Green Room

The Blatant Beast

posted at 5:05 pm on October 16, 2009 by

In the 16th-century epic poem The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser writes of a monster called the Blatant Beast. which had “a thousand tongues of every kind and quality”, which “poured forth abuse, not caring where or when… speaking hateful things of good and bad alike, of high and low, not even sparing kings or kaisers, but either blotting them with infamy or biting them with baneful teeth.” In one of my favorite books, The Compleat Enchanter by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague deCamp, a pair of modern-day psychologists discover a method for traveling to the worlds of fantasy and literature. When they visit the world of the Faerie Queene, they encounter the Blatant Beast, who demands they tell him a story he hasn’t heard before, in exchange for their lives. The hero of the story responds by reciting an extremely bawdy limerick, the “Ballad of Eskimo Nell,” embarrassing the Beast so much that it slinks off in defeat with its ears burning.

The mainstream media is the modern incarnation of the Blatant Beast, and its defeat calls for the same strategy by conservatives: tell it a story it can’t ignore, then hit it with a punchline it can’t help repeating. Like the Blatant Beast, the media does have a certain capacity for shame… because nothing bothers professional “journalists” more than amateurs besting them at the sacred ritual of reporting news.

The media beast is wounded, but still powerful. It’s hard to measure the full extent of its influence, although it seems to have diminished somewhat with the rise of alternative media, including talk radio and the Internet. The modern style of agenda journalism dates at least as far back as Walter Cronkite and the Tet Offensive, but I’ve always thought it mutated into the form we recognize today during the 1992 elections. The media may have climbed into the tank for Obama to an unprecedented degree, but in ’92 it was driving an armored fighting vehicle for Clinton. 60 Minutes openly provided cover for his infidelity, helping to bury the Gennifer Flowers story. The press was happy to provide all sorts of assistance to the Clinton campaign, including assistance for the ridiculous “worst economy in the last 50 years” campaign slogan, and warping Bush’s polite question about a grocery store bar code scanner into a heavy-handed theme about how “out of touch” he was.

These tactics were effective, in large measure, because Bush allowed them to be. He never got the hang of working around the media. Like Bob Dole and John McCain after him, he seemed trapped in a perpetual state of surprise about how unfairly he was being treated, and spent his re-election campaign waiting for a sympathetic wave of public outrage that never came.

Of course, Bush was working against the real pressure of economic turbulence, and the general public perception that incumbent Presidents – unlike incumbent members of Congress – are responsible for everything bad that happens during their term. If this tempts you to discount the influence of partisan journalists, try to imagine Barack Obama being held to the same standard during his re-election campaign in 2012. It’s likely that he’ll be running under the cloud of an economy at least as bad as the elder Bush’s was, and possibly much worse… but the media will never hang it around his neck, as they did with Bush. The economy of a huge industrialized nation is a complex affair, and you can be sure every possible benefit of the doubt will be given to Obama.

The media’s power to influence the public is not limitless, as we saw during the 2004 election. The wounds of Rathergate run deeper than many journalists like to admit. The 2004 media strove mightily to drag John Kerry across the finish line, but they couldn’t quite pull it off. Kerry’s thudding lack of charisma, and the transparent cynicism of his war-hero routine, were part of the reason, but it was fascinating to watch the media try to work around them. They seemed perplexed over their inability to discredit the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by repeatedly calling them “the discredited Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” Dan Rather still doesn’t understand what happened to him.

The media’s credibility has continued to bleed steadily away. It would be a mistake to believe them powerless, or on the verge of re-discovering the honor of honest, unbiased journalism. No matter how popular a blog like Hot Air becomes, it will never be broadcast in hundreds of airport terminals to a captive audience of weary travelers, like CNN. The newsstands will always contain a sea of conventionally liberal publications, with a few National Reviews and Weekly Standards peeking out.

The media effort to secure the re-election of the Nobel Prize-winning First Black President will be ferocious. The MSM’s control over the popular culture is still formidable – just look at what happened to Rush Limbaugh this week, as media outlets ran with ridiculous fake quotes posted by a few leftist bloggers, and hammered the man’s reputation hard enough to eliminate his position in the group seeking to buy the St. Louis Rams. Rush has a vast audience, and simple common sense would tell anyone who isn’t part of that audience that he could never have gotten away with making the statements attributed to him. The actual rape hoax perpetrated by a vile creature like Al Sharpton is held against him far less than non-existent “racist” comments were held against Limbaugh.

Still, the media will pay a price for the “successful” campaign against Limbaugh. It will never take the form of huge masses of people swearing off the New York Times and CNN all at once. It happens a little bit at a time. The Blatant Beast dies from many small wounds that bleed slowly. This week, all across the country, a number of people watched the Limbaugh debacle and decided they just don’t trust the mainstream media any more, joining the people who reached that conclusion during the savaging of Sarah Palin, the unraveling of the global-warming hoax, and many other incidents, large and small.

