If Democrats want a realistic chance of
returning to power, they'll have to confront the
entrenched power of the right-wing media and its cowering acolytes among the Washington
press. Tom Daschle and Al Gore tried recently, with groaningly predictable results.
What both episodes demonstrate is that polite, reasoned discourse won't cut it.
First came Daschle, who complained about
the "shrill tone" of conservative talk radio.
"What happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people
aren't just content to listen. People want to act because they get emotional," he said
"and the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, against us and against
our families, and it's very disconcerting."
Needless to say, Limbaugh had a field day
mocking the South Dakotan. So did
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. "Has Tom Daschle lost a couple of screws?"
Kurtz wondered. Had he actually listened to Rush lately? "He's so mainstream that those
right-wingers Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had him on their Election Night coverage."
In reality, it's Kurtz who's uninformed.
The media activists at Spinsanity.org, however,
have got the blowhard's number. A draft avoider himself, Limbaugh calls Daschle, an
Air Force veteran, "Hanoi Tom." He's repeatedly accused him of an "attempt to sabotage
the war on terrorism" for political advantage.
"In essence," Limbaugh has said "Daschle
has chosen to align himself with the axis of evil."
He's even done an extended riff on the soft-spoken Senator's likeness to Satan. So how
hard is it to imagine a particularly soft-headed fan--of whom there are legions--deciding it
was his duty to kill off so wicked a traitor? Somebody, after all, mailed anthrax to Daschle's office.
Confronted with his own words, Limbaugh
invariably claims he's an entertainer who shouldn't
be taken literally. A seventh grader would see through the "just kidding" excuse, but timid
Washington pundits pretend to buy it. Kurtz's fawning interview with Limbaugh on CNN's
"Reliable Sources" had to be seen to be believed. Miss America gets tougher treatment.
Kurtz would be ashamed to go so easy on a politician.
Why? Because Daschle had a legitimate gripe,
but he did a poor job of articulating it.
Besides, while there's nothing a politician can do to harm a "mainstream" pundit--a term
connoting both rank and conformity--having the whole screaming horde of amateur and
professional ditto heads attacking your "left-wing bias" can create real career problems.
It's safest to go with the flow.
Al Gore put it this way in an interview
with the New York Observer: "The media is kind of
weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully
speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party. Fox News Network, The Washington Times,
Rush Limbaugh--there's a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-
conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the
rest of the media...Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of
this fifth column in their ranks-that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking
points into the definition of what's objective as stated by the news media as a whole."
"Something will start at the Republican
National Committee, inside the building," Gore
continued "and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on
Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others.
And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream
media for allegedly ignoring the story...Pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and
disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these RNC talking
points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."
Gore pointedly avoided saying so, but he
could have been talking about his own presidential
campaign. It's hard for even sympathetic readers to grasp how much the 2000 election turned
upon RNC propaganda like the absurd, yet endlessly repeated lie that Gore claimed he
"invented the internet." (Today's dailyhowler.com details the whole sordid story.)
On cue, the Post's Kurtz jumped in with
a "vast right wing conspiracy" joke," and speculated
that Gore was simply bitter. Right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist,
shamefully declared that he was on "the edge of looniness" and "could use a little help."
Overnight, Gore's weirdness became the party line.
Thoughtful interviews, see, won't cut it.
Winning this battle will require open confrontation.
Limbaugh couldn't stand up to Al Gore for ten minutes in public debate, nor to Sen. John Kerry
or any experienced Democrat of substance. Neither could most of the TV talking heads.
Unless they want to end up looking as ineffectual as Daschle did last week, they'd better
learn to fight their own fights.
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