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November 29, 2004

Writer Says Media is Election's Big Loser: 21 Times

Mega bloggers and syndicated columnists said it. College students and ranting professors said it. Bob Dole said it. The real loser, the big loser in '04 was The Media-- "the famous MSM." I isolate the maneuver and show it to you 21 times, without comment. Well, not totally without comment.

A substantial body of opinion has collected around a single “trick” in media criticism (which I have probably used myself on occasion) whereby it is first said that more than one election was held in the United States in 2004. Therefore there can be more than one loser.

The critic then names the media—or certain players in it—the election’s other loser, real loser, or even “biggest” loser. A very simple example is blogger Brett Rogers:

And, as I mentioned, in the second election—who we choose to trust for news in this country—the media lost. CBS, the biggest loser by far.

I have culled from a far larger file 21 examples of this particular maneuver. I tried to isolate the passage where it happens: Writer Says Media is Election’s Big Loser. By approaching the same “switch” with different trains of thought, we can perhaps understand that substantial body of opinion and what it is really saying— not just about winners and losers but about politics and journalism, party and self, virtue and corruption.

I opted for a mix of voices from big to small, established to upstart, old media and new. At the end I have a few words of commentary. Mostly, I leave interpretation for the comment thread. Here it is, then, the same idea served 21 ways. “Media, you lost big.” We learn what we can from it.

“They fancy themselves thinkers, not mere scribes.”
Stephen F. Hayes, Weekly Standard, Nov. 15th:
The Other Losers Tuesday Night: The failed media effort to oust George W. Bush

For some 16 months, then, journalists at the New York Times and the Washington Post and the television networks saw themselves not as conveyors of facts but as truth-squadders, toiling away on the gray margins of political debate to elucidate the many misstatements, exaggerations, and outright lies of the Bush administration and its campaign affiliates. Sometimes these “fact-check” pieces were labeled “news analysis.” More often, they were splashed on the front page as straight news or presented on the evening news.

Many of these reporters were trained at the best universities in the country. They fancy themselves thinkers, not mere scribes. They go to work every day to tell us not what the Bush administration has said, but what it has left unsaid.

“They have been defeated.”
Diana West,, Nov. 8:
Election Day reflection

There is something close to poetic justice in the creaky monolith of Old Media showing its advanced age and crotchety bias in a campaign that now ends in the defeat of John Kerry. That is, in important ways, the mainstream and John Kerry are kindred creatures of the far-away 1960s, both setting their anti-establishment ways during both the Vietnam War and, stateside, the anti-Vietnam War. You might even say that together they helped create and perpetuate the poisonous myth of the Vietnam veteran as enemy of humanity — touchstone of the self-hating American.

And now, with the re-election of George W. Bush, they have been defeated.

“Unpaid adjunct to the Kerry campaign.”
Investor’s Business Daily, editorial, Nov. 2:
By A Landslide

By press time last night, we weren’t sure who would be the winner of the 2004 presidential contest. But we were certain of one big loser: the media.

We’ve watched in slack-jawed amazement over recent weeks as the big media, fearful of another four years for President Bush, have basically become an unpaid adjunct to the Kerry campaign.

“Yeomen of the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet took them down.”
Peggy Noonan, Opinion Journal, Nov. 4:
So Much to Savor: A big win for America, and a loss for the mainstream media

But I do think the biggest loser was the mainstream media, the famous MSM, the initials that became popular in this election cycle. Every time the big networks and big broadsheet national newspapers tried to pull off a bit of pro-liberal mischief—CBS and the fabricated Bush National Guard documents, the New York Times and bombgate, CBS’s “60 Minutes” attempting to coordinate the breaking of bombgate on the Sunday before the election—the yeomen of the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet took them down. It was to me a great historical development in the history of politics in America. It was Agincourt. It was the yeomen of King Harry taking down the French aristocracy with new technology and rough guts. God bless the pajama-clad yeomen of America. Some day, when America is hit again, and lines go down, and media are hard to get, these bloggers and site runners and independent Internetters of all sorts will find a way to file, and get their word out, and it will be part of the saving of our country.

