The End of the Mainstream Media
Ask any conservative, and he’ll tell you that one of the primary reasons John McCain lost was due to the bias of the “mainstream media.” And certainly, most newspapers were very hard on McCain—the New York Times, the “newspaper of record,” was obviously unfair to McCain throughout the campaign, the best example being a wholly unsupported story of a alleged McCain affair. Obama led the newspaper endorsement race—he received nearly three times the number of endorsements as McCain.
Television was even harder on McCain. MSNBC, of course, is full of crazy liberals (“crazy” sounds a bit harsh, but really, what else can you call Keith Olbermann?), but CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS were also notably tougher on McCain than Obama. They scrupulously vetted every detail of Sarah Palin’s life (they were particularly good at ferreting out the exact cost of Palin’s clothes), while leaving such interesting issues as Barack Obama’s relationship with radicals such as Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers unexplored.
So the mainstream media was biased against John McCain. So? Worrying about how the “mainstream media” covers an election is like worrying about the union vote—both have some influence, but not nearly as much as in the past. The days of the “mainstream media” as a key political force are over.
During the Eighties, the three networks could count on a combined audience of around 80-90 million. Now, their combined viewership is under twenty million. And the evening news is still losing viewers.
Twenty million doesn’t qualify as “mainstream.” In the past, there may have only been a few lonely conservative television voices in opposition to massive liberal hordes. But now, the liberal television monopoly has evaporated, leaving the networks with an audience of old folks who haven’t caught up to current news gathering trends.
The situation is much worse for newspapers. In times past, every city had at least two daily newspapers. Now virtually every city has only one, and most of those are struggling. New York Times stock is classified as a junk stock, and the paper loses readers every year.
Even cable television doesn’t present a huge difficulty for Republicans. CNN leans left, while the Fox News Channel and MSNBC are unashamedly right and left leaning, respectively. (Though it should be noted that MSNBC is far more biased than Fox). Fox News makes up the two to one disadvantage by drawing far more viewers than either of its competitors, making cable news, on the whole, actually reasonably balanced ideologically. (Cable news might be neutral ideologically, but its coverage this election was dreadful. It managed to find and overanalyze every irrelevant story while carefully avoiding stories that were actually informative and useful).
Really, the media forces arrayed against John McCain weren’t all that formidable, especially given the power of the conservative media. Rush Limbaugh gets about twenty million listeners a week; Sean Hannity gets around twelve million. (Granted, many of Hannity’s listeners also are also included in Rush’s totals, and vice versa, but not all are). Other radio hosts draw smaller but still impressive audiences. Laura Ingraham gets over five million weekly listeners—that alone is more listeners than Katie Couric gets.
Fox News and the conservative blogosphere also provide opportunities for conservatives to get their message out. Millions watch Fox News (The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes are the two highest rated cable news shows), and the conservative blogosphere, if not as influential as the liberal blogosphere, still has the influence to drive stories. Republicans don’t lose elections because of the liberal media.
Unfortunately, they seem to think they do, which might explain virtually every Republican’s deadly fear of the media. When the McCain campaign introduced Sarah Palin to the nation, they didn’t introduce her via Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly—rather, they introduced her on ABC’s Evening News, letting the left-leaning (albeit usually fair) Charlie Gibson interrogate her. After an interview with Sean Hannity, Palin next appeared with Katie Couric, then disappeared from television.
She didn’t appear with Rush Limbaugh till much later in the campaign; she never appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show. The McCain could have introduced Palin through the liberal or the conservative media—they choose the liberal media, solely because it was “mainstream.”
Another case in point: conservatives spent months bemoaning the fact that the “mainstream media” wasn’t covering Obama harshly enough. It wasn’t—but what did anyone expect? It was obvious from the start that Obama (or Hillary, had she won the nomination) was going to get a free ride, and if conservatives wanted anyone to dig up dirt regarding Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, they were going to have to do it themselves. They didn’t, and they have only themselves to blame.
Conservatives should adjust—this isn’t the Eighties anymore. What with the power of talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet, conservatives are now on an equal footing with the liberal media. They should start using their resources, instead of accepting the pronouncements of the networks and the New York Times as the acknowledged reality.