Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Media-bashing Convention

The Republicans have taken a break from criticizing Islamic terrorism (though Rudy Giuliani did have a few harsh words to say) and turned instead to a full-blown attack on the media. Of course, the “liberal left-leaning” media has never garnered any love from the GOP, but this time the party seems to be giving the press more than a cursory glance of disdain at its convention.

It’s easy to criticize the media this election cycle by poking fun at its so-called obsession with Obama, as the McCain campaign realized early this summer, perhaps taking its cues from Hillary Clinton’s jabs; most notable was her joke that Barack may need a pillow at one of their gazillion debates.

The fact that McCain’s veep pick, Sarah Palin found herself in a slew of controversy soon after being picked merely fueled the fire against the media, as McCain camp strategists began to question even the most relevant concerns posed by the press about her readiness for the veep office.

McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said the media was “on a mission” to destroy Palin in an interview with the Washington Post. Rudy Giuliani called the media unfair and indecent on MSNBC last morning. A whole coalition of GOP women launched a ferocious attack on the media for its “sexism” against the Alaska governor in a press conference today.

Convention speakers kept up the tirade, with Fred Thompson criticizing media bigshots for their “frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game,” and Mike Huckabee using his trademark wit to thank the elite media for “unifying the Republican Party.”

The coup de grace was delivered by Palin herself: “I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone," she said somewhat snootily, in her much-anticipated and well-received acceptance speech today.

As Steve Kornacki observes in -- well, The Observer -- this of course, is standard practice for the GOP – seeking a common enemy to garner support from their base. And who could be a better scapegoat than the “liberal media”?

People aren’t saying Palin is unqualified because she isn’t part of the Washington elite, they are saying she is unqualified because her credentials rest on her being governor of one of the least populated states in the nation for less than two years. That Palin has no experience in foreign policy and is under investigation for abuse of power are certainly pertinent questions. As this NPR piece notes, relevant stories on issues concerning her candidacy were covered, including a Washington Post article on Palin cutting funds for teen moms and an AP story about her past history of fundraising directly contrasting her reformist image.

Concerns about Palin’s ability to handle the pressures of the veep’s office with her family of five kids, and about her teenage daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy -- by the New York Times, no less -- were arguably less relevant detours.

However, the fact that her teenage daughter is pregnant out of wedlock would have been a non-issue if the choice of Palin as a VP pick hadn’t so firmly hinged and so precariously tethered on her “family values” credentials. That may not be an important family values problem for me, or for half the country, but it certainly is a decidedly important issue for the thousands of Republicans whose vote for McCain rests on his and his veep pick’s opinions on family life. This is especially true if the McCain camp is going to make her staunchly pro-life record and hockey-mom persona a central part of the campaign.

But now that those points have been made, the media should move on to the actual issues concerning this ticket, and we all know there are plenty. Palin has been known on the national stage for about twelve minutes and already stories about an ethics investigation and her ties to the Alaska Independence Party have surfaced. The media has two months to educate the public about this relative unknown, and to do it right they have to focus on the real issues.