Why Do Angry, Right-Wing Mobs Get Media Respect?
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I guess Howard Dean was just ahead of his time.
When the liberal anti-war candidate ran for the White House in 2003 and 2004, the Beltway press was uniformly clear that Dean had an "anger" issue. When Dean launched his campaign and gave voice to the hundreds of thousands of activists who had marched and protested against the Iraq war, the media elites did not approve.
And in two features in the summer of 2003, The Washington Post described Dean as "abrasive," "flinty," "cranky," "arrogant," "disrespectful," "fiery," "red-faced," a "hothead," "testy," "short-fused," "angry," "worked up," and "fired up." And trust me, none of those adjectives was used in a complimentary way. In fact, the Post took pains to distinguish Dean's anger from that of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whom the paper termed "brilliantly cranky."
Bad luck for Dean, because back during the Bush years, there was really no worse crime, at least in the eyes of the Beltway press, than being "angry." (Especially being an angry Democrat.) It was practically a deal breaker. Serious people simply didn't conduct themselves that way in American politics. They didn't let their runaway partisan emotions get the best of them.
But oh my, how times have changed! Suddenly this summer, as right-wing mini-mobs turn health care forums into free-for-alls, as unhinged political rage flows in the streets, and as the Nazi and Hitler rhetoric flies, anger is in. Suddenly anger is good. It's authentic. It's newsworthy. Reading and watching the mini-mob news coverage, the media message seems clear: Angry speaks to the masses.
Instead of being turned off by the displays of passion the way they had been when liberal protesters took to the streets prior to the Iraq war, media elites have been touting the mini-mob trend as a " phenomenon" ( USA Today) staffed by a " citizen army" (Bloomberg News).
And make no mistake, the health care mini-mobs have been showered with a massive amount of media coverage. During the week of August 10-16, the topic of health care, and specifically the politics and the protests of health care, accounted for a staggering 62 percent of all cable news coverage, according to the Pew Research Center's weekly survey. My guess is that you would be hard-pressed to find a single week during the run-up to the Iraq war when liberal anti-war protests accounted for just 6 percent of the cable news coverage.
Why the gaping disparity? And how come Dean's anti-war anger was out of bounds, but mini-mob anger is perfectly acceptable? How come liberal anti-war protesters were shunned by the press, but the mini-mobs are showered with incessant coverage? It's because apparently when angry -- and overwhelmingly white -- conservatives protest, they come attached with a direct line to the American psyche. Liberals, though, most certainly do not.
Bottom line: Liberal protesters don't tell us anything about the mood of America. But angry right-wingers do, according to the press.
That glaring double standard is part of a long-running Beltway press trend in which media elites lash out at angry liberals, regardless of whether they're right or wrong. The trend was highlighted again just last week when news broke that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge admitted that very senior players in the Bush White House urged him to raise the nation's terror alert system for purely political reasons. Writing at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder defended journalists who scorned liberal Bush critics years ago when they made that exact same claim about the nation's terror warning system. Journalists were right to dismiss the allegation, wrote Ambinder, "because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence."