Politics & Policy

Benefits of Non-Coverage

The networks are on message while C-SPAN viewers snooze.

Since the networks stayed away from the Fleet Center hijinks yesterday, it’s likely that Tuesday night will be remembered as…well, it just won’t be remembered. For the most part, this is a good thing for the Democrats. Ted Kennedy seemed so dated that even David Gergen was suggesting on CNN that he was past his prime. Howard Dean’s speech clearly seemed like he’d been sedated, and CNN analyst Bill Schneider (on CNN’s blog, at least) said it was his “worst speech ever,” worse than The Scream speech. Teresa Heinz Kerry provided an entirely different flavor, but that’s not always good. It could be the rhetorical equivalent of taking the uneasy down-home folks out for Portuguese cuisine.

With all the media’s odd stumping this week for Teresa’s right to tell reporters to “shove it” (and I encourage you to imagine, with eyes rolling, how they would greet Laura Bush for doing the same), it seems highly plausible that the media defend her in public, while thinking privately, “Oh geez, can someone please keep her away from boom microphones?” Last night on the evening news, Dan and Peter came helpfully to her aid. “You actually had a lot of people in the country who agreed with you,” Jennings suggested, before he asked if she thought it was wise. This is ironic, since in a Sunday forum at Harvard, Jennings recalled being aghast at someone yelling, “America-hater” at him at an airport. We can easily say that “a lot of people in the country” would endorse the sentiment, if not the manners (or lack thereof).

Tom Brokaw at least asked Mrs. Heinz Kerry what her use of “un-American” meant. In her typically eccentric vein, she replied that it seems un-American for the Republican party to not have much room for liberal Republicans, like the Democrats have “southern Democrats.” Earth to Teresa: Today’s southern Democrats are pretty much in the liberal vogue, too. Both parties are more ideologically unified today.

The speeches most likely to be remembered from Tuesday are Barack Obama’s keynote address and Ronald P. Reagan’s oleaginous infomercial for the “miracles” of embryo-destroying stem-cell research. Obama dazzled all the pundits. Chris Matthews said he had chills “in his legs,” and thought he’d just seen the first black president. David Brooks and Mark Shields were wowed on PBS. CNN’s Jeff Greenfield called it the best keynote speech in 25 years. On MSNBC, Howard Fineman insisted Obama was fresh and “outside the system,” somehow.

It’s certainly true that Obama didn’t come across like a hard-left Jesse Jackson, who compared Dan Quayle to King Herod in 1992. But consider how the same speech with the same applause lines would have been received if he was your average white state senator from Illinois without a compelling life story of racial and cultural diversity. There’s no way that man would have ever been selected for a keynote speech. To steal a phrase from the Democrats in 2000, Obama provided the “illusion of inclusion,” a man who sounds nothing like the Congressional Black Caucus, put forward to lionize another two-white-guys Democratic ticket. Chris Matthews explicitly compared him to Colin Powell, who gets all the same built-in cheerleading impulses.

Does anyone doubt that in four years, we’ll all see Senator Obama as just another liberal Democrat off the assembly line, not the supposed great unifier of liberals, moderates, independents, and conservatives?

Ron Reagan’s supposedly “nonpartisan” push for embryo-destroying stem-cell research, which ended in a passionate plea for people to vote for “reason” and against “ignorance” (read: George W. Bush), had its media fans. NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell embraced the concept as “compelling…there was that moment when he

said, you know, ‘we can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance between true compassion and mere ideology.’ That’s a powerful statement from a Reagan.”

On MSNBC, Tom Brokaw did challenge Reagan with the Republican line, including: “It’s not possible, they also say, for any researcher to say with certainty whether additional lines will produce the effects that everyone has promoted.” But Brokaw also asked: “Do you think that the biggest misconception is that when you talk about embryonic stem cells people believe that embryos are abused, mutilated in some fashion?” (Actually, every embryo is destroyed to extract the stem cells in the first place, Tom.)

The most horrific story of the night came on the CBS Evening News, when reporter Barry Peterson reported from China on the great hope ALS patients are getting from the stem cells of aborted second-trimester babies. Peterson lamented: “A treatment using cells from an aborted fetus is just too controversial in today’s politically charged climate, even though here it’s now showing results with some paralyzed patients.” Boston hasn’t offered too much ringing rhetoric celebrating a woman’s glorious right to choose a second-trimester abortion, so this week, CBS might have to pick up the slack.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center.

Tim GrahamTim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center, where he began in 1989, and has served there with the exception of 2001 and 2002, when served ...


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