. . . Thursday November 4, 2004

Press Benched?

On Thursday morning, the newly “mandated” President Bush did something relatively rare in this first term. He held a press conference. After asking people to please be seated, he made his first comments:

“Yesterday I pledged to reach out to the whole nation, and today I’m proving that I’m willing to reach out to everybody by including the White House press corps.”

Now would you say that comment was funny ha ha, funny weird, or funny I just kicked the living crap out of you?

As progressives across the country meet in smoke-free back rooms, coffee shops, 527 offices and the blogosphere to try to figure out their next moves, they should spend a significant amount of time figuring out how to re-frame the role of the press.

W would not be laying out his plans for a second term right now had it not been for one key factor. The systematic discrediting and manipulation of the media. It has been a longterm effort by the GOP. To win and win big, they needed to discredit mainstream media and go after academia and the other pillars of the so-called liberal elite. It’s important to remember, that these strategies were pieced together by guys from Harvard and Yale. But this not about reality, it’s about the message. The GOP figured out what they wanted their message to be (and I give them a lot of credit for that) and then figured out who and what stood in the way of that message getting out, unfiltered, to enough voters.

When this framework to frame the media was being hammered out in a conservative think tank somewhere a decade or two (or more) ago, I doubt those who developed the strategy would’ve imagined that their victories in this area would be so sweeping.

Fox News often dominates the ratings. The mainstream press was ineffective in their coverage of Iraq and frankly the same can be said of their ability to get the facts out when it came to the war’s aftermath.

Remember, millions of those who went to the polls to vote for W did so believing that we did find WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Those folks (the ones who were paying attention) are either getting their news from somewhere else, or they just don’t believe the news that they’re getting.

If the press serves a role as check on political power, then the systematic discrediting of that press is a really big deal. And if the press responds to that discrediting by being weaker in their challenges to those in power, then it’s an even bigger deal.

So where does the press go from here?

Jay Rosen has an excellent piece on the future of political journalism over at PressThink.

I believe Big Journalism cannot respond as it would in previous years: with bland vows to cover the Adminstration fairly and a firm intention to make no changes whatsoever in its basic approach to politics and news. The situation is too unstable, the world is changing too rapidly, and political journalism has been pretending for too long that an old operating system will last forever. It won’t. It can’t. Particularly in the face of an innovative Bush team and its bold thesis about the fading powers of the press.

During this election, there was a massive education gap. People who were not college-educated were far more likely to vote against what they saw as the representative of the liberal elite. Instead of voting for a wealthy Bonesman from Yale, they voted for a wealthy Bonesman from Yale. The rich, privileged, Ivy League son of a president managed to make himself look like an everyman while making his similarly backgrounded opponent seem like he was straight outa Kennebunkport. They guy who stayed home from Vietnam made the guy who went look like a weakling who didn’t have the courage to fight. Remarkable.

Smart people think your policies are wrong. Well they’re just the academic elite. They look down on Americans. Journalists want to tell the story of our foreign policy. They’re just pessimists and naysayers out to get the president because he’s so darn middle America. Get the picture? That’s not enough, you need to get the frame.

If you haven’t seen George Lakoff’s video How Progressives and Democrats Can Win (which provides an overview of how the GOP got to this point), it’s definitely worth a watch (and an electablog web exclusive). Progressives need to remember that this one-sided messaging war didn’t start during this campain (I’ll let that Freudian typo stand) or even the last one. It has been going on for decades. So you shouldn’t have expected that a couple of 527s could reframe America during the course of a single national election.

Again, it’s not about reality, folks. It’s about the message. I don’t know if a 51%-49% spread qualifies as a mandate. But the GOP win in the messaging war was a flat-out landslide. Look at it this way. Their leader could run against Hollywood five minutes after being introduced by the Terminator.

Concentration is important!