Dear Wingnut: Do conservatives really think it’s the media’s fault that the GOP lost in 2006 and 2008?
Let me begin by saying it’s a pleasure to help Salon inaugurate this new feature, in which I have the unenviable task of explaining American conservatives to you. It’s a big job but, as they say, someone has to do it and, well, I drew the short straw.
So — was it the media’s fault? It’s a good question, and an important one.
It is undeniable that the U.S. elite media — what both liberals and conservatives sometimes call the “mainstream media,” or MSM — skews to the left. From the news pages to the editorial pages to the Op-Ed pages — where even the conservatives tend to be statists (we call them “big government conservatives”) — the liberal point of view on any issue receives more favorable treatment than the conservative one.
Don’t believe me? No, you don’t. Let me give you a couple of examples from the 2008 presidential race, one about the media treatment of the Democratic candidate, one about how the media covered the Republican candidate. During the campaign the MSM refrained from examining in real detail the relationship between Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, and William Ayers, a fellow who once led a group called the Weather Underground that, many years ago, put bombs in government buildings intending for them to explode.
Now it is absolutely true — as his campaign said repeatedly anytime a conservative raised the issue (and a few did) — that Barack Obama was a mere child at the time that Ayers and his cohorts were engaged in activities involving explosives. That’s why the campaign argued that the relationship between the two men — a tenuous one, it claimed — was not worth attention.
But put yourself in our shoes. Let’s say a Republican presidential candidate had attended an event at the home of an activist who, 20 or 30 years prior, had led a group involved in bombing abortion clinics or black churches in the American South. Do you think for one minute the relationship between the candidate and host would not have been investigated to the nth degree? Can you blame us for being a little upset?
Then there’s the treatment of John McCain. How about the wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more New York Times story about John McCain and a Washington lobbyist? The story insinuated a sexual relationship but offered no proof. The lobbyist sued and the Times settled. The paper did not pay the lobbyist any money, and did not retract the story, but 1) allowed the lobbyist’s lawyers to post their views on the lawsuit on the paper’s Web site; 2) issued a joint statement with the lobbyist and her lawyers that said, “The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients,” and 3) posted a note to readers saying the same thing. All of this occurred in February, more than three months after the election. And after every media organization in America had reported on the story.
Negative press coverage is something that conservatives have come to expect. Do you remember the echoing nods of approval after the Oklahoma City terror bombing when President Bill Clinton tried to blame it on conservative talk radio? Or the way in which the Gingrich Congress was savaged over claims it was cutting Medicare when it was actually proposing to spend more money on it, just not as much as the liberals wanted? When you’re a conservative politician, you have to think of ways to get around the MSM.
But to return to the original question — do we blame the media for Republican losses in the last two election cycles? Despite everything I have recounted, in a word, no. They may give lip service to blaming the media, but Republicans recognize that they must shoulder the blame themselves.
In 2006, for example, they should have dealt more aggressively with former Rep. Mark Foley when some of his activities — surely indicative of poor judgment but not, thus far at least, shown to have been illegal — were brought to their attention. It was the Foley scandal that caused the GOP’s numbers to dip in October, costing them control of at least the House.
It does appear that House Democratic leaders knew more about that particular scandal than they were telling long before it broke, making me wonder about how “shocked, shocked” they really were. But it was the Republicans’ responsibility to do something about it, just as the Democrats should have done something about former Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana before the voters sent him packing.
It wasn’t the media that went on an orgy of spending mimicking the behavior of sailors on liberty; it was congressional Republicans. It wasn’t the media that turned its back on the principles of limited government; it was the Republicans. And it wasn’t the media that nominated John McCain for president (though the media helped by anointing him its favorite Republican) — it was the Republicans. So conservatives don’t really blame the media for the election losses in 2006 and 2008. We blame ourselves, which is why what we have been doing, airing our internal ideological laundry in public, has been so much fun for you to watch. And for the media to cover, gleefully.
I hope this helps.