By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Managing the media

Media Nation is officially nonpartisan. But I’m not going to pretend to be anything but pleased by the Democrats’ taking back the House and possibly the Senate, too.

Still, there are risks involved. Losing would have been too demoralizing for Democratic Party leaders even to contemplate; but winning puts the Democrats in the position of letting themselves become a symbol of all that’s wrong heading into the 2008 presidential campaign.

Thus the Democrats’ first task must be to figure out how they’re going to manage the media. We’ve all seen how it works. Republican talking points dominate Fox News — essentially a party organ — as well conservative media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Folks at mainstream news organizations, ever terrified of being accused of liberal bias, give voice to those talking points so as to seem balanced, even as they ignore or play down Democratic talking points.

That’s how John Kerry’s idiotic joke, a nonstory, came to dominate the headlines for a couple of days last week, while President Bush’s over-the-top accusations that Democratic opponents of the war in Iraq were guilty of something akin to treason were all but ignored. At a minimum, the Democrats need to emulate Bill Clinton by emphasizing a positive message — but responding like crazed weasels when attacked.

Here are three danger spots the Democrats are going to have to think through immediately. Indeed, if they haven’t already, then they’ll be in trouble by this weekend.

Speaker Pelosi. All across the country, Republicans attempted to hang on in part by casting Nancy Pelosi as a “San Francisco liberal” who would seek to transform the United States into a gay commune. It didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t keep trying. And now that Pelosi is going to become much better known, the attacks on her may prove to be more effective in 2008 than they’ve been in ’06.

To combat this, Pelosi needs to be a highly visible presence — a reassuring figure whose appeal cuts across ideological boundaries, if not necessarily across party lines. She is said to have made it clear to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., that he’s not going to hold impeachment hearings. That’s smart. No matter how badly the White House has mismanaged the war, the fact is that substantial numbers of Democrats voted in favor of it.

More important, to invoke the old political cliché, she needs to define herself before the Republicans do it for her. She may think she’s well-known. She’s not. At a minimum, she’s got to start making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows and raise her visibility. If she performs well, she’ll be an asset to her party regardless of what Sean Hannity says about her.

Democratic committee chairs. Although Pelosi was the principal symbol invoked by Republicans in the just-ended campaign, they also went hard at liberal Democratic congressmen in line for committee chairs. It’s no surprise that their targets included Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who’s gay, and Charlie Rangel, who’s African-American.

Here the Democrats should concentrate on putting forth an agenda on issues that unite the party. Democrats elected yesterday hold differing views on cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion rights and gun control. So why dive into those issues unless it’s absolutely necessary?

This isn’t an argument for moving to the right. I suspect the Democrats can be as left as they like on the war, the environment, corporate malfeasance and pocketbook issues such as the minimum wage. Rather, it’s an argument for respecting the diversity of the party.

Oversight. The Republicans have been remarkably successful in recent years at casting anyone who even asks questions about national security as unpatriotic. The House has now gained subpoena power, and apparently Pelosi intends to use it in order to examine the conduct of the war. Good.

But the Democrats need to remind the public at every opportunity that this is what’s supposed to happen in wartime — that the war effort would almost certainly be going better today if investigations had taken place earlier.

A few months ago Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks, appearing on NPR’s “On Point” to discuss his book “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,” blamed Congress more than any other player for abdicating its duties by failing to exercise any oversight. Among other things, he noted that, during World War II, Democratic Sen. Harry Truman held hearings into military contracting scandals presided over by a Democratic president and was hailed as a hero.

During the Vietnam War, another Democratic senator, J. William Fulbright, held hearings that helped fuel the antiwar movement even as a fellow Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, was in the White House.

In other words, oversight is not unpatriotic.

