This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

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

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

November 23, 2004

Reaching for Moral Values in the Post Election Debris

Guest writer (and blogger) Weldon Berger: "The press have missed a lot of big stories in recent years. In this instance, though, the herd stampeded itself into thinking they'd missed a story when in fact they hadn't." On the brief life of "moral values" as the big decider the press overlooked.

Weldon Berger is a freelance writer living in Hawaii and he writes Betty the Crow News—“Politics, satire and rants”—a journalism weblog that’s clever and informed. (He’s looking for helpers who write well so check into it.) I asked him to examine mea culpas from the press after Nov. 2nd, and he came back with this, on the brief life of “moral values” as the election factor the press was said to have missed. I added a brief commentary at the end. Thanks, Weldon.

Special to PressThink

Reaching for Moral Values in the Post Election Debris

by Weldon Berger
BTC News

One of the first big stories to emerge from the post-election debris was the unexpected importance of “moral values” to the outcome of the contest. Pre-election polls consistently showed Iraq, the economy and terrorism as the top three issues, but election-day exit polls showed a plurality of voters more concerned about moral values than any other single issue. These were results that left a number of national pundits and a host of prominent Democrats sputtering, and a number of conservative spokesfolk beaming triumphantly.

Thus the same people who moments earlier had been trashing the exit polls for suggesting a convincing Kerry victory throughout much of election day suddenly got exit-poll religion on the moral values question.

Pollster James Zogby, who had predicted a Kerry victory, pronounced himself “baffled,” adding that “there is a huge sense of elitism among pollsters and the media on the role of religion in our society.” In the same San Francisco Chronicle article, Ohio AFL-CIO leader Bill Burga, also expecting a Kerry win, appeared to regard conservative religious voters as some sort of mysterious woodland creatures, saying that his organization needed to “identify and locate those people” so that he and his could talk with them and theirs.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman—who narrowly lost out to the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller for New York Press columnist Matt Taibbi’s Wimblehack award—described himself to Howard Kurtz as an “indicted co-conspirator” in the media’s failure to understand Red America. Kurtz also got John Roberts from CBS, who equates moral values with wedge issues, on record as saying that “we all kind of missed the boat” on recognizing the importance of those issues and values. These were meant as confessions.

Sam Donaldson told an audience at the University of North Carolina: “Anybody who goes windsurfing as the great American sport doesn’t understand what they do in Omaha.” (In this instance, it’s the down-home Donaldson who’s clueless about Nebraska, home to the Toucan Open stop on the US Windsurfing national circuit. Not that Kerry ever referred to windsurfing as the great American sport.)

Salon’s tech editor, Andrew Leonard, blames his own otherness on the echo chamber effect (day pass or subscription required). NBC’s Brian Williams would no doubt admonish Leonard to get out and “spend a night in Dayton and Toledo and Cincinnati and Denver and in the middle of Kansas.” And Donaldson would warn Williams not to forget Omaha, whence the latter hails.

Chicago Tribune editorial desk deputy John McCormick pronounced it true: “The inescapable verdict is that many of us missed clue after clue to the true arc of Campaign 2004.” He adopted Jon Friedman’s theory (registration required) that the respective gross ticket sales of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” represented leading electoral indicators that the press ignored. Thus did the handy misleading symbol—moral values—beget other handy and misleading symbols.

It wasn’t just journalists. Democratic politicians and strategists clambered aboard. The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach spent 1800 words on a story quoting extensively from Gary Bauer and other conservative religious activists who weren’t shy about endorsing the concept of victory by moral values ambush. Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd said that Democrats “have lost the ability to connect with people’s value systems and we’re going to have to work to get that back,” a scenario Focus on the Family founder James Dobson finds unlikely so long as the likes of Patrick Leahy infest the Senate.

“I don’t know if he hates God,” Dobson said of Leahy in an interview with The Oklahoman, “but he hates God’s people.”

The big balloon popper, of course, is that almost all of the moral values angst and triumphalism can be chalked up to a poorly written exit poll. When all the numbers were crunched, the percentage of voters who identified moral values as their top priority in 2004 was about the same as in 2000.

