August 21, 2004
No pain, no gainBy Thomas Lifson
Once again, a seeming strength of the Kerry campaign has turned into a liability.
Adam Nagourney, writing in the New York Times, speculates that Kerry spent too much time letting the Swiftvets' charges go unanswered:
...more than a few Democrats expressed surprise on Friday that a campaign that has made such a point of presenting itself as aggressive and fast—footed had let this story go on unattended for so long....
"They made a strategic mistake," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said of Mr. Kerry's campaign. "The ad has been largely effective because it wasn't rebutted."
Why do you suppose Kerry thought he could remain silent? I think it obvious that he believed his friends in the media would ignore the charges, so that the very limited advertising budget available to the Swiftvets meant that very few people would actually hear of them.
The reason human beings are endowed with the mechanism of feeling pain is to warn us of hazards surrounding us. We avoid getting cut or burned seriously, if pain signals us of the danger. Without pain, we would self—destruct.
Kerry was correct that he could ignore the charges, at least as far as the old media, comprised of the prestige national newspapers, the broadcast networks, and two out of three cable news networks, were concerned. These outlets almost completely ignored (i.e., suppressed) the story. If they had the same monopoly on information that they enjoyed 15 years ago, he would have succeeded.
But Fox News Channel, talk radio, and a relatively new phenomenon, the blogosphere, got on the case, and publicized the charges widely. A majority of Americans have heard of them, despite extremely limited old media coverage.
The blogosphere played a crucial role, utilizing the interactive nature of that medium to analyze and build on the factual record of various Kerry statements in the past. Outstanding bloggers like Instapundit (which became a de—factor clearinghouse), Powerline, Captain's Quarters, Roger L. Simon, and others pieced together irrefutable evidence that Kerry had deceived the Senate and the American public, when he declared on the Senate floor in debate that the memory of an illegal incursion of his into Cambodia was 'seared — seared' into his mind.
Nagourney partially recognizes this phenomenon:
... In fairness to Mr. Kerry, his aides were faced with a strategic dilemma that has become distressingly familiar to campaigns in this era when so much unsubstantiated or even false information can reach the public through so many different forums, be it blogs or talk—show radio.
The first choice is to discredit the attack before it takes hold. Many Democrats counseled Mr. Kerry's aides to do this the moment the advertisements began.
The other choice is to ignore what appears to be noise from the sideline, in the calculation that attacking serves to elevate the attack to the public's attention. This was the argument that some of Mr. Kerry's advisers had been making over the past two weeks in urging supporters to play down the advertisements.
In initially holding back, Mr. Kerry's advisers noted that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had spent a relatively small amount of money on the advertisements, about $500,000.
What they apparently failed to calculate was the extent that advertisements featuring other Vietnam veterans, speaking coolly and directly to the camera, would become the subject of television news shows. That was all the more so because the advertisements and the book were released in August, a slow month when news outlets are hungry for any kind of news.
The dogmatic insistence by Nagourney in the unreliability of the new media is sour grapes, indeed. The newspaper which brought Jayson Blair to national attention is in no position to look down its nose on anyone. Even today, a peer of the Times, The Washington Post has been outed by this websitem for repeating misinformation.
The public has caught on to the false pretensions in number sufficient to counter—balance the bias of the large establishment media outlets. However, those numbers emphatically do not include the highly partisan Democrats who constitute the entirety of the Kerry campaign. They will continue to misread their ability to control the terms of the debate, to their own detriment.
Evan Thomas, an editor at Newsweek estimated that the support of the mainstream media could account for as much as a 15% boost in popularity for the Kerry candidacy.
"The media, I think, want Kerry to win. And I think they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards — I'm talking about the establishment media, not Fox, but — they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all, there's going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points.'
That +15% factor must be balanced against the liability to the campaign of mistaken assumptions about the structure of political information. We are in a new era.