Friday, May 23, 2008

Behind the Story: Taking Back the White House (II)

“For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the earth.”

--David Brooks, New York Times, May 23, 2008

As a student of the media, I am transfixed by the question, “Why is the media so willing to bend truth to win the White House?” Why is winning the presidency “the only thing?” The U.S. went into Iraq after destroying al Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan to make sure that an oil-rich, dedicated American enemy didn’t become al Qaeda’s next base. Iraq nearly did, a fact the media covered in detail. Yet now that the U.S. has largely defeated al Qaeda in Iraq, the media ignore that truth while still treating Iraq as a major American failure. Unreal.

Unreal, unless one believes American warriors are the world’s greatest danger. Vietnam transformed America. It was moral to oppose America’s war in Vietnam, even though that opposition cost the Democrats power (Nixon’s victories in 1968 and 1972). The media gained control over the American elite in 1965-72 by educating the country on Vietnam, using Vietnam to capture the moral high ground. Then they consolidated victory in the wonderful three years of 1973-76 when they engineered Nixon’s removal as president and helped deliver overwhelming Democratic congressional majorities in 1974, then helped put Carter in the White House in 1976. Power returned to Democrats, but as a transformed, moral Democratic party that opposed war, sought a Cold War truce, and worked for human rights around the world.

For the media, those were the Golden Years. It’s so different now, with newspaper circulation rapidly declining along with major TV network viewership. As “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer says, "The world got changed by two companies. Apple is taking away the profitability of TV, and Google is taking it away in print. And it's never going to reverse." So the media are in the fight of their lives. But a total victory in November for Democrats, restoring power to those who believe in a moral (anti-Iraq war) foreign policy and in a well-financed, moral government passing legislation that benefits the people, well, that’s worth fighting hard for, and in the process perhaps demonstrating media still count.

The media have totally digested the #1 political lesson of “It’s the economy, stupid.” A bad economy turns out the regime in power, so for seven-plus years, media have looked for every sign the Bush-led economy is in trouble. Since Bush’s economy mostly produced jobs, lowered unemployment, provided growth, avoided recession, and reduced the deficit growth rate, convincing Americans we are “on the wrong track” economically is a major media achievement. So Iraq, the economy, and Katrina, a mess Bush mishandled on national TV to the media’s delight, have soured the national mood. Media, take a bow.

“Nuclear scientist” Jimmy Carter represented a triumph of the intellectuals in 1976, but Carter was deeply religious, and won millions of votes on that basis. In the end, Carter deeply disappointed his media cheerleaders. Obama is different. Goes to church, but tunes out his pastor. Obama’s win will represent a true triumph of the American intelligentsia, secular but religiously believing government programs improve our lives.

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