This is not to say that religious conservatives aren’t exercising a great deal of clout, post election. They are. Pennsylvania’s Republican senator Arlen Specter had to subject himself to an exercise reminiscent of Soviet-style self-criticism in order to ascend to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after he made noises about wanting the president to send down Supreme Court nominees who weren’t disposed toward overturning Roe v. Wade. But the nature of Specter’s woes isn’t a mystery; it’s an unsubtle exercise in power politics requiring no explanatory gymnastics from the press.

The reality is that almost half of John Kerry’s votes came from red states, and much of the Bush margin of victory resulted from inroads he made in the blue states. A majority of voters support either gay marriage or civil unions, and a substantial majority support keeping abortion legal. And contrary to the Post’s Achenbach, there’s a really good chance that some red state John Deere dealers could manage an afternoon at Cafe Milano without breaking a sweat.

The press have missed a lot of big stories in recent years. We’ve seen grudging mea culpas from the New York Times and Washington Post (and now, the networks) for their shoddy coverage of pre- and post-invasion Iraq, and from many outlets for their failure to pick up on the Abu Ghraib scandal until, literally, the photos were shoved under their noses. (Read this AJR piece on Abu Ghraib. You’ll be astonished by some of the comments from grown-up editors and reporters.) In a few months, they’ll be apologizing for missing the boat on the flattening of Falluja.

In this instance, though, the herd stampeded itself into thinking they’d missed a story when in fact they hadn’t. As Howard Kurtz noted in the column mentioned earlier, a relatively small number of Ohio voters could have had journalists galloping after a story line about the unprecedented defeat of a sitting wartime president.

None of which is to say that the journalists who wandered into the moral values cul-de-sac aren’t out of touch with red state denizens. They are, but their difficulty in coming to terms with the dynamics of the election suggests they’re equally out of touch with the rest of the country and with some basic journalistic verities as well.

Weldon Berger is a free-lance writer living in Hawaii—“pretty smart if somewhat underassertive,” as he says—and the author of a weblog, BTC News.

Jay Rosen Adds: Yesterday, the Washington Post’s polling director gave the final send off to “moral values” as a valid construction capable of explaining the election. Here is what Richard Morin said in an online chat with Post readers. Weldon had this too, from another source, but I like the way Morin puts it:

This year, the networks did something incredibly stupid. They included “moral values” on a list of specific issues—terrorism, Iraq, the economy, health care, among others—and asked people what was the most important issue in determining their vote. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

But why was it dumb? Because moral values is not an “issue” so much as a component of other issues. Listing it alongside health care and terrorism is like a category mistake. Morin uses a term many others use in the situation: frame.

Moral values, like religion, is a frame whereby issues are evaluted, not a specific issue in and of itself. People who rated Iraq as the top issue likely were applying their values and morals to making that determination, as were people who rated terrorism as their top voting concern. In the exit poll, “moral values” seemed to serve as a surrogate for people who really thought a basketful of specific issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion or stem-cell research were important. Each of these is a real and important issues and each should have been listed idividually, but wasn’t. Ironically, the L.A. Times has been including ‘moral values’ on its issues list for years, and it always is the top listed “issue.”

In other words, the news value in a catgeory mistake ranking first with 22 percent was approximately zero. “Unfortunately,” said Morin, “we will be living with the confusion over the ‘moral values’ question for four more years.”

That’s plenty of time to correct the narrative. You have to wonder, though, why confess to something you didn’t do— misunderstand a decisive factor called moral issues? Everyone should have a theory on that. Which is why god created the comment feature. Hit the button and tell us what you find in the brief life cycle of the moral values meme among journalists.

I leave you with the words of Howard Fineman from Newsweek, MSNBC and innumerable talk shows, a man with a genius for being right at middle C in the chattering class chorus:

Journalists “don’t understand red-state America,” says Newsweek’s Howard Fineman. “I’m an indicted co-conspirator… . Most people in what is left of the big media live and work in blue-state America, and that shaped our view of the election.”

Maybe moral values was code for something bothering journalists about their performance in 2004. But what?

