Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ratings Death Panels

My Nixonite buddy Hugh Hewitt says Nancy Reagan has insulted GOP presidential candidates by inviting them to a debate at the Reagan library. The reason is that the questions would be asked by the dreaded left-leaning representatives of the mainstream media instead of, Hewitt's preference, conservative journalists asking friendly questions.

Bad idea, for three reasons. First, if they're smart, candidates look for opportunities to hone their skills in tough forums. Who cares who's asking the questions? If you're going to win and be able to govern, you learn to answer the ones you wanted instead of the ones you got. Once you have power, you don't get to decide who's allowed to cause you problems.

Second, Hewitt's use of the term "new media" suggests he thinks Fox, Rush, and the lesser lights spinning around them actually comprise a nascent alternative media universe enabling politicians to opt out of MSM business as usual. And they certainly can do that, if they only want to reach a relatively small fraction of the electorate. Many mainstream journalists, liberal though most of them may be, at least try to be fair, whereas most self-identified conservative commentators don't. As a result, moderates, independents, and even some discerning conservatives tune them out, further diminishing their audience and effectiveness. Bill O'Reilly and others on Fox are fond of comparing their TV ratings to MSNBC. If instead you compare Fox's ratings to those of everybody besides Fox (aka the MSM), you see the real market share of Hewitt's new media.

As a matter of fact, I probably wouldn't vote for a candidate who acquiesced in an ideological litmus test for admission to a debate media panel, both because it's borderline creepy and also because the effective candidate will be preaching to her primary season choir and general election congregation at the same time. Sitting around with a bunch of friendly ideologues who are tossing nothing but puffballs should never be of interest to a potential national leader. Okay, you want to show how, one time, Barack Obama was on a panel with journalists from "The Nation" and "Mother Jones"? If so, how's that working out for him?

Third, Hewitt seems to think media people have a lot more power than they actually do. The media don't really set agendas or decide which candidates succeed or fail. Leaders lead, and commentators talk. Voters are smart. They know the difference.


Paul Eskildsen said...

Don't really agree with you or Hugh (ha ha) on this, John. He's right that the same old closet lefty journalists ask loaded questions that beg politic answers rather than really drawing out candidates or discussion, but the folks he suggests are equally (if more openly) biased, and will have the same effect. I'd go for his idea with some modification - create a truly balanced panel such as:
Right wing advocate - Rush or some such
Left wing nutball - Krugman or Dowd
Pseudo-Conservative - Frum or Brooks
Libertarian - John Stossel

Now that would make for a nice range, wouldn't it, although with a "Republican" bent? But it will never happen on stealth-left network TV.

Fr. John said...

With a panel that good, the politicians would be extraneous!