Things Just Happen All by Themselves

Posted on November 6, 2007

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There was an amazing exchange on Hardball tonight (11/04/07). Chris Matthews chopped it up in barber shop style with his guest Meet the Press host, Tim Russert. They waxed philosophically about the volatility of voters during primary season and Tim Russert made this amazing proclamation:

“there’s a collective judgement that’s made and it seems to happen all at once, people move collectively saying, you know what, we have decided in 04, Howard Dean would not be the best nominee for the party.”

This is really hard to believe, even for someone who watches as many cable news shows as a I do. Really, Tim? This collective judgement happens all by itself? It wouldn’t have anything to do with say, corporate media?

Indeed, in terms of fund-raising and opinion polls Dean looked to be unstoppable in the months and weeks before the Iowa caucus. But the mainstream media had other ideas. Newsweek ran a story called “The Trouble with Dean” in early 2004, virtually stating that he was unelectable. Time ran a similar negative high profile story. A Center for Media and Public Affairs study found that 98% of network media stories about Kerry and Edwards were positive, only 58% of stories about front runner Dean were in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus.

Not surprisingly, Dean lost the Iowa caucus, despite all predictions to the contrary. In the aftermath came the “I have a scream speech”. It was a silly non-story concerning one version of Dean’s speech to his supporters that night which was recorded through the house system (i.e. without the background screaming of the riled up crowd for context). Network and cable news played the “scream” speech nearly 700 times in four days according to some estimates and took great license in poking fun at Dean and calling him un-presidential.

Russert is half-right. As Dean’s wide-ranging popularity in the year or so leading up to the primaries shows, there is in fact “a collective judgement that’s made” and it does seem to “happen all at once”. Its called a grassroots movement, like the one that backed Dean.

And then the there’s the media.