Wednesday night's Republican convention was another page out of the GOP/Karl Rove playbook that has brought them victory for decades. Here's an excerpt:
1) Don't talk about your party's disastrous policies and the results: our failing economy, declining national security and domestic infrastructure. Instead, focus on the "toughness" and "character" of your nominee, and the heartwarming personal story of your VP. Be sure to include lots of visuals of your families, especially cute kids.
2) Present yourself as outsiders who are running to clean up Washington and get rid of corruption. Don't ever mention that the unprecedented level of corruption and corporate profiteering has actually been brought by your own party, whose leaders' policies you are embracing.
3) Attack your opponent for his strengths: his charisma, his community service, and his opposition to the unpopular and failed war.
4) Above all, attack the media for questioning your VP's qualifications, and for pointing out your myriad contradictions, omissions and lies.
The last point is the key. It is hard to say who is receiving more criticism and vitriol from the McCain campaign: Barack Obama or the media. In the absence of a legitimate argument, and in the presence of half-truths and outright lies, McCain operatives are fiercely attacking news outlets that ask tough questions and dig up the truth.
During Wednesday night's speeches, Mike Huckabee blasted the "elite media". Sarah Palin said to thunderous applause, "I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone."
Here's the problem: by vetting Palin's record and experience, and asking tough questions, the media are finally doing their job. And it has nothing to do with Palin's standing with the "Washington elite" (though the cozy relationship between media, government and corporate elite is a legitimate-but-separate issue).
This week, CNN's Campbell Brown grilled McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds on Palin's clear lack of foreign policy experience. It was exhibit A of the kind of tough journalism that Americans crave, and democracy requires. Team McCain's response? Cancel a planned interview on Larry King, claiming that Brown was unfairly hard on Bounds. This highly effective strategy, in the words of Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, is designed "to put boundaries on the press's pursuit of the Palin story."
The real question is whether the media will step up and defend their right to practice real journalism, and whether the Obama campaign will learn from the failures of Al Gore and John Kerry, and defend itself as ferociously as it is being attacked.
If history is any guide, the media will quietly ignore the GOP's attacks, while softening their critique and questioning of Team McCain. NBC political director Chuck Todd led things off, weighing in shortly after Palin's speech: "Conservatives have found their Obama." As usual, Fox did their part, with Brit Hume opining, "You see tonight that Sarah Palin has served the cause of uniting this convention quite ably." Fortune's Nina Easton called it a "home run," and Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes said, "It's a gift. She's a natural. You can't teach this."
The press corps would do well to remind themselves of George Orwell's timeless words: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." Fortunately, there are some winning examples of press holding Palin accountable already. Here's a quick list:
AP's Jim Kuhnhenn's superb analysis of Palin's speech.
The views expressed in this post are my own. My listed affiliation as Executive Director of Free Press is for identification purposes only and does not reflect any endorsement of these views by the organization.
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