In an interesting post over at the DailyKOS, a Dean staffer who saw what happened on the ground in NH gives his take on what happened. His conclusion is that it wasn't the lack of good organization or a good message that did them in. The Dean campaign had both in spades. The fatal flaw of the Dean campaign was its media relations:
we should have expected this, the media's treacherous turning of the tables. and we should have dealt with it better. instead of doing the honorable thing and getting our back up when the media decided to screw us, the campaign (not the supporters who wrote letters to the editors about the most egregious "picklerizations" of the media, but we in the campaign headquarters) should have taken the neccesary steps to pander to the media. instead of talking bravely about breaking up media conglomerates, which is the right thing to do but suicidal to say so, we should have pandered to the talking heads and pundits and projected "cuddly Dean" everywhere we could, a non-threatening guy who the media can get along with. but alas, we had drunk the kool aid of inevitability and teflon, and believed that the negative media wouldn't defeat us, and that they too would come to a reckoning after we toppled King George. it didn't happen. we were mistaken, and i learned a lesson.
I'm reading a book right now full of advice on how activists can get media attention and how to coddle the members of the media in order to get good coverage. It's a sickening read in a way because everything that the author writes is probably correct and is therefore an extraordinary indictment of just how vapid and useless the media are. The media won't pay attention to you unless you are "interesting". But if you are "interesting" you will also likely get dismissed as being "kooky".
As I told my wife at lunch today, in order to get media attention, you have to go out in front of the camera wearing silly hats. But, if you wear silly hats, people will dismiss you as just someone who wears silly hats and can't be taken seriously.
It's a damned if you damned if you don't situation. Either you play by the medias rules, in which case you get accused of being a panderer who won't say anything if it hasn't been focus-grouped to hell. Or you defy those rules and the media will bury you for being "angry" or "gaffe-prone" or "crazy!"
Or, you just sell your soul to the people who run the media and maybe, just maybe, they will cut you some slack. Just so long as you don't actually try to accomplish anything real.