Saturday, January 12, 2008

When the Media Aims Its Guns

Way back in 2002 the Daily Howler wrote a two-part analysis of the media destruction of Al Gore. The Howler wrote, "In March 1999, the press corps began a twenty-month War Against Gore - a seamless extension of the long war the press corps had waged against [Bill] Clinton." The Howler goes on to describe the first debate between Gore and Bill Bradley on October 27, 1999: about 300 members of the press, seated in a room adjacent to the debate, "groaned, howled and laughed at" every statement by Gore, "like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd."

The Howler describes a similar dynamic at work against John McCain in the 2000 primary, which culminated in his defeat due to the Bush team spreading false rumors that McCain had sired an illegitimate black child. In reality, Mother Theresa had asked the McCains to adopt the girl - and the whole scandal was unbearably racist in any event - but the press treated it as a scandal long enough to sink McCain's candidacy.

The wonder of the current coverage of the Hillary campaign is not that the press has been showing strong bias against her - that's misogyny and a continuation of their unfair treatment of her husband - but that it has been brought to an abrupt halt. At least for the moment.

Just last week New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked, under the headline Can Hillary Cry Her Way to the White House?, "Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?" and described Hillary's slight emotional event as "doing the Muskie." Dowd's a discredited crackpot, for sure, but she's also the journalist who popularized the notion that Gore thought he'd invented the internet and a host of other popular slurs. Plus, she was one journalist among hundreds saying similar things. And even more of them tried to convince us that Hillary's campaign was dead in the water. The New Republic even showed a graphic that was a picture of Hillary, an equal sign, and a picture of a piece of toast. Burned.

Instead of succeeding at turning her emotional moment into the Dean Scream and killing the Hillary candidacy, there was a public backlash against the press. How did this happen? There seem to be three main causes:

1. On his Daily Show, Jon Stewart played the clip and asked, "That's it?!"
2. On his blog, Paul Krugman asked, "That's it?!" (Krugman doesn't have the audience size that Stewart has, but he is enormously influential among pundits.)
3. At the next primary vote (New Hampshire), despite the press having already written her obituary, Hillary won.

Suddenly the entire media seems to be doing a collective mea culpa. The Washington Post quotes Salon on the "corrosive hostility and naked slant of the mainstream media" against Hillary. The New York Post describes media bias against Hillary, and the free ride they've been giving to Obama. Even the Huffington Post, which has been a major offender in anti-Hillary bias, wrote about it.

The optimistic part of me remembers when Bill Clinton started to turn back the effectiveness of media attacks in 1992. The pessimistic part remembers that they still hate her - just as in 1999 they hated John McCain and loved George Bush - and their biased reporting will rise again. They're all still a pack of Heathers jeering at the kid they've decided to pick on.


No comments: