While the election pits Republicans against Democrats, another important contest is underway. Can conservative radio talk-show hosts and their allies overcome the power of the liberal media and keep Republicans in control of Congress? Or will the “old media,” including the news operations of the three broadcast networks, reassert their diminishing power?
Another important bastion of liberal media power, the Gannett Co., the parent of USA Today, is weighing in on the eve of the election with an editorial calling for the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Because the editorial is appearing in Army Times and other military periodicals, some are suggesting that it represents the opinion of the ordinary soldier. In fact, however, all of these publications are part of the Military Times Media Group, a subsidiary of the liberal Gannett Co. Gannett’s flagship paper, USA Today, published a story based on the same bogus Bush National Guard documents before the 2004 presidential election that embarrassed Dan Rather and resulted in firings and forced resignations at CBS News. USA Today editor Ken Paulson never apologized for the fraudulent story.
Coming close to calling the Army Times editorial a dirty media trick designed to fool voters, White House spokesman Tony Snow commented on Saturday: “A lot of people are thinking, aha, what you have are a lot of military people in open revolt against the President, when, in fact, you’ve got a lot of Gannett editorial writers, which would be thoroughly consistent with USA Today and the rest of the Gannett chain, which I think, if memory serves, does not have a single strong conservative editorial page in the entire chain.”
While the Gannett ploy is certain to backfire and motivate Republicans, the question remains as to whether media bias will be a significant factor in the election results.
A new study of media bias published by Accuracy in Media finds that conservatives have trust in only two of eight national media outlets or programs that were surveyed. These were the Rush Limbaugh radio program and the Fox News Channel. On the other hand, the study found that conservatives do not trust Newsweek, CNN, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. All of these outlets are perceived to have a liberal, anti-Republican bias.
The study, written by Andrew G. Selepak, finds that liberals, on the whole, are pretty happy with the media, and in particular with the mainstream media. But conservatives not only detect more bias, they leave those outlets that are perceived to have bias. That behavior is reflected in the dwindling audiences of most major media outlets.
Selepak is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a B.A. in American History, and completed his M.A. in Health, Risk, and Crisis Communication from George Mason University. In graduate school, he concentrated his studies on mass and political communications, and wrote his Master’s thesis on perceptions of bias in the media. The latest AIM Report is condensed from that thesis.
The White House is betting that the power of the conservative media can play a pivotal role. The October 24 White House “Radio Day” event featured 42 radio hosts, most of them conservative. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among the administration officials who have taken to the airwaves.
But there will be problems in analyzing the results in terms of media power. If the Democrats win, it may be the case, as Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun reported Bill Clinton to have said, that Republican leaders “do not represent faithfully the Republicans and the more conservative independents in the country.”
Clinton, a shrewd political observer, has hit on the big issue. Will conservatives follow the advice of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and vote Republican? Or are they so disgusted by the perceived abandonment of conservative ideas and values in Washington that they will not turn out at the polls?
Another factor, of course, is Iraq.
The “tough political environment” Republicans find themselves in stems almost entirely from the war in Iraq, which produces television images and news of blood and death for the American people on a daily basis and has undermined the national will to resist the terrorists. It’s been very difficult for defenders of the Bush Administration’s policy to counter this here and abroad.
This problem, in turn, suggests that, rather than firing Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration should fire Karen Hughes, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. In reaction to State Department official Alberto Fernandez recently going on Al-Jazeera and calling U.S. policy in Iraq stupid and arrogant, Hughes has given him her “strong support,” according to a November 3 Washington Post article.
Rather than promote democracy in the region, Al-Jazeera has been promoting radicalism and terrorism. It should be exposed as an arm of the enemy, not cultivated and appeased. Now, Al-Jazeera International, the English-language version of Al-Jazeera, is launching on November 15, further complicating our ability to promote a global message of democratic self-government and freedom. We are going to lose in Iraq unless we immediately start to engage in and win the information and propaganda war.
In this context, a Democratic victory in the congressional elections would be interpreted internationally as a victory for the terrorists.