September 14, 2010
Media's Self-Defeating Attacks on PalinBy J.R. Dunn
Michael Joseph Gross's Vanity Fair piece demonstrates that there will be no end of attacks on Sarah Palin, no limit to their mendacity, and that they will have the exact opposite effect that the left yearns for. The American left and its tame media desire -- with an intensity that normal individuals would find impossible to understand -- to treat Palin the way a pit bull would treat a rabbit: tear her to pieces and toss her aside broken. But each new encounter ends with the governor stronger, more powerful, and more popular than before. What we're seeing is the latest example of the left's habit of creating its own nightmares.
Halfway through his presidential term, Jimmy Carter initiated a program that he'd evidently been thinking about for some time. He'd gotten it into his head that the private Baptist church schools which educated a large number of children across the South were racist institutions practicing segregation. In full defiance of the 1st Amendment's free exercise clause, he ordered the IRS to harass the schools until they shut down. This campaign went unmentioned in the monopoly media of the day.
As in much else, Carter was deeply mistaken. The Baptist church in the South is divided into two major conferences, one black and one white. Both have their own schools, attended, in each case, by black and white children. It's difficult to grasp how an ordained minister could have missed this fact. What it all came down to was an American president utilizing a false appearance of racism to harass a religious group.
Like many evangelicals, the Baptists tended to avoid political activity as an occasion of sin. (Can anyone blame them?) But in this case, pastors encouraged their congregations to become involved in the campaign to save their schools. Within days, over 3 million people contacted the White House to complain about the IRS campaign. Carter was forced to drop the effort.
But evangelical religious leaders knew that wasn't the end of it. A politician thwarted using one method will simply find another. They could be certain that they would be repeatedly targeted until Carter -- or the next liberal president -- got what he wanted. A number of clergy gathered together to discuss possible responses. They included an unknown Virginia pastor named Rev. Jerry Falwell. The result of these discussions was the establishment of the Moral Majority, the pioneering organization of what came to be called the Religious Right.
The same media that had ignored Carter's violation of the Constitution suddenly woke up. The Religious Right was endlessly harried as an insidious threat to American freedoms, particularly following their crucial involvement in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. For the next two decades, the media and liberal politicians piled on. Politically involved evangelicals simply grew stronger and more influential. They remain so today. At no point was Carter's illegal action ever brought up.
The same story could be repeated regarding Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and today Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. The technique never varies. The left, most commonly by way of the media, targets a particular group or politician, evoking a mammoth, sinister, but unclear threat to the public good. The attacks begin with an air of reasonableness and good faith -- the Cronkite/Moyers method -- but soon mount in rabidity to the Olbermann/Schultz level. The goal is not simply to oppose or confront the individuals involved, but to destroy them. Within weeks, the left as a whole is involved not only through traditional media, but also through blogs, comment threads, and sites such as DU and Kos.
But in many cases, the issues and personalities involved resonate with the public. When this is true, the forces arrayed against the targets cause no serious damage, instead serving only to increase their visibility and popularity. It's as if the energy being expended is working in the victim's favor. Eventually the effort goes hyperbolic, ending in large-scale hysteria and eventual collapse. A wounded left staggers off, whining about how "dumb" and "ill-informed" Americans are.
The Gross story won't leave any mark on Palin any more than the Todd Purdum hit piece, the Levi Johnston interview, or the "redacted" resignation letter did.
The media overlook the ancient PR adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Reworked in the form of practical tactics, this would read: there's no publicity that can't be turned to your own benefit.
The "refudiate" uproar is a perfect example. A single easily understood error -- type in "refute," decide on "repudiate" instead, and miss one letter -- is presented as evidence of drooling idiocy. But instead the public leaps on it and we get t-shirts and bumper stickers and a valuable new term of satiric import, while the left whines, "It's not really a word."
