Accuracy in Media

Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC Hardball show, says that he regrets airing the tape, over and over again, of Howard Dean yelling to his supporters after his Iowa third-place finish. Matthews now says that it is clear, because of Dean’s big smile after he delivered that outburst, that it was a speech delivered mostly in fun to fire up Dean’s troops. But that big smile was omitted from most rebroadcasts of the speech, making it seem as though Dean was emulating Howard Beale, the anchorman in the movie Network who would deliver a loud rant about current events and then sometimes pass out.

Matthews, a Democrat who was in New Hampshire for the primary election there, covered events for Dean and Senator John Kerry. Matthews came to the conclusion that Dean was under attack primarily because he is a Washington outsider. On CNN’s Reliable Sources program, Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report said about Dean that, “we have helped to bring him low. He brought himself low, but we aided and abetted him.”

That was a perception shared by many liberals and conservatives in Washington. On Fox News, Fred Barnes declared that, “Howard Dean is done. He’s finished.” While Dean’s popularity suffered as a result of that exposure, he rose in the New Hampshire polls after that, using interviews in the media to feature him and his wife talking in measured and personal terms about the campaign. The “Howard and Judy” interview by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Prime Time Live was available on the Dean Internet site and distributed by videotape around the state.

On the Washington Dispatch website, C.K. Rairden said that the liberal media were horrified by the speech, and were ready to get behind the Wesley Clark campaign full bore. In a column directed to Clark, he said, “They have created what many think is a monster and a landslide loser waiting to happen in Howard Dean. They are desperately looking for the anti-Dean to trumpet. You are the flavor of the month. Your window of opportunity is open; it’s your moment to shine.” But Rairden said that Clark’s outrageous actions and statements, including his endorsement from pornographic rock star Madonna, might sink him.

Some activists saw a media agenda in the attacks on Dean. One pro-Dean website attacked “the Washington-based media” for their relentless attacks on Dean. It said that while Dean had made some misstatements, his “real media sin?seems to be that he’s running as an outsider, which always breeds contempt among the Washington press corps.” Another pro-Dean activist complained, “How do you fight this? What do you do when this country’s media outlets are dedicated to destroying your candidate?”

Some might suspect, as the Washington Dispatch indicated, that the liberal media thought that Dean was a sure loser against Bush and that he had to go. But that was contradicted by some polls, including one in Time magazine before Iowa that showed Dean trailing Bush by only six points. Whatever the outcome in New Hampshire and other states, the media demonstrated that they continue to have the power to influence the campaign.

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