It’s difficult to look back upon Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful vice presidential bid without calling to mind her relentless attacks on the “lame-stream media.” It seemed that every stump speech brought a new chapter of her vendetta against the press, with the attacks growing more exaggerated as November neared. In turn, the media cut her little slack, she plummeted in the polls, and the Republican ticket tanked.
You’d think that the fresh batch of GOP candidates would learn from such missteps. But over the course of the past few days, Newt Gingrich and his campaign have proven otherwise. First Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, issued a statement—responding to what he called an anti-Gingrich media “onslaught”—saying that “the literati sent out their minions to do their bidding.” He went on to accuse journalists of firing flimsy attacks “without taking aim” and distorting the campaign’s message.
Alas, there was more. During an event in Iowa, Gingrich himself took up the mantle in the war on media. “It’s going to take a while for the news media to realize that you’re covering something that happens once or twice in a century,” he said of his candidacy. He called his campaign—and the ideas that it presents—something that will “take a while (to) sink in.”
The minds of the media, it seems, are too dull for the bright light of Gingrich’s genius.
Never mind that he made these statements while the cameras of a dozen major news outlets were pointed at him and rolling.
Candidates – Gingrich and his kin – grapple during every election cycle with the challenge of sending their voters a consistent and enticing message. Much is in their control: the clothes they wear, the statements they make, the places they go. But on the election battlefield, there is one external force that is neither obedient nor governable.
The media is simply a canvas, upon which and off of which is projected a candidate’s message. It can be influenced and it can be shifted – but, for the most part, it lives up to its name: it is a vehicle of whatever message is being voiced.
But for two reasons, the war on media is injurious for any candidate.
Firstly, constant media attacks are the most palpable and contemporary iterations of “biting the hand that feeds you.” When that slew of controllable campaign factors is either ignored or abused, the media is no longer a plain, suggestible canvas. Just like Palin, when Gingrich uses the media as a target, or turns it into a legislative scapegoat, problems plague his campaign. As Palin has relied more and more upon comments like these, coverage of her in that “lame-stream media” has transformed from sound reportage to a form of satirical mockery. Newt Gingrich is on that path.
Secondly – and more importantly – he’s attacking being educated, informed and inquisitive. To portray writers and reporters in a negative – even hostile – light is to undervalue and trivialize the importance of education and awareness. And to hastily slap scathing terms like “minions” onto the diligent and hardworking members of the mainstream media is to malign the work that makes this country’s voting populace a more informed and erudite group.
The media is what has kept us free. It is the force of transparency that allows us to maintain a functioning democracy. To attack the media is to attack a central pillar upon which our rights as citizens stand.
Every blow that Newt Gingrich deals to the media will become a blow to his campaign. Each insulting epithet he attaches a writer or reporter will become a permanent name-tag on his lapel. Every “lame-stream media”-esque reference will be seen as an attack on the Bill of Rights. Sound familiar, Newt? Ring any bells, Tea Party?
Sarah Palin harangued the media for months, then admitted that she couldn’t name a newspaper she reads. Newt Gingrich is walking a fine line.
For the sake of his campaign and for the benefit of the country, I implore Mr. Gingrich (and any opponents he may face) to eagerly engage in substantive debate and elude the fatal attraction to ceaseless attacks on the media. All campaigns – especially those for the most lofty office in the land – should be driven by ideas and ideals, not assaults on those who seek to inform decisions.