Man Without Qualities

Friday, December 20, 2002

Now That Everything Glows So Brightly III

An astute reader from Wisconsin responds to this and this prior post:

Dear Mr. Qualities:

I think there is a simple answer for your question: Why the liberal mainstream press missed the Lott story.

True, the blogs pushed it, but it was first raised by ABC's the Note the day after it occurred, which also mentions quotes from offended politicians presumably aired by ABC News. ABC pretty much is a cornerstone of the mainstream liberal press.

But I would argue the larger reason why none of the other dozen or so reporters who were at the birthday party recognized the story was this: Washington reporters are part of a pack that filters every story through the lens of conventional wisdom and the story line of the day. Anything that falls outside those boundaries can be, and often is, overlooked.

Yes, the Washington press, like press virtually everywhere, is disproportionately liberal. They do protect their sources -- and here Insta-professor is correct -- and that protection racket often (not always, but often) compromises aggressive reporting. (Recall that Woodward was a lowly metro desk reporter, covering minor matters in Virginia, when he was sent to a court hearing of the Watergate burglars where the names "Howard Hunt" and "CIA" came up. And it was WaPo's Bradlee who argued for keeping Woodward and his sidekick on the story when others at the paper wanted the White House/Washington desk to cover it. At least, that's how it was portrayed in the movie.)

Remember, the Washington press corps love nothing more than a story like this -- it feeds the beast back home! The press corps love a feeding frenzy. The true dynamic at work in the press corps isn't a "they're liberal so they miss conservative stories" argument, even though that's true. The true dynamic is that the corps are always on the lookout for something that will spur a feeding frenzy.

Particularly during dead news days like these -- post-election, pre-budget fighting. So the incentives for the press corps, liberal or not, is to be on the lookout for stories like this. (The Lott story, in form and approach by the press corps, bears remarkable resemblance to the Condit/Levy story, and the Gennifer Flowers/Clinton story, and the. ......)

When the pack misses a story (we covered the birthday, not the racist remarks), the only thing that can yank it back is some mainstream press/commentator who points to the obvious -- this is a story, you idiots!. So, as this story developed, one can argue that the racist remark was ignored by the press initially because it didn't fit the conventional story line. The observations of liberal interest groups (in the initial ABC Note item) and liberal bloggers (first Noah, then JJ Marshall) could be ignored by the mainstream press, because that's what they do -- criticize Republicans.

The tipping point, I would argue, came when the Insta-professor condemned the remarks, late in the evening the day (Dec. 6) after the birthday party. Reynolds, I would argue, has become mainstream. He's kind of like the city editor of the blogosphere -- passing on stories left and right, making pithy little comments here and there. But when Reynolds -- who is not non-partisan, but who's partisan tendencies are pretty well disguised -- condemns something that the rest of the mainstream press ignores, it becomes a red flag. Instapundit has huge traffic numbers, and is probably read by as many influential bloggers on the left as on the right. Once he jumped on the quote buttressed by a WaPo story that same day -- buried on page A6 -- that had damning quotes from Kristol), others were sure to follow -- Sullivan, Frum, the rest. By Sunday, Lott was doomed, his forced apology causing him only further troubles.

Thanks for indulging a long note.

Keep up the good work!

Comments: Post a Comment