The Beltway media are at it again, creating winners and losers long before Election Day. Yesterday I wrote that Alison Lundergan Grimes beat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s one and only Senate debate, and if you watched the debate, you might agree.
But if you had only followed the media coverage, you might well believe that Grimes is a goner, that her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama was of such import that it rightly overshadowed all other issues the candidates fought over—minimum wage, jobs, climate change, student loans, healthcare—and that her demurral was far more worthy of coverage than McConnell’ s actual lies and deceptions about the healthcare of 500,000 Kentuckians.
And if Grimes’s non-answer wasn’t a pretend disaster enough for the media to hyperventilate over, they got more confirmation later yesterday when the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee announced it wasn’t going to spend more to run ads in Kentucky. Well, surely that showed that Big Dems agreed with Big Media that Grimes was out. Money speaks. She’s over. Or so it seems.
But the media have it wrong. First, on the debate: Columbia Journalism Review did a large round-up of the political media responses to Monday’s debate and found that the coverage was “imbalanced” and that it “calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.”
Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes made national headlines during the debate for again declining to share how she voted in previous presidential elections. At the same time, however, the Washington press corps barely covered a claim by incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell that Obamacare, unpopular in Kentucky, could be repealed without dismantling Kynect, the popular statewide healthcare exchange funded through the law. McConnell’s argument is not only factually questionable, at best, but also seems to be of much more potential consequence to the state’s voters. Monday’s debate was the only televised face-off scheduled before the November election, and the imbalanced coverage calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
Grimes’ non-answer received headline treatment on web stories at CBS, NBC ABC, and CNN. The Washington Post devoted an entire piece to the refusal, which led the Associated Press’ story , and Politico and National Journal both listed it as their top takeaway of the debate. Such stories either omitted McConnell’s claim or played it down relative to Grimes’ comment. FoxNews.com mentioned only the latter, meanwhile, and The Wall Street Journal left McConnell’s statement as its story’s kicker, unchallenged.
It’s not as if the media was hearing Mitch’s lie for the first time and simply lacked the time to study up on it. It had all been reported on before:
Liberalmedia and a few national outlets, such as the AP, challenged the five-term senator’s claim back [in May]. Indeed, an Obamacare repeal would have huge consequences for the Bluegrass State, as an estimated half-million residents have signed up for health coverage through its Kynect exchange. A Washington Post Fact Checker column soon after concluded, “the history of individual state exchanges shows it is not credible for McConnell to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the broad health-care system constructed by the Affordable Care Act, such as an individual mandate and subsidies to buy insurance.”
Given the availability of such reporting, not to mention McConnell’s hazy logic in a race in which Obamacare has been a central theme, it’s unclear why the national media didn’t pounce on his answer Monday. What’s more, local coverage of the debate suggests that Grimes’ voting history—a sign of her allegiance to President Barack Obama—is merely one of many concerns or Kentucky voters.
It is true that the DSCC stopped running ads in Kentucky in order to redirect funds to other state races. But the Democratic Senate campaign arm is still funding Grimes’s get-out-the-vote drive, and is “monitoring the race for future investments,” according to a DSCC official. In any case, Grimes is very well-funded herself, having just announced a record breaking nearly $5 million haul for the third quarter.
But the national media were quick to jump to the most melodramatic conclusion. As Daily Kos pointed out:
Today a rumor was spread throughout national media by irresponsible nationally-known media (Chris Cillizza, Jon Heilemann, Mark Halpirin, MSNBC, CNN) that “Democrats have abandoned Grimes”.
Heilemann and Halperin agreed on their program that “Her campaign is dead”.
This rumor was based upon the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) not having pre-purchased ad buys in KY market for last 3 weeks of campaign. The DSCC has been very active in the Kentucky market, with great ads playing. The DSCC acknowledged this was true, but that they were open to purchases if necessary.
Guy Cecil, the Executive Director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, posted at about 8:00pm eastern Tuesday night 10/14, on Twitter:
Guy Cecil @guycecil 3h 3 hours ago
Just signed a $300,000 wire for the KY Get Out The Vote operation for @AlisonForKY. That’s an interesting view of “pulling out of the race”
And for all this, you’d never know that as of Wednesday afternoon, Alison Grimes is only three points behind Mitch McConnell in the RealClearPolitics average.