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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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February 7, 2004

Voices at the Crash Site Say the Frontrunner Was Never Ahead

The Howard Dean crash site has been visited a lot already. Writers on the Net are starting to struggle over their interpretations, including the role of the Net in Dean's crash. But the press suffered a crash too. Where do we locate that site?

“Even though we looked like an 800-pound gorilla, we were still growing up,” a senior campaign aide said. “We were like the big lanky teenager that looked like a grown man.” —Jody Wilgoren and Jim Rutenberg, “Missteps Pulled a Surging Dean Back to Earth,” New York Times, Feb. 1, 2004.

For his efforts to puzzle through what went wrong in the Dean movement, a gold star to my colleague at NYU, Clay Shirky. His latest analysis, “Exiting Deanspace,” is the most fluid and convincing I have seen. Shirky writes about software and how people use it. Like others, he is interested in the Net effect, and why it did not develop into votes. So his piece is not only “what went wrong for Dean and his supporters?” but also “how was it concealed from view?”

He freely admits he was fooled by appearances, along with many others impressed by Dean and the political discoveries of his people. (I include myself.) And for two weeks after the crash, the world of appearances was still fooling Shirky. It led him to a question that misled: “how could such a successful campaign suddenly do so badly?” This assumes a reversal of fortune— from high flyer to dead in the water.

But maybe Dean never flew, and there was no crash. This is Shirky’s idea. “Dean’s campaign was never actually successful,” he writes, laying out the “mirage” thesis.

It did many of the things successful campaigns do, of course — got press and raised money and excited people and even got potential voters to aver to campaign workers and pollsters that they would vote for him when the time came. When the time came, however, they didn’t. The campaign never succeeded at making Howard Dean the first choice of any group of voters he faced, and it seems unlikely to do so today.

Supporters of Dean lived in a bubble of expectations. And Shirky believes that “the way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.” Dean was never ahead, except in the heads of people misreading the election and misinterpreting progress in technology.

“So how did this collective delusion of Dean’s front-runner-hood happen?” Shirky asks, being himself a participant. “And what if anything did the use of the Internet contribute to it?” A lot rides on that question. David Weinberger, a Dean supporter, writer and occasional consultant: “That the Internet helped fuel the delusional belief seems undeniable to me. How it fueled it Clay lays out beautifully. How much it fueled it is much harder to figure out, and is deeply important because if we get it wrong, we will set false assumptions about what the Net is good for in political campaigns.”

Their point, I believe, is that political writers, Net thinkers, insiders, journalists, and campaign participants should sift carefully through the Dean crash (if it was that) because the lessons of this episode will figure in the next. I expect a lot of that will go on at the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In coming up (Feb. 9) in San Diego, where Joe Trippi will keynote. (Speakers include the founders, Joi Ito, Mitch Ratcliffe, Doc Searls, Halley Suitt, Ed Cone, Dave Weinberger, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen.)

Shirky thinks Dean “accidentally created a movement instead of a campaign.” The movement seemed huge because Net advances had dramatically lowered the “coordination costs” for like-minded people to come together. (Just as locating small donors had become easier if you knew how to do it.) The passionate believers in Dean could now find each other way more efficiently, and this gave the movement its social momentum.

But it was a misleading sign. “Fervor isn’t votes,” Shirky writes, aware that he is stating the obvious. Momentum and effort and activity aren’t votes, either. Money isn’t votes. And given the potency of the new organizing tools, a successful movement, with lots of activity, may actually obscure a campaign that is failing with voters:

The easy thing to explain is why Dean lost – the voters didn’t like him. The hard thing to explain is why we (and why Dean himself) thought he’d win, and easily at that. The bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well… It was also inflated by our desire to see someone get it right, a fact that made us misunderstand the facts on the ground.

It can be difficult to admit your desire got in the way of a cooler analysis, which turned out to be right. But then activating people’s desire for a smarter and better politics was one of the things Dean did well. “My theory about Dean’s demise,” writes Stephen Johnson, author of Emergence. “He got fewer votes than the other guys.” He explains:

The Dean campaign’s use of the internet has forever changed the way that candidates 1) organize their supporters, and 2) raise their money. But I would argue that it has had almost no effect—and probably will continue to have little to no effect—on the way ordinary voters ultimately decide who to vote for. That decision is still largely made via face-to-face inspection, where possible, and then via television, where you get an approximation, however filtered, of that face-to-face encounter.

One way to be right about what the Internet can do is to lower your expectations. Weblogger Jeff Jarvis, also a journalist and Internet division head for the Newhouse empire, was quoted in Salon on this theme. “We all learned lessons in Iowa,” he said. “Howard Dean learned the biggest one — stop being an asshole. We learned about the insular nature of this medium. We learned not to blow up the bubble, not to put too much emphasis on what this thing can do. It can do miraculous, wonderful things, but it can’t win an election. It can change the world, but it can’t win an election.”

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, a journalist who has written on the politics of technology, said the Dean campaign did change the world in one big way:

Internet enthusiasts had long theorized that the Net could help route around the broadcast media’s headlock on both the electoral process and the broader definition of the acceptable boundaries of political discourse; Dean and his supporters made it happen. Whether Dean’s campaign somehow manages a comeback or, more likely, fades in coming weeks is utterly irrelevant to this accomplishment.