“Still angry that they couldn’t deliver their fifteen percent.”
Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, Nov. 3:
Bitter, Angry Losers

No, not the Democrats, but the real losers in this election — the Old Media, still angry that they couldn’t deliver their fifteen percent. I just heard E.J. Dionne on All Things Considered (audio not posted yet) delivering himself of an astonishing amount of anti-Bush venom. Dan Rather was reportedly dissing bloggers last night. And, of course, there are the rather churlish remarks of ABC’s Mark Halperin, declaring Bush a “lame duck” before his first term has even ended.

They know who the big losers were in this election.

“As each hour passed, the credibility of the Old Media swirled around the bowl.”
Jeff Gannon, A Voice of the New Media, Nov. 10:
Old Media Lost Big In 2004 Election

While Democrats were handed yet another stinging defeat at the ballot box last week, the biggest loser was the Old Media. In the wee hours of Election Night, stunned newsreaders reluctantly called states for President Bush, despite early exit polls that suggested a landslide for Sen. John Kerry. Some networks resisted declaring that Bush had won Ohio and therefore re-election after pleas from Kerry operatives not to project a winner of the state.

In the White House pressroom, dispirited correspondents sheepishly avoided members of the Bush team who wandered through the West Wing expressing growing irritation at the networks’ refusal to admit the inevitable. As each hour passed, the credibility of the Old Media “swirled around the bowl”, perhaps for the last time before finally being flushed by the American viewing public.

“The so-called mainstream media.”
Associated Press, Nov. 6:
Former U.S. senator says parties need to work together

Dole, 81, said he accomplished his most important initiatives in the Senate with bipartisan support.

“Both parties have room for improvement. Both parties have good ideas,” said the Kansas Republican, who served in the Senate from 1968 to 1996.

The biggest loser in the presidential election, he said, was “the so-called mainstream media.”

“It was an abdication of authority.”
Daniel Henninger, Opinion Journal, Nov. 12:
2004’s Biggest Losers: How Dan Rather and the media’s kings lost their crowns

It is often said that the only sure winner in American politics is the media. Amid GOP victory parties or the ruined dreams of the Kerry candidacy, the one constant is that the media marches on.

Maybe not this time. Big Media lost big. But it was more than a loss. It was an abdication of authority.

Large media institutions, such as CBS or the New York Times, have been regarded as nothing if not authoritative. In the Information Age, authority is a priceless franchise. But it is this franchise that Big Media, incredibly, has just thrown away. It did so by choosing to go into overt opposition to one party’s candidate, a sitting president.

“The media was in the tank for Kerry.”
Cori Dauber, Ranting Profs, Nov.3:
Looking Back, Looking Forward

Evan Thomas was just on Hardball and absolutely without hesitation reaffirmed his prior claims that the media was in the tank for Kerry. He’s gotten smarter, he isn’t offering point totals any more (but then, Chris Matthews didn’t ask) but it was clear he thought it absurd to even question the idea of media bias in the election.

Unfortunately, the campaign coverage and the war coverage became intertwined and inseparable because it is presented as “Bush’s war.”

I list these stories — or non-stories — not to pick at healing scabs but to make the point.

The other big losers last night were the media.

“Last gasping breaths of the New York Times and CBS News.”
Vincent Fiore, ChronWatch, Nov. 7:
Winners and Losers of Election 2004

Winner: The Internet. When the first batch of exit polls came out about 1:30 pm, EST, it took about five minutes for bloggers and web masters to spread the word. George W. Bush may owe part of his victory to this part of the new media, as spaces like this one and others quickly debunked the polling data much the same way that Dan Rather and “memogate” was exposed. Kudos to the pajama-wearing blogger brigades.

Loser: The Old Media. Those sounds you hear are the last gasping breaths of the New York Times and CBS News. Staunchly opposed to Bush throughout his first term, the prospect of a second four years in office exposed the deep-seated bias among the old media and forever revealed themselves to the public at large. The question, ”Is there a liberal bias in the main stream media?” has been fully addressed by the very actions of the media themselves during this campaign.

