Prominent pundits seem ecstatic over Hillary Clinton’s entry into the presidential race just days after Barack Obama’s media-created candidacy became official. Media talking heads are having so much fun lately they don’t seem to notice that our political system is failing to address ever-worsening problems: social, environmental, fiscal and imperial.
Indeed, our country’s political decline in recent decades has been abetted by the decline in mainstream media. The same media outlets that were complicit in the disastrous Iraq war are bent on turning politics into an insular celebrity club in which only they get to anoint frontrunners.
If the torch of leadership passes from Bush I to Clinton I to Bush II to Clinton II, it will be a loss for our country -- but a victory for a corrupt Beltway press corps that abhors fresh ideas, especially those that challenge its power and privilege. It was a frightened national press corps that vilified the netroots supporters of Democratic outsider Ned Lamont in defense of pro-war warhorse Joe Lieberman.
For the coming election season to be fact-based and reality-based instead of just power-based, independent media (online and off) will have to play a bigger role in shaping the debate and correcting the record. For example, a recent San Francisco Chronicle news report (headlined “Obama Emerges as Clinton’s Rival for Dems’ Left”) asserted that Hillary Clinton was “widely regarded as the left’s most influential voice inside the now-revered Clinton White House.”
Widely regarded? Actually, progressives see Hillary Clinton as having been consistently wrong on the war and a host of other issues, especially trade. Her absurdly bureaucratic healthcare proposal in 1993 -- shaped by and for big insurance companies -- was a slap in the face of unions, Congress members and grassroots forces who’d built a movement for simple, nonprofit national health insurance: in effect, enhanced Medicare for All. She helped set back the cause of universal coverage for years.
And far from being “revered,” many Democratic activists see the Clinton era as one of decline in which Democrats lost their strong majorities in the US Senate, US House, governorships and state legislatures. It’s simple math.
The 2008 presidential election is shaping up as a test of the power and capacity of new independent media vs. old conglomerate-dominated media. And a test of grassroots/netroots politics vs. corporatized Democratic politics.
In 2004, new media and netroots forces weren’t quite strong enough to win. The Internet-fueled and funded Howard Dean insurgency caught the press corps (and Democratic elites) off guard, but they rallied to savage the then-frontrunner -- in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses -- as hot-headed, inexperienced and unelectable. Those weeks saw many Iowa caucus-goers move from Dean to allegedly “electable” candidates. . . like Kerry.
This month in Memphis, more than 3,000 independent journalists, critics and media activists joined members of Congress at the National Media Reform Conference to strategize on how to build more democratic, diverse, independent media. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton -- who’s been historically close to media conglomerates and was endorsed for Senate by Rupert Murdoch -- was not present.
Only one presidential candidate came to Memphis: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who now chairs the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, with jurisdiction over the FCC. There was disappointment in the no-show of presidential candidate John Edwards, who has some of the Dean thunder this year with his Internet-savvy campaign calling for a war on poverty and withdrawing troops from Iraq.
This election season, it will be fascinating to see whether blogs and independent media and grassroots Democrats will be able to counter -- as Dean almost did in 2004 -- the ferocious assaults and clichés of corporate media. In much mainstream media discussion twelve months before the Iowa caucuses, the campaign has already been narrowed to a two-person race, with Clinton way ahead of Obama.
But a different story emerges when Democrats are polled in crucial early primary and caucus states where voters are beginning to pay attention: Edwards is ahead in Iowa; Obama is ahead in New Hampshire.
This race is certainly not over. Nor is it a two person-race.
My advice to mainstream journalists: If you love covering horse races, transfer to the sports pages. If you want to cover only celebrities, switch to the gossip pages. If you’re obsessed with how candidates look or dress, try the fashion pages.
As for how these presidential aspirants would govern, I’m counting on independent media. The public needs to hear Kucinich’s step-by-step plan to end the war in Iraq. And Edwards needs to be asked: after the first 50,000 troops are withdrawn, what’s the next step?
As for Clinton and Obama, the vaguer their rhetoric, the more they seem to dazzle the establishment media (not unlike Chance the Gardner in Being There). It will be up to independent media to decipher their actual positions, and the political/financial interests of their funders and advisers.
Jeff Cohen is a media critic, former TV pundit and author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. He worked for the Kucinich campaign in 2003. He consults for Progressive Democrats of America. Visit his website at: http://jeffcohen.org/. The views here are his alone.
Other Articles by Jeff Cohen
I'm Tired of
Bushes and Clintons