Former political reporter for the New York Times, former host of The Connection on Boston public radio, former mayoral candidate, and current audio blogger Chris Lydon develops the same point: Dean was a challenge to major institutions in the news media, even though he was not competing for their position:

His first contribution was simply to sound an anti-war alarm that institutional media had muffled. Millions of people knew intuitively that his warning was wise; millions more know it now. He began with a bold exercise in definition—a job of critical journalism that our big media don’t perform these days. In large dimensions and small (like his chippy defiance of Tim Russert), Dean’s campaign was a critique of the somnolent self-satisfaction that runs through our housecat press. And people loved him for it.”

Here is where I pick up the thread. The self-satisfaction begins in the press’s claim to have mastered presidential campaigns, in the sense of knowing how the system works, “what it takes” to get elected. Journalists see themselves as political realists who don’t have a horse in the race. They tend to identify with those who have a disciplined, professional interest in campaigning— and lots of inside knowledge to share. Psychologically, this puts them closer to the professionals they write about than the public, whose bombardment by message the professionals are busy planning.

That’s how political consultants became media stars. When you look at elections and see a horse race, you also see a consultant, handler, manager, or pollster as rich in the sort of knowledge you need to understand what’s going in this election cycle. But it is only professionals who live elections as “cycles.”

Common experience isn’t like that. By absorbing, broadcasting and recycling the political insider’s take on things, journalists have taught themselves to look at the public as a semi-predictable mass of potentially swayable voters, who will respond to the right message. Drip by drip, drop by drop, this acidic way of understanding people begins to influence the journalism you give them.

Strange information loops result. The public is told how the candidates plan to position themselves (“He’s running as…”) News stories appear about candidates trying to influence news stories about candidates because newsy expectations in Iowa are themselves making news in Iowa. Things like that.

Insiders can explain this (sometimes absurd) world best because they make their living from trying to win in it. Journalists, who are making a living at this too, have to report the race. The two groups understand each other, need each other, and see each other on the campaign trail. They know how to work together to glamorize inside knowledge without conspiring to do so. Maybe it’s simpler. They have drinks together, and talk politics. It has an effect.

The national press has claimed mastery of the presidential campaign, not because it knows all, but because it knows—and it quotes—the people who really do know politics, from the inside. These are the pros. The rest of its knowledge comes from trooping to New Hampshire and Iowa and other places the candidates are found to see them live and watch them interact. Inside Baseball and Boys on the Bus: the self-satisfaction Lydon writes about is partly a complacency about these two knowledge streams.

“In other words, just about everything you heard and read about the Iowa caucuses in November and December was wrong.” Howard Kurtz, a brand name journalist, wrote that in the Washington Post. It’s a stark statement of failure from inside the citadel of the press. If almost everything done by journalists in Iowa was wrong, then it must have something to do with their knowledge—the instruments for grasping reality in journalism—and not just the facts.

William Powers, press critic for the National Journal and another Washington journalist, adds to Kurtz’s charge:

The media appear clueless and insecure, unable to decide what matters most, or should matter, about any given candidate. His policy positions? His legislative achievements? His polls? How much money he raises and from whom? His childhood? His temperament? His marriage? His Botox rumors? The odd sounds he makes at pep rallies?

Powers thinks this cluelessness (a theme I also developed) has causes: the two knowledge streams the press favors. One is traditional: trailing the candidates around. “Watch Candidate X as he bounds into the requisite greasy spoon, shakes the requisite hands, and makes the requisite small talk about the requisite big issues,” he writes.

At the other, postmodern extreme is a different kind of journalism entirely: the dark inside knowledge that all top-flight political reporters possess about how presidential campaigns really work. Based largely on the media’s running conversation with pollsters, consultants, campaign managers, and other hardened political pros, this macro-level strategic coverage has effectively opened up the smoke-filled rooms of old and let the rest of us see what goes on in there.

Both methods—going out with the candidates, tuning into the mechanics—have their virtues, he says. At times they go well together and increase our understanding. But neither approaches the mystery point in politics, the alchemy between people and pol in “that very public space where candidates go to connect with the mass of voters.” (Note that if the real election story happens here, it is not an “inside” story.)

Although it has other stages, this “very public space” is largely the space of the media. “There’s no Nielsen system for tracking the day-to-day media performance of candidates, no reliable way of knowing how each of them is registering at any given moment in the brains and emotions of the voting 100 million, ” Powers writes. “The closest approximation is the polls, and we know how reliable those are.”

Yes, we do. The national press lives in a bubble of expectations too, and it did in Iowa. It has its own aging “software”—the horse race, inside baseball, the boys and girls on the bus, spin alley, polls upon tracking polls, the money race, the endorsement derby, the Russert primary, the expectations game, the gotcha question, “he’s running as…”—all designed to take the mystery out of campaign politics, to smooth it out, make it more predictable and thus reportable with existing tools. And with ideas carried over from previous campaigns going back at least to 1976 and Jimmy Carter’s surprise in Iowa.

But the journalist’s software (I also call it press think) sent all the wrong signals, and this led to system failure. The master narrative flunked its Iowa test. Everything you heard and read from us was wrong, said Howard Kurtz on January 19. (“The Pundits Blow It.”) Shirky wrote of the Deaniacs: “The way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.” And the way campaign coverage was organized helped inflate and sustain a news bubble that lasted the same length of time. Clearly, the two bubbles influenced each other.

The press bubble was blown around the figure, “front runner in Iowa and New Hampshire,” a narrative device activated by Dean’s poll numbers and bank account. The idea of always having a frontrunner is software— a kind of weekly planner for the press. But frontrunner also organizes the story overall. The other candidates fall in place behind Mr. Front, and their roles can then be cast.