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Advisory to Users: A number of people told me they print out PressThink and read it on paper. I added a special “print” feature. Just click on LINK (below) or on this title in the RECENT ENTRIES column. The “print” button will appear in the upper right, near the headline. Check for it.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 23, 2004 1:42 PM   Print


The finding of moral values saved the press from having to conclude what Hunter S. Thompson pointed out regarding 1972 (and thanks to Billmon for posting it):

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

It's either report that, or else you need to report about the increasing evidence that swing voters are clueless, per Christopher Hayes in TNR (among many other possible cites).

Both of these explanations only seem like more Red-baiting, and we know that in these post-Kansas days it's our (we're educated and cosmopolitan) fault for not understanding the poor little defenseless hate-filled porno-buying killers in the Red states whose very existance is due to our charity (via taxes) - so these factors can't be the story - as in The Seventh Seal, you acolytes in The Press must flagellate yourselves - the story MUST be what the Blue-staters and Democrats are doing wrong ("no moral values"), not that "we the people" have just re-elected a president who should be on trial for war crimes.

Posted by: fatbear at November 23, 2004 2:47 PM | Permalink

fatbear, I believe it would be better if journalists have, at some basic level, a belief in the system of democracy. Part of that system is the concept of popular sovereignty as a laudable ideal. In other words, the belief that not only do people have the right to vote for their representatives in government, they deserve to vote, and their decisions in doing so are broadly correct.

That is what I find disturbing about the 'moral values' meme. Prof. Rosen, you pointed out before that the President's press think is different - that he does not consider them to be representatives of the people, but merely another special interest group. The way many journalists reacted to the 'moral values' flap gives plenty of credence to Bush's view. They did not act like representatives of the people, trying to assure that citizens receive whatever it is they believe their representation should provide them. A segment of the press reacted more like teachers faced with a class that hasn't been paying attention - and wondering how to reach out to their 'problem' children.

Posted by: Replicant at November 23, 2004 3:24 PM | Permalink

fatbear, when you make statements like "poor little defenseless hate-filled porno-buying killers in the Red states" and that GWB "should be on trial for war crimes", you have violated a sacred tenent of the Church of the Holy Reality-Based Community, of which I know you are a member by your comments. To atone for your sins you must provide a quote from an "unnamed source" to reinforce your world view, or risk excommunication. I know you can do it. If you can't find an appropriate quote, just make one up, no one in the Church will question you and you will be following St. Dan's "fake, but accurate" dogma.

Posted by: paladin at November 23, 2004 3:45 PM | Permalink

Jay's Question summarized:

. . . why confess to something you didn't do - misunderstand a decisive factor called moral issues?. . . tell us what you find in the brief life cycle of the moral values meme among journalists. . . . Maybe moral values was code for something bothering journalists about their performance in 2004. But what?

The moral values frame is more than a meme. It is a trap, baited by the architect Karl Rove. He is now collecting the kill. Everyone in this discussion is falling onto his plate, including the press which has, since the election:

1. Gone above and beyond the call of duty in embracing the religious audience for their money and to make them feel fuzzy about the world, producing sweeps stories like this one: How Do You Get To Heaven? Written about here.

2. Fawned all over preachers like Billy Graham, who smartly said, when asked about it by NBC's Brian Williams, "I've heard others say that (he saved Bush), and people have written it, but I cannot say that. I was with him and I used to teach the Bible at Kennebunkport to the Bush family when he was a younger man, but I never feel that I in any way turned his life around."

Bush better be a hypocrite, rather than a true believer, or we are in for a long four years.

Covering governing in America should be about laws and men (and women), not prayers about moral values, unless you are the religion editor. On that front, if the church is going to insist on being the Fifth Estate, I say we cover their gatherings like we cover the city council - and make them pay their freight.

I would rejoice to see more courageous reporting on the problems created by religion and this debate about moral values, like H.L. Mencken in his day.

He translated Nietzsche's The Antichrist, where he made this point which is now lost to American journalism as if we are a Christian Nation, when perhaps we should be a Diest country, by their logic.

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found--I have letters that even the blind will be able to see. . . . I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race. . . .

