Thursday, January 22, 2004

Selection 2004: Iowa

Quoted from the January 22 issue of The Stranger:
I run across [Howard Dean-supporter Ray] Minchew, who is wearing a jacket and tie.  “It’s the triumph of the bullshit media,” is the first thing out of his mouth.  “It’s fucking bullshit.”  Minchew is referring to negative coverage Dean encountered in the last few weeks.  As he was sailing toward the nomination, the media became increasingly critical, pumping out a series of “gotcha” stories, from Dean’s support for a wife-beating security chief to Newsweek and Time’s recent cover stories about Dean’s temperament.
I agree.  On Monday evening (when I had been on a plane most of the day), when my mother told me about the Dean upset, it’s the first thing I thought.

For the past few months, Dean has been pretty much the only candidate getting any significant coverage from the media.  (And this includes the right-wing media: they have nothing good to say about any of the Democratic candidates, but 95% of their negativity has been aimed at Dean, marking him clearly as the one they fear the most.)  How imbalanced has that coverage been?  Well, I would certainly be able to identify Kerry and Dean and Lieberman in pictures; I might be able to pick Gephardt and Kucinich out of a police line-up; I can only identify Braun, Sharpton, and Clark after seeing pictures in the last week (Clark on the cover of The Advocate); but I couldn’t begin to tell you what Edwards looks like.  (I’m pretty sure he’s a white guy with no facial hair, though.)

For the past couple weeks, it’s like “Tally ho!” and the hounds are after Dean the Fox, ready to tear him to bits.  They are aided by a couple negative things Dean had thrown to them, but the appearance is totally that of a need to chop the legs out from under the one they’ve been carrying thus far.  The media realized that he was the front-runner because of them.

In Iowa itself, and elsewhere, I doubt that the negative stories really had much effect on the people already dedicated to Dean, or to the other candidates.  What I see is probably 50,00 caucus-goers who had made up their minds a month ago, and 75,000 who paid as little attention to what was going on as possible until the week before they had to vote.  At that point, they looked around, saw massive negativity about Dean, and a little positive coverage of Kerry and Edwards, and they made their decision based on the headlines and little else.  (Much though we would like it to be otherwise, I think that’s exactly how half or more of the country votes: negligible forethought, and then vote for who their party or newspaper suggests, or even just the name they recognize the easiest.)

What happened to Gephardt, who won a previous caucus in Iowa, I don’t know.  (Sure I do: no coverage at all = no votes at all from the “pay no attention” segment.)

We’ll see what happens in New Hampshire, and then for Super Tuesday.  Will the Media Hounds keep chasing Dean?  Or will they catch the scent of Kerry as the new quarry, letting Dean catch his breath?

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