If the frontrunner is big news for a while, then frontrunner stumbles becomes an irresistable storyline. For that’s bigger news. Not only do we get this every four years; we get the savvy predictions that we’ll get it, as if the turn in the story (the frontrunner’s fall) already existed and was merely awaiting the contingent facts.

This is the inflate-to-deflate cycle that is now apparent to all as a perversity of campaign coverage. Candidates talk ruefully about “being labled the frontunner” because they know how deadly the construction can be. Powers is right to call this a post-modern moment. But it’s also one of those times in politics when words are deeds, and it is journalists doing them.

And that’s how we got a front runner who was never ahead.

Other Voices at the Crash Site

Dave Winer, “Howard Dean is not a Soap Bar:”

He did raise a lot of money on the Internet, and that’s interesting, for sure, and he taught us so much, and if he had gone all the way, I believe he would have survived the onslaught of CNN, ABC and NBC, who were his real competitors, not the other candidates for the Democratic nomination…The Dean campaign taught us that you can’t use the Internet to launch into a successful television campaign to win primaries. By raising money to run ads you play into the gatekeepers, who for obvious financial reasons, have a lot at stake in the money continuing to flow through their bank accounts. At some point he wouldn’t need them. If Dean didn’t get it, they did. So they proved that in 2004 at least, they still get a veto on who runs for President. To Blitzer, Sawyer and Russert, to Viacom, GE, Time-Warner and Disney, Kerry seems safe, but Dean is dangerous, he routes around them, he goes direct.

In “The Counter-Revolution Has Been Televised” John Perry Barlow writes:

It may be that, once again, we have met the enemy and he is us. By pre-announcing the possibility that this might be The Internet Election, we issued fair warning both to the traditional media and the big money politicos that a threat was at hand.

If Dean could actually raise enough money online to match in aggregate the much larger and fewer donations Bush has bought from the plutocrats with his tax cuts, it would shake the system to its rotten core. Worse, if information from the Web and the Blogosphere were to start defining enough personal realities to contest the great mass of tube-zombies at the polls, the gazillions presently spent on television campaign ads would start to wither. An enormous amount of power and money might be at stake. had them worried too.

Doc Searls uses a conversation with a friend to observe as follows:

There is an enormous resolve out there to recall George W. Bush… neither the voters nor the democratic machine cares as much about who started the recall as they do about the recall itself — just like we saw here in California, where the recall started by Ron Unz was finished by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This indeed makes the primaries a referendum on electability. These voters are realists. Some of them use the Net, but all of them watch TV. If the TV wants to put Kerry in the ring, then Kerry’s the man, for better or worse.

If the counter-revolution will be televised, these voters say, then the revolution will be televised too. The job now is to get Kerry in condition.

Anyway, I kinda nodded along with all of this. It made sense to me. But the Net is still there, connecting voters in more ways than ever. And connecting governance as well.

The Net is the people’s medium. It’s where understanding is produced as well as consumed. In the long run the Net, and the people who use it best, will win.

I just hope I live to see it.

CalPundit: “this time I think the internet enthusiasts are being too hard on themselves.”

Look at what the internet accomplished for Howard Dean: it raised a ton of money and generated loads of activist enthusiasm, which in turn bought a huge ground staff, encouraged endorsements from two of the biggest unions around, allowed the campaign to saturate the airwaves with advertising, boosted him to #1 in the polls, and helped fund a 50-state organization that was the envy of every other candidate.

In other words, the internet was instrumental in helping build all the traditional mechanisms that elect a candidate. The fact that it still didn’t work just means that the candidate wasn’t good enough. After all, Phil Gramm raised a boatload of money in 1996 and then disappeared without a trace. It happens.

Mitch Ratcliffe: “Dean grossly underestimated the role voters want to play in this campaign and we hear it each time he urges people to “join me” or “join us” to create institutional change. Voters want to lead this change, not follow. The “I have a scream speech” showed that he was willing to ignore most of America; it is the fact that he didn’t turn his attention to the national audience when he had it—when he could speak to ordinary Americans—that betrays a failure of imagination.”

Joseph Menn, “Dean Backers Debate Internet ‘Echo Chamber.’” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7.

Ed Cone: “From where I’m sitting, the Internet aspects were the things Dean’s campaign got right. Figuring out how to translate that organizational and financial strength into success in the field was the problem.”

Michael Cudahy and Jock Gill at Greater Democracy: “Mesmerized by their own Internet magic , the Dean organization, on the other hand, appeared to forget that politics is about listening — in diners and church basements — to the concerns and ambitions of real people. Excited by the virtual conversations on their Internet blog, the Dean campaign failed to appreciate the critical role of effective, local organizing.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 7, 2004 1:33 AM   Print


Great essay, and it raises an essential question. Was there ever really a frontrunner in this race? Does the label 'frontrunner' even make sense? Even now, I bet if Hillary jumped in, polls would show her at comparable or higher levels to Kerry.

When I go to a restaurant, I don't pick a dish, call it the frontrunner, and then mentally challenge other dishes against it. It's just not how I make decisions. Why is our political press optimized around this decision matrix, or software, as you put it? Can it be optimized around anything else?

As far as I can tell, Howard Dean as Howard Dean was never the frontrunner in the primaries, but Howard Dean as the most differentiated Democrat, and therefore the one most likely to beat Bush, was the frontrunner. When other Democrats started echoing his vicious attacks on Bush, the choice became a lot harder for voters, because the candidates all looked similar (and pretty good).

How do you differentiate the candidates from each other? Still today, I talked to a friend who can't tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Without a way to educate voters on the choices they are making, how can voters make good choices? Howard Dean changed the country, the debate, and politics; he just didn't win an election.

