This year the Washington political media has clearly exposed the fact that the McCain camp is running a campaign consisting entirely of lies, exaggerations and character assassination. Yet the results of this have apparently strengthened the McCain campaign rather than weakened it as happened to Al Gore. Why are voters acting differently in 2008 from how they did in 2000?
The difference is the Washington political media frame. Media Matters explains.
The frame of the news reports about Gore's (not really) false claims was Al Gore is a liar, he exaggerates, he'll say anything to win. Is it any wonder voters tended to think Al Gore would say anything to win? Is it any wonder voters who put a great deal of value on honesty chose Bush?So why does the Washington political media lean right?
The frame of most news reports about false claims made by McCain (and Palin and their staff) is very different. The frame isn't John McCain is lying again; it is John McCain said something; how will Barack Obama respond? Some of those news reports get around to mentioning that McCain's claim isn't true -- but those passing mentions hardly matter. They aren't the dominant theme of the report, so they don't stick in the minds of readers and viewers.
The question "why" is a different question from the more easily answered question whether media themes exist and lean right. The media matters article provides examples with an explanation of how the examples are structured to protect McCain from the negative political effects of his campaign's lies. The answer to the question "why" is simply not as obvious because the media refuses to analyze or criticize itself effectively or to permit anyone else to do so. The editors who publish such articles will generally not explain why they wrote it the way they did, and only their bosses, the publishers, could force them to answer such questions. Since the publishers selected the editors to make that kind of judgment, clearly they are not going to explain. They hide behind a "journalistic" wall of secrecy.
There is no outside institution in place to question the media itself. Together, that protects the right-wing propaganda coup from publicly unraveling.
This may change now that the existence of media themes and their effects on elections is better known.
Addendum 11:39 am CDT
Yesterday Glenn Greenwald had an interview with Matt Yglesias, discussing "what can be done about atrocious campaign coverage and the responsible reporters". Matt provided a revealing opinion.
YGLESIAS: It's something I'm trying to think through myself, is what really are effective tactics here? I'll say this, the evolution of my own thinking -- when I started blogging four or five, I guess six years ago now, I thought, as I think a lot of people thought, that if you just complained about the media coverage, and tried to make persuasive points about why things should be covered differently, and so on and so forth, that you might change things that way, that you might convince people that these were basically well-intentioned individuals where problems could be pointed out to them and you might get better work. A lot of people are like that in the world. I myself like to think that to some extent I'm open to criticism, and trying to do my job well.From what I have seen, Matt is correct. Within the industry the most sociopathic seem to drift to FOX News like Brit Hume and Bill O'Reilly. David Broder is an example of the less sociopathic ones, who survives by simply ignoring the disaster that the industry he has spent his life in has become. Broder wears blinders. Then there are so many like Gwen Ifil who started out idealistic (I think) but over the years has had to adapt herself to the nature of her industry.
And I've come to see that the people, the really big time reporters, aren't like that. I think that people who get into the campaign coverage business, and are well-intentioned, quickly find out that it's a rotten to the core enterprise, and wind up leaving, and the only people who make it to the top are, they're sociopaths of some kind. And I'm trying to understand what it is we can do as effective pressure points.
Bob Woodard has become wealthy by adapting his writings so that he can continue to get interviews with insiders. His books on Bush have all shaded what was going on so that Bush looks much better than he really is, while Woodard throws out an occasional nugget of truth to get people to buy his books. That way he still gets access for interviews for his next book. But books aren't the problem with the political media.
TV networks and newspapers are the real culprits, and the Reagan Revolution arranged them so that their industries were more tightly centralized so that a very few highly wealthy individuals control them and control the careers of everyone who works in them.When the selection criteria for success in your career is based on being sociopathic, then the top members of the industry will be effective sociopaths.