Or perhaps you would agree with Bill Mahar, who just said on Larry King Live:

"The Christian Right is a parasite on this election. There are so many ways religion is dangerous. Freedom is not as important to them as religion. These things are diametrically opposed. They butt heads.

"I love my country," he said. "I want it back, from these morons who run it now."

Maybe Krugman would get close to that, but he's on book leave.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 23, 2004 10:55 PM | Permalink

Glynn: How do you see Karl Rove as having set the trap of moral values? He didn't stick that question in the exit poll and he didn't write those news stories and columns, so how did he do it?

Replicant: I believe Weldon's review showed that journalists were just as likely to conclude that they were the ones not paying attention to red state America.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 23, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink

He did it by framing the entire debate from the White House during the campaign.

People responded to the question based on what was on their minds at the time, from the news, like gay marriage. It's partly in the agenda-setting research. As I've written before on my site, gay baiting has replaced race baiting in the Southern Strategy that becomes a majority on election day now. The South finally won the Civil War, with the party that saved the Union against them before.

The reason it was on the exit poll is because grad students and staffers sat around designing questions based on what THEY perceived to be the issues. In this case they missed part of the training or no one caught it, the rule about mutually exclusive and exhaustive questions.

I think we would be talking about it without the exit polls, however, because Jerry Falwell would be there the day after the election on TV demanding his due from the deal with Rove. The polls themselves show a high turnout among churchgoers, only partly offset by the increased youth vote.

My concern is HOW we talk about it, and hope not to see pandering but tough questions about the direction we want to go as a country: Backwards toward a faith-based knowledge system directing our government, or forward to a more scientific approach. Journalists have throughout their history in striving toward professionalism sided with science, not faith. It is part of our Great Commission, if you will, for being, under the First Amendment.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 23, 2004 11:18 PM | Permalink

The link comparing 2000 and 2004 "moral values" rankings doesn't lead to a story.

Posted by: ErikaEM at November 23, 2004 11:35 PM | Permalink


Just thought of a great example to bring it back around to the balance and objectivity discussion earlier.

Most of the press cover the fights over creationism vs. evolution as if both sides should be given equal weight in the public square. Mencken would never have done that, although he would have described the other's side's views, in shall we say "eloquent terms."

The balanced coverage of late has emboldened the right to push for more, based on their faith-based opinion - not the facts about the Constitution and American law.

Here's another example. In addition to covering the ballad of of Judge Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments monument for the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times, I also saw a lot of the TV coverage and read the local press. Very balanced stuff, making a lot of those who didn't fully understand the legal issues think both sides had equal weight.

Several hundred of them camped out on the state Supreme Court building for weeks, not even knowing a key fact: The man who put the top on the wall separating church was also an Alabama Sunday school teacher named Hugo Black, who FDR appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. We in the media owe much of our freedoms these days to his language as well. Are journalism students taught about Hugo Black?

We should be quoting Black in the media, as I did on my site. And we should be teaching Black in the schools, rather than some half-wit's theory of creationism.

We should not equivocate on these types of issues. At all. Not even to win the sweeps game. Sorry.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 12:07 AM | Permalink

separating church and state, that is

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 12:09 AM | Permalink

Sorry, one more short point. I'm not convinced covering the election as being about moral values is really a meme, as I understand it. I think the election was about moral values to a large chunk of the electorate, especially in these parts.

The question could have been worded in a way that more accurately measured this. In this election, what group of issues is more important in determining who you will vote for? Economic issues, security issues, or issues related to moral values.

Or, as you go to vote in this election, are you more concerned about the state of the economy, national security, or moral issues? Mutually exclusive at least. To be exhaustive, you could add education, the environment, etc.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 12:54 AM | Permalink

Well done, Weldon! It's always nice to have someone plant guideposts to help others who follow.

Republicant: I believe it would be better if journalists have, at some basic level, a belief in the system of democracy.

Democracy and journalists share a belief in feedback. See Concentric Circles.

Glynn: The moral values frame is more than a meme. It is a trap, baited by the architect Karl Rove.

Life is sooo much easier when you have the spectre of a Secret, Diabolical, Nefarious, All-Powerful Enemy. Then you can rationalize that everyone else except you is being misled. Now THAT is a frame!

