- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The press could be facing an identity crisis in a post-election world.

“We blew it. It’s that simple,” said Jon Friedman, media editor of CBS.MarketWatch.com. “The news media, especially those in New York and Washington, completed underestimated the intensity of people who live between the coasts, in the red states and the South.”

The press gave them “short shrift,” Mr. Friedman said, while reinforcing one another’s insular beliefs.

“If you habitually talk to people who only agree with you, and are of the same mind, you start thinking, ‘Yes, this is how it is,’” Mr. Friedman said. “We’ve treated the fact that Bush won as some sort of accident which can’t be explained. And I say ‘we,’ because I am one of those journalists in New York.”

He has advice, though.

“Both the media and Kerry supporters should try to understand what really happened here, and make some sense of it — to understand who is voting for a president, as well as who is running for president,” Mr. Friedman said.

Fixated by persuasive polls favoring Democratic challenger John Kerry and the allure of his support in Hollywood or from high-profile pundits, much of the so-called liberal press outlets overlooked the clout of values voters, Wal-Mart Republicans, evangelical Christians and others who included traditional American ideals in their political ideology.

“The liberal media is the biggest and most immediate loser of Mr. Bush’s win. They staked their prestige on defeating the president, and they lost,” said Jed Babbin, contributing editor of the American Spectator magazine.

Mr. Babbin categorizes this stubborn genre of journalists as “legacy media,” based on a computer term.

“Legacy computer systems are old, outdated and not adapted to the needs of the audience. Legacy media — CBS, The Washington Post, the New York Times — are exactly the same,” he said. “They forget to write for their audience. They don’t have to agree with them, but they also can’t hold them in contempt. Legacy media write for themselves — not their audience.”

Mr. Babbin added, “These people missed the idea that the world is passing them by. They’ll go the way of the dinosaur unless they reach out to the real American audience.”

Some believe the press is not so heinous, however.

“Self-criticism is good, but I am not sure why journalists want to beat themselves up over not covering a certain class of voter,” said Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher magazine. “Essentially, the election turned out as many pollsters predicted it would. There was no huge upset. It was not like Ronald Reagan’s landslide over Jimmy Carter in 1980.”

He thinks the press is not disconnected from the public, as some fear.

“As much as people rail against the media as being elitist, we predicted who would win key battleground states based on newspaper endorsements for candidates Bush and Kerry,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We made the correct prediction in 14 out of 15 states. To me, that indicates the papers reflected their own voters. They were not out of step with them.”

Editorial philosophy could be slow to change, though.

“Much as we can delude ourselves otherwise, elections aren’t about candidates, or conventions, or strategists, or advertising, or even issues. Elections are about voters — in this case, the 120 million Americans who thought through what they want in a president and acted on their beliefs,” John McCormick, deputy editor of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial page, noted yesterday.

“Not that we’ll remember the lesson come 2008,” he added.

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