“The established news media were nowhere on public-policy matters.”
Ed Wasserman, Charlotte Observer, Nov. 3:
How the media lost the presidential election

The presidential campaign will be considered a milestone in the history of the U.S. media. Here’s what has changed:

“They threw everything at Bush and still lost.”
Swede Hanson, SMU Daily Campus, Nov. 9:
The real losers who are seeing red

The real losers here are the Democrats and the mainstream media. Tuesday night showed us the true breadth of the divide between the nation’s electoral center and the current Democratic Party emblazoned by the likes of extreme leftism, the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore, George Soros and any Hollywood celebrity you can think of. They threw everything at Bush and still lost. Look at the numbers: Bush won 2.51 million square miles of the United States as compared to Kerry’s 511,700 square miles.

“The global media lost the U.S. presidential election.”
Ralph Peters, New York Post, Nov. 9:
Finishing Fallujah.

And if Operation Phantom Fury goes miraculously well, we’ll be criticized for waiting too long to go in, for exaggerating the threat and for knocking over a stop sign with a tank.

The global media lost the U.S. presidential election. They’ll do their best to win the Second Battle of Fallujah for the terrorists.

“The big loser this year may have already been decided.”
Bob Rayner, Richmond Times Dispatch, Oct. 31:
For the media, a political tilt might have some repercussions

It has been an exhausting campaign, even for me, a lifelong political junkie.

Passions are running high, which, for the most part, is probably a good thing.

But no matter who ends up on top Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, the big loser this year may have already been decided: the media.

The argument about liberal bias has been around for years. But for at least a substantial minority of the population - and a majority according to some surveys - the issue has never had as much resonance as it does today.

“Never before have we seen these so-called news sources so blatantly partisan.”
Gordon Sawyer, Access North Georgia, Nov. 3:
The Big Loser In This Election: The Big Media (…’s are in original)

I think it is fair to say the biggest loser in this election has been America’s mainstream media … the BIG media … the three old-line television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC … newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post and down to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. We have come to expect them to have a liberal bias in their news columns as well as their editorial pages, but never before have we seen these so-called news sources so blatantly partisan as they have been this year.

The poster child of news bias this election cycle, of course, was Dan Rather.

“The equivalent of The Alamo for the mainstream media”
John McIntyre, Real Clear Politics, Nov. 10:
Mandate? No. Consequential? No doubt about it.

In many ways this is what is so infuriating to the Democrats, because they know President Bush is going to govern and lead as if he has a mandate. That is why the Democrats and their friends in the mainstream media or the “old media” put everything they had into this election to unseat George W. Bush.

This was the equivalent of The Alamo for the mainstream media. CBS News and the New York Times, and to a lesser extent their colleagues at the other major networks and newspapers, exhausted themselves in a near-pathological desire to remove George W. Bush from office. They know the days of the liberal elites in New York and Washington setting the news agenda for the American people are coming to an end. Which is why they fought so hard to eliminate President Bush and restore a Democrat to the White House.

“Media lost. University professors and leftist school teachers lost.”
Joel Johannesen,, Nov. 3:
Bush won, no matter how you count it

Values won. Moral values won, as well as freedom and democracy. Those who will learn from it won as well as those who rely on America. Canada won. The west won, even Europe.

The Dow is up 135 as I write.

Osama bin Laden lost. Saddam Hussein lost. (Terrorism lost). Michael Moore lost. Hollywood lost. The liberal media lost. University professors and leftist school teachers lost. The liberals lost.

“The problem for Old Media is that it no longer has monopoly control.”
Michael Barone,, Nov. 15:
A bad election for old media

It was a bad election for Old Media. More than in any other election in the last half-century, Old Media — The New York Times and CBS News, joined often but not always by The Washington Post, other major newspapers, ABC News and NBC News — was an active protagonist in this election, working hard to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush and doing what it could for John Kerry. The problem for Old Media is that it no longer has the kind of monopoly control over political news that it enjoyed a quarter-century ago. And its efforts to help John Kerry proved counterproductive.

