Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who Will The Media Select?

The perpetual campaign, that exercise where both sides run to see who succeeds an ineligible incumbent, is already nauseating but shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. The media infatuation with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani - the media's appointed 'front runners' - has me wondering just who exactly they plan to crown the new monarch.

The voters do that you say? Oh, I beg to differ.

This is not the old days of the Pony Express. The media can build up or implode a candidacy almost instantly. Let's look at just a few test cases that demonstrate this beyond all reason.

In 1968, Lyndon Johnson was the President of the United States and expected to cruise to re-election. One issue bugged the country: the Vietnam War. A Minnesota Senator named Eugene McCarthy ran in the New Hampshire primary against LBJ and lost by six points. This, however, was 'proof' (according to the media) that Johnson was a vulnerable incumbent who needed to be replaced. LBJ agreed and bowed out a few weeks later right before the Wisconsin primary. This despite the fact he had not only won the primary, he won it solely on the basis of write-in votes because he had not even bothered to qualify for the ballot. Amazingly, the media didn't bother to mention that McCarthy got a ton of votes because he was the best-known name actually on the ballot. How many voters know they can write in a candidate?

In 1972, Edmund Muskie was the heir-in-waiting. He beat George McGovern by twelve points in the New Hampshire primary. But the media spun the story as if Muskie - who had beaten five other foes with almost half the vote - was now a cooked goose. Muskie made it worse by ripping into a conservative newspaper editor and appearing to 'cry,' demolishing his candidacy and sentencing the Democrats to a 49-1 defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon.

In 1976, it was the Republicans whom the media crossed. Ronald Reagan actually got more votes in the New Hampshire primary against UNELECTED incumbent President Ford. But the media feared that 'right-wing' Reagan as President and made it sound like Ford had beaten Reagan as badly as Reagan would eventually beat Walter Mondale in 1984. Never mind that in the previous two election cycles, neither of the losers came as close to winning as did Reagan, who only lost in the official count by 1317 votes. A subsequent handcount later showed Reagan likely won narrowly.

In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was on his way to an easy win in the New Hampshire primary against four other foes. Then the stories of his philandering and draft dodging came out, and he went from a ten-point lead to a ten-point deficit in four days. He kept plugging along and despite the fact he blew an easy win and actually LOST the primary, the media touted Clinton as 'the comeback kid.' Clinton and the news media both dismissed the victory of Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas as 'a regional candidate.' The following week when Nebraska Senator Bob Kerry won South Dakota, he, too, was dismissed as a 'regional candidate.' But the moment Clinton won the Georgia primary in his own region of the country? This was somehow proof for the pundits that Clinton was a 'national candidate.' On Super Tuesday in 1992, Clinton did not win a single state outside the South - yet he was proclaimed 'electable' by the powers that be.

The Republicans didn't do much better in 1992. TV commentator Pat Buchanan entered the race and lost by 17 points - and to hear the hype from the TV pundits, you would have thought he won by 30,000 votes. Four years later, the same pundits amazingly forgot that Buchanan had actually lost and when Buchanan won BOTH Iowa and New Hampshire in major upsets over Bob Dole, the spin was that Dole had eliminated the other competition and could focus on Buchanan, who had no chance.

Even as recently as 2004, the media made its presence felt. Howard Dean was on his way to an easy victory in New Hampshire. If he had won, he likely would have been the party's dope-crazed nominee. So when he lost to John Kerry in the Iowa caucus, Dean took a page out of Al Gore's book. When Gore was campaigning in black churches in 2000, he began impersonating Uncle Remus Washington with his homiletical screams. Dean did the same thing - and the news media persuaded the entire country Dean was crazy. Evan Thomas of Newsweek magazine even admitted that their slanted coverage of the 2004 election probably netted Kerry fifteen points. Since Kerry lost by about four, we're talking about George W. Bush winning and LBJ-sized landslide - taken from him by the power makers on TV.

Who will they choose this time around? I don't really know, but I do know this: when the politicians start talking about 'the will of the people,' just substitute the 'power of the media,' and you will be far closer to the truth.

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