Thursday, January 12, 2006

The media is not your friend

Peter Daou's fifth point went as follows:

Dem leaders and surrogates would have expressed outrage at rightwing media bias and demanded fair coverage. Every media appearance would have included a direct slam at the press for misleading the American public about Alito and Bush's hidden agenda.

Doing this would require Dem leaders to be confrontational with leading media figures. They'd have to confront them much in the way that Dean did with Wolf Blitzer when the latter tried to regurgitated the Republican talking point that Democrats took money from Abramoff.

Let's be honest. Most Dem leaders aren't constitutionally strong enough to sustain that kind of conflict. Perhaps its because they honestly want to "be friends" with their media interrogators. Perhaps it's because, after years of being beaten down by the Right Wing Noise Machine, they have just lost the fire that is necessary to go toe-to-toe with the media elite.

Maybe it really is just that they are afraid of the criticism they will face if they do fight back. After all, not many of them want to be compared with "Crazy Howard Dean".

I'd like to remind our Dem leaders of a particularly relevent incident.

Back in 1988, at the height of that year's Presidential election, George Bush the first was struggling against a media narrative called The Wimp Factor. Bush had lived so long in the shadow of Reagan, a political titan the likes this country hadn't seen in quite some time, that few recognized any signs of the strong will that he posessed (and he did posess one). Gary Trudeau really struck home with this when he joked in his Doonesbury strip that Bush had put his manhood in a trust. The guy was treated as a punchline to a joke.

Thus was the stage set for a live interview Bush had with Dan Rather on a broadcast of the CBS evening news. In that interview, Dan Rather went hard after Bush on his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. He hammered him repeatedly with hardball questions, never letting Bush weasel out of the discussion in a way that so many of us have come to expect from the more compliant press of today.

And that's when it happened. George Bush called Dan on his bullying behavior (at least, that was how Bush characterized it), announced that he wouldn't put up with it anymore and promptly tore of his mike and walked off camera.

The immediate political analysis of the incident afterward said that Bush had blown his chance at the Presidency by showing his "testy" side. He had shown that he was tempermentally unfit to assume the role of the Presidency. And, on top of that, he still hadn't answere the questions about his role in Iran-Contra. Many prognosticators predicted he was finished.

Bush went on to crush Dukakis in a landslide.

Now, I won't ascribe Bush's victory to this one incident. Dukakis' blundering campaign had a lot to do with it as well. However, despite what the political experts said at the time, Bush's walk-off became a defining moment in the Right's relationship with the "Liberal Media". I think it is the moment that really began the downward slide of the media into the compliant herd that we see. For, far from suffering for his actions, Bush received praise and support from the very people who he needed the most: the base of his own party.

Bush senior was not a darling of the right wing. He was the heir of Reagan simply because it was "his turn". But many on the right never warmed to him (and some downright despised him). That all changed when he stood up to Dan Rather, the arch-nemesis of the right, and put him in his place.

From that moment Bush had the right behind him 100% and that allowed him to focus his attention on the muddled middle.

Twelve years later, his son would have a similar moment, when he was caught on mike calling a reporter from the NY Times a "Major League Asshole". Again the political analysists started writing his obituaries. And again, his "plain spokenness" won over the base of his party and many others (including, ironically, the media itself).

What can we learn from this? That Dem Leaders need not necessarily fear taking on the media in a head-on confrontation. And, if done properly, a Democratic Rather moment, could forever seal the deal between said leader and the core of the party, freeing them to build the bridge to the middle that will be needed to forge a winning coalition.

The media is not your friend.

And when they act like your enemy, treat them like they are your enemy.


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