Posted by: MattS at February 7, 2004 5:04 PM | Permalink

The great tragedy of science," the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley lamented, is "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." By that standard, political science is going through a homely phase. It's not even three weeks since the Iowa caucuses, and voters have wiped out several decades' worth of conventional wisdom about presidential primaries.

So sayeth the New York Times' John Tierney over at over at the New York Times' new political blog. Yes, I said political blog. He also has a few words on Dean.

Posted by: Grant Dunham at February 7, 2004 6:53 PM | Permalink

Clay Shirky’s Exiting Deanspace is good but IS NOT a landmark essay.

The main reason for the “failing” of Howard Dean had to do with the THE AWESOME DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF THE CORPORATE POWER MEDIA

Corporate America decided that Dean must be savaged, and its media sector made it happen.

Read this editorial that has excellent perspective ( more than Shirkey )

As you’re reading it repeat 10 times slowly.

It’s the media Stupid.

Posted by: It’s the media Stupid. at February 7, 2004 11:48 PM | Permalink

I agree with ITMStupid, above. I think these folks are WAY over-thinking this Dean thing. It's already been pointed out that when Dean said he was going to break up the media conglomerates, his goose was cooked. The way he was treated after that was obvious. The Internet IS a powerful new form of communication, but it is still in its infancy as media go, and the TV/Press media are all powerful right now in shaping public opinion.

We heard tons about the newly involved internet hordes, but seem to forget that most of the American people still get there news the old fashioned ways (if that).
And of the millions who ARE 'online' most of them are still pretty much clueless.

Dean was right, we need to return the news media to their rightful place as watchdogs of the govt. intead of lapdogs.

Posted by: Pseudolus the ClamDigger at February 8, 2004 9:10 AM | Permalink

OK, I admit it: as representatives of Corporate Media, my brethren on the campaign trail deliberately destroyed the campaign of Howard Dean.

His failure had nothing to do with his inability to persuade people to vote for him despite his vast bank account and army of supporters.

It was us. He threatened us so we crushed him.

If you believe this you might as well join the right-wing ranters' belief that the "liberal media" is the culprit in everything that ails society, including their own failure to get more traction for their ideology.

Looking for easy scapegoats is the road to ruin, folks. Better to face up to the fact that your guy didn't have it this time so you find a way to make sure he does have it the next time.

The only real scapegoat is within us: our inherent desire to see things as we wish them to be rather than how they actually are.

Posted by: tom mangan at February 8, 2004 11:06 AM | Permalink

Dean blew this one royally. It's one thing to raise a lot of money and go nowhere(or spend a lot, like Steve Forbes, and go nowhere), but that rarely happens unless you are either a flat-out unappealing candidate with a good money machine. Dean, this was not.

Instead, what I've heard is that Dean had 500 paid staffers. 500. That's got to be a record for a campaign. What do you do with that many people? Put paid teams in 50 states? All that payroll did was eat up an impressive amount of money(who has ever spent over $18 million in the fourth quarter of the year before an election?) that could have been used as fall-back cash to run ads either against other candidates in later-round states or against Bush. Thus, when he lost Iowa and New Hampshire, he was out of money and luck. If he had managed to retain $10 million, last Tuesday would have been closer, and he'd probably have won at least WA.

Then again, there's always the scream...

Posted by: Taft at February 8, 2004 5:58 PM | Permalink

I concur with the above poster that the BlackCommentator essay is an important read, if only on how the mainstream media is viewed from the outside.

It probably goes further than both the "legit" media (of which I once counted myself a member, before defecting from to work as an environmental activist) and its "legit" watchdogs want to go. But in my opinion it's on the money. The article cites at length a pithy Chris Bowers diary entry on Daily Kos, worth repeating here:

In order to reduce the increasing control of the Political Opinion Complex over our political process, we need to begin developing and strengthening institutions strong enough to counter its current influence. Specifically, we need to further develop networks where political information can be mass distributed outside of the POC's control. Not long ago, there were several such outside institutions. Unions and churches were a far more pervasive part of people's lives. Newspapers and periodicals were significantly more numerous and varied in their political outlook. Public television and radio had far larger audiences. Political parties and societies were either machines or at least overflowing with active members. All of these now weakened institutions once served as means to perform end-runs outside the control of the corporate media and the Political Opinion Complex. Engagement with the political process through means other than television was far greater. However, those institutions no longer serve as significant counter-weights to the strength of the Political Opinion Complex.

For those who have trouble accepting such critiques from grassroots sources (a habit I think the media will have to reexamine, as the blogosphere grows in breadth and depth), similar points are made in less explosive terms in the New York Review of Books article by Michael Massing at:

My own analysis of the various theories of Dean's Iowa implosion -- giving weight to posts by Dean's own supporters on BlogforAmerica, not just mass media sources -- is archived at the link below, or just click my URL:

Posted by: Sam Pratt at February 8, 2004 11:46 PM | Permalink

The Black Commentator has it right. Michael Massing’s piece about selling the war puts the complicity of the press down to a desire to avoid causing their readers too much discomfort.

The contrast between the press's feistiness since the end of the war and its meekness before it highlights one of the most entrenched and disturbing features of American journalism: its pack mentality. Editors and reporters don't like to diverge too sharply from what everyone else is writing. When a president is popular and a consensus prevails, journalists shrink from challenging him. Even now, papers like the Times and the Post seem loath to give prominent play to stories that make the administration look too bad. Thus, stories about the increasing numbers of dead and wounded in Iraq —both American and Iraqi—are usually consigned to page 10 or 12, where they won't cause readers too much discomfort.

