The Campaign Spot

Would a Sarah Palin Bid Prove the Media Ultimately Irrelevant?

Quite a few folks wrote in, saying they wanted to comment on Friday’s Palin post. Commenting should be back soon.

Presume, for the sake of this discussion, Palin wants to run for president. It remains possible she won’t run; she’s a young woman by the standards of presidential candidates, with young children. (This probably goes without saying, but presume that if she runs, she wants to win, and not just make a point or call attention to her preferred issues.)

If Palin wants to win, she will have to win over skeptics. She enjoys a devoted following, but they don’t add up to a majority in enough states to reach 270 electoral votes yet. If she wants to win, she’s going to have to move people who are iffy or doubtful about her now and turn them into supporters.

On the NR cruise, media bias was one of the most frequently invoked points, with the question often asked, “what can we do to stop the media bias and the lies? Why doesn’t our side ever fight back?” The complaint was invoked so frequently that I worry conservatives have come to use media bias as an excuse for when their preferred candidates and advocates just don’t get the job done and fail to win over persuadable voters.

Media bias is not the deciding factor between Republican victory or defeat. We can argue whether the MSM is worse today than it was in the Bush years or the Clinton years or the Reagan years. But few if any Republicans would argue that media coverage in any of those eras was good for the party. Yet despite the coverage of Sam Donaldson, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Bryant Gumbel, etc., Ronald Reagan won two landslides, the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, Republicans enjoyed good years in 2002 and 2004, and of course, we saw this November another example of widespread GOP victories while many are convinced the media is tilted against them. (Ask Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Allen West, or Renee Ellmers how friendly the media was to them.)

Whatever filtering ability the media has, it is not capable of completely filtering out arguments in favor of electing Republican candidates.

The media is not what it once was. The complaint about media bias carried a great deal of weight in an era of three networks and every major newspaper taking their cues from the New York Times. But in an era of many, many competing news sources, are any swing voters persuaded by Keith Olbermann? Rachel Maddow? How about Katie Couric? Christiane Amanpour? The MSM is, bit by bit, being replaced and consumed by alternative media.

This is not to say that the coverage in many major institutions doesn’t drip with a liberal bias, nor that the complaint isn’t legitimate. But it’s easy to wonder what good comes from complaining about it, or at least reason to worry about complaining too often. Of course it isn’t fair. As everyone from JFK to Rush has observed, life is not fair. No presidential candidate gets the coverage they think they deserve. (Obama got coverage that was exponentially better than he deserved, and even he whined like he was unfairly criticized. As President, the whining has continued.)

If favorable media coverage is really important to someone, they probably shouldn’t be a conservative.

Complaints about media bias give off a whiff of victimhood. In the Rush monologue linked above, he says, “Everybody tries to live their life.  Some people get a better handle on it than others. Some people think they have no control over their lives. They are constant victims that are always looking to blame everybody else for what doesn’t go right in their lives. Other people don’t have time for that.  They realize they only have one life and every day is something to seize, to make the most of.” Yes, many folks in the media are so wedded to the Palin-is-dumb line that they completely misinterpret what she says (1773!) and refuse to run retractions and corrections. So what? How many of those folks have real credibility with persuadable voters anymore? Of course they’re dishonest; it’s the only way to cope with all the cognitive dissonance. Besides, why should a potential president worry what they think of her when the New York Times editorial board meets?

It’s a free country, and Sarah Palin can punch back at her media critics all she likes; the fights continue to enthrall her base. But if she wants to expand that base, she’s probably better off sticking to kitchen-table issues and laying out her agenda and vision. She has bigger fish to fry, and I don’t just mean that halibut.


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