Even though we’ve lived with it for more than thirty years now, it’s hard not to marvel at the effectiveness of the right’s campaign to intimidate, cajole and complain their way into favorable treatment from the mainstream media for their candidates and causes. What’s so interesting is that they no longer even bother to argue the merits of their case in normative terms. Rather, they operate on the basis of a kind of faith-based definition of news, in which such niceties as facts and evidence play no role. And it works.
The ideology of the faith-based news was nicely stated by Bush senior media adviser Mark McKinnon to reporter Ron Suskind, “You think he’s an idiot, don’t you?… all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read the New York Times or Washington Post or the LA Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!”
Speaking to Salon‘s Eric Boehlert, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller admitted, “We’re puzzled over what seems to be a more intense antipathy [from] this White House, especially since the campaign heated up.” Keller said he could “only speculate, but some of it may be that they think whacking a big newspaper with ‘New York’ in its name plays well with the conservative base. Perhaps they think if they beat up on us we’ll go soft on them.” What Keller misses is that the hostility so evident among right-wingers is–at least for the intelligent among them–a put-up job. When Republican consultants “work the refs” they don’t need to believe their own charges. They only need to pretend to believe them long enough to insure the following kinds of actions on the part of the media:
§ Just as it had done following the Cheney-Edwards debate, after the third presidential debate, ABC News disgraced itself by publishing a poll its own journalists could not have believed. The respondents to their instant poll skewed Republican, 38 to 30, despite the fact–known quite well to the folks at ABC–that the past two elections have seen a 39-to-35 turnout favoring Democrats. ABC therefore showed a tie, when all the honest polls that followed demonstrated a strong win for Kerry. Had ABC attempted to do such a thing to the disadvantage of the Republicans, there would have been hell to pay–on Fox, on Drudge, on Rush, in the Wall Street Journal editorial pages and across the Murdoch empire. But because they were screwing the Democrats–twice–it was just business as usual.