One of the most bizarre by-products of this election is the total marginalization of mainstream media by ultraconservative politicians. It all started with the infamous Katie Couric interview of Sarah Palin, and the subsequent decision made by the McCain campaign to keep Palin away from anyone other than friendly or powderpuff media. The toughest interview any of them sat down for never surpassed the grilling they may have gotten from Whoopi and Joy on The View. Most limited their appearances to the friendly confines of Fox News which, in the end, was never more, and never meant to be more, than another campaign fundraising event. Some, like Jan Brewer in Arizona, even decided that one Candidates Debate was sufficient. Indeed, the days where three or four debates are typical are probably over.
When McCain's campaign made the decision of put Palin in a media-free bubble, it was to keep her from making more of a fool of herself than she already had. But largely it was to protect the campaign and McCain's decision to select Palin in the first place (which raised legitimate questions about his judgment and vetting process) rather than to protect Palin herself. Of course that's not how Palin perceived it. She interpreted it as a declaration that mainstream media doesn't matter. Specifically, no longer matters.
In days past Palin couldn't have expected to get past first base -- even to first base -- without passing through tough questions from legitimate news sources. These news sources performed a sort of vetting process to quickly and effectively expose the wild-eyed kooks, the under- and misinformed, and the simply ill-prepared. And the good people who made up the electorate gave credibility to these news sources, believed what they saw and read, and largely steered away from the candidates who couldn't pass through a simple interview process which was, in effect, no more difficult than an interview one would expect to have to pass through to get any job. I imagine many voters simply clipped out the endorsement page from the local newspaper and took it into the voting booth with them.
But now the notion that anyone needs to sit for an interview with a real journalist and answer real questions about the candidate's real positions on real issues is quaint. There are other outlets in which to spread yourself around: Facebook and Twitter, Fox News, Right Wing talk radio, and unrestrained (and unlimited) advertising that needn't conform to either Truth or Decency.
There is no need to explain of defend a position or previous statement and no follow-up question to stammer through. One needn't even have to had thought much about an issue, much less formulate a position and be eloquent and well-informed in support of it.
This accidental Bubble strategy has become so successful for Palin that it has been adopted by the Palinettes: Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Rand Paul, Jan Brewer, and Christine O'Donnell. And curiously most seem not to be effected by it at all -- at least three or four are still posed to win on Tuesday. In fact, it's the media that seems to be reeling rather than the media-dissing candidates. This is yet another blow to the mainstream media that is struggling to maintain relevance, much less influence, in the election process. Their role has been diminished, their opinions ignored, their kingmaker powers made impotent by Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and the almighty Facebook. Does it really matter, for instance, that every major newspaper in Nevada has endorsed Harry Reid?
And speaking of newspaper endorsements...
Three weeks ago Texas Governor Rick Perry had seen enough and announced that he would no longer sit for interviews with newspaper editorial boards. In making his announcement that newspaper endorsements no longer matter, he said:
"The most prized resource that you have is the candidate’s time, and what is the best return on your investment that you can get with a candidate’s time. It was a calculated decision, but you know the world is really changing, I mean, the way people get their information, who they listen to, etc. Put it all on the balance beam and the balance was toward not doing the editorial boards."
Even conservative newspapers took Perry to task for his decision to snub local newspapers. The staunchly conservative Tyler Morning Telegraph, which Perry once called his "favorite" newspaper, slapped the longest-serving Texas governor with a blistering front-page editorial. Addressing the governor directly, the editorial read:
"Your position to not visit with the editorial boards of Texas newspapers may be astute politically, but it demonstrates a disregard for newspaper readers and voters across the state, who deserve to hear substance rather than silence."
It comes as no surprise, then, that Perry's opponent is getting the lion's-share of newspaper endorsement leading up to the November election. Former Houston mayor Bill White easily wrapped up the endorsements of the two largest state newspapers, the Democratic-friendly Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesmen, but he's also getting endorsements from smaller, more traditionally conservative newspapers as well. A week after Perry's announcement, The Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Beaumont Enterprise, and Galveston County Daily News all published their endorsements of White. That was followed a week later by similar endorsements from The San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, San Angelo Standard-Times, Wichita Falls Times Record News, and The Eagle of Bryan-College Station.
Meanwhile, Perry has only managed one major newspaper endorsement, and that from the Waco Tribune-Herald, the 35th largest newspaper in Texas.
But it's very likely that Perry will win anyway. Two polls yesterday are giving Perry a comfortable lead, with one poll, the reliable Public Policy Polling, putting him over the magic 50% mark at 53-44%.
And Perry's not the only gubernatorial candidate who has refused invitations to sit down with editorial boards. Unlike Perry who made a public announcement, Rick Scott in Florida has simply not done it. As a result, every single major newspaper in Florida, 17 in all, has endorsed his opponent, Alex Sink. In a recent debate, Sink pointed this out as an ringing confirmation of her candidacy and her ability to do the job.
"Every single newspaper that has endorsed has endorsed my candidacy, because they know that I have the character and the integrity, and they also know that I have the business plan, that I'm a fiscal conservative to carry our state forward in a matter that all Floridians can be proud of."
Scott responded "You talked about your endorsements by the newspapers. Absolutely, most of them endorsed Barack Obama. You're an Obama liberal. That's exactly why they're endorsing you."
In fact, three newspapers that endorsed Sink had endorsed McCain, not Obama, in 2008: The Tampa Tribune, the Bradenton Herald, and the Spanish-language Miami-based Diario Las Americas. Four other Sink-endorsing newspapers didn't endorse either candidate in 2008: Citrus County Chronicle, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, the Fort Myers News-Press, and the Tallahassee Democrat.
Even so, Sink and Scott are neck-and-neck coming down the stretch with two recent polls showing Sink ahead by 3%, and two other showing Scott ahead by 3%.
This is a funny election. Not ha-ha funny, but odd funny. And quite frankly, one of the oddest things, in an election that is absolutely teeming with oddities, is the complete and utter disdain conservative candidates are showing to the media, which was once an invaluable resource for voters and influential voice in the election process.
Heading into 2011 and the 2012 presidential race that Palin will almost certainly be participating in, is it reasonable to expect that someone running for the President of the United States can successfully do so from inside a media-free Bubble?