Senator John Edwards started the chant that “hope is on the way” Wednesday night, but even since the beginning of the primary season, Edwards has drawn media praise for being so positive. Optimism and hope-pounding, however, are not a platform. To the delegates last night, it clearly meant the “hope” that Democrats will take back the levers of power in Washington and do things their own special way. But no party has a monopoly on hope, and no party is entirely the Party of Cynicism–even though the best nominee for that title is the national media itself, which has no platform or program except questioning and mocking the sincerity of everyone else.
Especially painful are media attempts to somehow square the optimism of Edwards with the popularity of another optimist, Ronald Reagan. Last night on MSNBC, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham favorably compared Edwards to Reagan: “He talks about the best and the bravest who won’t be left behind. He talks about ‘this great shining light.’ He says, ‘tomorrow is better than today.’ Those are all Ronald Reagan’s lines.” Those are the lines of any politician who wants to look like a winner. In 1988, Michael Dukakis tried very hard to end the Reagan era by striking an optimistic, patriotic tone, right down to using Neil Diamond’s “America” as his Atlanta convention theme song. But what we remember is his insistence that the United States was too arrogant for the world, and needed to work harder to be multilateral. Did that work? And does it sound like anyone you hear currently?
But the TV reporters only cared about the on-site reception to Edwards’s speech. (You mean the same one they dreaded as that “carefully orchestrated” reaction? Yep.) CBS reporter Byron Pitts, the man you should watch this fall as a heavy favorite for the Kerry In The Tank Award, suggested last night: “Based on the crowd’s reaction, John Edwards has done what he came here to do. He took this massive convention center and turned it into a courtroom, some 15,000 people into 12 jurors, and he spoke to each one. Tonight, if John Edwards put the face on the Democratic party, youthful and hopeful, it will be Senator John Kerry’s job tomorrow night to give it its soul.”
At least there was divided media opinion last night about the speech from Al Sharpton, whose long, unscripted sermon should be compared historically with Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech in Houston. On ABC, Peter Jennings liked it so much that he launched ABC’s 10 P.M. hour by hailing how the Democratic convention was “energized…in no more effective way than the old-fashioned Democratic way by a truly turned-on preacher.” Following an excerpt from Sharpton’s rant, Jennings trumpeted how “the crowd absolutely loved it” and relayed how Sharpton said he went over his allotted time because “the spirit came over him.”
By contrast, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC on-air talent suggested Sharpton’s tone would turn off a lot of viewers. “Probably scared the hell out of a lot of people,” argued MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who added: “Very angry speech. Very much off message.” Matthews also questioned Sharpton’s impact on the Democratic party’s effort to attract first responders, wondering if they “are ready to vote for a party that showcases a guy who’s made his reputation while accusing police officers of raping a woman, and it didn’t happen and we know it didn’t happen. How does that help them build a base of support among the first-responders?” The only problem for Matthews is that no one in politics, Democrat or Republican, has reminded voters of the Tawana Brawley hoax. Think of how many young people there are who haven’t the slightest idea what that is.
On CNN, anchor Aaron Brown worried: “Some fuss was made early in the night, I’m not sure that it’s lasting fuss, maybe it is, maybe it’s not, about Al Sharpton and going off message and all that. It seemed to me that if you invite Al Sharpton to the party, you’ve got to expect Al Sharpton to show up.” Nina Easton of the Boston Globe quickly suggested that the generals supporting Kerry “quickly got the night back on message, if you will.” John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal also pushed the move-beyond-Al line: “No, I really think this night’s about John Edwards. I don’t think very many Americans are even going to be aware of what Al Sharpton did.” They might not if we follow the media’s lead. It’s past time when the alternative conservative media should more fully pick up the task of exposing Sharpton, and the party who would so generously put him on in prime time.
–Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.