Posted by: antiphone at February 9, 2004 2:39 PM | Permalink

There are precious few rewards for being right against the conventional wisdom. It's almost another facet of the "horse race" coverage. That is, since the race wouldn't be run for monay months, accurate handicapping had no benefit to it, in constrast to the build-up/tear-down storyline.

Now, of course, we can have a conference on the storyline, and it again feeds on itself that way, to the detriment of of any accuracy.

That is, some voice above are right, and some wrong - but there's no incentive to sort out which is which 1/2 :-)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 9, 2004 5:04 PM | Permalink

Tom Mangan's sarcasm is almost as silly as the rant about the POC or whatever we call the conventional wisdom of the mediacrity.

Dean's cataclysmic fall in Iowa can be documented in six main areas, and many smaller ones.

First and foremost, an onslaught of attacks that he was too negative, too weird, too unstable, gaffe prone, undisciplined. These RNC talking points were echoed over and over by the media and his rivals, and preconditioned Iowa voters to judge him harshly.

Second, the widely reported rebroadcast of Dean's Canadian criticism of the Iowa caucus system, which some have credited with a quick 10 point drop in the polls in Iowa.

Third, the negative campaigns by Gephardt and Dean backfired and hurt both candidates badly.

Fourth, the campaign failed on the conventional campaign level, organizationally, in its television ads, in its overkill on the phone and with out of state volunteers.

Fifth, Kerry and Edwards coopted Dean's message, and sold the message better through conventional media.

Six, voters looked very very carefully at the candidates as reflected in the media with a strategic understanding of who would project best through television, and therefore be most electable.

With a scant 18% of the vote in Iowa, after monumental work, Dean was finished.

Attempting to discuss this without looking at the role of the broadcast and print media is nonsensical. Why was Dean gaffe-prone instead of straight-talking ? Why was he angry, outraged, even outrageous, rather than someone articulating the feelings of Democratic voters to the point that his competitors imitated him?

For Deaniacs, the good news is that Howard sacrificed himself so that the party can win in November. Rove and his minions shot their wad and won't recover. Liberal and independent voters distrust the media completely, and Kerry is not going to be Gored the way Dean was.

Posted by: Aeolus at February 9, 2004 8:55 PM | Permalink

Just want to point out to the fans of the Black Commentator piece that I did go over there and check it out.

I have to admit that I wondered for a minute or two if the critics are right and I'm the one with the blinders on. The thing is, I've never seen a "The Media Did It!" theory that jibes with the character/behavior of the media people I've worked with over the past 20 years. It takes real people to be these diabolical conspirators, and as one wag said, anybody who believes in media conspiracies never saw three editors trying to decide which stories go on the front page.

Posted by: tom mangan at February 10, 2004 12:34 AM | Permalink

Tom: The media aspect here is the old malice/stupidity argument. I think it's true that decisions about what is relevant, at a *high-level*, can have a profound effect - just consider how JFK's philandering was treated versus Bill Clinton's. But being crushed under a stampede of cattle, all moo-ing after the GOTCHA, is no less fatal than being hunted down as a supposed Enemy Of The Status Quo. Just less romantic.

So while the "conspiracy theorists" make for easy targets, and Dean was not done-in at the whim of the media, I wouldn't let the media coverage off the hook entirely, on the basis of not being a willed conspiracy, but a rampaging herd.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 10, 2004 2:08 AM | Permalink

Judging by the number of people who could have seen Dean making a speech compared to the number who got their information from the media, it has to be clear that more opinions were formed from media sources than from the real thing. The next question has to be: why did the media report in the tone which they used? And we know from the percentages that Dean received an overwhelmingly negative press. Yes, we can blame the American public for not asking enough - or the right questions. Now, when asked why a person voted for Kerry, every report which I have heard says that that person has no anwer beyond "he is electable." And why? Even if you go to Kerry's website, you will find nothing but generalities. When Kerry hit the news, it took me very little time to find out that he was an irresponsible senator who had shown no initiative, no passionate hard work, and who had voted mostly the Republican line. I was immediately scared. But, if I think the press did Dean in, it's just as clear that they have upheld a Kerry who is frighteningly vulnerable. And why?
Amidst the cheap soundbites and sensationalism, this is a press which, like the rest of America, has forgotten about values beyond those of money. Honesty, intelligence, statesmanship, courage, and public dedication - which media source recognizes and upholds these values?
Poor Dean. He thought he would have a chance by doing the right thing. His biggest presidential hero is Harry Truman. Would Truman win in today's milieu?
Debby Nicely, sometime teacher of history

Posted by: Debby Nicely at February 10, 2004 11:45 PM | Permalink

Hello All: If you want the truth - Please read on... I will attempt to refrain from saying AH HA!

"Mr Dean made statements last year about wanting to break up media

The latest news (last article below) confirms what happens if you are running for President of the United States and say something like that...

URL: ( )
MediaChannel is a media issues supersite, featuring criticism, breaking
news, and investigative reporting from hundreds of organizations worldwide.
As the media watch the world, we watch the media.

Contact Information:
575 8th Avenue
New York, NY l0018
phone: 212-246-0202
fax: 212-246-2677

And now for the Dean campaign. David Podvin offers this speculation:

by David Podvin, 2/1/04

On December 1, 2003, Howard Dean was ahead by twenty points in the polls
when he appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews and said, "We're going to
break up the giant media enterprises." This pronouncement went far beyond
the governor's previous public musings about possibly re-regulating the
communications industry, and amounted to a declaration of war on the
corporations that administer the flow of information in the United States.

