It was exactly one year ago this week that there was a true turning point in the 2008 race for the White House. And it had little to do with Barack Obama. One might even say that it boiled down to the media helping to elect him -- but not by supporting him, in the way conservatives often charge. Instead, it involved coverage that very well could have hurt him, but that ended up rebounding in his favor, big time.
Of course, Obama might very well have won anyway, by a very narrow margin. But I believe that a true turning point -- though rarely noted -- actually came in the summer, at the Democratic convention in Denver. No, it was not the general good vibes about Obama, the ringing speeches by Teddy, Michelle, Bill and Hill, and by the candidate himself.
Rather, it was the electronic media's overblown coverage of the allegedly widespread threat by female Hillary delegates, and other Clinton fans, to bolt Obama in favor of McCain.
As you recall, the dissidents, known as "PUMAs," got massive face time on TV and, it was said, represented just the tip of the iceberg. And it was also said (by commentators, not just by the new, pro-Hillary media stars), that women, particularly older ones and suburban/blue-collar types who had voted for Hillary in the primaries, would likely abandon the Democrats in November.
There was no firm evidence for this, of course, and few pundits, on TV or in print, seemed to notice that the same handful of disgruntled Hillary delegates appeared on all of the shows. No matter. Obama's possible defeat because of the possible defections was widely predicted.
Why did this matter, since the mass defections never happened? Especially since here and elsewhere at liberal political blogs no one ever took the threats seriously?
Because John McCain and his people bought it, hook, line and sinker, as I explain in my book Why Obama Won. This explains the sudden (though often ill-explained) rise of Sarah Palin to the top of their VP list. The McCainites saw an opening, which really wasn't there, and went completely overboard. Not only did a female VP suddenly look like a great idea, but she would have extra appeal to the particular type of Hillary primary voters so hyped by the media.
The preposterous media coverage of the (few) unhappy Hillaryites at the Dem convention, which was aimed not at helping Obama but maintaining interest in the affair and the coming campaign, inspired McCain to select as his running mate someone who would virtually destroy his campaign.
Recall that after months of trailing, McCain came out of his convention with a bump that led to at least a tie with Obama in the polls -- then he plummeted very quickly as the truth about Palin seeped out. In addition, he had lost his chief calling card: an edge in experience on Obama. A week after the GOP convention ended, polls were already showing (as many of us, if not most MSM pundits, had predicted) that, if anything, women thought less of Palin than did men. And surveys continued to show that while she drew crowds she actually drove more people away from the GOP than toward it. In fact, it's a myth that Palin was broadly "popular."
Imagine if McCain had picked even a neutral figure such as a Pawlenty or, say, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Yes, Obama likely still would have won (he ran a fine campaign and the economy collapsed). But if McCain hadn't picked Palin, it would have been in a real nail biter. And Tina Fey would not have been named entertainer of the year, and we wouldn't have had that turkey slaughtering video to enjoy.
Greg Mitchell's new book is Why Obama Won. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.