Stick to the substance like your quote from Bill Maher, "The Christian Right is a parasite on this election." who nails those clawing after power like the Gary Bauers and Richard Vigueries of the world for what they are. Too bad Maher is so spotty you have to sift the substance from the claptrap.

And, if you are going to bring in Mencken, understand that he was willing to live in peaceful co-existence with religion (incidentally, he preferred Catholicism for its ritual) so long as it kept to its business, which is personal and private, and wasn't sticking its Holy Writ into the business of others.

The mistake of constructing moral values as "issue" is the William Bennett mistake. He believes the result of his making a moral judgment ought to be taught to others as The Truth. "Be this way." "Be that way." The press, in its shallowness, mimics his approach. Mencken absolutely understood:

Every man has feelings. Mine chiefly revolve around a concept of honor. This concept is incomprehensible to most Americans. They are a very moral people, but almost anaesthetic to honor.
The common man, Mencken wrote in another place, 'is extremely and even excessively moral, but the concept of what is called honor is beyond him.'
Weldon is right, Morality isn't an "issue" it, like honor, is a process. It is the process by which you decide what to do.

I may sing one song, but it is central to living a civilized life. Quality education and journalism help people learn to exercise their own judgment so they have better tools to improve their own maps of reality and plan for their better future. Honor, not virtue. Becoming, not being.

Posted by: sbw at November 24, 2004 10:40 AM | Permalink

Dismissing the frame in the name of coming to logical terms that explain Kerry's loss does nothing except guarantee another loss for Democrats in four years.

What I see here is rationalization. We will believe anything as long as it validates our illusions, one of which for the Democrats is that issues are more important than frames. That is dumber than a bucket of hair.

The moral values matter gave the press an opportunity to really get inside the gut that is America. Instead, the MSM -- as represented in this entry -- has chosen to go back to same-o, same-o.

How sad.

Oh, and Jay, God created the comment feature, not god. Your "think" is showing.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at November 24, 2004 11:00 AM | Permalink

Actually, man created the comment feature. God created man, including a certain man named Charles Darwin, who he "endowed" with the ability to do research and think, not just "believe."

Perhaps moral values issues would not have been a frame if it wasn't designed that way as a campaign issue. This IS part of a plan, and not the fault of the press, except to the extent to which they fell for it.

George Wallace was the first politician in America to attack "pointy-headed liberals" in New York and Washington and blame society's problems on the Supreme Court for disallowing prayer in the public schools. He also perfected the politics of race, which was picked up by Nixon and then Reagan and then both Bushes.

Ignore this if you will and blame the MSM, but ask yourself this about the state of our culture today. How could so many Catholics have voted for a Methodist for president?

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 11:47 AM | Permalink

As if these points need to be nailed home any further, Karl Rove didn't do it alone.

He had the help of thousands of preachers and a massive e-mail list, perhaps illegally obtained and utilized from churches all over the country.

CNN may be the only news organization to cover this by any definition of "adequately." If you saw any of their coverage prior to the election, they went out and found the leaders and organizers of the "values-voters" movement and recorded how they were telling their flocks, in the pulpit and by e-mail, to "vote your values" - wink, wink, nod, nod.

The press could not stop this practice alone, if it even had the inclination to try. It would take courageous prosecutors at the highest levels of our legal system. Where is the politician willing to take on Falwell's e-mail list of 10 million followers?

Here in Alabama, it was even worse. The churches organized a "Vote for Jesus" PR campaign and planted red, white and blue signs all over the landscape. The lead story in the Alabama Baptist the other day talked about what a huge success it was in electing Bush.

As far as I know, I'm the only journalist to document this in any news story in the country. And that was one graph way down in what had to be a very balanced story in the Christian Science Monitor on the trial of Judge Roy Moore. I asked him a direct question about it.