It was an extraordinarily noble and dangerous thing to do: when he
advocated a truly free press, Dr. Dean was provoking the corrupt media
conglomerates that control what most Americans see and hear and read, and
thereby control what most Americans think.

The media giants quickly responded by crushing his high-flying campaign
with the greatest of ease. This time, they didn't even have to invent a
scandal in order to achieve the desired result; merely by chanting the word
"unelectable" at maximum volume, the mainstream media maneuvered Democratic
voters into switching their support to someone who poses no threat to the
status quo.

John Kerry is a member in good standing of the feeble
Daschle/Biden/Feinstein wing of the Democratic Party, a group of politicians
whose disagreements with the mercantile elite tend to be merely rhetorical.
Any doubts about Kerry's level of commitment to his stated progressive
beliefs were conclusively answered in 1994 when he proclaimed himself
"delighted" with the Republican takeover of Congress. The media oligarchy
knows that a general election race between Kerry and George W. Bush will
insure a continuation of its monopoly, regardless of who wins.

The news cartel had always been hostile to Dean; independent surveys
revealed that he had received the most negative coverage of any candidate
except Dennis Kucinich (the only other contender who strongly favors
mandatory media divestment). But after his statement on Hardball, reporting
about Dean abruptly came to an end and was replaced by supposition. The
existing conjecture in political circles about his ability to win was
transformed into a thunderous media mantra that drowned out all other issues

By mid-December, the news divisions of the four major television networks
were reporting as fact that Dean was unelectable. The print media echoed the
theme; on December 17, the Washington Post printed a front-page story that
posited Dean could not win the presidency. The Post quickly followed up with
an onslaught of articles and editorials reasserting that claim. Before the
month was over, Dean's lack of electability had been highlighted in The New
York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune,
the Los Angeles Times, and every other major paper in the United States.

As 2004 began, Time and Newsweek simultaneously ran cover stories
emphasizing that Dean was unelectable. In the weeks before the Iowa caucus,
the ongoing topic of discussion on the political panel shows was that Dean
was unelectable. National talk radio shows repeatedly stressed that Dean was
unelectable. The corporate Internet declared that Dean was unelectable. And
the mainstream media continued with the storyline that Dean was unelectable
right up until Iowans attended their caucuses. Iowa Democrats could not
watch a television or listen to a radio or read a newspaper or go online
without learning that Howard Dean was unelectable.

It was the classic Big Lie. Through the power of repetition, the corporate
media - which has been wrong about who would win the popular vote in two of
the last three presidential elections - inculcated the public with the
message that Dean could not win. Pollster John Zogby wrote, "Howard Dean was
the man of the year, but that was 2003. In 2004, electability has become the
issue and John Kerry has benefited."

The unexamined factor is how electability became "the issue". It had never
before been the dominant consideration in Democratic primaries, because
voters had focused on policy rather than crystal ball gazing. Electability
was this campaign's version of "Al Gore claimed to have invented the
Internet": it was a media contrivance that was used to manipulate voters.

On January 19, Democratic caucus goers in Iowa - who were the initial
intended audience for this propaganda disguised as reportage -
overwhelmingly repudiated Dean, telling pollsters they believed he was
unelectable. Later that evening, Dean yelled encouragement to his supporters
at a pep rally, an incident that provided the pretext for the coup de grâce.

During the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary, the media
obsessed about Dean's "bizarre" rally incident, adding "un-presidential" and
"emotionally unstable" to its descriptions of the governor. The unified
message was that Dean had self-destructed. When he finished a distant second
in New Hampshire, journalists and pundits hailed the defeat as confirmation
of their premise that Dean had always been unelectable.

Yet there had been no tangible basis for that assertion. At the beginning
of 2004, a poll conducted by Time magazine showed that Dean trailed Bush by
only six points. That was a smaller deficit than Gore faced shortly before
the general election in 2000, and he wound up getting the most popular
votes. Undaunted by this evidence to the contrary, reporters adhered to the
motif that Dean had absolutely no chance.

Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times is one of the many deceitful corporate
scribes who obediently supplemented the "Dean is unelectable" message with
its companion lie, "Dean is emotionally unstable", although she was a little
slow on the uptake. In a report she authored the night of the pep rally,
Gold wrote, "We will not give up!" (Dean) declared, his gravelly voice
barely audible over the din of applause inside the '70s-style disco hall.
"We will not quit, now or ever! We want our country back!"

But twenty-four hours later, when it had become clear that the official
corporate media version of events was to be Dean had gone berserk, Gold
omitted all reference to the noise over which the Democrat had been
shouting: "Dean leapt onto the stage, tore off his suit jacket and rolled up
his sleeves. His face beet-red, he punched his fists in the air and spoke in
a near-guttoral (sic) roar. The frenetic response to his poor showing struck
many as inappropriate."

Gold's colleague at the Times, Ronald Brownstein, joined the chorus of
supposedly objective journalists who expressed relief after witnessing Dean'
s apparent demise. Brownstein has written that it is "reassuring" to see
Democrats abandon Dean. And to whom is it reassuring? It is reassuring to
Brownstein's employers at the Tribune Company, which recently reported
record earnings as a result of media deregulation implemented by Bush.

Howard Fineman, the author of the Newsweek attack on Dean, has now written
an analysis of why Dean fell so far, so fast. One of the reasons Fineman
cites is that Dean has been too "defiant". And whom has the former governor
of Vermont been defying? When Dean advocated breaking up the media giants,
he was defying Fineman's employers at the Washington Post Company, which
recently reported record earnings as a result of media deregulation
implemented by Bush.

