I hear a lot of people fretting about the latest USA Today/Gallup, and in particular they're saying that Obama is losing the messaging war and watching the election slip away. I think that Josh Marshall may be right that their messaging appears largely reactive (he's also right that messaging and the air war is far more visible than the ground game, where I think the Obama campaign has a serious advantage). But to the extent that he is right, he must also take into account how that narrative has been set by corporate-owned media.
Indeed Obama has run ads with their core messaging strategy of lashing McCain to Bush. They've released at least a half-dozen of them over the past two weeks. There was certainly an option for responsible media to notice this aggressive advertising strategy. They haven't. Instead, McCain "celebrity" ads and sneering attacks are given the top-line treatment. The Obama campaign ran with the "how many houses does McCain have" gaffe for a few days. They could and should keep doing so, but media allowed it to be overshadowed. In fact, they just banished a nominal liberal away from their political coverage after howls of attacks from Republicans, which still have the desired effect.
MSNBC tried a bold experiment this year by putting two politically incendiary hosts, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, in the anchor chair to lead the cable news channel’s coverage of the election.
That experiment appears to be over.
After months of accusations of political bias and simmering animosity between MSNBC and its parent network NBC, the channel decided over the weekend that the NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host David Gregory would anchor news coverage of the coming debates and election night. Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews will remain as analysts during the coverage.
The change — which comes in the home stretch of the long election cycle — is a direct result of tensions associated with the channel’s perceived shift to the political left.
“The most disappointing shift is to see the partisan attitude move from prime time into what’s supposed to be straight news programming,” said Davidson Goldin, formerly the editorial director of MSNBC and a co-founder of the reputation management firm DolceGoldin.
As Glenn Greenwald notes, giant conglomerates which own major defense contractors are simply never going to be in the business of promoting liberalism. Olbermann is anti-Bush and mildly interested in protecting civil liberties but he's hardly echoing liberal positions on issues. Rachel Maddow's premiere tonight will be very interesting to watch, but that's of course one show.
What comes through here is a need to placate the right. And that absolutely seeps into coverage of the day-to-day of this Presidential campaign. McCain's people have worked the refs and the refs have responded. They conflate documented lies from Republicans with one statement that says McCain voted 95% of the time with Bush (true in 2007, and it was 100% in 2008 so they're being generous) when the lifetime score is 90%. This gives the impression that "everybody fibs" in political campaigns, which allows the GOP to continue lying because they're never called on it.
Back in 2000, the exit polls showed that among the 24 percent of the electorate who said it was very important to them to select an “honest and trustworthy” president, 80 percent voted for George W Bush. This, I assume, had something to do with the fact that the press repeatedly weaved through its coverage of Gore a narrative about Gore’s alleged difficulty telling the truth, even though most of the data points where Gore lied or “exaggerated” were actually made up by the press. McCain, by contrast, has not only been caught in several bald-faced lies, but in a few instances — this business with Palin and the bridge most notably — keeps on doing it in very high-profile contexts even though they’ve gotten called on it repeatedly. So where’s the narrative about how McCain’s key strategy introducing Sarah Palin to the public and turning his campaign around is based on putting lies at the heart of the presentation?
The extent to which Obama's campaign can change the messaging narrative is extremely limited and was always going to be extremely limited. The media is simply locked in to their preconceived notions of how Democrats and Republicans are viewed by them. They are uninterested in policy except where candidates, particularly the Democratic candidate, differ from ideological orthodoxy, but of course they never determine what that orthodoxy is, so all you end up hearing is a Democrat telling America what Republican plans they would adopt. They whine that the policy proposals are not fresh, but they are completely uninterested in hearing about them at all. They poll-watch and judge horse races and look at who's hitting who with what ad and who's fighting. And they already have written those scripts in triplicate.
If anyone has a clue how to beat this back, I'm all ears. I would say that ensuring that online media flourishes is paramount, and hoepfully less people will get their news from these "official" sources in the years to come.
...so HowardKurtz comes out and says that McCain's latest ad, claiming that Sarah Palin stopped the bridge to nowhere, is a lie. OK, but isn't it part of a pattern of lies? This is what the press did to Al Gore in 2000, and it's more warranted here. That would match the Obama campaign's comment:
"Despite being discredited over and over again by numerous news organizations, the McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. John McCain has voted with George Bush 90% of the time and he and Sarah Palin will continue Bush's economic policies, his health care policy, his education policy, his energy policy, and his foreign policy. McCain and Palin will say or do anything to make people believe that they will change something besides the person sitting in the Oval Office. That's the kind of politics people are tired of, and it's anything but change."