Democrats haven’t voted yet, but reporters have got the story: The former Vermont governor is angry, gaffe-prone and unelectable. How do they know? Republicans, and anonymous Democrats, told them so.
For Dean’s top backer there must be a sense of déjà vu in all of this. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore suffered from chronically caustic coverage that clung to all sorts of fictional, Republican-inspired spin about the vice president being an unlikable, untrustworthy exaggerator. Suddenly, as with Gore in 2000, it seems Dean is battling not only his Democratic opponents and Republican Party officials, he’s also wrestling members of the media’s chattering class who view him with growing unease and even contempt.
Without the Gore press fiasco as a backdrop it might seem as if Dean were simply wading through an inevitable rough patch with the press — that pundits and reporters are practicing the usual baptism-by-fire, forcing the unlikely front-runner to earn his stripes. That’s a legitimate, even expected part of any race for the White House. But watching the striking similarities between the way the D.C. press is covering Dean and how it treated Gore, and contrasting it with the way it has treated President Bush, it’s becoming harder to avoid the obvious conclusion: that Democratic presidential front-runners and nominees are held to a higher, tougher standard by the Washington press corps.
After his defeat in 2000, a bitter-sounding Gore talked to the New York Observer about the media’s rightward drift, and the way reporters piece together negative narratives for Democrats: “Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network. And then they’ll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist.”
In Dean’s case, it’s a little more complex: Sometimes the narrative starts with the mainstream media and gets picked up by the RNC, sometimes it’s the other way around. What’s beyond debate is that there’s a media echo chamber — and its focus has been on Dean’s flaws. And if the trend continues, more voters may agree with Gore about the rightward bias of the media. In a remarkable poll released Monday, the Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of Democrats think campaign coverage is tilted toward the GOP, up from 19 percent in 2000. If Dean is the nominee and the media trend continues, you can expect that number to jump again sharply by 2008.
That’s our cue. If there ever was a reason to make the blogosphere seen and heard above the Justin Timberlake / Live Journal level, this is it. It is our right and bounden duty to get the truth out there. And if we don’t, we have only to look at what the last twelve years have wrought to see the consequences.