CNN looked pathetic enough co-hosting Monday’s Republican debate with the Tea Party Express (a group whose former spokesman faked an NAACP letter calling Abraham Lincoln the “greatest racist ever” for taking away the “great gig” of slavery from African-Americans). But CNN went on to truly humiliate itself by dressing for the event in Tea Party drag.
Waving the American flag on a giant video screen, having a singer belt out the National Anthem, bringing the candidates on stage one-by-one like Super Bowl stars—the surreal spectacle was the culmination of years of mainstream media magnifying the Tea Party’s power and then begging, “Please don’t hit me with that oversized bludgeon I gave you!”
Ever desperate to prove how “centrist” it is, CNN dreads the GOP and Fox News attacking it as “the liberal media.” The formerly dubbed “Clinton News Network” has long felt the sting of right-wing slings and arrows. At a 2009 Capitol Hill demo, “protesters shouted ‘Tell the Truth!’ at the correspondent Lisa Desjardins before breaking into a chant for Glenn Beck,” the Times recounts—and CNN has been doing the Stockholm Syndrome Swoon ever since.
We’ve seen this kind of media appeasement before. In fact, the scariest example this week wasn’t Wolf Blitzer presiding over the far right’s red-white-and-blue fantasies. It was Bill Keller, the New York Times’s recently resigned executive editor, offering a non-apology apology for his very influential support for the Iraq war. Cut through the intellectualized excuses and it comes down to ego and fear: he and other “liberal hawks,” he writes, were “a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys.”
Defying the caricature of liberals. The fear of being tarred as effete, elite and emasculated has driven far too much of our post-Reagan history, for journalists and politicians alike. And so even as the CNN debate swathed the Tea Party in mainstream cred (as the Times did Bush’s neocon war), the payoffs went both ways. As Jon Stewart said of the debate, “a fringe, often-derided incompetent bunch of yahoos was finally granted legitimacy by pairing with the Tea Party.”
Of course, CNN says it’s just covering the news, not its flank. “After the 2010 elections, it was undeniable that the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party was a force, and that it was likely to help determine the outcome of the nomination,” says Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. “We decided that it makes sense for one of the debates to have a Tea Party connection, and that we were the right network to do it.” Wait—doesn’t Fox News already have that TP connection 24/7?