Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Time to suck up?

Eric Alterman raises an interesting question: should Dean be sucking up to the mainstream media? Eric says yes, I'm not so sure.
Howard Dean is, alas, making a big mistake in not sucking up to the media. Lord knows, they don't deserve it and it's got to be painful as hell for a proud man, but any candidate, particularly any liberal candidate will die a death of a thousand cuts without all that childish ego-feeding this particular beast demands. As The Note notes, ask Bill Bradley. Ask John McCain. One of Dean's rival campaigns told a reporter, "The people who are supporting Dean and showing up for his events are the ones that would otherwise be out protesting the WTO in their turtle outfits." This exactly mirrors the attitude of high-powered political reporters and I promise you, Dean will pay for it. Tim Russert was just a shot across the bow. Learn early, Mr. Dean; musings turn to cliche's quicker than you can say "liar vs. dope."
The thing about this is that I'm not sure that ANY Democrat who hopes to run an insurgency style campaign can ever really get in the favors of the establishment media. The problem is that the establishment isn't just the media but the leadership of both political parties. It would be a tough sell to be able to go after the leadership of both parties without pissing off the establishment pundits who have so much riding on the continued success of that establishment. When Dean goes after Bush or Democratic leaders he is going after Russert, Mathews, Blitzer and Kurtz as well. I don't believe in purposely antagonizing the press. But Democrats have been getting no where in the last few years by trying to play to media prejudices. They did it in 2000 when they bought the conventional wisdom that they had to run away from Clinton to have any success. They did it in 2002 when they bought the conventional wisdom that they had to give Bush everything he wanted on foreign policy if they wanted to turn the campaign around to a discussion of economic issues. The establishment candidates have done what the establishment has said they should do and yet they have gotten nothing for it. Those candidates may not mind being in perpetual 2nd place (Minority Leader is still a pretty cushy job), but the rank and file are sick of it. If the only way to break this log jam is to stop playing the game of suck-up with Russert, Mathews, Blitzer and Kurtz then we have to stop wasting our time worrying about offending the sensibilities of the press. I think I understand Eric's concern. He's thinking back to the 2000 race and the outrageous levels of hostility the press directed at Gore. But Gore's problem wasn't just a hostile press: it was his failure to fight back against that hostile press. When he just sat back and took it, in the hope of appeasing their sensibilities, he came off as weak. The American people made the judgment that a man who won't defend himself can't be trusted to defend the country. It is interesting that Eric brings up the MTP episode. Far from being a damaging episode for Dean, his appearance on Russert's show appears to have been a net-positive for him ($4 million dollars in one week!). If you read the open comments thread that was up on the Dean blog yesterday you would have seen several testimonials from people who said that Russert's attacks on Dean pissed them off enough to solidly throw their support behind the man. George W. Bush is very good when it comes to playing to the vanity of the press. But doing so requires a certain mind-set that enjoys playing with people's emotions instead of just addressing their concerns directly. Bush is such a manipulator. Dean is not. To ask Dean to suck-up to the media would be to ask him to act in a way that is contrary to his way of being. Yet that way of being has been very successful for him so far. Why risk destroying it just for the hope of a few bon-mots from the punditarti?

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