Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Media bias? What media bias?
On your right
“Excuse me sir, but are you stupid, ignorant or just plain crazy?”
Thus, the general tenor of the so-called questions in the third Republican presidential candidates’ debate — a thinly-disguised attempt by the old “Nobody But Clinton” network to put the hurt on one and all of her rivals across the aisle. Perhaps because it was Boulder, or perhaps because the CNBC moderators thought the Republican candidates a pack of rubes undeserving of consideration — or even respect — the night began with a snarky attack disguised as a condescending question and went downhill quickly from there.
It didn’t work. And about thirty minutes into the two-hour slime-o-rama, both the candidates and the audience had had enough. CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla presented Senator Ted Cruz with a pile of compost that amounted to “You’re just a wrecker who nobody likes, aren’t you?” His intended victim reminded everyone why he is such a dangerous debater by rhetorically beating the questioner senseless. That was rapidly followed by similar ripostes by many of the other candidates on the stage to equally fetid questions. In the end, the veil of pretended balance and imaginary impartiality was completely ripped away. The night ended with a score of Candidates, 9; Moderators, zero.
In the days that followed, the Republican National Committee suspended further debates with the NBC family, although they left the door open pending evidence that the network would treat the candidates with some semblance of courtesy. Meanwhile, most of the media circled the wagons and slapped together a defense, which amounted to “Well, those guys should have thicker skins.”
Sounds great, until one remembers that about the toughest question any Democrat candidate faced in their single debate to date was something like “Governor O’Malley, why isn’t your favorite flavor chocolate?” If the media is really laying out the thick-skin argument, the next time around, we should hear such inquiries as “Senator Clinton, in light of recent revelations, why do you persist in being a lying weasel about the deaths of four State Department employees in Benghazi?” Does anyone who has been alive for the past thirty years think we’ll even get close to something like that?
Fat chance. Which represents a challenge for Republican candidates — but opportunities as well. For the first time in a great while, the long-lived myth of media impartiality has been badly dented. So now is the time for candidates to do what the successful have always done: find new ways to achieve their goals. Ronald Reagan did so when he developed means to speak to the American people directly, over the heads of The Washington Post and New York Times, to the latter’s dismay. Barack Obama was also an innovator; so were the Roosevelts. Each developed new means of presenting their ideas and policies; each was successful. There’s no reason it can’t be done again.
The other problem seen in Boulder was the clash between old and new in the Republican party, mostly evidenced by the idea that one advances by doing in those whose poll numbers are better. Although John Kasich led the way, the strategy was probably best displayed by Jeb Bush’s attack on fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. Unfortunately for the former, the method’s weakness was exposed as well: It works best when deployed against an opponent less intelligent and nimble than one’s self. Bush’s intent was clearly to paint his opponent as an egotistical climber; instead, Bush came out looking like an opportunistic hypocrite who can’t get out of his own way.
Of the two difficulties facing any Republican nominee in 2016, the latter is the more intractable. Media bias is already baked into conservative understanding of politics, and, as the presidential campaign unfolds, it will become clearer to any independent voters who are paying attention. Strategies will be evolved to vitiate its effects. Intra-party conflict, however, poses a serious problem.
In 2012, if as many Republicans as voted for John McCain in 2008 had turned out for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama would not have had a second term. He was not the first president elected or re-elected by the power of pique, nor is he likely to be the last; but one would hope that, given the nation’s current parlous state both at home and abroad, in 2016 Republicans could at least agree that as distasteful as — you fill in the blank here — is, he or she would be miles better for the republic than Hillary Clinton. One saw a glimpse of this sort of unity and focus in Boulder as well; if it holds, 2016 will be a good year for the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
And for the republic, as well.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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