but also because of where it's popular. You'll find defenders and detractors all over the country, but this is primarily a red-state show. That's the reason that Southern contestants win just about every season. Are the people fans vote for (and vote for, and vote for) great singers? Does it matter? What's important is that they're our singers, and we love 'em because they're unthreatening, God-fearing, desexualized kids with stars in their eyes. Whenever those elitist critics on the coasts trash "Idol" as mediocre, middlebrow entertainment, we rally to the show's defense, whether it deserves it or not.

Peyser is being remarkably insincere in deploying the middle-brow "We," since he somehow thinks red-state America likes its singers mediocre and "desexualized." (Did the man ever watch Katharine McPhee make eyes at the camera?) Peyser even strains to find Bush comparisons in the wacky-bad-singer early phases of every season, as well as the overt product placement:

And clearly there are times when it shouldn't be defended. Consider how the judges, like a posse of fraternity boys, haze the mildly freakish contestants in the early rounds. Or the annual charges that the phone-in voting system is rigged – the "Idol" equivalent of a hanging chad. And no TV program shills as shamelessly as "Idol." The Ford ads, the Coke cups, the AT&T plugs – "Idol" is as cozy with big business as, well, as our president is.

It's somehow stunning that Peyser didn't keep extending this line of strained analogies, like suggesting Ryan Seacrest is short and full of himself, like a certain president Newsweek hates. (But then, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is also short and full of himself.) Peyser concluded by mocking '24' and pretending not to know whether the surge in Iraq was a success or not:

For some shows, this stasis would be deadly, but perhaps the biggest reason for "Idol's" success—especially in these war-torn times—is that it's the TV version of a thick, cozy blanket. (Is it a coincidence that, for many seasons, the show aired right before "24," the fictional version of Bush and Cheney's besieged America?) The surge may or may not have worked in Iraq, but every January, America gets its "Idol" surge, and all is right throughout the land. At least for an hour.

Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.