Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Limited Powers of Media Spin

Jonathan Chait has a post about the limits of the Republican Elite's power in nominating their preferred candidate, writing:
The more important function of the debates is that they circumvent the party apparatus. Republicans are less dependent on tuning into the media – in this case, usually Party organs like Fox News – to learn who the leading candidates are. They can squeeze the merchandise themselves. Certainly debates have existed before this cycle, but now they seem more frequent and far more influential. Viral moments are spreading farther and wider.
Jonathan Bernstein counters by saying that the debates are being spun by Fox News and others in the rightwing media, writing:
Debates are far more mediated than ads or direct campaign contacts. And that means that to understand the effects of the debates, we need to know who is interpreting them and how.
And his evidence for this?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Nor could he, because all evidence points to the contrary.  As Chait noted, Romney is surely the candidate the Republican Establishment wants, yet Newt now seems to be the front-runner; even though he's a terrible candidate.  And I've got to agree with that, as Newt is perhaps the worst candidate they've got; with the possible exception of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

So for Bernstein to refute Chait's argument, he needs to show how his theory explains what we're all obviously seeing.  But he doesn't, and instead basically goes with a Rightwing Media Works in Mysterious Ways sort of thing, which might work when applied to acts of God but isn't even satisfactory in that case.

Seriously, this is what he wrote:
we don’t really know exactly how what I call the GOP-aligned media works
So he admits that he doesn't know how they're doing it, yet he "knows" that it's happening, enough so that he can imagine he's refuting Chait's point without needing any evidence whatsoever to support his claim.

Sorry, but that's just not good enough.  Since reality seems to contradict Bernstein's claims, he needs to explain how this fits into his theory, yet he doesn't even attempt an explanation.  Instead, his argument is a mere assertion that this is true and leaves things at that.  And since Chait's describing a new phenomenon that changes the old dynamics, Bernstein really needs to show how the old dynamics are still in effect. 

Yet he ignores that part completely.  He started his post by asserting that Perry's brain fart about not remembering the three agencies he wanted to cut could have been spun either way, yet doesn't offer anything to support even that assertion; let alone explain any of the rest of this.

 My Rebuttal

The rest of this is the comment that I wrote on his post, which I'm just reposting here.

I'm sorry, but this is a ridiculous argument which is proven false by reality. Are we REALLY to imagine that Fox News had it in for Perry, even though he was at one time the Anointed One and the best chance the Republicans had at uniting the Tea Partiers behind a candidate that at least stood some chance of competing against Obama? That seems doubtful.

First off, the influence of the media has ALWAYS been vastly exaggerated, even before the internet became so pervasive in politics. One needs only to contrast the negative news coverage of Clinton with the high approval ratings he had to see that. But when you've got groups like Think Progress and TPM, as well as lots of conservatives posting these clips while the debates are still going on, it's a bit hard to imagine how Fox News is the one controlling all this.

Because NOBODY could spin the brain farts committed by Perry and Cain as being momentary lapses by knowledgeable people; primarily because neither of them had a reputation as someone who was knowledgeable. Instead, they had reps as being guys with a very superficial understanding of the issues and no amount of spin can fix that. Same goes for Palin. While spin does have some effect, those powers aren't infinite and can't turn a turd candidate into Obama just by waving a magic wand.

And seriously, are we to imagine that Fox WANTS all these candidates to look like boobs? Could they be so delusional as to imagine that a Gingrich nomination could be GOOD for the party? Or is it maybe that they're as powerless to create the New Reagan as anyone else?

There's a reason that Mitt Romney avoids media interviews and it's NOT because he's worried that Fox will destroy him for making smart comments. It's because he too has a superficial understanding of the issues, but is smart enough to realize that he's safer in controlled situations like advertisements and speeches than in debates and interviews. And even debates are safer for him than interviews, as he can at least hide behind talking points and not have to worry too much about follow-up questions.

And it shouldn't need to be said, but Chait's theory explains why Gingrich is beating Romney, even though Romney has GOT to be the one that the Republicans want; while this theory of all-powerful spin does NOT explain that. After all, Fox News HASN'T been hammering Romney for his debate performance, and yet he STILL lags in the polls. I'm sorry, but this alone completely contradicts this theory.

Gingrich is one of the worst candidates they've got, has a terrible campaign, was considered to be dead in the water by everyone including Fox earlier in the year; yet now seems to be the front runner. If your theory can't explain that, then you need to get a new theory.

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