Keep the Race Going

The top four Democratic candidates for president survived New Hampshire with their spin intact. John Kerry won and Howard Dean recovered from his third place finish in Iowa to place a solid second in the Granite State. Wesley Clark narrowly beat John Edwards for third place.

So where does this leave progressive populists?

Turns out we're in good shape. Both Iowa and New Hampshire recorded big numbers of voters, a groundswell that is determined to turn George W. Bush out of the White House in November. Kerry's talking a populist line and while the pundits are still discounting the Democrats' chances, a Newsweek poll after Bush's State of the Union speech showed the top four Democrats were all within striking distance of Bush in head-to-head matchups (see page 15).

Dean is the most populist candidate of the top four, and the former Vermont governor showed he has the right enemies in the run-up to New Hampshire. The good doctor went through a couple weeks of abuse at the hands of the corporate news media. They knocked him down but they couldn't knock him out.

He even survived the hoo-ra over the Scream, which was the most flagrant distortion of an innocent event by the "news" media since right-wingers twisted Paul Wellstone's memorial service beyond recognition in 2002.

As I watched Dean's speech live on caucus night Jan. 19, I thought perhaps he went a bit long and the holler at the end was a little forced, but he was trying to pick up the spirits of his campaign troops after a disappointing third-place showing. And the crowd appeared to be eating it up.

But the pundits transformed the post-caucus pep rally into a manic rantfest. From their bloviation, someone who hadn't watched the whole rally would have thought Dean bit the head off a live chicken in front of a rabid crowd. The talking heads piled on -- even questioning Dean's mental fitness.

Bryan Keefer wrote about the reportorial overkill Jan. 24 for Campaigndesk.org, a project of the Columbia Journalism Review that monitors campaign spin. "While at first the campaign press generally reported the speech fairly, over the last few days several members of the media have indulged in cheap shots at Dean disguised as hard news reporting," Keeler wrote. "... Perhaps the most interesting observation came from Matea Gold and John M. Glionna, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Dean's 'gravelly voice [was] barely audible over the din of applause inside the '70s-style disco hall.'

"The fact that the reporters, who were in the room with Dean, felt that he was raising the volume of his voice to be heard over his supporters is a key detail missing from most other coverage of the speech (including Gold's own follow-up)."

Dean spent much of the rest of the week talking about his yell instead of policy positions. At one point Dean and his wife were obliged to sit for an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. Alexander Stille noted in the Jan. 27 Los Angeles Times that of 96 questions Sawyer asked virtually all were hostile and negative and 90 were about personality and temperament.

Then, in the New Hampshire exit poll conducted by the networks and Associated Press, after the usual questions, out of nowhere came this loaded question: "Regardless of how you voted today, do you think Howard Dean has the temperament to serve effectively as president?" No other questions about specific candidates were asked. Zachary Roth wrote at Campaigndesk.org, "Simply by tossing that stink bomb into the official exit poll, the networks and their consortium have blatantly inserted themselves as players, rather than reporters, in the Democratic primaries to come"

Why does the media hate Dean? Some journalists complain that he doesn't seem to care about their feelings. Maybe they also resent the disdain for Washington Dean has expressed. They should grow up.

But perhaps reporters and editors also are responding to signals from high places. Even when the news department is norminally independent from the business side, there aren't many places where you get ahead by reporting against the interests of the newspaper's publisher or the network's owners.

Wall Street is accustomed to financing Democrats and Republicans and bringing them to heel but Dean's Internet-based campaign made him largely independent of those panjandrums. Dean was asking for trouble when he proposed to re-regulate the broadcast media and reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, requiring radio and TV stations to balance their views instead of giving a free hand to the right wingers.

That sort of independence displeases media executives at a time when they've gotten the FCC to ignore the clear will of the American people and proceed with further deregulation of the broadcast media to enable corporations to monopolize local radio and TV stations. So if Dean gets to the White House, it will be in spite of the networks and their print subsidiaries, not because of them.

On the other hand, the media gave Bush another free pass when he made numerous claims in his State of the Union address that were in pretty obvious conflict with the facts. The press corps once again failed to provide the context a year after an outrageous misstatement of the facts in last year's State of the Union address helped push the US into an unnecessary war with Iraq. The Center for American Progress outlined some Bush discrepancies (see page 12). But for most of the nation's media Bush's sound bites were digested in the news cycle and nobody in the mainstream corporate media questioned whether Bush looked presidential as he spouted an hourlong litany of misstatments, obfuscations and outright lies.

Mind you, these are people who a few years ago literally made a federal case out of Bill Clinton's efforts to cover up an affair with a mistress. That lie led to his impeachment. Bush's lies led to standing ovations despite record deficits and a war that already has cost more than 9,000 casualties.

Now we have a White House for which lying is almost standard operating procedure. Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council last year laid out a case for war that was at best misleading. Last week Vice President Dick Cheney surfaced long enough to claim that he still believes Iraq had weapons of mass destruction despite nine months of fruitless searches. Cheney also insisted there were links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, although intelligence agencies have found no evidence of such a relationship. Apparently Cheney takes to heart Winston Churchill's statement that "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

We don't subscribe to the charge that Ralph Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. Democrats who blamed Nader merely used him as a scapegoat for their shortcomings -- and ignore the fact that Gore actually got more votes nationwide as well as in Florida. That said, we don't think another presidential run by Nader or the Greens would be constructive. If Democrats at times are mediocre, the Republicans have crossed the line into a party whose leaders respect neither truth nor liberty in their zeal to seize and maintain power. As Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said of the GOP during the ruthless mid-decade redistricting power play, "They don't want to govern. They want to rule."

If you really believe Nader and the Greens cost the Dems the election, work for instant runoff voting, where a voter can cast his or her first and second choice for candidates, to eliminate the spoiler effect. Democrats who bellyache the loudest about Nader tend to ignore IRV -- because party leaders use fear of the greater evil to get progressives to vote for the lesser evil. But this year progressives must join with centrists to give the Democratic nominee a victory by a margin neither the Supreme Court nor voting machine programmers can take away. -- JMC

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