“Enabler, if not instigator, of much of the vileness…”
Richard Davis,, Nov. 9:
The Media Lost, But Their Bias Won’t Change

Without doubt the media served as the enabler, if not instigator, of much of the vileness coming from the Democrats and the left, and they deserve a fair share of the defeat. But unlike their Democratic brethren, the media won’t be trying to regain public support by turning to their center. They couldn’t do that even if they still had a center. They’re not that kind of media anymore.

In the past two decades Americans have watched a moderately liberal press become defiantly partisan and openly hostile to majority opinions and values. It is a press willing to forsake ethics and even laws to get its way, and it’s as arrogant as Howard Dean after a good drubbing.

“‘Me first personalities roaming around.”
Tanker, Mostly, Nov. 19:
Armchair quarterbacks and Marines

Time was, you had reporters with the military who were the likes of Ernie Pyle, America First! and that meant American GI’s first! Or Bill Mauldin, poking a little fun at the brass, but publicizing the horrors and hardships faced daily by the combat soldier.

No, today we have a press corps with altogether too many “me first” personalities roaming around looking for the picture or the story that will rocket them into the realms of Woodward and Bernstein, bringing down a president or handing a victory to the enemy. As long as they get the recognition, they care naught about the effect that story might have on America and its soldiers.

Okay, that’s enough… The mainstream media lost the election… And now they’re going to try and show themselves again. They’re trying to be relevant. And I am not buying it.

“Voters made up their minds, media organisations have gone into overdrive.”
Rageh Omaar, The Independent (UK), Oct. 25:
How the US media lost the plot

Travelling through the heartlands of the United States, one comes across many Americans like Piasecki and Cheramie, who rely on websites not just to find opinions that match their own, but also to uncover facts they believe bolster those views. It is a trend that reflects a deeply divided US electorate coming to the end of a bitterly contested presidential campaign. None of the people I interviewed for a half-hour BBC programme on the views of Americans were undecided voters. Whether Republican or Democrat, their views are deeply held, and argued fiercely. And much of their information, whether it concerns President Bush’s arguments on the need for reforming tort law and extending tax cuts, or Senator Kerry’s proposals for reducing the United States’ reliance on Middle Eastern oil, has been obtained online.

Yet although the voters appear to have already made up their minds, media organisations have gone into overdrive, devoting every available resource to coverage of each development in the campaign.

Bonus Selection: a 22nd example. (Came late to my attention.)
“Their power is sapped, their influence is waning.”
Tim Graham, National Review Online, Nov. 4:
Amazing Loss: The media threw everything, including the sink, at Bush.

Yet despite these efforts in behalf of Kerry, George W. Bush has amassed the highest vote total in American history. The media took their defeat graciously, if a little slowly; on these occasions, they put on statesman masks and pretended they didn’t have a horse in the race. But they have been left only with the feeling that their power is sapped, their influence is waning, and their credibility is collapsing.

There are two brakes on the arrogance of liberal media bias: One is declining ratings; the other is liberal politicians’ losing and conservative politicians’ winning. The message of popular resistance to the liberal media has been sent once again.

My commentary: One thing jumps out at me from this song made of samples. While all the writers were, in some way or another, suggesting massive failure by the news media to inform, it was rare for them to discuss any informational need of their own that had not been met.

You arrive at a different place when you ask: what did I not get that I needed? This is what Omaar in The Independent was getting at:

“Yet although the voters appear to have already made up their minds, media organisations have gone into overdrive, devoting every available resource to coverage of each development in the campaign.”

Hear it? Rageh Omaar is raising the possibility that our campaign journalism was, almost in its entirety, premised on an informational need that barely existed. This led to journalism that at its best helped us make a decision that 90 percent or more had already made.

Maybe an extremely “partisan” year should have been called a year when people were extremely passionate about politics, and interested in participating. A reportage to meet and inform those passions is not the same as “news to help in your decision.”

It never came about. The passions went elsewhere. This is one way journalists “lost the plot.” I don’t think Big Media lost an election they were trying to win for Kerry. But I’m curious why some people do.

I believe the political press largely (though not entirely) failed in 2004. It failed to innovate. It failed to move with the times. From what is called the mainstream media, “the famous MSM,” we did not get a reportage suited for the political era we were actually living in. That means Big Journalism failed some ultimate test of currency: to report the truth about our struggles with politics… in time.

