Tune into any of the Republican candidate debates that have been broadcast over the past several months and you are likely to hear one or the other contenders try to deflect tough questions about their differences on issues by saying they won’t fall for the media's attempt to get Republican candidates to tear each other down or pick each other apart. We thought the idea of a debate was to find out where candidates stand, particularly how they differ and how they justify that difference. Unfortunately as we all know, politicians ducking tough questions is something that is equally pervasive on both sides of the aisle.
Just last week, in a fund-raising e-mail, Michael Krull, campaign manager for Newt Gingrich, said that a poll of likely voters in Iowa had Gingrich “surging ahead,” which was important because the “media forces that are terrified of this campaign have been saying that while Speaker Gingrich has steadily risen in the national polls, it didn’t matter because he remained behind in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
We would at this point leap in and point out that there have been recent news stories recognizing Gingrich’s strengthening campaign, but Krull did it for us, in the next paragraph pointing out a CNN headline, “Gingrich Amasses Largest South Carolina Campaign Footprint,” as some of the good news for the campaign being reported.
This strategy of blaming the media for getting tough on the candidates has the underlying message that the media is trying to weaken Republicans, which plays better with the base than suggesting the debates were revealing major differences. But we have to ask, if the candidates react this way to tough questions from the media, how will they face that famous 3 a.m. call with a decision to make about the fate of the free world? Blame the phone?
This past week brought a new attack on the media by a leading Republican candidate, Herman Cain. When faced with multiple stories about allegations of sexual harassment, the candidate urged his supporters to “bypass the media filter,” blaming “inside the Beltway media” for launching “unsubstantiated personal attacks.”
Cain branded the political trade press—we took umbrage by association—for being liberals “casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts…. Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before—a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics.”
Frankly, we have seen this movie before, too—it is called blame the messenger. As some Democratic strategists pointed out, liberals would hardly be clamoring to derail Cain at this point since they generally view him as a weaker general election candidate than, say, Mitt Romney.
But this is not about the candidates or Mr. Cain’s current troubles, which may indeed be baseless allegations by those alleging them, which as we understand are several women (including one who had gone public at press time) rather than the media outlets reporting the charges. It is, after all, up to journalists to report and let their viewers and listeners decide, and to continue to update the story when they get new information.
You can take it to the bank that all the outlets now reporting the allegations would trade their firstborn child—or at least house pet—for the chance to break the news that the accusers had recanted or evidence had surfaced. A scoop is a scoop.
We aren’t suggesting there aren’t some biased media outlets out there, or a lot of things to blame the media for. Don’t get us started on TV stations pretending that how a contestant got chosen for their network’s reality competition is a news story in a world filled with real news. But being too tough on the folks preparing for the toughest job on the planet is not one of them.
Particularly during campaign season, candidates from both parties may be looking to avoid criticism or dodge issues by playing the media blame game. We advise against it.
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