Those Democrats who have been hoodwinked into believing Dean
self-destructed by yelling at a pep rally should recall how the major media
handled Bush's drunk-driving arrest that a small Maine newspaper revealed
right before the 2000 election. It was an incident that on the surface
seemed as though it should have been politically fatal - the candidate who
had based his campaign on the vow that "I will restore honor and dignity to
the Oval Office" was proven to have lied about drunkenly driving off a road.

Demonstrably, it is never what a politician does that creates a scandal;
it is always whether the television networks and major metropolitan
newspapers respond to the incident with saturation coverage. When a
presidential candidate who was committed to deregulating the corporate media
got caught lying about breaking the law, the importance of the event was
minimized. When a presidential candidate who was committed to breaking up
the corporate media got caught shouting at a pep rally, the importance of
the event was maximized.

The scream that had the greatest impact on the Democratic presidential
campaign was not Dean's gonzo yell in Iowa, but the deafening roar of deceit
that emanated from Corporate America's media subsidiaries. The downfall of
the Democratic frontrunner was not self-induced; it was self-defense. Dean
had threatened to mess with General Electric, Viacom, Disney, the New York
Times Company, the Washington Post Company, et al., so they messed with him

Such corporate vigilance is inconsistent with the principles of American
democracy, but welcome to the real world. In a dictatorship, the tiny
minority of well-armed people maintains absolute power by intimidating the
vast majority of unarmed people. In a democracy that is populated by
citizens who get their information from a few greedy companies, the tiny
minority of well-informed people maintains absolute power by manipulating
the vast majority of misinformed people. When you control what people think,
there is no need to point a gun at them.

In recent years, corporations have dramatically increased their power at
the expense of the average citizen (and with the apathetic complicity of the
average citizen). Big Business has evolved from merely being a vital part of
society into being master of both the political system and the means of
communication. As a result, the boundaries of the national debate are now
defined by the interests of the Fortune 500, and the malefactors of great
wealth have become increasingly brazen. Americans used to laugh at banana
republics, where the ruling elites are so shamelessly debauched that judges
go on duck hunting trips with the politicians whose cases they are scheduled
to review, but it doesn't seem quite so funny anymore.

After the last presidential election, the corporate functionaries on the
Supreme Court overrode the will of the people by empowering the man who had
lost. It was an awkward procedure, so the process has been refined. In 2004,
the mainstream media is rapidly disqualifying all the candidates who fail to
honor the business agenda, thus eliminating the need for another
controversial judicial intervention.

Howard Dean's campaign now lies in ruins because he chose to confront the
multinational conglomerates that run this country. If Dean is so resilient
that he fights his way back into contention, the Fourth Estate will be ready
to batter him again. In the United States of America, people who pose a
threat to the reigning corporate establishment are destroyed. Or, as the
Soviets used to put it, emotionally unstable individuals who deviate from
the party line are guilty of engaging in "self-destruction". ( )


The Guardian's Owen Gibson is reporting today that
major domos in Medialand are among John Kerry's donors:

URL: (,7497,1144464,00.html )

Media chiefs back Kerry campaign
by Owen Gibson, Tuesday February 10, 2004, 8.30am

Kerry: Media chiefs have pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000

Fresh from his latest win in Maine, the favourite to challenge George
Bush for the US presidency has secured the financial support of some of the
most powerful media moguls in the world.

As John Kerry's campaign to secure the Democrat nomination - and with
it a crack at the White House - continues to gather pace, it has emerged
that it is being bankrolled by key executives from News Corporation,
MTV-owner Viacom and Sony.

The victory in Maine, Mr Kerry's 10th out of the 12 primaries in the
opening weeks of the Democrat selection campaign, confirmed his position as
overwhelming favourite to take on President Bush in November's presidential

Unsurprisingly, the donation from News Corp's boardroom came not from
chairman Rupert Murdoch, a committed Republican, but from the company's
chief operating officer, Peter Chernin.

Mr Chernin, one of Mr Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants, is among
several media chiefs who have pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000
to support the Vietnam war veteran's campaign for the White House.

Others who have pledged to raise more than $50,000 include the Viacom
chief executive, Sumner Redstone, and Sony chairman Howard Stringer, whose
name has recently been linked with the vacant chairmanships at ITV and the

Most of the money raised from these contributors will have to be
raised through business associates, relatives and friends as individuals can
only give a total of $4,000 each to presidential candidates - $2,000 during
the primaries and another $2,000 during a general election.

US political commentators have speculated that Mr Kerry has enjoyed
the support of the media community in an effort to head off the challenge of
Howard Dean, who has fallen back in the race despite being the frontrunner
before the primaries began. Mr Dean made statements last year about wanting
to break up media conglomerates.

New figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission, correct up to
the end of December 2003, show that Mr Chernin and the president of the
Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, both gave the maximum
$2,000 to Mr Kerry's campaign.

Mr Redstone gave $1,000 to Mr Kerry, $3,000 to the re-election bid of
the senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, and $5,000 to the Democratic
senatorial campaign committee. Mel Karmazin, the chief operating officer at
Viacom, also gave $4,000 to Mr Daschle.

Mr Murdoch, meanwhile, contributed $2,000 to the re-election as
senator of Republican John McCain, who is chairman of the influential senate
commerce committee, which regulates the media.

Contributors to president George W Bush's re-election campaign
included the Time Warner chief executive, Richard Parsons, who handed over
$2,000, and the Clear Channel chief executive, Lowry Mays.

