1. Howard Kurtz points out some of Walter Cronkite’s partisan and personal transgressions. The most trusted man in America slanted his news coverage to favor Democrats over Republicans and to take sides in intra-Democratic rivalries. Kurtz argues that these would be a big deal today. We don’t need nostalgia for the media institutions of the mid-1900s. If anyone thinks the Obamamania of 2008 was bad, they should look at the media treatment of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Mainstream journalists seemed to be operating under the assumption that if they could call Goldwater a lunatic, Nazi, Fascist enough times, liberals would never again have to face electoral competition. For pure slanderous bad faith, I can’t remember anything that compares with Daniel Schorr reporting on CBS News that Goldwater was going to Germany ( of as Schorr put it “Hitler’s one-time stomping ground” – in case you missed the point) as part of meeting of the international far right.
2. There are several advantages to the existence of the populist conservative media (talk radio, Fox News, blogs.) One major advantage is that, by virtue of the size of the audience of the right-leaning media, the right-leaning news outlets can sometimes force the “mainstream” media to report stories that they would prefer to avoid. I remember back in 2008 where, for a while, I lived in a kind of parallel news universe from my friends who didn’t consume right-leaning media. I knew about the John Edwards affair story and so did tens of millions of other people, but for folks who got their media from outside the right-leaning outlets, the story didn’t exist until it was reported by the networks. The same thing happened with the story about the forged George W. Bush National Guard documents and Elizabeth Warren’s phony Native American heritage. As the right-of-center media exposes the story to larger audiences, and sticks to pressuring the nonconservative news outlets, the willingness of the nonconservative news outlets to embargo the story decays. And only one major nonconservative news outlet has to cave in and report the story for the whole news embargo to collapse. When ABC decided to report the Edwards story, then everybody followed.
So the populist conservative media can, with great effort and some cost, get the nonconservative media to report inconvenient truths they would have ignored in an earlier era. But there costs are real too. If Elizabeth Warren had been a conservative Republican, the story would have been “Warren is a fraud.” Now, in effect, the story is “Warren’s conservative opponents say she is a fraud.” That’s better than nothing but it isn’t the same thing. And the conservative media can’t consistently set the agenda for the nonconservative media that is consumed that by persuadables that don’t watch FOX or listen to talk radio. If the New York Times and the Today Show decide that Bain Capital is a story, then Bain Capital is a story.
3. There were advantages to the old media set up. Audiences were very large. If you has the money, they had the time and the eyeballs. The norms of the era demanded that they covered major political remarks (State of the Union speeches, national convention speeches) more-or-less without interruption. You could put Reagan in the “A Time For Choosing” infomercial and lots of people who thought conservatives were all about starving old people and starting nuclear wars would listen and have their views softened. It didn’t matter if the network journalists spent the next thirty years implying (with various levels of subtlety) that Reagan was stupid/heartless/crazy/bloodthirsty. The public would still get a chance to hear Reagan at length and they heard what they heard. It is harder to reach persuadable (or potentially persuadable) voters at similar length today, but the media cues that the Democrats are the “good guys” are still there. Audiences are more fragmented. Many of today’s voters come from families that weren’t here when Reagan was President and haven’t been socialized into the conservative narrative and they probably don’t know it exists. They aren’t going to get it from the right-leaning media because that isn’t the media they consume. If they are going to be reached, they are going to have to be reached out to. Most of them aren’t going to come to us. This doesn’t mean things are worse than when Walter Cronkite was the unofficial national interpreter of reality. It is just a different set of challenges.
4. I love this story for its pure passive-aggressive evil. The headline should be “Mormons Massacred A Bunch Of People. It Was Like 9/11 With Mormons. Romney Is A Mormon. We’re Just Saying.” Yes, the story actually contains a 9/11 reference. Most Obama water carrying by the media (outside the MSNBC lunatic asylum) will probably be more subtle than this story but it does show some of the advantages that media power gives the left-of-center. The media can (sometimes in the form of bogus human interest stories) go dirty on Romney (or whatever right-of-center figure) while Obama sticks to ”real issues” like Bain or contraception or whatever is the most important issue on the world today. The nonconservative media aren’t the only ones to play the game. The Boston Herald ran a story yesterday about how hard it would be for the Massachusetts Democrats to dump Elizabeth Warren over the phony Native American thing. There wasn’t any move by state Democrats to dump Warren. The story was basically an excuse for an “Elizabeth Warren is a phony Native American” story on a day when no news had broken on the subject. My sense is that this is bigger problem for the right-of-center, because they have greater trouble reaching that majority of Americans who do not regularly consume right-leaning media.