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Media Miras

By Jed Babbin

Among the largest stars are the red giants, ten times or more the size of our sun. Over billions of years, as they burn themselves out and start to die, these stars begin to shine more brightly. Some, called miras, periodically brighten and dim before they - like the rest - collapse on themselves and then explode into nothingness. In that, the stars of the universe most closely resemble the stars of the mainstream media. The miras of the media, those such as the New York Times, CBS News, the Washington Post, are collapsing into themselves. And while they do, every two years they burn with a sudden intensity that still dazzles those who take them at their word.

As the fervency of the media's liberalism increases, the number of people who comprise their audience shrinks. The NYT, for example, lost about 20 per cent of its home town readers between 2001 and 2004. MSNBC - whose liberalism is beyond parody - is experimenting frantically with various reincarnations to bestir higher ratings without doing anything about its core liberal biases. Even the AP, once among the best sources of political news, has a tattered reputation. The rips and tears are self-inflicted, created by fabulously-biased Iraq coverage and stories such as its bizarre feature about then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' childhood, "...during the racially turbulent 1960s and '70s [in a neighborhood that] once banned the sale of homes to nonwhites and Jews."

Businesses with shrinking customer bases usually move heaven and earth to stop the hemorrhaging. But the media are so self-absorbed they think the problem is with their audience, not with them. Instead of news editors imposing more discipline on themselves and reporters, instead of editorial page editors recalibrating the shrieks that they substitute for op-eds, audience shrinkage has had the opposite effect. The wider audiences have been abandoned and the few constraints that existed as late as 2004 are gone. Conservatives sense something wrong in the media, but haven't really formulated either the disease or the cure. Michael Barone calls it an effort to delegitimize the administration. I think it's a disease called Bush Derangement Syndrome.

On July 16th, the Washington Post's lead editorial spoke to all the world's conflicts by, as usual, displaying its disgust with the Bush administration. It wrote, "But in the press of cascading crises, it is crucial that the administration not lose focus on the two wars it started and has yet to win." It started? The WaPo news editors as well as the editorial page, suffering a terminal case of BDS, have reached an Orwellian state of grace. In WaPo Newspeak, George W. Bush has replaced Usama bin Laden and the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Lincoln has replaced the fallen Twin Towers as the reason we are at war.

And its' not only war coverage that is infected with BDS. Whatever the story is - whatever the facts are - the media fit it into their narrative and use it against Bush and conservatives separately and severally. Are people being pulled out of Lebanon too slowly? It's Katrina all over again. Who's demanding border security, and why is the president so inept that he can't bring those angry conservatives in line? The focus is on the media's preconceived narrative, even if it means ignoring the real story.

In 2004, when Dan (Fake-but-Accurate) Rather published the obviously-falsified Texas Air National Guard papers, the story was headlined for months. The important (and to this day unanswered) questions raised about John Kerry's character were lost in the frenzied media attacks on the credibility of the Swift Boat Vets who asked them. That the media ignores the real story is another underlying cause of audience disenchantment. The National Guard papers story, and the UN's attempt to defeat George Bush teach a lesson Republicans had better learn before Labor Day.

The Texas ANG story was labored over by the Ratherites for months. Had it not been discredited quickly, it would have been a multi-million dollar campaign commercial for John Kerry. (Because of Rather's and CBS's adamantine defense, the story stayed alive long after it should have. If the proofs against it hadn't been overwhelming, the story could well have helped Kerry significantly.) What Rather failed in, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed el-Baradei almost succeeded.

In the last week of the campaign, el-Baradei released a UN report that claimed over 300 tons of explosives had gone missing from an Iraqi weapons dump near a town fortuitously named al-Qaqaa. The release of the report was obviously timed to give the Bush administration no chance to respond. Instantly, the missing explosives became the headline of the week for all the media miras. It was another "Bush is incompetent" campaign commercial that would have cost John Kerry's campaign millions to produce if the media hadn't done it for free. The story died within days because the Pentagon produced an ordnance disposal officer who told a press conference that his unit had entered the facility and taken tons of explosives two days after Baghdad fell. These two stories -- the Texas ANG papers and the al-Qaqaa load of explosives -- and how they were taken off the front pages by facts, tell us what's ahead, and how it must be dealt with.

There won't be an October surprise from the Democrats that will destroy Republican chances in November. Instead, there will be media eruptions in September, October, and past noon on Election Day to serve that purpose. This fall stories - more Murtha madness, Sheehan shennanigans, Plame's lawsuit and Enron as a symbol of Republican corruption - will burst upon the front pages and television newscasts.

Republicans should think about how bad it has been, and realize that it will be progressively worse this year and in 2008. They are mistaking part of the reason for the president's continued low poll numbers. Part of the cause is that the public is mad at the media and mad at the president for not taking them on. There is a plan that could reverse this quickly, and gird Republicans for the coming media flare-ups.

First, Republicans need to renounce the use of government power against the media. Threats of prosecuting the New York Times for treason are emotionally satisfying but counterproductive. Second, Republicans should be talking about the dysfunctional families that inhabit our nation's newsrooms. What more can we find out about the troika that is really running the Times into the ground? There's surely enough for an RNC television commercial featuring Jill, MoDo and Fabio. How better to display the media's biases than to expose their foibles and neuroses? Newsrooms are populated by people who are so isolated from reality, so absorbed by their own wisdom that, by comparison, the worst ivory-tower academic looks like a guy who you'd run into at the local 7-Eleven.

The biggest loser of 2004 wasn't John Kerry: it was Dan Rather. The biggest losers of 2006 can be House Republicans or Katie Couric, Leonard Downey and Pinch Sulzberger. It only remains to expose the media for what it is. The media is a culture, not a conspiracy. They are precisely what they claim they are not: political activists, not journalists. Perhaps it's time for Mr. Cheney to make an Agnew-like speech poking fun at the media miras and exposing them to the public scrutiny they so richly deserve.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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