Politics & Policy

Panic Room

Compelling "moderate" speakers are driving reporters buggy.

About a decade ago, in one long afternoon of a Media Research Center staff self-evaluation session, a fundraising consultant told Brent Bozell about our donors. “Your people love America, Brent.” One of my co-workers turned this into a no-[kidding]-Sherlock laugh line for a number of years afterward. But conservative politicians have reaped great benefit from loving America, while their opponents have seen only a country of reckless arrogance–one that ought to bow more to anti-American feelings on the international scene, and try to muddle itself into the family of nations with apologies.

Last night, Arnold Schwarzenegger took his predictable movie-star turn at the convention podium, and he captured that conservative idealism about America’s promise to immigrants, and America as a dream land of opportunity. It must have seemed especially strange to reporters as Arnold recalled the oppressive Soviet “boot,” as well as his dismay for Austria’s turn to (and Hubert Humphrey’s enthusiasm for) socialism. Reporters, always on the hunt for division at GOP conventions, missed their chance to carp that idealism about immigrants is not a party consensus, but they must not sit home nights and watch Congressman Tom Tancredo make Special Orders speeches about our plague of immigrants on C-SPAN. [[Okay, but there’s a big diff. between encouraging legal immigration and expressing due and understandable and necessary concern about an overwhelming influx of illegal immigrants…and Arnold even mentioned “playing by the rules” as one of the necessary ingredients for immigrant success-implying that he’s not a fan of ppl breaking those rules to get here (and also he nixed the illegal-immigrant licenses crap in Calif.) Plus, do we really want to knock Tancredo?]]

The best thing about Arnold’s speech was the Square One portion, the one where he sounded like an Austrian-accented Jeff Foxworthy: “If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican.” Political junkies might forget that if this hour is a Republican “infomercial,” then perhaps the best thing to do is start at the very beginning and announce what Republicans believe.

Network analysts were generally positive about the speech, but didn’t note that one important part of Arnold’s appeal is to widen Kerry’s gender gap, to increase the Republican hold on males. One network analyst did suggest he would be good for first-time male voters, but men in general were quite positive about that speech. A friend e-mailed that they should have shut the convention down and gone home after Arnold spoke, and that the speaking order was wrong: “Arnold opening for Laura is like Guns N’ Roses opening for Jewel.”

But Laura Bush’s speech was everything that Teresa Heinz Kerry’s was not: a warm look at the Bush marriage, old stories about campaign trips in an Olds Cutlass. For many it is such a refreshing change from the Clinton train wreck, and the media’s perpetual attempt to paper over its oddness. Mrs. Bush also offered a careful look inside the anguish on the second floor of the White House as the hard decision of war approached, and made the case to women that her husband has done so much for them. If she were more like Hillary, she could have noted that President Bush liberated a lot more women than Hillary ever did attending U.N. feminist summits in Beijing.

By contrast, Teresa’s was a self-congratulatory speech, a don’t-tell-the-billionaire-what-she-can’t-say speech, in which it was somehow a whoop-dee-doo moment that a woman can be opinionated. The network anchors felt compelled to come to her aid and smooth over any ruffled feathers after she told a conservative editorialist to “shove it.”

The network stars are getting worried after two successful nights of speeches. After much praise on ABC for Arnold’s performance, Peter Jennings reminded viewers that Rudy Giuliani had likened the GOP’s future to the Yankees, who, Jennings pointed out, lost 22 to 0 on Tuesday night. NBC’s Tom Brokaw ended on a sour note as he stressed how “things are not going well in many parts of the world for the United States. Despite the speeches tonight of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Laura Bush, this is a very difficult time in Iraq, the war on terrorism is an uncertain trumpet.” As if Brokaw and his colleagues don’t pound that line home every single night. How can they seem so nervous that someone else might intrude on their aggressive salesmanship of a dark vision?

On the CBS Evening News last night, reporter Jim Axelrod devoted a story to his own personal panic. “This week, in the war of message and messengers, it just doesn’t seem like a fair fight. George Bush has some of the nation’s most popular politicians, moderate Republicans … delivering a sweeping prime-time message … And the Democrats answer with Tom Vilsack. … That’s the Governor of Iowa, in case you didn’t know.”

Axelrod asked with anxiety: “In this day and age, is there anyone who can compete with Rudy or McCain or Schwarzenegger?”

Larry Sabato replied: “The only person the Democrats have is Bill Clinton.”

Axelrod: “And he’s nowhere to be found this week?”

Sabato: “He’s nowhere to be found this week.”

Did they miss Bill’s Riverside Church sermon Sunday going after the Republicans? Axelrod ominously concluded: “Maybe, in time-honored tradition, Democrats have conceded these four days and gone on vacation. But in a race this close, there’s a huge risk conceding even four minutes.”

That, in a nutshell, underlines why the liberal media act so liberal, so aggressive, so baldly editorializing. They don’t want to waste a precious minute allowing a Republican to make a persuasive point. Every speaker must be picked apart. Every teaching moment must be rebutted. Every politically incorrect joke (at this convention, little Kerry Purple Heart Band-Aids) must be scorned. Liberal media panic has arrived, and Bush and Cheney haven’t even spoken yet.

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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