Monumental clash over Ten Commandments

At least one independent democrat activist has called for a countervailing strategy since the election: See Bob Fertik's comments from the D.C. conference at

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 12:18 PM | Permalink

I claim there are roughly 2 usual groups of reasons to vote, following the Libertarian idea of looking at Economic Freedom (big or small gov’t), and Civil Liberties (big or small gov’t).
But today, the “civil liberties” has become an unlimited libertine pursuit of individual pleasure, at the expense of overstepping any moral sanction against sexual promiscuity. I've called the Bush "moral issues" pro-God; it could also be said to be pro-morals, pro-family; or anti-promiscuity. (I frame this shorthand as pro- or anti-God.)
Bush is pro-God (anti-promiscuity) on this “morals issue”. Kerry, is anti-God.
Actually, Kerry could have been just about any “normal” Democrat; Dems are anti-God, at least against the way Bush favors belief.

Similarly, the whole economy, free trade issues can be looked at as more or less gov’t. Unfortunately for libertarians, both were huge spenders, but at least Bush favored tax cuts.
Bush is pro-Tax Cuts. Dems are anti-Cuts. (the way Bush did it.)

But the point is that usually there are 4 groups:
pro-Cuts, pro-God; [Reps]
pro-Cuts, anti-God; [moderates, Libertarians]
anti-Cuts, pro-God; [moderates, Catholics]
anti-Cuts, anti-God. [Dems]

But in this election, there is the War. The War on Terror, including or keeping separate, the War in Iraq. Bush favored pre-emptive War against terrorists, in Afghanistan and in Iraq Kerry favored more alliance building first.
Bush is pro-War, Dems are anti-War (the way Bush did it.)

Libertarians, and many, many other groups, are split on Bush’s leadership in this War probably including Catholics (like Michael Novak pro- and the Pope anti-).
So the above 4 normal groups gets expanded to 8 – pro-War and anti-War for each of the above 4 groups.

Generally, if you agree with Bush on 2 of the 3 issues, you would support him; if not you would support the Dems. But there were at least two big groups who supported Bush on 1 issue, although opposing him on 2 issues.
Liberal Hawks who are pro-War, anti-Cuts, anti-God. (could have been Jeff Jarvis had he wanted to, WAS Roger L. Simon & Michael J. Totten).
And pro-life folk who are anti-War, anti-Cuts, and pro-God, like Catholics following the Pope.

Both of these groups had “surprising” 1 of 3 support for Bush, and both can claim to have made Bush win.

The idea that the election was NOT determined by moral issues fails, according to my 3 axis analysis, both qualitatively AND quantitatively.

But I’ll have to add more to this, later. See for some numbers.

(Sorry Libbers, the anti-War, pro-Cuts, anti-God folk are, um, pretty absent).

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 24, 2004 12:54 PM | Permalink

Glynn: Ignore this if you will and blame the MSM, but ask yourself this about the state of our culture today. How could so many Catholics have voted for a Methodist for president?

Hmmm. Perhaps they voted for him because:
-- They liked Bush's executive ability.
-- They think Kerry supported the wrong programs to answer today's problems.

... I could go on, but why burn comment space. Why do you assume religion decides how someone votes? Do you think so little of religious people?

I have as little regard for religious zealots as I have little regard for dogmatism on other sides.

Posted by: sbw at November 24, 2004 1:13 PM | Permalink

These analysis are based in part on where you are and how you approach the world, trying to make it fit into your schema. A little more than half the country doesn't think in these terms. It's one reason why they think the press is "liberal."

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

Glynn: It's one reason why they think the press is "liberal."

Or the reason they think the press is liberal could be that when you take a transcript and dissect it it turns out to have been very casually prepared and filled with representations that make it fall far short of worthwhile news coverage.

Let's take yesterday's coverage. Umpteen people were killed in the latest fighting. Body count is sad. It is also an unfortunate consequence of fighting. To repeatedly take the precious few minutes of air time to make that point is lazy and does not help fill out the complete picture of what is happening in Iraq. It is, in a word, lazy.

The body count is news. It is out there. You can find it. It should not be hidden. But neither should it regularly overrun the precious 12 minutes that make up a half-hour news show. It warps the whole map of news people must use for their decision-making.

