The Press: Mad As Hell, and Not Going to Take It Any More

Howard Kurtz’s column in the Washington Post is surprisingly blunt and surprisingly revealing. The mainstream media, Kurtz says, are mad. Their anger, though, is oddly unidirectional:

The media are getting mad.

Whether it’s the latest back-and-forth over attack ads, the silly lipstick flap or the continuing debate over Sarah and sexism, you can just feel the tension level rising several notches.

Maybe it’s a sense that this is crunch time, that the election is on the line, that the press is being manipulated (not that there’s anything new about that).

There certainly isn’t. Barack Obama has been manipulating the press for years. His manipulation didn’t make the media mad, though, because reporters were willing accomplices who have been trying to get Obama elected. It’s the thought that John McCain could be manipulating them that has the media seeing red:

News outlets are increasingly challenging false or questionable claims by the McCain campaign, whether it’s the ad accusing Obama of supporting sex-ed for kindergartners (the Illinois legislation clearly describes “age-appropriate” programs) or Palin’s repeated boast that she stopped the Bridge to Nowhere (after she had supported it, and after Congress had effectively killed the specific earmark).

But the two examples Kurtz cites are ads that are indisputably true. Obama did support sex education down to kindergarten. Kurtz thinks that’s OK, because the sex education for five-year-olds would be “age appropriate.” He’s entitled to that opinion, but my opinion, and that of most voters, is that any sex education for kindergartners is a terrible idea. In any event, whether you think teaching five-year-olds about sex is a good idea or a bad idea, the ad is true.

Likewise with the ad that says Governor Palin killed the Bridge to Nowhere: it’s a simple fact that no one, including the Democratic Party in Alaska, thought to deny until Palin was selected to run for Vice-President. We wrote about it here. As the Anchorage Daily News reported on March 12, 2008:

Palin ruffled feathers when she announced – without giving the delegation advance notice – that the state was killing the Ketchikan bridge to Gravina Island, site of the airport and a few dozen residents.

If Kurtz or other members of the media want to criticize some other aspect of Palin’s record they are welcome to do so, but the suggestion that she didn’t kill the famous bridge is ridiculous.

That’s not to say that there is no false advertising in the air this campaign season. We wrote here that Barack Obama’s oft-repeated claim, in a television ad and elsewhere, that he “reach[ed] out to Senator Lugar…to help lock down loose nuclear weapons” is flatly untrue. It was Sam Nunn who “reached out to Senator Lugar” in 1991. Obama’s minor amendment to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act in 2006 had nothing to do with “locking down loose nuclear weapons;” on the contrary, it specifically excluded them. Obama’s amendment has turned out to be a bad idea, too. But these and other falsehoods by Obama aren’t what the press is “getting mad” about, and reporters have no intention of reporting on them.

While noting that the media in general are “getting mad,” Kurtz himself is mad about the “lipstick on a pig” flap:

The lipstick imbroglio is evidence that the Drudge/Fox/New York Post axis can drive just about any story into mainstream land. Does anyone seriously believe that Barack Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig?

I’m not sure what Obama had in mind, but I find it odd that in pages of outrage devoted to the supposed excesses of the McCain campaign, Kurtz finds no room to mention the fact that prominent Democrats (not anonymous emailers, who are much worse) have said that Governor Palin is Pontius Pilate and that her primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.

The truth is that Sarah Palin has been the object of the most vicious and concerted smear campaign in modern American history. But that fact doesn’t cause the media (or Howard Kurtz) to get mad.

It’s not too hard to diagnose why, as Kurtz correctly says, “the media are getting mad.” They’re getting mad because their candidate is losing. They’ve spent years building him up and covering for his mistakes and shortcomings, and he is such a stiff that he can’t coast across the finish line. I’d be mad too, I guess, but I think I’d have the decency not to take it out on Sarah Palin.

PAUL adds: I’m not getting mad, but I find the nature of this campaign increasingly dismaying. Obama has been lying about McCain all along, from the nonsense about fighting in Iraq for 100 years to the claim (based on a joke) that McCain thinks the middle class extends to people making up to $5,000,000 a year.

Meanwhile, I think Kurtz is correct about the “lipstick” remark. The answer to his question, “does anyone seriously believe that Barack Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig” may be “yes,” but in my opinion it should be “no.” And it’s off-putting to hear Republican women like former Gov. Swift trying to parlay Obama’s phrase (which, unhappily, has become common political jargon recently) into an identity politics “gotcha.” This is the kind of thing I expect from Democrats, not Republicans.

To be sure, Obama lacks credibility when he complains about the “gotcha,” having been the beneficiary of, and perhaps a party to, a similarly invalid identity politics play against Bill Clinton. Many in the media also lack credibility since, as John points out, their sense of outrage runs in only one direction.

UPDATE: At the Corner, Mark Steyn weighs in:

Howie feels the press is being “manipulated” by the McCain campaign.

Maybe it is. A conventional launch strategy for a little-known vice-presidential nominee might have involved “manipulating” the media into running umpteen front-pagers on Sarah Palin’s amazing primary challenge of a sitting governor and getting the sob-sisters to slough off a ton of heartwarming stories about her son shipping out to Iraq.

But, if you were really savvy, you’d “manipulate” the media into a stampede of lurid drivel deriding her as a Stepford wife and a dominatrix, comparing her to Islamic fundamentalists, Pontius Pilate and porn stars, and dismissing her as a dysfunctional brood mare who can’t possibly be the biological mother of the kid she was too dumb to abort. Who knows? It’s a long shot, but if you could pull it off, a really cunning media manipulator might succeed in manipulating Howie’s buddies into spending the month after Labor Day outbidding each other in some insane Who Wants To Be An Effete Condescending Media Snob? death-match. You’d not only make the press look like bozos, but that in turn might tarnish just a little the fellow these geniuses have chosen to anoint.

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