Alright, what do you make of the voices in Club 21? And what do you hear? Tell us in comments. Did I miss an example you want to bring to my attention? E-mail PressThink or note it in comments.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Liberal Media Conspiracies…and other myths by smokefilledoom is an extended reaction to this post by a writer who read all 21 pieces cited here. (Dec. 10)

Editor and Publisher kindly does an article about this post: Erin Olsen, “Biggest Loser on Nov. 2 Was Press, Not John Kerry, Say 21 Columns.”

David Crisp of The Billings Outpost says in comments here: “No doubt most reporters backed Kerry. The Bush administration has been one of the most hostile to open government in memory. Asking reporters to back Bush is like asking CEOs to back Nader.”

Post mortems by members of the press: a sampler

See Campaign Desk (now called CJR Daily) with its Report Card feature on press performance in 2004— a series of evaluations.

Peter Johnson, USA Today: Media soul-searching after Bush’s victory (Nov. 14).

Liz Halloran, Hartford Courant, Are Mainstream Media Ignored And Irrelevant? (Nov. 12)

Jon Friedman, CBS Marketwatch, Why Bush’s America hates the media (Nov. 12) and The passion that burned for Bush (Nov. 5).

Eric Boehlert, Salon, The media gives Bush a mandate. (Nov. 12, sub. or Salon day pass required.)

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, Let the Explaining Begin! (Nov. 8)

Also see the transcript of CNN’s reliable sources for Nov. 7, with Howard Kurtz, Frank Sesno, formerly of CNN, Karen Tumulty of Time, John Roberts of CBS News.

One of the best analyses of these matters is by Michelle Cottle in the New Republic: Democrats’ Spurned Media Love. (sub. required)

… another, less frequently discussed factor is that Democrats simply like the media more than Republicans do—or, at least, more than the Republicans currently running the show. They respect the profession more, feel more of a kinship with reporters, and generally care more about being liked by the media than do members of Bush World. This relationship is as much about a perceived cultural affinity as any politically based “liberal media bias,” and, contrary to what conservatives would have people believe, it hardly guarantees more sympathetic coverage of Democratic campaigns.

… Democrats say (with some exasperation) that their party still accepts the idea of the media as an unofficial Fourth Estate of government, shaping debate and serving as watchdog for the public interest. As campaign consultant Kenneth Baer put it, “Democrats buy into this high and mighty role that the press has of itself.”

…By contrast, the Bush administration does not regard the media as having a special role but rather as just “one of several constituencies to deal with,” says former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

And so on. Hers is a more subtle analysis of the interplay among Democrats, Republicans and journalists and “culture.”

This article, published Nov. 28, leans a lot on PressThink’s Opposition Press and Sinclair pieces, which are mentioned: David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun, Captains of TV weigh the future of the anchor: Personnel changes could open door to newscasts driven by ideology.

On Wednesday, Tom Brokaw will sign off as anchorman and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News, television’s most popular newscast, after 21 years in that job. A report also is expected to be released this week about a 60 Minutes II story focusing on President Bush’s military service that was presented on air by Rather and was based upon documents of questionable authenticity. Rather’s decision to leave his longtime position was seen by many as a way of stepping aside before the report was finalized.

These moves represent what is, in essence, a changing of the guard. Night after night for 20 years, television news has been presented to Americans by the same three men - NBC’s Brokaw, CBS’ Rather and ABC’s Peter Jennings - in virtually the same format. Now Brokaw’s planned retirement and Rather’s abrupt resignation have opened the door to a world of possibilities for TV news.

Doc Searls reflects on a discussion going on (in comments) at PressThink:

What it isn’t. Meanwhile, I think we’re only beginning to understand how blogging, even for Z-listers (who can quickly become A-listers, and at the very least meaningful, which is one big point about The Long Tail) is more than blowing off to bar buddies and less than anchoring an evening newscast — while being extremely other than both.

We understand everything in terms of something else… and we still don’t have the right frame for understanding blogs, seems to me. That’s one reason we’ve been miscrediting and miscalculating it for the duration — overstating and understating its effects and its importance.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 29, 2004 1:19 AM