Body count is, if you'll pardon the expression, part of a point of view. The difference is that while most people value life, some feel that however sad it is to lose each life, spending that life that way sometimes is worthwhile. Having made the decision, I do not need to have some ass who assumes I don't have compassion, or don't value life, try to monopolize a "news" show trying to show he has more compassion than I do.

Posted by: sbw at November 24, 2004 3:07 PM | Permalink

What is lazy is the assumption that good things are happening in Iraq.

That's either a lazy or a snide remark indicative that you haven't been reading what is available to you on the internet. Consider:

Check Iraq the Model and run through the series of Iraqi references. It isn't all good news. Good news isn't what is called for. News is what is called for. Covering a body count every time a bomb goes off sucks coverage away from everything else. Coverage ought to indicate the breadth of what is going on. It does not.

Perhaps that laziness might be confused with a liberal focus. But then it is probably not laziness when Lou Dobbs misrepresents outsourcing as a major factor for job loss.

Posted by: sbw at November 24, 2004 9:11 PM | Permalink

Blog away, but read this.

FRANK RICH: The Great Indecency Hoax

Blog on and enjoy the Thanksgiving break.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 25, 2004 11:02 AM | Permalink

If you want a clearer representation of the great indecency hoax, avoid the Frank Rich histrionics and visit Jeff Jarvis on the Buzzmachine. He's the one who did the original FCC FOI requests.

Posted by: sbw at November 27, 2004 7:45 PM | Permalink

America Has Fallen and Can't Get Up

To further advance my point, consider this:

Throughout human history, and especially during tumultuous times, humans struggled to connect to something outside of themselves to bring meaning to life.

"The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self," said the great U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who also happened to be a Sunday school teacher.

The problem is, he said, "It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first."

Black read his Bible. But he knew there were other important books in the world.

I've read the Bible and a lot of other books, and I'm afraid our country is broken like Humpty Dumpty — and all the president's men will not be able to put it back together again.

To read the whole column, go here:

Weldon Berger writes in with this:

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post. I appreciate it.

Stephen, I think the primary thing to keep in mind about Iraq is how the outcome affects us. I'm all for improving the lot of the oppressed, but 1) that wasn't why we allegedly pursued the war, 2) I'd like to see us focus a bit more on the downtrodden closer to home, and 3) it really doesn't matter how happy anyone in Iraq is or isn't; the question is whether the invasion has resulted in good things for us and while the final tally may not be known for some years, that indicator isn't looking very healthy.

Jay was kind enough to point toward a post from Dave Pell commenting on mine. Dave's primary point was that the question of why the press went scampering after the "moral values" story obscured the more important question of why, with our army pinned down in Iraq and calling up grandmas and grandpas to fight, with the economy staggering (if mostly forward), with a thoroughly unresolved and ill-defined war on terror and with our national reputation in tatters, were moral values significant even to the lesser extent that they were?

He answered his own question in a later (post-Thanksgiving hangover) post, the gist of which is that the existential problems the country faces are so overwhelming that many people simply went into denial and chose instead to focus on the ephemeral. The press can't be held responsible for that; behind the curve as they've been, they eventually did get around to conveying a mostly accurate portrait of the slag heap that used to be the rationale for war in Iraq.
In other words, what fatbear said in the first comment on this thread, with particular emphasis on the toxic nature of the point: you can't follow that line of reasoning too far without being dismissed by many people as a red-state baiter.

A friend of mine sent me a Robert McChesney essay on the economic roots of the pathetic state in which the post-modern press find themselves (or more accurately don't find themselves). The essay is available online in html or as an Acrobat file, and there's a shorter, related piece on the same subject, with Upton Sinclair as a case study, available on McChesney's "Monthly Review" web site. His position is that the structure of the press, more than any abdication of authority, is responsible for reputable journalists walking around with one brain tied behind their backs.

In a way, he's making the same point with respect to the press as Dave Pell and fatbear do with respect to the electorate: that the problems are so deeply built in, so macro, that it's simply easier to focus on the micro. I think he's too easy on the profession but he makes a good case if you're not allergic to socialists.

You've been a great audience. Good night, everybody.

--Weldon Berger

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 28, 2004 5:56 PM | Permalink

From the Intro