The liberal reaction to the Zell Miller speech attacking fellow Democrat John Kerry at the Republican convention was disgust. John Harris of the Washington Post was on MSNBC, the day after the speech, labeling Miller “unhinged.” But opinion polls after the convention showed Bush with an 11-point lead over Kerry.
One reason for the Bush “bounce” could lie in the reaction to the Miller speech by ordinary people, not the press. Ironically, MSNBC had the facts about this phenomenon the night of the speech, when pollster Frank Luntz interviewed a group of Ohio voters who watched the Miller and Cheney speeches. That was the same night that Chris Matthews had unleashed a verbal attack on Miller after the speech. Miller responded by challenging Matthews to a duel and saying he wouldn’t take the attacks lying down.
Liberal journalists who rejected the Miller speech were out-of-touch with ordinary people. Luntz revealed, “Even though the focus of tonight was supposed to be Dick Cheney, actually it was Senator Miller who had an even more favorable reaction from them.” Speaking to members of his focus group, he asked for a word or phrase to describeMiller’s speech and the responses he got back were “fantastic,” “very upbeat,” “energetic,” “surprising,” “focused on the family,” “dynamic,” “intellectual,” and “on target.” The only negative reaction was, “powerful, but one-sided,”
Luntz himself seemed to be surprised by the strong pro-Miller reaction and reiterated, “Now you all are swing voters. And you said to me to get in here that you’ve not decided who you vote for. Zell Miller’s speech was very partisan and very strong. And yet most of you had a favorable reaction to it.” He asked why this was the case, and some of the responses were that Miller was a Democrat opposing his party and that he was an ex-Marine and military guy. One said his speech was “so much more convincing coming from a Democrat.”
The day after the speech, however, MSNBC decided not to focus on what Luntz had uncovered in his focus group. After all, that would have undercut the negative comments that many journalists had been offering about the speech. Instead, the network interviewed people like John Harris of the Post, who was convinced that Miller’s speech was a dud and that the Georgia Senator was out-of-control. Harris called Miller “unhinged.” NBC News reporter Norah O’Donnell offered her opinion that, according to some Republicans, the Miller speech was “over the top” and therefore an embarrassment. Those Republicans, of course, were not named, and possibly ddidn’t exist.
Here you had a case of the media with concrete evidence of how the public reacted to the Miller speech and journalists decided instead to go on the air with their own personal liberal opinions. They didn’t want to face the facts about how Miller’s forceful destruction of Kerry’s Senate record had struck a chord with the people. Journalists, of course, had another reason to offer their own opinions. They wanted to make people think that the Miller speech was lousy. But the poll results, which the media couldn’t hide, told the real story.