TCS Daily

The Big Angry

By Stephen Green - August 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Should George W. Bush win reelection, you know who is going to be pissed off the most?

It won't the Deaniacs. It won't be (if you'll excuse the oxymoron) die-hard John Kerry supporters. It won't be gay activists, civil rights leaders, peaceniks, or even the brigades of B-list movie actors. All of them will be upset, surely, and some of them with good reason.

But Big Media is going to be angry. Stark raving, foot stomping, breath holding, going-to-bed-without-dessert mad. That's just how some people get when their man loses, and as Newsweek's Evan Thomas noted last month, Kerry is the media's man:

"The media, I think, wants Kerry to win. And I think they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards -- I'm talking about the establishment media, not Fox, but -- they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all, there's going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points."

Fifteen points -- wow. Kerry and Bush are neck and neck in most polls, but imagine what the race would look like without Evans Effect. Even if Big Media isn't actually on Kerry's side, a horserace sells more newspapers and magazines and TV ads than a preordained blow-out would.

Could that be the reason so many news outlets basically ignored the Swift Boat Vets and Christmas in Cambodia controversies for so long? Not until August 17 did the LA Times even bother to report on the Cambodia issue - in a story blogger Patterico argued was "pro-Kerry spin, pure and simple."

Then there's the matter of the Swift Boat Veterans. Reporter Mickey Kaus, blogging for Slate, commented that "respectable big-time journalist friends who met with the anti-Kerry vets recently found them a lot more credible than expected."

However, that's not what you'll read in the New York Times, which finally published an investigative report last Friday. The story goes on for about 3,500 words, not one of which directly contradicts any claims made in the Swift Boat advertisement. Instead, reporters Kate Zernike and Jim Rutenberg attacked some of the veterans' political connections, donations to Republican candidates, and even the production company which produced the commercial. The Times also went after the Republicans who helped finance the ads -- letting the Kerry camp's assertion that they're "a front for the Bush campaign" go largely unchallenged. Also unmentioned was the fact that similar groups on the left (the "527" committees) finance and produce ads attacking Bush.

Nor does the story mention that 527s were made possible -- even necessary -- by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law, and are therefore completely legal.

In all, the major news outlets did their best to ignore the Swift Vets story for as long as they could. Or to be more accurate, until they could assemble hit pieces on the veterans Kerry damned as war criminals 1970s, and called his "band of brothers" when he accepted the Democratic nomination in Boston. The Cambodia story has been allowed largely to wither -- perhaps, as Glenn Reynolds observed, "in favor of complex eye-glazing stuff" voters won't care about?

Still don't believe me? Then how about this informal poll of journalists at the Democratic convention, conducted by the New York Times? It reveals that "they favor John Kerry for president over President Bush by 3 to 1, while reporters based in Washington, D.C., support the Massachusetts senator by 12 to 1."

Now, it's hard to say if Evans was right about Big Media portraying Kerry as "young and dynamic." But most of the major outlets are certainly allowing Kerry to portray himself however he wants, and without too many questions. No matter who wins on November 2, that's bad news for American democracy.

You see, no matter who wins, the American public won't get the President they think they'll get. No matter how you slice that tasty little fact, it still means that the press will have failed us in its primary duty.

Will the winner be George W. Bush, evil mastermind of the kind of nasty, money-driven attack campaign that McCain-Feingold was designed nobly to prevent? Or will we get John F. Kennedy -- er, Kerry -- the steadfast Vietnam veteran whom vets everywhere venerate and admire? While there's probably a bit of truth to each caricature, they're still just that -- caricatures.

It's also obvious, just from the caricatures, which horse Big Media has its money on.

I don't pretend to know which candidate is going to win this election. But if what we're seeing today is indicative, I do know this much: If Bush wins, come November 3 we're going to witness the Mother of All Hissy Fits.

Stephen Green is a TCS contributor. He last wrote about the Game Plan for the war on terror. He writes, invests, and enjoys an evening martini with his wife at their home in Colorado Springs. Find more of his writing on, which is updated daily.


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