Sunday, January 23, 2005

As a Republican, I would like to endorse former Gov. Howard Dean as the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

My endorsement has nothing to do with politics or the qualifications of Mr. Dean. Rather, it has to do with an out-of-control media that not only manipulated our electoral process, but, in fact, changed the makeup of the last presidential campaign.

While all political eyes have recently and rightfully focused on CBS News and its blatantly biased reporting against George W. Bush, the media itself has been running from a potentially more damaging story to its reputation — a story that clearly shows that, instead of covering the Democratic primaries last year, the media altered their very outcome, and in the process, made John Kerry the Democratic nominee.

How? By systematically destroying the Dean campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. How the press did in Mr. Dean is not the least bit complicated. Why and by what means is something it refuses to talk about.

There was basically a three-pronged attack to the media destruction of the Deancampaign.First, thereweregeneric”Howard Dean is dropping and John Kerry is rising in the Iowa polls” stories. These became popular in December 2003, when Mr. Dean was up nearly 30 percent and Mr. Kerry was, by all accounts, “dead in the water.” Each story then createdaself-fulfilling prophecy. Next, and most damaging, was the salvo fired by NBC News on Jan. 8, 2004, just 11 days before the Iowa Caucus. It was on that night that NBC aired the “unearthed” clips of Mr. Dean from a Canadian news show titled “The Editors.” From 1996 until 2002, Mr. Dean had made some 90 appearances on a program that also aired regularly on PBS stations here in the United States.

Just by coincidence, of course, NBC happened to show a clip of Mr. Dean criticizing the Iowa caucuses four years earlier. In part, Mr. Dean said, “If you look at the caucuses system, they are dominated by the special interests in both parties.” Not shocking, but NBC knew full well that by airing that particular comment just days before the Iowa Caucus, they were going to affect the race. And affect it they did. To be expected, Mr. Kerry, Richard Gephardt and John Edwards all went after Mr. Dean hammer-and-tong for his “insult” to the good voters of Iowa. Next, the talking heads in the Iowa media played “whack-a-mole” with Mr. Dean. So much so that just a few days later, the 11-point lead Mr. Dean had enjoyed over Mr. Kerry had become a one-point Kerry lead.

The third prong in the media onslaught against Mr. Dean was the most memorable, and, by far, the most destructive. It was the tape of Mr. Dean’s understandably dazed “I have a scream” speech on Iowa caucus night. With the critical New Hampshire primary just one week away — in a state that in late 2003, neighboring Sen. Kerry had been only polling in the single digits — the national and local media decided to finish off Mr. Dean’s campaign. They did so by playing Mr. Dean’s “I have a scream” remarks more than 600 times during that one-week span in New Hampshire. Mr. Dean was done, and the voters of New Hampshire settled on the recently exhumed Mr. Kerry.

Don’t believe me? How about Diane Sawyer, CNN and FOX News? After the saturation of the “I have a scream” speech, Miss Sawyer reported that she called the heads of the other networks for on-the-record quotes responding to the question if the networks had overplayed the Dean gaffe. She then reported back, “With the exception of NBC (which started the destruction), they all said collectively the media did overplay it. CNN said ‘If we had to do it again, we’d pull ourselves back.’ And the chairman of Fox News? ‘We overplayed it a bit and the public clearly thought so, too.”

The media, not the voters, chose the winner of the 2004 Democratic primaries. Not only was this action unprofessional and completely unethical, but it had a direct impact on the general election.

Sadly, while the media is quick to go after others for mistakes, it erects a wall of “No Comment” when it comes to its ethical lapses. As Dan Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward conveniently disappeared during their public flogging, so too do most media people when asked about the robbing of Mr. Dean.

Hence my support of Mr. Dean for head of the DNC. Since the media stole his nomination, the least his party can do is throw him a bone and give him the chairmanship.Whoknows, maybe then at least he will make an issue out of this journalistic disgrace.

Douglas MacKinnon served as press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official.

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