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Lamont Victory -- A Media Defeat

By       Message Jeff Cohen       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Besides defeating Sen. Joe Lieberman, challenger Ned Lamont has also registered a triumph over much of the Washington press corps that had rallied so ridiculously to Lieberman's defense.

A victory over the old-guard incumbents of the D.C. media elite is one that all progressives should savor.

Lieberman is not just the favorite Democrat of the White House and corporate interests; he's also a favorite of conservative pundits and Fox News and Sean Hannity, who proposed "Conservatives for Lieberman" and has volunteered to campaign and fundraise for Joe in Connecticut.

Election coverage saw conservative columnists feverishly denouncing a "liberal inquisition" against Lieberman; they attacked "Ned's nutcases" and "crazies." Given the invective aimed at Lamont's grassroots and Netroots supporters, it was fun to see Fox News pundit Mort Kondracke whining that Lieberman's defeat could mean the end of "civility in American politics" and a victory for "hatred politics" and "savage Internet-based attacks." Persecuted Lieberman was "The Last Honest Man," according to the headline of a Washington Post column.

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Mainstream media reports during the campaign talked routinely about a party "purge" of Lieberman -- confusing a free and open democratic contest with a backroom expulsion

Many reports evoked fears of progressive bloggers raising out-of-state money for Lamont -- a wealthy cable TV entrepreneur who matched the donations out of his own pocket. Only a few articles mentioned that Lieberman is a top recipient of out-of-state cash in the form of corporate PAC donations; Matt Taibbi's brilliant Rolling Stone piece was one of the few that chronicled the favors Lieberman has bestowed on corporate America.

The prospect of a Lamont victory had some Beltway pundits in a frenzy. On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Cokie Roberts waxed on about how a Lamont victory would be a "disaster" for Democrats, especially with "liberal blogs and all that taking over the party." And all that?

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In the Washington Post, David Broder -" the "dean" of political journalists -- denigrated Lamont's "elitist insurgents" and argued that a Lieberman primary defeat could push Democrats "toward a stronger antiwar stand" and troubles in general elections. Broder didn't mention the latest polling that shows 63% of Americans saying the war isn't worth the cost, with only 30% saying it is. Similarly, Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek that bloggers had "noisily intervened" in Connecticut's primary because they "brook no dissent" on Iraq; he warned of "a cannabilistic distraction" among Democrats.

Given that the mainstream media spectrum often extends from the far-right to the corporate center, Lieberman also has many friends in what passes for the "left" end of elite media. Media "liberals" didn't whole-heartedly endorse Lieberman, but most attacked antiwar Democrats and stressed what a great guy Joe is. In Time magazine, Joe Klein called Lieberman "one of the finest men I've known in public life" and hailed him for "facing down extremists of both parties." Liberal Al Hunt effused that Lieberman is a "thoroughly decent, intelligent, compassionate public figure" possessed of "independent integrity." Despite promoting the extreme agenda of America's top-tier corporations, Lieberman was constantly called a "moderate."

Why is "Beltway Pundits for Lamont" such a tiny club? It's because principled progressives are typically locked out of mainstream punditry, especially on television, in favor of tepid liberals whose motto could be "I'm not a leftist, but I play one on TV." As I detail in my insider's book, "Cable News Confidential," Fox News didn't invent Hannity-Colmes syndrome. The standard format of pairing ferocious rightwingers with backpedaling liberals was invented way before Fox. . .by CNN and PBS. For years, CNN used Joe Klein and Al Hunt as stand-ins for the "left" against hardcore rightists.

Believe it or not, even the insufferable Kondracke appeared on CNN's Crossfire as the co-host "from the left" years ago. (And, no, he was no more progressive then.)

So the defeat of Lieberman is not just a victory for grassroots politics and independent media, but a rejection of mainstream punditry. It's a far cry from the Iowa presidential caucuses of 2004, when a media and Beltway drumbeat of "weak on defense" and "hot under the collar" helped defeat Howard Dean's insurgent campaign.

No one seems more clueless about the events in Connecticut than Joe Lieberman himself. He'd infuriated Democrats last year with his Karl Rove-ian statement to Bush critics that "in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." On the eve of the election, he told a sympathetic Fox News correspondent that his defeat would send a dangerous message that there's "no room" in the Democratic Party for "strong-on-security Democrats."

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In echoes of Rove, Lieberman is saying that Democrats who voted for Lamont somehow don't care about their own security. Lieberman has apparently convinced himself that by cheering on reckless ideologues in the White House to launch and continue a destabilizing war in Iraq, he has made America more secure.

Connecticut voters have sent a message that elite media seem unwilling to hear: It's that many Americans believe the Bush (and Lieberman) approach to "national security" makes our country less secure, more despised and more vulnerable.

 

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Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he was an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR.org in 1986.

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