Politics & Policy

The Softer Side?

The media miss the point on social issues.

Coming into Monday night, the media mantra was that the Republicans were pulling a fast one on those prized independent swing voters. Dan Rather began the evening newscast on CBS: “Tonight, inside a post-9/11 security fortress, the Republican Convention opens in New York to re-nominate George W. Bush and showcase the party’s, quote, ‘moderate side.’ Will voters buy it?”

Later, Rather led to an interview with Rudy Giuliani: “As John mentioned, one of the Republican voices of, quote, ‘moderation’ being heard from the podium here tonight belongs to Rudy Giuliani.” Now, Rudy is a quote-moderate-unquote?

Over on NBC, Tom Brokaw was hitting the same will-this-trick-work line, but he at least acknowledged that Giuliani and John McCain had some credentials to testify to the war on terror. NBC reporter David Gregory put across the usual media party line: “Live from Madison Square Garden tonight, the softer side of George W. Bush’s Republican party. In prime time this week, what one GOP insider calls its moderate stars–McCain, Giuliani, and Schwarzenegger. All have huge public-approval ratings, but all sharply disagree with the party’s platform on issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. Democratic critics say the president is using these moderates to pull a fast one on middle-of-the-road voters.”

This was the “softer side”? Actually, Giuliani and McCain made an important point about Republican-party unity last night: What unites social liberals and social conservatives in the GOP is the feeling that the war on terror is the nation’s number-one priority, and that President Bush has remade the world in prosecuting it. Giuliani and McCain are not preaching a “softer” message in the war on terror, but a hard line on fighting evil when it threatens America.

The Rathers and Brokaws should have to answer the question: What was it about Monday night’s speeches that had anything to do with abortion, or homosexuality, or stem-cell research? How was it relevant to the night’s events? The Republicans last night made a case that the media’s missing the point–that their griping would be like whining in 1944 that Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t talking enough about race relations or some other social issue. Certainly, the Democratic convention did not spend any time on abortion, or homosexuality: They spent it all on Lieutenant Kerry “reporting for duty.” Why should the Republicans be pressed to do something different?

ABC, CBS, and NBC never mentioned abortion or gay issues in their three nights of prime-time Boston coverage. CNN also avoided these issues in prime time. MSNBC avoided abortion talk, and carried two mentions of homosexuality. Chris Matthews asked Virginia Gov. Mark Warner once about how a pro-gay stand will play in the South. (Um, it won’t.) Only PBS noticed the absence of these issues in Boston, with two mentions of abortion and two of homosexuality.

But there was CNN’s Aaron Brown last night complaining: “I don’t think the Republican party can go an entire week without mentioning the economy, without mentioning health care, without mentioning the range of social issues. But they managed to get through the entire night tonight without talking about any of them.” These are important issues, and the differences between the parties are dramatic. But a fair and balanced network wouldn’t just discover them at convention number two.

Monday should easily be the least biased night of the four, and not simply because the major networks were off the air. The Republicans are not feeding these speakers to the satellite trucks because they soften the party’s hard-religious-right image. George W. Bush doesn’t really have that image in the first place. They are offering these speakers because they are the Republicans the media has the least appetite for criticizing. It would look odd for the media to lard McCain with praise all year long and then trash him when he stands by his party’s nominee. It would look odd for the media to so hail Giuliani’s leadership in New York’s crisis and then say he can’t testify to his feelings for Bush’s leadership.

Monday night offered a formula to overcome the media bias, to overwhelm the attempts of the network anchors to dilute, dismiss, and dismantle the Republican message to voters. The GOP made it more difficult for the liberal media to get their cleats into the turf to play defense for their beleaguered standard-bearer, John Kerry.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.

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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