The media look back proudly on overthrowing two major threats to the public welfare: Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1974. In both cases, they turned on the spotlights, cranked all the speakers up to 10, and spent months roaring out every imaginable form of insult and innuendo all day, every day. Goldwater was a Nazi, a reactionary, a lunatic who wanted nothing less than to trigger an all-out nuclear war. Nixon was all that too, not to overlook his desire to subvert the Constitution. And it worked, from the media point of view. Both went down in flames, Goldwater to defeat in the 1964 election, and Nixon to disgrace as the only president ever forced from office.
But was media overkill in fact responsible? It's doubtful in both cases. Goldwater was facing an uphill battle in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination. (Interestingly, the two had already discussed the campaign before Kennedy was shot. JFK envisioned a roadshow extravaganza in which the two candidates would barnstorm the country together, a campaign no one would ever forget. Whether old Joe would have sat still for that is another matter.) All that Lyndon B. Johnson had to do was show up, which he did, beating Goldwater by nearly 23%. All the false reportage, the hysterical rhetoric, and the scurrilous TV commercials may have added to that percentage, but only marginally. And beyond the election itself, what did they accomplish? The Goldwater campaign was the fuse that triggered the conservative explosion that still shakes the landscape today. It led to the election of Ronald Reagan, the conservative backlash in Congress, and inevitably to the current public uprising we call the Tea Parties. The repellent media campaign of 1964 can't be said to have accomplished much in the long run, can it?
As for Nixon, his career presents a lengthy succession of impressive achievements undercut by blatantly self-destructive acts. Watergate was merely the most large-scale of these psychodramas. On some deep level, Nixon loathed himself and believed that the world at large did, too. His final scandal could be called suicide by media. (The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Newt Gingrich.)
The media believes that their two great victories over reactionary evil came about through lining up the big guns and firing every last available round. As Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, there is a yearning in the Western heart for the decisive battle, the one that will end conflict with a bang and tie things up with a nice little bow. We see this expressed not only in warfare, but also in entertainment, the arts, and as here, in the media. The legacy media views politics through exactly that lens: rid the world of Goldwater, of Nixon, and then we will all walk into paradise together. But it never works out that way. After Nixon comes Reagan, and Gingrich, and Palin, and Jindal, and Brewer, and Haley...so it's all fantasy. There are no climactic battles in politics any more than there are climactic battles in getting up and going to work in the morning. Politics is not Armageddon. It is an aspect of life, one requiring daily effort. It comprises a guerilla war, won not by mammoth all-or-nothing collisions, but by continual low-key encounters on the level of the commonplace. This is something that a politician would understand, a media figure not at all.
The media's scorched-earth strategy is innately self-defeating. In attacking Trig Palin, the legacy media insulted every woman raising a disabled child. In making light of Bristol's woes as a single mother, they infuriated every family suffering through the same crisis (an affront worsened by the attempt to turn Levi into a cultural hero, albeit one several steps below the average wrestler or rapper). In attempting to undercut the Palin marriage, the media denigrated all marriages, happy, sad, or indifferent. (No less a figure than Alexander the Great once said he would not dare step between a man and wife. Today's media prances in where a world-conqueror refused to go.)
So the left, through abuse of its megaphone industry, creates its own worst enemies. It appears to be an innate tendency, and there's probably no way to change it. The media operates as a consensus hierarchy; any single perceptive individual who figures out why their efforts always seem to boomerang will be overwhelmed by the mediocrities. So the Olbermanns, the McGinnisses, and the Grosses will continue falling on their faces, and the media will continue, all unknowing, to nurture the enemies of the left.
On the other hand, much can be learned from a close study of Palin's response to such attacks. After a naïve slip confronting the adorable Katie Couric, Palin has established a record of manipulating the media unmatched since Reagan's heyday. A single tweet from Palin's phone sends tsunamis roaring across the international media sphere. Palin has developed into one of the most media-savvy figures on the current scene.
But that shouldn't be surprising. There's one singular fact that the media, with all its research, all its prying, has failed in root out: she has a journalism degree.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.