Tuesday, August 03, 2004
( 9:04 AM )
Krugman Slams the Script
Best. Columnist. Ever. Krugman sends one out of the park again today. He disusses what Daily Howler calls the medial script - the story that the cable news media follow, no matter what reality is.
If you really want to see cable news scripts in action, look at the coverage of the Democratic convention.
Commercial broadcast TV covered only one hour a night. We'll see whether the Republicans get equal treatment. C-Span, on the other hand, provided comprehensive, commentary-free coverage. But many people watched the convention on cable news channels - and what they saw was shaped by a script portraying Democrats as angry Bush-haters who disdain the military.
CNN used to be different, but Campaign Desk, which is run by The Columbia Journalism Review, concluded after reviewing convention coverage that CNN "has stooped to slavish imitation of Fox's most dubious ploys and policies." Seconds after John Kerry's speech, CNN gave Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party's chairman, the opportunity to bash the candidate. Will Terry McAuliffe be given the same opportunity right after President Bush speaks?
Commentators worked hard to spin scenes that didn't fit the script. Some simply saw what they wanted to see. On Fox, Michael Barone asserted that conventioneers cheered when Mr. Kerry criticized President Bush but were silent when he called for military strength. Check out the video clips at Media Matters; there was tumultuous cheering when Mr. Kerry talked about a strong America.
Another technique, pervasive on both Fox and CNN, was to echo Republican claims of an "extreme makeover" - the assertion that what viewers were seeing wasn't the true face of the party. (Apparently all those admirals, generals and decorated veterans were ringers.)
But the real power of a script is the way it can retroactively change the story about what happened.
On Thursday night, Mr. Kerry's speech was a palpable hit. A focus group organized by Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, found it impressive and persuasive. Even pro-Bush commentators conceded, at first, that it had gone over well.
But a terrorism alert is already blotting out memories of last week. Although there is now a long history of alerts with remarkably convenient political timing, and Tom Ridge politicized the announcement by using the occasion to praise "the president's leadership in the war against terror," this one may be based on real information. Regardless, it gives the usual suspects a breathing space; once calm returns, don't be surprised if some of those same commentators begin describing the ineffective speech they expected (and hoped) to see, not the one they actually saw.
The theme of this election season for all of us is going to have to be a constant mantra of "THINK FOR YOURSELF!!!!!"