Politics & Policy

The Premature Pre-Party

If conservatives have engaged in “pre-criminations” over what went wrong in this election, the media have engaged in pre-celebration. It was predictable that Nancy Pelosi would get a honeymoon from the press if Democrats took the House. What has been surprising is that the honeymoon has begun even before the blessed event.

#ad#Pelosi has held her caucus together to block major Republican initiatives over the last two years, while throwing every name in the book at her opponents (“immoral,” “corrupt,” “incompetent”; she’s even said they’re running a criminal enterprise). In the media’s typical terminology, this should make Pelosi a “partisan obstructionist,” and probably “mean-spirited” to boot. At least it would if she weren’t a liberal Democrat on the verge of taking over the House for the first time in twelve years. 

In 1994, the media portrayed Newt Gingrich as a fire-breathing, radical right-winger. The week of the election, Time put a red-faced Gingrich on its cover with the headline “Mad As Hell.” By contrast, when Pelosi isn’t warm and cuddly, she’s a master politician. To wit, a recent profile of Pelosi that aired on NBC’s Today opened with these words: “She often introduces herself as a mother and grandmother, and is known for her trademark smile. But don’t be fooled. At 66, she is ambitious, effective, and has made an art form of staying on message.”

The media haven’t been able to conceal their rooting interest in this election. They visibly pant over the prospect of a big Democratic night on November 7, and if there is any doubt about its happening (they often portray it as a foregone conclusion), they are willing to help push Democrats over the top.

Consider Tuesday’s flap over a Republican National Committee ad that poked fun at Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate for a Tennessee Senate seat. The ad features a series of faux “man on the street” interviews with various people telling the camera why they plan to vote for Ford. An elderly gentleman says, “When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again.” A man in hunting gear says, “Ford’s right. I do have too many guns.” And a young blonde giggles, “I met Harold at the Playboy party!”

All day Tuesday the media pushed the line — concocted by Democrats — that the RNC included the young blonde in the ad to send a subtle, racist message to people uncomfortable with the idea of interracial sex. (Democrats and media bigwigs apparently think such people are a major voting bloc in Tennessee.) In the Los Angeles Times, Peter Wallsten wrote, “A scantily clad white woman winking and inviting a black candidate to ‘call me’ is drawing charges of race-baiting.” On MSNBC, Tim Russert asked Ken Mehlman three times in a row if he thought the ad was racist before finally thundering, “The whole idea of having a blonde white woman winking at a black congressman, the notion of interracial sex, is not, in your mind, racist?”

The ad isn’t racist, it’s effective. It raises the possibility that the Democrats won’t count among their number a Senator Ford, subject of a sloppy wet kiss of a cover story in the current Newsweek. (Did the editors of Newsweek meet Ford at a Playboy party?) Ford is losing ground in his race against Republican candidate Bob Corker, partly because Ford’s campaign hasn’t been able to explain his presence at a Playboy Super Bowl party in 2005. (The 36-year-old bachelor explained on Tuesday, “I like football and I like girls. I don’t have a — no apologies for that.”) The RNC ad simply raises a question that voters often ask about candidates, regardless of color: Does this person represent my values?

Like Ford, Jim Webb has been enjoying support from a media cheering section. The Democrat still hasn’t been able to overtake incumbent senator George Allen in Virginia — but not for lack of trying on the part of the Washington Post. The Post’s coverage of the now-infamous “macaca” story bordered on obsessive. For weeks after the incident, it exhausted every possible angle in order to keep the story in the newspaper. In one nine-day period, it ran four front-page stories and two editorials on Allen’s gaffe.

Or take another tight race — that between Missouri incumbent Jim Talent and his Democratic challenger, state auditor Claire McCaskill. McCaskill recently sponsored an ad in which Michael J. Fox, visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, urges voters to support McCaskill on the grounds that Talent opposes an amendment to the state constitution that would establish a right for scientists to do research on cloned human embryos. When Rush Limbaugh pointed out that Fox had probably gone without medication prior to shooting the ad — as Fox himself has admitted to doing before Senate testimony on stem-cell research — Limbaugh was vilified in the press for, as the Washington Post disingenuosly put it, calling Fox’s disability “imaginary.”

Then there’s the ridiculous play given to former White House aide David Kuo’s new book. This boomlet of attention shows that the media needn’t even keep their storylines straight. We have long been led to believe the Christian Right exerts an undue influence on the GOP, pressuring it to advance “theocratic” social policies. But now we learn from Kuo, in a message relentlessly promoted by the press, that Bush-administration officials “mocked” evangelical leaders and took advantage of Christian conservatives. Kuo’s thesis — trivial on the merits but perfect for suppressing Republican voter turnout — earned him airtime on Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, and just about every program on CNN and MSNBC.

Conservatives shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. If only the media were on the ballot, they could take direct recourse. Alas, they can only do the next best thing, which is to vote against the Democrats who are the objects of the media’s fervent affections.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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