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  1. Anonymous

    “Media Nation is officially nonpartisan. But I’m not going to pretend to be anything but pleased by the Democrats’ taking back the House and possibly the Senate, too.”What kind of gobbledygook are you throwing out? You must believe in being a “little bit pregnant,” too. Is this what you call “objective media coverage?”You have just blown away the “myth of the liberal media.” It’s no longer a myth, but fact. Stop pretending in your commentary. We’ll all be better off knowing exactly where you stand.

  2. mike_b1

    Nothing beats watching the post-election day Republicans suddenly morph into environmentalists, rushing around and picking up signs of their beaten candidates and heading toward the scrap heap of ignominy.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 10:28: Oh, such bitterness! I have never pretended to be anything but a liberal media commentator. However, I am absolutely nonpartisan in that I’ll go after people of any political persuasion. I think regular readers of Media Nation know that.What I love is the idea that I, personally, have “blown away the ‘myth of the liberal media.'” I have always aspired to such power and influence, and apparently now I have attained it. After all, Media Nation is ranked #11,654 on Technorati. Look out, InstaPundit!

  4. Steve

    Dan, congratulations on the promotion! You are now officially “The Media”. Anon 10:28 has spoken!What I want to know is, where is the Democratic Party in Virginia and Montana?You know if the Republicans had a ballot lead of even 1 vote in either of those Senate races, The Media would be proclaiming victory loudly and constantly, so that it became a Media Fact by dint of repetition. But since the winners are Democrats, the Senate is still “up for grabs” according to the Mainstream Media.(I wonder if Somersby will riff on this?)

  5. Steve

    Oh and one more thing -Since the Republican campaign of Smear the Liberal was so pervasive, does the House victory mean that Pelosi has a mandate to enact all the “Liberal Agenda” that the Republicans were trying to hang on her?

  6. Anonymous

    You’ve got to be kidding. You’re blog is non-partisan. C’mon. And Kerry Healey is disingenous. Thanks, the chuckle you gave me was the only bright spot on a pretty bleak day.Enjoy those new taxes and I’ll be looking forward to your future non-partisan (that’s hilarious) posts.

  7. Anonymous

    I thought these two points were even more amusing: – Democrats’ first task must be to figure out how they’re going to manage the media. [Yeah, like they really need to. They’ve already got 7/8 of the countries reporters thrilled to death with the election results]. – That’s how John Kerry’s idiotic joke, a nonstory… [A nonstory? Are you kidding me? Maybe overblown, but it wasn’t a NONstory by any means – unless you’re a Kerry lickspittle]After that I had to stop reading because it was just too asinine.

  8. Don

    Please don’t put in any more of those scary pictures.

  9. Jim Bowen

    Why are the networks and cable stations not calling the Virginia Senate for Webb? Isn’t it common practice that when someone wins an election by 7,000 votes with 99.8% of precincts reporting that it is safe to call an election for the winner? It seems to me that Fox et. al. are using this “1% mandatory recount” as an excuse to keep up Republican hopes of holding onto the Senate. CNN, NYTimes, et. al. seem to be using the recount as an excuse to not declare a winner and thus be accused again of liberal bias. Does this mean that we have come to the point where the conservative strategists succeded in boxing every news outlet into a corner such taht they have to now wait for Fox News to make the first move and take the lead from them? Isn’t this something the media commentators like yourself should be commenting on or am I reading too much into this?

  10. neil

    Dan, you’re (#6) blog isn’t the only nonpartisan one. Here’s a similar column for anon 2:06 to express outrage over. Must be a trope, or a meme, or some damn thing.And anon’s right. You shouldn’t accuse Healey of being disingenous. She’s as ingenous as they come, and you know it. In fact I’m surprised you expressed such an igneous sediment.

  11. John Galt

    Oversight is the epitome of patriotism.

  12. Anonymous

    Of the “Liberal Agenda” Steve alluded to Republicans fearing: What is that? School nurses showing up to work topless? State-controlled day care centers run by gay men in gladiator costumes? Portraits of Satan on all the currency? And there’ll be no more leg-shaving, ladies! Is Fox News in the hallucinogen business, too?

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