The so-called “drive-by media” demonstrated their power in the election results. Demoralized by negative coverage of the war in Iraq, voters brought to power a Democratic Party that will pressure the Bush Administration to leave Iraq before victory is achieved. Those who remember how a Democratic Congress paved the way for a disastrous American withdrawal from Vietnam understand that it is not too early to talk about the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq and what it will mean for U.S. national security.
The so-called “dinosaur media” that played such a prominent role in the Vietnam debacle, when they were at the height of their power, demonstrated that they are not extinct but very much alive. They have been resurrected to do their dirty work in another war. This time, however, the implications of a U.S. military defeat will not be confined to a far-away part of the world. They will be worldwide in scope.
Suggesting the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as even some conservatives are doing, misses the point. Rumsfeld has been carrying out the orders of the President. It’s the President whose administration has failed to articulate the case for the war. Bush’s State Department has degenerated to the point of standing by a U.S. official who went on Al-Jazeera and called U.S. Iraq policy stupid and arrogant. Now, with the pending launch of its English-language spin-off, Al-Jazeera International, the media opposition to the Iraq war and the poisoning of the public discourse on Iraq can only grow here and abroad. Whatever progress is being made on the military battlefield, the war is clearly being lost in the media. And this area, as al Qaeda knows and has said, is the key to the outcome.
Here, the election results demonstrate the shortcomings of the “New Media” that Republicans were counting on to save their hides. Stroked during a “Radio Day” event at the White House, Republican radio talk-show hosts tried hard to motivate conservatives to turn out and vote Republican, but the campaign fell far short.
If the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was a testament to the power of conservative talk radio, the election results in 2006 have to be seen as strong evidence of the reverse. Simply put, conservative talk radio was unable to motivate the conservative base to vote Republican in sufficient numbers to win. It wasn’t good enough to try to scare Republicans into contemplating a Democratic victory. Alternatively, suggesting that talk of a Democratic victory was a liberal plot to demoralize Republicans didn’t work, either. Putting on a happy face, Rush Limbaugh said on election day: “What happens if they [the Democrats] lose? Nobody’s talking about what happens if they lose, they’ve set their bar so high. What will be the outcome if they lose?” This was wishful thinking that failed to grasp the nature of the discontentment with the administration that came from conservatives themselves.
That is not to say that conservatives did not turn out. It’s just that they didn’t vote in many cases for Republicans. The power of social conservatism was still demonstrated in the fact that seven states approved same-sex marriage bans, a so-called medical marijuana measure went down in South Dakota, and a state amendment to legalize marijuana was defeated in Colorado.
One part of the new media, Fox News, turned in a dubious performance, as its anchors, even the conservative ones, relentlessly promoted the candidacy of liberal Democrat Harold Ford in Tennessee, offering him up to viewers as a “conservative” who was even “pro-life.” National pro-life representatives told me that they tried in vain to provide Fox News with the facts about Ford’s pro-abortion voting record. It was as if a corporate decision had been made to support Ford for the Senate and misrepresent his record. Indeed, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News parent company News Corporation, was backing Ford as well as Senator Hillary Clinton. Ford lost, but Clinton is now poised, with the possible support of Murdoch, to seek the presidency in 2008.
My columns on the leftward drift of Fox News have generated interesting reactions. One came from Australia, where Murdoch began his media empire: “Mr Murdoch’s helping of leftist candidates is no surprise to long-time readers of ‘The Australian’ [a Murdoch newspaper]. Although their editorials are mostly pro-freedom and free-market, when it comes to elections they back whoever they think will win anyhow. This shows that Mr. Murdoch is more interested in power and influence. I would suggest he may have some vague conservative instincts, but these come a poor second to the accumulation of power. I therefore believe Fox was launched to fill a niche and make money for Mr. Murdoch rather than as a principled alternative to the MSM [mainstream media], and if Mr. Murdoch thinks using Fox to pander to leftists will increase his influence then he’ll do it. To put it another way, he has permanent interests rather than permanent politics.”
One factor in the Democratic victory, as the exit polls indicate, was congressional corruption. But corruption can be defined in different ways. Some conservatives believe the Congress abandoned conservative principles through reckless spending and the failure to address issues like border control. That, too, can be considered a form of corruption. Ironically, during a year when David Limbaugh released a book alleging that the Democratic Party was intellectually and morally corrupt, it looks like voters, including conservatives, held the Republican Party more accountable in this area.
Curiously, some conservative radio talk-show hosts had alleged that the Mark Foley sex scandal was a Democratic Party dirty trick, rather than a legitimate and real example of Republican corruption. A more conservative House GOP coming into office next January will not be able to avoid coming to grips with the infiltration of the party by gay Republicans actually committed to the social agenda of the Democratic Party. Not only Foley but retiring Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, who is accused of having inappropriate contacts with former male congressional pages, had been leading a double-life on Capitol Hill but getting rewarded for it by Congressional leaders.
A different kind of corruption was in evidence in decisions made by the national Republican Party. Putting the retention of power over principle, the White House backed liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee for a Senate seat in Rhode Island, in a primary against an excellent conservative challenger, after Chafee had sabotaged the nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the U.N. in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chafee lost, and the White House ploy has backfired in a big way. Now, with Democratic gains in the Senate, Bolton’s nomination is once again in limbo. His temporary appointment expires at the end of the year.
Many conservatives will argue that Bolton has done a magnificent job for the U.S. at the U.N. and that the White House should mount another campaign on his behalf, in order to get him a permanent appointment. Bolton’s fate will tell us a lot about the direction of the administration.