Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2004 / 9 Tishrei, 5765

Robert Robb

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Too many of the wrong people have too much ability to influence public opinion too quickly? | Sometimes you can just sense the machinery of the regulatory state shifting into gear.

I sense it in what would seem an unlikely event: CBS's use of forged documents in a story attempting to discredit President Bush's National Guard service.

Paradoxically, this journalistic blunder is likely to stimulate efforts to muzzle the conservative media, which few would accuse CBS of being part of. Here's why.

For years, the contours of the country's political dialogue have been set by the establishment media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, the three network news programs and, to a lesser extent, Time and Newsweek. Although some will dispute the obvious, the establishment media have a left-leaning perspective.

The basic dividing point between liberals and conservatives is whether government should be doing more or less.

The news consists mostly of a litany of problems. And in the establishment media, problems are almost always a case of government not doing enough or not doing it well enough. Rarely is government involvement per se even considered as a possible problem.

Conservatives could break out of this agenda-setting by the establishment media, else Ronald Reagan would never have been president. But usually it occurred during elections, when direct campaign communications with voters could compete with the perspective offered by the establishment media.

But day in, day out, the establishment media led the national political dialogue.

Two events this election suggest that is no longer the case.

The first was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's criticisms of Kerry's Vietnam record.

The establishment media decided to ignore them. The Swift Boat Vets didn't initially have much money for their ads.

Previously, that would have been the end of it. The Swift Boat Vets wouldn't have gotten enough attention to be meaningful.

But these criticisms were picked up aggressively by the new conservative media, most significantly talk radio and Fox News.

Donate to JWR

And they reverberated around the Internet. The Internet has become a tool of both the left and the right. But, given the dominant agenda-setting role of the establishment media, it has been more vital to the right.

And a story the establishment media ignored ended up effectively undermining a central claim of the Kerry campaign: that his service in Vietnam should give voters confidence in his resoluteness as commander-in-chief.

The second was the rapid discrediting of the CBS National Guard story. Previously, it would have taken a very long time to establish that CBS's documents were likely forgeries, if it ever happened at all.

With the new media, it was done in a matter of days, if not hours, and substantially by people who a CBS executive initially dismissed as sitting around their living rooms in their pajamas.

The establishment media's days of leading the national political dialogue may be over.

The left is unlikely to simply accept this loss of agenda-setting power.

Even before these demonstrations of impotence, there was a growing murmur in liberal circles about the increasing influence of conservative media and the "unfiltered" Internet.

Last year, Bill Moyers flatly declared that the rise of conservative media, including the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, was a threat to democracy.

Expect to see the left increasingly talk about the need to take action to ensure the integrity of the national political dialogue.

There have already been proposals to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to balance the views expressed on their stations. In today's environment, that would operate primarily as an affirmative action program for liberal commentators on talk radio. John Kerry has indicted support for its reinstatement.

But the ambition of the left to regulate the national political dialogue likely won't be restricted to the broadcast spectrum.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court can no longer be counted on to protect the freedom of political speech. Before McCain-Feingold, the court had largely restricted the rationale for government regulation of political speech to preventing corruption or the appearance thereof.

But in upholding McCain-Feingold, the court cited a variety of other benefits, including " public participation in political debate" and "the willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance."

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas warned that the court's reasoning could justify restrictions on the press as well as political contributions.

In all likelihood, technology will stay more than a step ahead of any attempt to stifle or regulate the new media. But expect the effort to be made, and to intensify.

For the left, the lesson of the forged memos won't be that Dan Rather is a tendentious and sloppy journalist. For the left, the lesson will be that too many of the wrong people have too much ability to influence public opinion too quickly.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


09/20/04: Kerry asks good question about security costs
09/07/04: Right city, right message
08/30/04: Bush's key task: His reinvention as a true uniter
08/20/04: Bush's burdening the Middle Class
08/13/04: For prez to win, he must change his campaigning style
08/03/04: Missing in Beantown was a sense of the art of the possible
07/26/04: Kerry inflated agenda reveals he's failed to truly make the transition from legislator to presidential candidate
07/12/04: Edwards punctuates Kerry fantasies
07/06/04: Kerry ups the ante in bid for Latino vote
06/30/04: High Court gave administration limits
06/25/04: Parallel (political) universes
06/21/04: Al-Qaida-Iraq interaction strengthens case for war
06/02/04: Gas whiners don't believe in or trust markets
05/10/04: Border reforms fail on black-market issue
05/07/04: It wasn't Bush's recession nor Bush's recovery
04/28/04: Arizona to become test market on immigration as a political issue
04/23/04: Accusations that the Bush administration has been shredding civil liberties are hyperbolic
04/16/04: Learning the limits
04/14/04: Aug. 6 memo is not even a water pistol, much less a smoking gun
04/11/04: Once 9/11 Commission's political theater ends, we must debate real security issues
04/09/04: Fact checking Kerry's federal budget plans
04/08/04: Should the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq be delayed beyond the current deadline?
04/02/04: Kerry's tax epiphany makes some cents
03/31/04: What could have prevented 9/11
03/26/04: Knock off the high-stakes blame game
03/23/04: McCain a ‘straight talker’? Who is he kidding?
03/17/04: Bin Laden makes distinctions?
03/12/04: In the dangerous neighborhoods, cause for hope, if not yet optimism
03/01/04: Greenspan view scary, but Dems in denial

02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate

© 2004, The Arizona Republic