Barack Obama's and Mike Huckabee's victories at the Iowa caucuses last week provided some sweet relief if for no other reason than that they screwed up the mainstream media's pre-written script for 2008. From the New York Times to Fox News, from the New Republic to the National Review, the script is already in place for Hillary Clinton to ultimately square off against a manly-man like John McCain or Rudy G-String. Obama, John Edwards, Romney and Huckabee are supposed to be bit players. They obviously have not learned their places. If the media has any say in this, these upstarts will get a reminder this week.
The refreshing part—the sweet relief—may be that the mainstream media no longer has as much say in these matters as they did in 2000 or 2004. Maybe NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox don't, after all, choose our presidents or frame our national narratives any longer. Maybe an endorsement from the Wall Street Journal is worth about as much as the subprime mortgages they lauded last year. Though neither Obama nor Huckabee may ultimately get their party's nominations, it's nice to entertain the notion that large numbers of voters—that was the real story in Iowa, all the new young, motivated voters (which bodes ill for the GOP)—can decide things with no help from the media.
For the media, it is more important to know about Edwards' haircuts than it is to know that Hillary Clinton has voted in lockstep with George W. Bush on the War Forever platform. It's more important to know that when Obama was six he was in a Muslim school than it is to know that for Rudy G. has profited handsomely off our national misery for five years, more important to know Huckabee is a former fatty than it is to know that John McCain is close to senility and is content with, as he babbled this week, a "thousand-year" presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East.
When Fred Thompson—the most ludicrous presidential candidate since Alf Landon—entered the presidential race last June, Chris Matthews, one of the top dogs of the mainstream media, waxed eloquent about, uh, body odors. "Does [Thompson] have sex appeal?" he asked his panel of pundits, all of whom accepted this as an important issue worthy of comment. "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, after he shaved?"
Likewise, when the Codpiece Cowboy landed on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit in 2003, Matthews foamed, "What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot? He won the war… Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West." Ann Coulter, a guest "expert" on Matthews' show, responded, "It's stunning. It's huge. He's landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It's tremendous. It's hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn't matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It's stunning, and speaks for itself."
So much for the mainstream media, whose motto should now be Wrong About Everything. However, this is still the sort of clueless, Beltway-insulated wisdom that Obama and Huckabee are up against. The likes of Matthews, Coulter, David Broder, Maureen Dowd, George Will and William Kristol (who just failed upward to a slot on the New York Times editorial page) have seldom been less accurate. And yet they have continued to be allowed to frame the national debate.
Until Iowa, perhaps.
What do you think?