October 25, 2004

Fear and loathing on the campaign trail, 2004

Today being St. Crispin's Day and all, we're regularizing a new feature here as a subset of "Paint it Red!", our general poll watching info.

Today is the first installment of "PANIC!!!!!! Watch", dedicated to watching for signs of panic within the herd of the dinosaur media as a means to assess the status and chances J. Francois has going into next week. I've decided to call it "Fear and Loathing on the campaign trail" as it describes rather accuaretly the emotions of the core of the dinosaur media covering Dubya.

Our first link goes to Howard Kurtz. Now, Kurtz is not engaging in the panic himself, primarily because Kurtz remains at least in my book as a solid old-school reporter. Plus, he knows a good story when he sees it and he delivers the goods. Here's the good stuff:

The outcome of the race remains in doubt, of course, but there are huge implications for the media -- especially its openly liberal branch -- if President Bush is reelected next week. Some are already using apocalyptic terms. The New Yorker is backing John Kerry today in the first endorsement in its 80-year history.

That's a bit of tongue-in-cheek commentary: has anyone who bothers to read the New Yorker ever had any doubt as to their political preferences?

No? I didn't think so.

"There will be a period of grieving," says Katrina van den Heuvel, editor of the Nation. "We will continue to fight the good fight during what we think is the dismantling of our democracy."

But her liberal magazine has grown from 100,000 in circulation to 170,000 in the past four years. "Bush has been bad for the nation but good for the Nation," she admits.

From the 36-day recount through the Iraq war and beyond, George W. Bush has been at the center of the political and media universe. He's had a testy relationship with the establishment press: the fewest news conferences of any president in more than four decades, an administration that thrives on secrecy and a vice president who has denounced the New York Times and barred its reporters from Air Force Two. Not to mention a special prosecutor who is threatening to put reporters in jail in the Valerie Plame case.

It's no secret that many journalists feel burned by the administration's WMD claims during the run-up to war and that their coverage has gotten tougher over the past year. Will attitudes harden on both sides if they have to coexist for another four years?

"I think journalists will accept the judgment of the public and read the victory as an acceptance that the rules are now changed," says Washington Monthly Editor Paul Glastris, a former Clinton administration official. "The way they've been treated, the way the administration buries information and misrepresents almost anything they want to would just be an accepted fact of life. There will be a defining down of the acceptable standards of what government can do."

Like how Howie slipped the innocuous "former Clinton administration official" in the middle of that sentence?

I think we can add a new line for Alanis Morrisette:

It's like rain on your wedding day

It's a free ride when you've already paid

It's the good advice that you just didn't take

It's a "former Clinton official" lecturing you on presidential honesty and ethics

Who would've thought ... it figures

He continues, somehow forgetting Paul Begala's two-fer as both a current Kerry aide and a former Clinton staffer:

Here are what some liberals had to say in Glastris's magazine about a second Bush term:

CNN's Paul Begala: "He and his allies are likely to embark on a campaign of political retribution the likes of which we haven't seen since Richard Nixon."

Columbia's Todd Gitlin: "I would not be surprised to see outbursts of political violence the likes of which we haven't seen since the Weather Underground of the 1970s."

Ph, you mean the guys the New York Times had a story on lauding their bombing of the Pentagon in the 60s, which just happened to run the morning of September 11th? What is it about lefties and the desire to incite political violence?

Fortunately, they're the party of gun control, too, so their uprising aint going to go too far. Heaven help the left if the much better armed right starts talking/thinking that way....

Harvard's Elaine Kamarck, a former Clinton aide: "The beginning of the end of American greatness."

Blogger Kevin Drum:"One word: scandal."

Hyperbole, perhaps, but some on the right also see profound consequences. If Bush beats John Kerry and Republicans keep control of the Hill, writes conservative activist Grover Norquist, "the modern Democratic Party cannot survive."

It's hardly unusual for partisans to use tough language in a close campaign. But liberals have a way of talking about the president that fairly drips with disdain. If Bush wins, says Joe Conason, a columnist for Salon and the New York Observer, "I will be worried. I will be concerned for the world."

"Oh man," the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh said recently. "If he's reelected, we're really in trouble."

The New Yorker's editorial says Bush's record is "one of failure, arrogance" and "incompetence." A Nation editorial bemoans "the list of his mistakes, delusions, deceptions, follies, tragedies and crimes." A New Republic editorial accuses Bush of "ideological certainty untroubled by empirical evidence, intellectual curiosity, or open debate." This isn't patty-cake.

New Yorker Editor David Remnick says that he broke with tradition because "the magazine's not a museum; it's a living thing that evolves" and that he and his editors reached a consensus without consulting the owner. "I have no idea who Si Newhouse is voting for," Remnick says.

Part of the White House/Fourth Estate divide may be cultural. Although Bush bestowed nicknames on reporters during the 2000 campaign, he's made clear while in office that he doesn't need them. He's given few interviews other than to sympathetic hosts such as Bill O'Reilly or soft touches like Dr. Phil (though he appears with ABC's Charlie Gibson today, while Kerry chats up NBC's Katie Couric). He says he doesn't read newspapers because he prefers "unfiltered" news from his staff. When Kerry invoked the press during the third debate, Bush shot back: "I'm not so sure it's credible to quote leading news organizations," before stopping himself with a chortle.

But just as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News thrived during the Clinton years, the Bush era has given rise to liberal blogs, Air America Radio and a slew of Al Franken-like bestsellers. And Bush would remain a fabulous target for outraged liberals who might have to modulate their rhetoric during a Kerry presidency.

In a second term, writes Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff, "the take-it-on-the-chin liberal media, the imitate-the-conservative-media liberal media finds a subject -- bad Bush -- that can make it money as well as make it feel good about itself."

It's always possible that if Bush wins, the tensions between the two sides will fade with the campaign -- that is, if there's not another bitter recount.

"When the president is very popular, the press is less critical," Conason says. "I think he'll have a honeymoon for a while. He had a long one last time, even though he didn't win."

There you have it. Any signs of similar panic coming from the right? Not that I've noticed (except from up on the chair at the first sign of a mouse Bill Kristol of course....)

Posted by Steve at October 25, 2004 02:00 PM | TrackBack

CNN's Paul Begala: "He and his allies are likely to embark on a campaign of political retribution the likes of which we haven't seen since Richard Nixon."

Yum. Nixon.

Retribution is tasty...



Posted by: pep at October 25, 2004 04:59 PM

Kevin Drum, one word. "Really nice guy but way out of his league." Or maybe "I'm going to blog the shyte out of something (1) fabricated, (2) unimportant, and (3) guaranteed to soothe tinfoil-wearing idiots." Or is that more than one word?

Funny, I keep reading about all these non-scandals of the moment there...

Oh, and the word was going to be "shill." But maybe "shrill" would be getter.

Posted by: ken at October 25, 2004 06:43 PM

I work with some people who are really well connected at pretty high levels on either side. I've only been working at this place for a few weeks now, and thus far I've only revealed my political perspective to the one woman I know is a Republican. One of my bosses, who is a Democrat, confessed to a small group of us on Friday, very very somberly, "I don't think I've ever seen people so scared about the possibility of another four years. Not in 1996, not in 1984... people are just scared to death, 'what's he going to do if he's reelected?'" Of course, this was my boss, so I couldn't say what I was thinking, which was, "If another four years of Bush is honestly the thing that scares you most right now, then you people seriously need to get your heads examined."

Posted by: Nicole Griffin at October 25, 2004 11:23 PM

Two thoughts:

(1) Professional Bedwetters Brigade.

(2)They disdain and malign a president and they're surprised that he ignores them. Jaw droppingly stupid. And arrogant.

Posted by: Mikey at October 26, 2004 12:24 PM
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