Politics & Policy

Michigan’s Sleepy Watchdogs

In a key Senate race, the media hits mute on Democratic scandals.

Detroit – On Sunday morning, September 7, the Detroit Free Press led its front page by handing its Neal Shine Award to Democratic senator Carl Levin and Democratic congressman John Dingell, both of whom are retiring. “In an era when the do-nothing Congress has become a cliché, it’s easy to forget just how much U.S. Rep. John Dingell and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin have done for southeastern Michigan,” gushed Michigan’s largest newspaper in a fawning profile of the two men.

How do you cover politicians at the same time as you shower them with awards? You don’t.

The Free Press is evidence of an establishment U.S. media that’s not just liberal, but a partisan offensive line blocking opposing players for Democratic politicians. Pundits are puzzled this election season as supposedly hot-button issues like Obamacare and IRSgate do not seem to work as an electoral case against Democrats.

“Those who are looking for a Republican wave building for the November election won’t find evidence of it in Michigan,” writes the Detroit News’s Nolan Finley, a rare conservative voice.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even as Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terry Lynn Land has out-raised her Democratic opponent, Gary Peters — bucking the national trend — Peters’s assist from the state’s liberal media establishment has more than made up the difference. Major media here haven’t reported on Democratic scandals in months. Most news consumers are in the dark. They may have a sense that things are wrong — they’ve lost their health insurance, the job market is stagnant — but media watchdogs aren’t barking.

Take the retiring Levin, whose seat Land and Peters are vying to fill in a race key to deciding Senate control. This year Levin is at the center of IRSgate, the biggest political scandal since Watergate, as President Obama and his party apparently used the IRS to cripple Republican grassroots organizations in the 2012 election. The Free Press and news networks have ignored Levin’s role in this effort, despite Michigan Republican and House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp outing Levin for sending e-mails to the IRS urging interference with tea-party groups. It’s the most explosive story in the state, but the media here aren’t interested.

While Democratic incompetence should be widely acknowledged, forming the context of the campaign between Land and Peters, Land has had to burn campaign dollars on ads making the case herself. Her most powerful prop is Julie Boonstra, a cancer patient who was ignored by Peters’s office after her insurance coverage was stripped by Obamacare.

Was there a Sandra Fluke-esque media feeding frenzy about this Democratic War on Women? Hardly. Michigan’s media parroted the Peters campaign by savaging Boonstra as too ignorant to understand that she is better off under Obamacare.

Then there is Peters himself, a political chameleon whose political backflips make even other pols blush. A millionaire former financial adviser, he has styled himself an anti–Wall Street populist, attacking Land’s contributions from the Koch brothers. And in order to attract billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s millions, Peters has remade himself as an anti-oil tree-hugger — even as his investment portfolio is heavy on carbon stocks. Land has hammered these inconsistencies, but Peters’ media chorus has yawned.

Most polls show Peters with a comfortable lead.

“Land is down 10 points to Democratic Rep. Gary Peters,” bemoans Finley. “That’s double her deficit in May, again, defying any suggestion that this is going to be a very good year for the GOP.”

Like Dingell, Michigan’s media have long advocated for government-run medicine. Dingell’s pet, Obamacare — he stood at President Obama’s side as he signed the legislation in 2010 — has been a nightmare for Michiganders. Fast-food franchises have reduced hiring, tens of thousands have lost their insurance, and even Democratic unions have complained as local governments threaten to move workers to part-time status to avoid Obamacare’s mandate.

No coverage of all this has followed. No heartstring-pulling stories of families without insurance, no drumbeat of Democratic policies gone awry. So Dingell gets his Shine Award, as does Levin. In the partisan world of establishment media, the most important goal is not keeping voters informed, but keeping Democrats in office.

— Henry Payne is an auto critic for the Detroit News and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.


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