But, as I don’t want to give the media too much credit for their election reporting overall, please see this interesting analysis from UNC media professor Cori Dauber:
Last night during the hours when it looked like Kerry was going to win, I wrote down the following:
– the amount of optimism in coverage of Iraq will now skyrocket, and the percentage of good news that will be allowed through will go up.
– casualties will now be put in perspective in coverage, or at least they will be put in context of enemy losses, and progress made.
– suddenly having a mythic ur-plan prior to actual action will be seen as less important to the pragmatic success of the action per se.
But all of those prognostications of course presumed President Bush out of office.
Now the question becomes whether he’s given any honeymoon from the press at all. If he is, will they reevaluate the chances for success in Iraq, or just the way things are going, or just their standards for tone and tenor of coverage?
I’m guessing, “no.”
Many of the people who are angry and hurt right now are angry and hurt because they believe things about the man who won, and the choices he made, that aren’t true or are wildly exaggerated, or don’t know things about the man who lost they should. If the media had made sure they knew what they should have known, they would (if my friends are any indication) voted exactly the same way they ended up voting – but they might feel better about the outcome. And many of the people who are angry and hurt right now are angry and hurt because they know things are true that the media never bothered to report, or know things aren’t true that the media pushed or insinuated, and they have just about had it.
Evan Thomas [of Newsweek] was just on Hardball and absolutely without hesitation reaffirmed his prior claims that the media was in the tank for Kerry. He’s gotten smarter, he isn’t offering point totals any more (but then, Chris Matthews didn’t ask) but it was clear he thought it absurd to even question the idea of media bias in the election.
Unfortunately, the campaign coverage and the war coverage became intertwined and inseparable because it is presented as “Bush’s war.”
I list these stories – or non-stories – not to pick at healing scabs but to make the point.
The other big losers last night were the media.
If their coverage failures over the last few months were not a function of bias but of simple incompetence then there was an awful lot of incompetence going around. Last night and today they seem to have drawn a line. It is, for today, time to play it straight. It’s lets celebrate democracy time.
How long will that last?
Don’t know, but not forever.
Take a look at this list of what’s been going on in the coverage:
- Swift boat liars. (or “the discredited Swift boat vets.” or “the Swift boat smears.”) There are parts of the Swift boat vets complaints against Senator Kerry that are not verified (probably are unverifiable. Are these smears? do these arguments prove these vets, many of them also decorated combat veterans, are liars? Or that these men, who viscerally dislike one another, cannot agree about what happened thirty five years ago? Meanwhile how can you can they be called “liars” and “totally discredited” when once you get outside the specifics of what happened under fire (the medal complaints) they kept turning out to be right, and the Kerry campaign kept conceding as much by changing their story?
The notion that the media kept covering these smears and that was unfair to Kerry is the current line, and it’s a myth. The vets were getting no coverage whatsoever until bloggers picked up their stories and began proving them correct. And then most of the coverage they received was entirely negative and misleading.
Form 180. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the press took the campaign at their word that Sen. Kerry’s military records were available. But he never signed the form that would have released them, they were not released, and even after the Washington Post did a very balanced piece on the controversy – a piece which made clear that they did a Freedom of Information Act request for his records, going further than it seemed any other outlet did, but did not then get almost 100 pages of records, the press seemed utterly uninterested in going any further. To me it isn’t even so much a sense that there’s something else lurking in his records as the frenzy over the President’s records, versus the lack of interest in Kerry’s, and the creation of the sense that Kerry had been utterly open and forthcoming by comparison that resulted.
Senator Kerry went to Paris while still technically a United States military officer, while Americans were being held prisoner, and met with representatives of entities we were at war with. Twice.
Now, maybe you care about that and maybe you don’t. But certainly you can understand why other people would, can’t you? If you know that it happened.
- “16 words.” I mentioned this the other day. I don’t really begrudge them that much the original story. Did it go on a bit long? Well, sure, but it wouldn’t have if the White House communications shop had been competent, so who do you blame there? I do begrudge them each time they misrepresented the content of the 16 words (lopping off the part where the President noted he was citing British intelligence, or suggesting he was being specific to Niger, when the statement was about all of Africa, that kind of thing.) But it was what it was.
What I begrudge – a very great deal – was the media’s not giving equal attention to the collapse of that story when it turned out that Joe Wilson was a big, fat liar. Did any outlet give equal attention to the one as to the other?
- The Duelfer Report. Was Iraq an imminent threat? No. Were there stockpiles? No. Was Iraq a threat, and did the Duelfer report confirm that was the case? Not if you followed the mainstream reporting of it, with very few exceptions (and those not in straight news articles.)
You might still decide there wasn’t enough of a threat to justify war. But you might better understand why other people disagree.
The choice to dump the story of 380 tons of explosives 36 hours before Election Day. Except the documents proved it wasn’t actually 380 tons, and that the IAEA seals didn’t actually mean anything, and some experts weren’t all that impressed, and the media wouldn’t even defend their original decision once pressed. It wasn’t the story. It wasn’t ever the story. It was the way the story was meant to be originally reported.
National. Guard. Documents. 'nuf said.
Reporting on the draft as if it were a serious story. Over and over and over. I’ll just stop there.
I write everyday on the idea that the reporting on the overall status of Iraq may be problemmatic, so I’ll just list it here. And I’ll add that the reporting of the overall progress in the status of Afghanistan is also problemmatc. As I write every time I post the good news roundups, the point is not ever to down play or to supress the reporting of the bad news. All of that stuff is clearly legitimate news, and critical to the decisionmaking of an informed electorate.
The question is, is it all that’s relevant to the decsionmaking of an informed electorate?
- The GWOT. There is the question of whether or not is a war – or a metaphor. Again something I write about all the time.
There is also the question, closely releated, of how great an accomplishment it is that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11. The media’s response here seems to be somewhat contradictory. On the one hand we’re told, no big deal, not a real war, just a metaphor, September 11th was a one-off, we shouldn’t have responded with such an overreaction, waging a global war that’s served primarily to create more terrorists. On the other hand we’re told that we’re no safer because there are constantly more attacks. (Or are all those people who now hate us trained and ready already?) But, again, I write about this all the time.
- Last but not least – there is no link, was no link, never has been any link – between Saddam and al Queda, or, in some versions, even between Saddam and terrorists.
That is simply and conclusively false.
You may believe that the connections and contacts over the years were not sufficient to rise to the level of a threat.
That if there was no operational link, there was no justification for action.
But, first, lets have that debate.
And, second, if people are actually told there’s a connection, it’s far easier to understand why their fellow citizens (not to mention their President) saw Iraq as a threat. People told that might not agree, but they would at least better understand that the distance between them and those with whom they are disagreeing isn’t that great.
Speaking of which, it is also not the case that polls prove that people believe Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The argument is a bit complicated, so let me suggest that (while I still believe the study is fatally flawed, as I’ve told you before, I also still believe the outfit itself is a good one, and their explanation of how the polling result was fatally oversimplified in the press was very good.) you take a look at the explanation in this pdf, on pages 3 and 4.
I’m not trying to make trouble, or make waves. I really do doubt that in the end very many people would have felt differently about their vote. But – and this is why my point is critical to looking forward – those whose candidate lost would have felt differently about the width of the gap between themselves and those on the other side, perhaps. And in the meantime those whose candidate won – or who, one way or the other, just think that people deserve to make their decisions with the meximum amount of accurate information, who think that the press should live up to their own rhetoric about their role in relationship to the people, and who worry that utterly independent of support for political candidates, that the press is working to undermine support for the war – move forward casting a eye of deep suspicion towards the mainstream media.
They’ve earned it.