Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Nakagawa Outtakes

Yes, the Aso administration has been further wounded, but so what, “deader” and “deadest” are not real words. Having said that, I think that the Aso administration will linger into April. Aso is the first Prime Minister since Koizumi with a real hunger for the job and he knows that he has only one crack at it. The LDP party elders do not have the stomach to push him out and diehard reformists do not have the numbers. The DPJ would be foolish to actually push him over the edge (assuming it could); why help the LDP do a makeover? So, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But in the meantime, even the lousiest movies have some watchable outtakes…

Shoichi Nakagawa is one sick puppy.

Take a guy who by reliable accounts—much of which is surfacing in the mainstream media, as usual, post facto—drinks heavily under stress and does not hold his liquor well, is a regular user of painkillers, and has a tendency for self-overmedication. He took over the family business when his father committed suicide in the prime of his career. His own promising career is now in tatters, as he has disgraced himself in full view of the mainstream media; the video clip holds a spot in cyberspace somewhere between those of Chris Crocker and Paris Hilton’s performances.

The guy needs help.

Shoichi Nakagawa is the first Japanese politician to be brought down by the Internet.

Kidding. But the Internet did play a significant, if far from decisive, role in the story. Let me explain.

None of the initial dispatches from the embedded reporters in Rome probed the real cause and broader background of Finance Minister Nakagawa’s meltdown. There were several reasons for this. The MOF kisha club folks who accompanied him there are economic reporters whose backgrounds are in the business and financial worlds and the related bureaucracies and public banking institutions. They have not cultivated the experience or temperament for the battle and the hurly-burly of the political and the crime-and-grime “society” scenes. Moreover, as MOF regulars, they are inclined to go along to get along, since it is the day-to-day economic news that allow them to earn their keep in the form of bylines. The correspondents gathering from Rome and elsewhere in Europe also appeared to have had understandable difficulties in grasping the political delectability of the spectacle that was unfolding before their eyes. (The kisha club crowd had no incentive to alert their overseas counterparts/competitors to the possibilities even if they had been aware of them.) It must, then, have been a godsend to the Sankei writer at home/in Washington to have come upon the ABC News blog item, for here was a factual hook to file a report to trump their MOF kisha club counterparts, fleshing it out with the familiar, meatier allegations of substance abuse.

That was step one. Step two came when Japanese broadcasts of Nakagawa’s media fiasco debuted on YouTube. Nakagawa must have been viewed by more people outside of Japan than any other Japanese since Ken Watanabe stole the show from Tom Cruise in Last Samurai after being simul-linked by Matt Drudge and the Daily Dish metablog. Needless to say, the overseas attention was duly reflected in the Japanese media, adding to Nakagawa’s woes.

Would the Japanese media have eventually turned their attention to Nakagawa’s substance issues in the absence of the overseas reports? Of course. Was Nakagawa a goner without the ridicule from the overseas media? Surely the Japanese TV wide shows would have been more than enough to elevate the story above tabloids levels. And would the overseas media have turned their attention to the spectacle without YouTube assistance anyway? No doubt. But subordinate though their roles may have been, there is no doubt that the blogosphere and YouTube became highly useful props in the made-for-docudrama script that took down Nakagawa. There’s always a next time, and the time will come for the Internet to star.

Shoichi Nakagawa Starring in Groundhog Day

Step 1. Embarrassing details emerge in the political life of an LDP Cabinet Minister, Minister issues denial.
Step 2. Prime Minister expresses confidence in Cabinet Minister.
Step 3. More embarrassing details emerge, Minister repeats denial.
Step 4. Prime Minister expresses confidence in Cabinet Minister.
Step 5. More embarrassing details emerge, Minister backtracks.
Step 6. Prime Minister expresses confidence in Cabinet Minister.
Step 7. More embarrassing details emerge, Minister backtracks.
Step 8. Prime Minister is silent.
Step 9. Minister resigns and/or kills himself.
Step 10. Return to step 1…
Note: Steps 3&4, 5&6 and 7&8 may be repeated, in tandem at each juncture.

This has been the story of the three most recent administrations, including the current one. Two observations: First, the LDP seems to have lost all semblance of an institutional memory. (Paging Oliver Sachs...) Second, each successive administration begins with lower health levels and shorter ATB gauges, like some Bizarroworld computer game.

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