Howard Dean: Scream 'Never Happened'

Howard Dean said the scream speech "never happened," and that its repetition more than 900 times in the following week showed cable "at its worst" and revealed cable news as a "Murdochized" entertainment medium, not journalism.

The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate calls it part of the "Murdochization," of cable, referring to the growing success of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel. "Not because Murdoch is a right winger, which he is," says Dean, "but because [Fox News Channel head] Roger Ailes is so incredibly good at what he does that the other stations [sic] are starting to copy what Fox does."

Dean told a crowd of broadcasters in Washington Monday morning that all the cable networks showed of the speech following his loss in Iowa was "me at a microphone carrying on. No crowd noise or crowd shot," that would have shown that the crowd was screaming and Dean was trying to make himself heard. None of the pool reporters reported the scream initially, he said. It was only the next day, when their editors saw it, with the noise-canceling mike making Dean stand out, that it became a story. "The speech as it was portrayed in cable television shows 937 times in one week "never happened," he said.

Of course, loads of broadcasters carried the speech too, but Dean suggested they were being driven by the cable news cycle. He told his audience they had better news instincts about what to cover than their national counterparts and should not let the 24-hour news cycle set their agendas for them.

Jim Farley, VP, news and programming, for WTOP(AM) Washington seconded Dean's assessment of the "Scream," saying reporters covering the speech had felt it was proportionate to the crowd and the occasion. "The news media done him wrong," said Farley.

Dean did not lay all the blame for his precipitous fall from front-runner to Monday-morning quarterback on cable news, however, pointing out that he had already lost Iowa and that he did not use the platform of the speech to address a national audience.

Still, Dean had little good to say about the national media, warning local broadcasters that to aspire to a national post was "the path to ruin," saying the national media "doesn't understand its role," and is too into "gotcha" journalism. He says he avoided Tim Russert and Meet the Press for months not because Russert isn't good but because of the "gotcha" fear, which turned out to be prophetic, he said, since Russert's one "bad" question, about troop strengths, came back to bite the cadidate when he finally did appear.

Dean was among the panelists at the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation's Service to America Summit in Washington Monday (B&C is a co-sponsor), where he praised local broadcasters as the "best of the bunch" at reporting the news of interest to their viewers.

He said that although President George W. Bush has been criticized for giving interviews to groups of local station bureau chiefs on the assumption he was looking for softballs, Dean thinks it was a smart move, and not because the questions would be served up on a platter. He told his audience he didn't think they asked softball questions. "I think what he really wanted to do is talk to someone who is really interested in what he has to say and less interested in writing down what they are going to write anyway. "

His advice for local broadcasters: Keep on doing what you are doing, with some caveats, including setting their own agendas, airing more positive news--which he says will help attract the 18-35 audience--and avoiding appearances of partisanship.

He says one local Vermont station owner "writes checks to the Republicans every year. I suggest not doing that," he says, because you want to avoid the perception that you are biased. He drew the analogy of the voting machine maker who wrote a letter saying he would do whatever it takes to get George Bush elected. He's free to do that, says Dean, but if it undermines the public confidence, he probably shouldn't.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.