Other noteworthy media executives who contributed to party funds
include the cable mogul and Liberty Media chief executive, John Malone, who
gave $2,000 to the Republican National Committee last year, and Disney's
under-fire chief executive Michael Eisner, who gave $5,000 to the National
Republican Congressional Committee.

To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email
or phone 020 7239 9857

If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly
"for publication". © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Posted by: Larry Davis at February 11, 2004 10:54 AM | Permalink

The story of Howard Dean's crash is also a story of two cultures. Although it seemed obvious enough to some of us out here in the Midwest, it was never picked up by the media, nor by our colleagues in the blogosphere and the East Coast. Dean's anti-war message had resonance, but there was no way that he would ever play well in the heartland. His anger and arrogance, the irony and the sneer, were all but certain to offend the majority of voters in Iowa (and Wisconsin, where I live). A different type of arrogance–a smugness that the only people worth listening to are a small group on the coast and in the blogosphere-was shared by both the press and those commentators who saw Dean's campaign as invincible. This cultural deafness is rooted in the classic condescension of the Coasts for those of us in the rest of the country, which now has a high tech as well as intellectual patina.
Jay Rosen is right. Those reporters who were whipsawed between the daily horserace and the deep inside baseball ignored the public. That was one of the earliest lessons of public journalism: talk to citizens, listen to what they actually say, and then report back on it. But that lesson seems to have been lost in the fascination with new toys that allow the talking classes to talk to to each other in an endless loop.

Posted by: Lew Friedland at February 11, 2004 12:44 PM | Permalink

Well, Tom, I never declared a media 'conspiracy' so that's a strawman. I said the media did him in, and some following posters have made the argument better than I can.

When any social aggregate moves in a particular direction, it doesn't have to be because everyone (or their leaders) got together and decided explicitly to go one way or the other. It can be because they were moved by pressures or attractions that they DON'T consciously recognize, but they move together anyway.

The controlling forces of the media that I see now are:
Fear (of being perceived as not patriotic)
Laziness/contentment with status quo
Personal ideology
Desire to be first with the news

There are probably many others.

Regardless of what moves the 'media', it is not arguable that the media move the people. Only an intentionally obtuse journalist can argue so. Why else are you in the media if it isn't to 'move' people?

I apologize if this is lame. Being a mere high school graduate, I might be suffering from Hubris to be commenting on an NYU journalism blog.

Posted by: Pseudolus the ClamDigger at February 11, 2004 8:19 PM | Permalink

Hubris? Not so, Psedolus. You are using this blog the way it is meant to be used and making your contribution. I would welcome it if you chose to use your real name, but even if you don't, your comments are welcomed and on point.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 11, 2004 9:06 PM | Permalink

And let me add, that Pseudolus is without a doubt the best of the neo-Classical blogonyms.

Posted by: Aeolus at February 13, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink

I am an enthusiastic (but not delusional) Dean supporter, first for his stand on the war, and second for the thousand flowers he allowed to bloom in his differently-structured campaign. Why was such a massive grassroots campaign so ineffective? The candidate and the campaign managers are of course in large part responsible, but I'm wondering about the structural shortcomings.

First, it's clear that one big problem was the candidate's lack of star power. Unfortunately, passion, practicality and thoughtfulness don't win without a winning smile. Conversely, I don't buy blame-the-media. Media pile-ons are a feature of the system. A successful politician withstands and then sheds a media stir-fry. Remeber the Teflon President?

Still, why were all those networked, netroots people unable to persuade?

As a Likely Democratic Voter in Wisconsin, I have been the target this week. I got three letters and three phone calls for Dean. I think the net effect on the electorate of letters and calls like the ones I got is at best zero.

The effect was zero because it was too easy, and the recipient knew it was too easy. Technologially easy, sure, but more importantly, socially easy. The grassroots letter-writer, pouring her heart out to newfound penpals in important districts, has no relationship capital with the recipient, and she is not putting her reputation at stake.

Weigh these two conversations that an Undecided Wisconsin Voter had last week.

Cafeteria at work

So, what'cha think about those candidates then

his union rep:
Well, Jim Grosbeak (Rootabaga County's Democratic Party chair) is for this Edwards guy.

Phone call at home

Hi, I'm Shawn, and I'm a college student in Atlanta. I'd like to encourage you to support Howard Dean

Now, it turns out that Jim Grosbeak doesn't do much of anything as local Democratic chair, but he did walk the Glomco picket with Undecided a few years ago, and anyway,he's been around for 16, 17 years. Shawn's been in politics 5 weeks.

The net persuaded 600,000 people to join up. Victory was as easy as drinking water. Now we see, in a world where local influence is rooted in school board meetings and Rotary fundraisers, the effortless campaign was as light as a feather.

Posted by: Christian Long at February 18, 2004 5:14 AM | Permalink

Do all the posters on this page exist in a world where Kerry's buddy Torricelli and freinds didn't run the Osama Ad?

Or where Joe Lieberman wasn't appearing on every radio and tv station calling Dean soft on defense?

Or where Kery wasn't given a free pass on his war vote even as he campaigned as Mr Nam?

Iowans watch a lot of tv and just like the majority of fat, lazy, moron Americans, they'll eat poison if the tv says it tastes like sugar. The major media repetatively called into question Dean's ability to beat Bush. Now we are stuck with a nominee who voted for 90% of Bush's agenda. Wait till the knives come out for Kerry!

Just don't blame the internet for it.

Posted by: Joseppi at February 23, 2004 6:30 PM | Permalink

From the Intro