The successful conservative candidates of 2010 and 2012 will learn how to speak to these people. More importantly, they will learn how to use their time in the spotlight to speak past the media gatekeepers, with memorable words and powerful ideas that haunt the imaginations of voters. We won’t find these candidates by looking for people the media supposedly likes, or approves of. The press liked John McCain more than any other Republican candidate of the modern era, and he’d barely clinched the nomination before the first trumped-up story of a supposed affair with a staffer began floating through mediaspace. The search for a Galahad candidate, of such noble purity that the mainstream media is awed and humbled into giving him a fair shake, is futile. If the press can’t find something real to work with, they’ll cruise the lefty web sites until they find a juicy lie they can use. If there aren’t already blogs full of imaginary “racist” comments from Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and every other potential Republican candidate, there will be.

Conservative candidates can’t keep the Blatant Beast from blotting them with infamy, or biting them with baneful teeth. They can make sure the voters see them battling with with skill and grace, and leave the Beast’s ears burning with a few white-hot words it can’t help repeating to everyone it meets.

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Doctor Zero,

There’s something here that, as a begrudging member of the middle aged club, I just do not understand.

The Mainly Sewage Media has been savaging Republicans since before Nixon. Admittedly, they were more subtle then, but they were also less fact-checked since there was no internet, no blogosphere, no Little Green Footballs* “throbbing memo” to do in Dan Rather, for a crystal clear example.

Why the {copulation} don’t Republican candidates understand this? What gives them the idea that, if they just suck up enough, the bullies in the media will like them? It didn’t work on the school playground, and it certainly doesn’t work in bare-knuckled politics.

What Palin has going for her is she gets this. I don’t think she’s near ready to head the ticket, but she could school Romney and Pawlenty and certainly Huckabee on the nature of the beast.

The rules have changed, Republicans. Especially for the D.C. wing, they absolutely must get the memo.

Mew

* Credit where it is due, people.

acat on October 16, 2009 at 5:29 PM

This post has been promoted to HotAir.com.

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Allahpundit on October 16, 2009 at 5:42 PM

So, how long does it actually take from the time a post goes from the Greenroom to the main page before it actually goes there?

BadgerHawk on October 16, 2009 at 6:05 PM

words like “Death Panels”, DZ?

das411 on October 16, 2009 at 6:10 PM

Good one, Badger.

BlameAmericaLast on October 17, 2009 at 2:18 AM

Let me share a Rush Limbaugh anecdote involving Alberta Phillips and the Austin American-Statesman. (Austin is a blue city in the heart of an increasingly purple Texas.)

On Wednesday, Alberta Phillips wrote a column about how Rush Limbaugh was a racist, using many cherry-picked quotes (including the “slavery” quote he never said). Naturally, a dated picture of the fat Rush accompanied the story. I wrote in complaining about the story and the Statesman’s obvious liberal bias (late to ACORN, late to Van Jones, NEA propaganda never even reported).

On Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman published an “editor’s note” stating that the quote came from a book, the book didn’t source the “slavery” quote, Rush denied it, and the paper now tends to believe that the quote is bogus.

On Friday, Alberta Phillips explained herself. The libel problem was dismissed with “My bad!” (“Whatever!”) She dismissed critics (like me) who said that she never listened to Rush and simply got the quotes from other media sources and Media Matters. She said she secretly listened to Rush many years ago (probably didn’t turn the dial on the rental car fast enough). She and her husband got a good laugh at first, but then wised up and turned him off. She insisted that the other quotes in her Wednesday story were double-checked and all legitimate.

One of those quotes had Rush Limbaugh saying that we need to bring back segregated buses (after a white student was attacked by black students). Rush had made the statement with heavy sarcasm and had reiterated that fact on the air when the Southern Poverty Law Center took it out of context. I wrote that the double-fact-checking Phillips must have no shame.

Furthermore, Rush had called the “slavery’ quote a slander on Monday’s show–well in advance of Phillips’ Wednesday column. This was no mere “my bad”–it was gross negligence. Also, Phillips should have revealed that two of her husbands are (1) a football player and (2) a Texas NAACP president.

My strong e-mails probably won’t be published in the Austin newspaper. I did get a Friday response from the editor in chief, who said (1) thank you for your thoughts, and (2) the newspaper’s national political coverage basically sucks and is taken from the AP and the NY Times and Washington Post.

I sent e-mail copies to the media critic at the weekly Austin Chronicle, but–and this is a shocker–it’s a liberal publication, too.

How do we win? How can I expose the truth in a one-paper blue city like Austin? Should I approach the Blatant Beast with the bawdy true origins of “the whole nine yards”? (Look it up.)

Rush said on Friday that he has a strategy. Beck also is said to have a 2010 game plan.

Slow, steady, honest and true will win the race. Although my takedown of Alberta Phillips’ Rush-Limbaugh-is-a-racist pieces didn’t have wide readership, it made the editor-in-chief think. Check out also the online (statesman.com) comments on her columns. Every bit helps.

NOTE TO DOCTOR ZERO: Don’t enter the Washington Post’s next great pundit contest or I’ll be doomed!

barrypopik on October 17, 2009 at 3:24 AM