In every presidential campaign, there seems to be one particular candidate the media sours on. Back in the race for the 2004 Democratic nomination, former Vermont governor Howard Dean was the favorite dog to kick. Dean, who successfully added some very progressive ideas to the steady diet of moderate wonkiness expressed by his fellow candidates, just couldn't get an even break from the press even though he polled effectively in a number of states. In 2000, the media was all over former Vice-President Al Gore, who the media portrayed as a policy stiff unable to generate enough human warmth to make himself visible to the electorate.
This time around, the media is aiming their big guns at former Senator John Edwards. In an excellent Common Dreams piece entitled Are Media Out to Get John Edwards? Author Jeff Cohen shows the media disdain for candidates addressing economic class issues and those that criticize the politics reaping major profits for media owners.
But that's just a small part of the story. What the media disdains are candidates who speak intelligently and pointedly about policy which affect Americans everyday. The reason: the job of the media is to sell you hairdryers, snow blowers, and pre-packaged political fear.
Fear is an effective emotional key to controlling our perceptions. It motivates us to buy things we don't really need and to believe in things that aren't necessarily true. If our perception is that all Muslims are terrorists, it makes the ubiquitous 'war on terror' more palatable. So when General Electric, the parent company of NBC, wins a multi-billion dollar government contract to build antiquated military equipment, we're not going to question the need for such equipment.
This is one of the reasons so many media outlets across the nation willingly promoted the Bush Administration's plan to attack Iraq. The ownership class understood large profits would come from their investments with government contractors when the war began. It really didn't matter that intelligence was being manipulated to provide cover for the president's military plans. There was money to be made, and the American people needed to be convinced their security was at stake without military action against Iraq.
Centuries ago, the media had a Constitutional mandate to be guardians of our fragile democracy. Our country's framers understood how easily the nation could slip into a pseudo-monarchy with an avaricious agent of the elite at the helm. But over the years, media consolidated- corporations bought both print and electronic media. Newspaper columnists who toed the corporate line might find themselves as highly paid television pundits, spouting the corporate babble with established media stars like David Brinkley and Tim Russert. The step up from a $40,000 a year newsroom into six figure contracts was enough of an incentive to get writers to jump on the gravy train their new masters offered.
In the meantime, the media became less reflective of the consumers' perceptions- and instead, attempts to form them. All too often, newspapers and electronic media are inclined to represent the opinions of its owners. This is why media mogul Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy out the Wall Street Journal is so controversial. Murdoch is well known in both the US and the UK for using his chain of newspapers as a megaphone for his own opinions. What Murdoch and other media owners know is more people will adopt the views of business titans the more they are inundated by such opinion.
What does all of this have to do with John Edwards? Like Dean and Gore before him, Edwards is a threat because he has the personal wealth to run a fairly well-oiled campaign, speaking directly to voters, while criticizing corporate-drafted trade agreements, workers rights, the poor and higher taxes on the rich, all of which are anathema to the ownership classes. He and other candidates like him have the ability to damage the perceptions the ownership class has tried so hard to form in the minds of the electorate.
It doesn't really matter if you are for or against Edwards' candidacy. The media will attack any candidate that make people think about the issues affecting them. If Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton addressed similar policies in their campaigns, the media would attack them as well. The media has no interest in presenting maverick ideas- its main purpose is to maintain the status quo.
Should John Edwards remain popular up through the primaries, you can count on a smear job similar to the one they gave to Dean in 2004. Edwards will appear a bit too enthusiastic at some rally or flub some small part of a speech, and the media will punish him for it, over and over again making him look inept and out of touch. Because no candidate is allowed to interfere with the campaign wishes and caviar dreams of the media elite.