January 30, 2006
The Left’s Latest Conspiracy
column on Friday describing the problems facing big media
- one of which is an assault by the left - it's time to tackle
strange bit of commentary by Peter Daou, John Kerry’s
“netroots” strategist in the 2004 campaign. Daou recently
the common thread running through the past half-decade of Bush's
presidency? What's the nexus between the Swift-boating of Kerry,
the Swift-boating of Murtha, and the guilt-by-association between
Democrats and terrorists? Why has a seemingly endless string
of administration scandals faded
into oblivion? Why do Democrats keep losing elections? It's
this: the traditional media, the trusted media, the "neutral"
media, have become the chief delivery mechanism of potent anti-Democratic
and pro-Bush storylines. And the Democratic establishment appears
to be either ignorant of this political quandary or unwilling
to fight it.
a critical distinction to be made here: individual reporters
may lean left, isolated news stories may be slanted against
the administration. What I'm describing is the wholesale peddling
by the "neutral" press of deep-seated narratives,
memes, and soundbites: simple, targeted talking points that
paint a picture of reality for the American public that favors
the right and tarnishes the left.
by a couple of important admissions. First, that “individual
reporters may lean to the left” - which is another way of
saying they're predisposed to being hostile to Republicans in
general and Bush in particular. We know from a number of surveys
of voting preference done over the last twenty years that journalists
vote overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party at the national
level. Second, that media coverage of Bush may be critical at
times. Again, Daou doesn’t get specific. But, to take just
one example showing a relative comparison, according to a study
completed in 2004 by the Center for Media and Public Affairs Bush
received just 23% positive press coverage in the weeks leading
up to the 2004 election while John Kerry received a “record-breaking”
77% positive press coverage over the same period.
from these two points Daou draws the rather inexplicable conclusion
that the reason Democrats keep losing elections is because the
mainstream media is unconsciously - or perhaps subconsciously
- peddling pro-Republican talking points. This is another way
of saying that the GOP has brainwashed the media.
later Daou says almost exactly that:
this isn’t about “blaming the media” or excusing
other strategic mistakes on the part of Democrats, it’s
about understanding what happens when skillfully-crafted pro-GOP
storylines are injected into the American bloodstream by the
likes of Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, Paula Zahn, Dana Milbank,
Kyra Phillips, Cokie Roberts, Tom Brokaw, Jim VandeHei, Bob
Schieffer, Bill Schneider, Tim Russert, Howard Fineman, Norah
O'Donnell, Elizabeth Bumiller, Adam Nagourney, Bob Woodward,
and their ilk, not to mention rabid partisans like Limbaugh,
Coulter, and Hannity.
Look at the
names on Daou's list. Absolutely laughable. Those crafty GOP strategists
have really been putting one over on Bob Schieffer, Adam Nagourney
and Howard Fineman in the last five years.
reads like a postmodernist collegiate thesis that tries to weave
together a bunch of disparate assumptions into an elaborate theory
explaining why black is white. Sometimes the world isn’t
that complicated. It just is what it is.
the reason Democrats keep losing elections is because they either
put up awful candidates, run terrible campaigns, or both.
are no more smart or crafty than Democratic ones, they just have
an easier time formulating a message because, by and large, conservatism
is pretty darn simple and more easily explained than liberalism.
label stuck to John Kerry because he got caught uttering one of
the most stupefying phrases in election history ("I voted
for the $87 billion before I voted against it") which struck
the American people as incontrovertible evidence that he was,
in fact, a flip-flopper.
that Kerry was somehow treated unfairly by the media because more
than a hundred of his fellow veterans came forward to say he was
unfit to be Commander in Chief because of his actions both during
and after Vietnam also falls flat. The press did just as big of
a number on Bush over a few missing records from his days in the
Texas Air National Guard. Someone even went so far as to forge
documents about the story and the nice folks at CBS were good
enough to put them on air for a national audience in the run up
to the election. The mind strains to imagine what the press would
have done if 100 of Bush's fellow Air National Guardsman had come
forward to say he was unfit to serve.
Democrats cannot shake the label they are soft on national security
matters is because they do, in fact, constantly say and do things
that lead people to believe that they are soft on national security.
It's not because of some cunning strategy on the part of GOP strategists,
for example, that Democrats gave Michael Moore a seat of honor
next to Jimmy Carter at the DNC. Neither the GOP nor members of
the media are responsible for electing Howard Dean as the leader
of the Democratic Party or embracing the loony-antiwar activist
Cindy Sheehan. And we have to assume, barring some evidence to
the contrary, that Jack Murtha was acting under his own power
and not as a GOP agent when he took to the floor of the House
and called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Daou is right:
there is a narrative running through all these collective events
that Democrats are soft on national security. But that narrative
exists not because of some complicated, subconscious tinfoil hat
theory about GOP manipulation, but because Democrats put it there
- in 1972. The legacy of McGovern is going to continue to haunt
Democrats until they come out of denial and deal with it. That
isn't going to happen while the base continues to convulse over
members expressing the even the most moderately hawkish views
(like Hillary Clinton) or running the hawks out of the party altogether
(like Joe Lieberman).
is worthy of comment not only because Daou was a member of Kerry’s
2004 team but because Markos Moulitsas, liberal blogger and self-described
"netroots” strategist who enjoys a budding influence
within the Democratic party, raised a few eyebrows the other day
said Daou's essay "may be the most important thing I've
read in a long time."
concern Democrats who are serious about winning elections. The
mainstream media has been, and for the most part continues to
be very sympathetic to Democratic causes and candidates. Latching
on to some harebrained, up-is-down theory of GOP media manipulation
to help explain Democrats’ recent failure at the polls is
more than a sign of frustration, it’s a signal that some
in the party are in deep denial and aren’t willing to face
up to certain realities and deal with them accordingly.
Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics.
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