For decades, there has been nothing at all democratic about the way the Democratic Party has chosen its Presidential nominee. But, that all ended permanently the night of the Iowa caucus, not because the Party establishment wanted it to, but because of a force beyond its control.
The prophet who predicted that this day would come was MSNBC’s Howard Fineman, who wrote a column titled “The Media Party is Over” exactly two years ago. He claimed that after a successful run of about 40 years, the “American Mainstream Media Party” (AMMP) was over.
The members of the AMMP were the journalists who worked for national Old Media outlets, but they operated more like their own political party. While they always had a passion to influence the fortunes of both Democrats and Republicans, their center-left views led them to embrace and particularly enjoy seizing a role that came-up every four years — secure the Democratic nomination for the candidate with whom they and the Beltway establishment felt most comfortable.
It all began in the 1960′s, after the Democratic Party’s ideological energy of the New Deal had faded. The LBJ-instigated Vietnam War and various social revolutions were tearing the Democratic Party apart. The Party’s nomination process was thrown into disarray, leading to the disastrous selection of the unelectable George McGovern in 1972.
Mainstream outlets implicitly vowed never to let this happen again. They rushed to fill this power vacuum by applying “objective” journalism techniques to steer Democratic voters to “acceptable” candidates. During the 1976 Democratic Primary season, the mainstream media played Goldilocks, deciding that environmentalist Morris Udall was too Left and hawkish Henry “Scoop” Jackson was too Right, leading them to present “just right” Jimmy Carter as a decent, moderate person of faith.
During the 1980 Democratic Primary, the Press protected incumbent Carter from a challenge by Chappaquiddick-damaged Ted Kennedy, highlighting Kennedy’s fumbling, stuttering, and rambling response to a simple question from CBS’ Roger Mudd, “Why do you want to be President?”
In 1992, the year Bill Clinton won his party’s nomination, the winner of the New Hampshire Primary was Paul Tsongas. But, Tsongas struck an anti-government tone that made the media uncomfortable, marked by interest in reducing the federal deficit. So, they simply accepted and repeated the absurd claim by James Carville, a Clinton operative, that Clinton was “The Comeback Kid,” even though he had finished just about even with Tsongas in the earlier Iowa Caucus, then 8 points below him in New Hampshire. In 2004, they transformed Howard Dean’s innocent, fun, and high-spirited rebel yell into the crazed, blood-curdling scream of a madman, sending unwitting Democrat voters hurtling into the waiting arms of the lackluster, but elitist-pleasing John Kerry.
In 2000, the AMMP almost succeeded in handing the Presidency to Al Gore by hyping the 24-year-old drunk-driving arrest of George W. Bush in a late hit the weekend before the election. In 2004, CBS anchor Dan Rather apparently attempted a similar maneuver to thwart Bush’s reelection by producing allegedly 31-year-old documents critical of Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard. But, thanks to the “blogosphere,” Dan Rather was challenged, and now just about everyone except Rather acknowledges that the documents were forged.
Bush kept his job, but Rather lost his. More significantly, bloggers’ new-found ability to challenge the media meant that the AMMP had lost its job of picking the Democrat’s nominee.
Iowa Caucus results fulfilled Fineman’s prophesy – they proved that the Internet now has the same impact on mainstream media’s nominating powers as kryptonite has on Superman. Their voices will still be heard, but their influence is now on a par with mere mortals.
In this election cycle, they have been trying to foist upon Democratic primary voters a politically untalented, inexperienced, Beltway-establishment-pleasing Hillary Clinton. But, she is a person whose relentless, self-serving ambition few can relate to, and whose marriage no one can relate to. She is even a questionable icon for the feminists she seeks to represent — a woman who has sought power by clinging to the coattails of her husband, pathetically willing to accept a level of ongoing, in-your-face infidelity that is every self-respecting woman’s responsibility to condemn, reject, and flee.
This election year, the nomination for the best Hillary-supporting actor was well-earned by Wolf Blitzer in the recent deck-stacked CNN debate. And, the nomination for the most shameless suck-up ought to go to the Today Show’s Meredith Viera for this appalling performance. But, the clear winners of the nomination for the best nominators for the Democratic Party are the people of Iowa. Their bloodless coup d’etat made our democracy stronger.
Steve Boriss blogs at The Future of News. He works for Washington University in St. Louis, where he is Associate Director of the Center for the Application of Information Technology (CAIT) and teaches a class called “The Future of News.”