"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Anyone surprised by the media's swift declaration that the Supreme Court's stunning rebuke of the Bush administration's governing philosophy is actually good news for the GOP -- because it allows Republicans to "campaign against" the court -- just hasn't been paying attention. Over the past several months, we've repeatedly seen bizarre claims that empirically bad news for Republicans is actually good news; that it simply provides a new opportunity to "campaign against" a new boogeyman.

The week ending July 7, in which the media continued to call every match for Bush and his party, regardless of the score or casualties

Anyone surprised by the media's swift declaration that the Supreme Court's stunning rebuke of the Bush administration's governing philosophy is actually good news for the GOP -- because it allows Republicans to "campaign against" the court -- just hasn't been paying attention. Over the past several months, we've repeatedly seen bizarre claims that empirically bad news for Republicans is actually good news; that it simply provides a new opportunity to "campaign against" a new boogeyman.

Earlier this year, NBC's Matt Lauer suggested that President Bush's unpopularity was a good thing for Republican candidates this fall, because it meant they could run against an unpopular president. Of their own party. With whom they agree on virtually every major issue.

Just last week, the Republicans' relentless assault on the media was touted as an opportunity to fire up their base by running against the media. The Washington Post reported that Bush "rallied Republicans with another attack on the media," while NBC's Tim Russert said, "It is something that resonates with the organized Republican conservative base: taking on the media, the liberal media."

And, of course, to the journalist/pundit crowd, Republicans are always lucky to be able to run against those bumbling political amateurs, the Democrats, whom the media are all too quick to deride as "unable to get their act together" -- despite a healthy lead in generic ballot polling.

All told, the Republicans' great good fortune is that they get to run against Democrats, the media, the Supreme Court, and President Bush.

It's only a matter of time before some enterprising journalist figures out a way to argue that the public's general dislike for the Republicans spells good news for ... Republicans. After all, it'll just give the GOP another group to run against: the American people.

The widespread media assumption that all of these political landmines for the GOP -- the Supreme Court decision, an extraordinarily unpopular president, Gen. George Casey planning for troop withdrawal from Iraq even as Republicans blast Democrats who are doing the same for wanting to "cut and run," North Korea's missile tests, continued threats from Al Qaeda -- are actually opportunities for Republicans or trouble for Democrats seems to rest in large part on the assumption that security issues automatically redound to the Republicans' benefit.

That's why, whenever Osama bin Laden surfaces with a new video- or audio-taped statement, media pundits are quick to declare that the reminder of the threat of terrorism is a political boon to the GOP -- instead of portraying it as a reminder that the Bush administration has failed to capture him nearly five years after the September 11, 2001, attacks. That's why the media portray a Senate debate in which every Republican except one endorses an unpopular president's unpopular plan to remain indefinitely in an unpopular war as a benefit to Republicans. That's why whenever there is a new disclosure of a Bush administration effort to spy on Americans, the media portray Democratic concern over possible trampling of civil liberties and constitutional rights as political suicide.

The vast majority of political reporters and pundits seem to simply assume that any public discussion of anything even remotely associated with national security works to the Republicans' advantage. As Media Matters noted this week:

On military and national security issues, Bush and the Republicans apparently can simply do no wrong, suffer no loss in the eyes of the media, no matter how costly the transgression in terms of American lives, reputation, or dollars. This assumption on the part of the media may have been justifiable three years ago, when polling showed widespread public support for Bush's handling of Iraq and terrorism. But now that the public is roughly evenly split on his handling of terrorism, and strongly opposed to his handling of Iraq, the media's continued assumption that these issues will redound to his party's benefit does not reflect reality, although the relentlessness with which the media promote this assumption may actually affect it.

Put simply, the media are stuck in a pre-2005 mindset. They continue to assume, despite a growing body of evidence, that security issues are a political strength for the GOP. What's worse, they assume that it is an inherent strength -- that is, that it will remain a GOP strength no matter how badly the Bush administration (and a Republican-controlled Congress that obediently marches two steps behind) screw up. The problem is that myths repeated often enough become reality. By repeating -- relentlessly, constantly, unthinkingly, glibly -- the myth of Republican strength on national security, while downplaying the facts that should obliterate that myth, the media are doing everything possible to ensure that the myth will ultimately prevail in a war of attrition against reality. They hear each other repeat it, and they are reinvigorated to continue the cycle of repetition and reinforcement.

It is a myth devoid of any factual basis, and, indeed, one that the media could easily explode by simply ... reporting. Think back over the past five years:

  • Bush ignored pre-9-11 memos and briefings warning that bin Laden was "Determined to Strike in US" -- reportedly dismissing one such briefing by declaring, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
  • Bush vowed to capture bin Laden "Dead or alive." He hasn't. In fact, when bin Laden was cornered by Pakistani and Afghan forces in Tora Bora in late 2001, Bush reportedly ignored CIA warnings that the Pakistanis and Afghans weren't up to the job of capturing him.
  • Bush diverted attention from Afghanistan to invade Iraq, offering the false rationales that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had helped Al Qaeda. A sizable majority of Americans now think invading Iraq was a mistake, was not worth the human and financial costs, and disapprove of Bush's handling of the war.
  • Despite this, Bush and the vast majority of congressional Republicans want the United States to continue occupying Iraq indefinitely.
  • Our military commitment to occupying Iraq drains personnel and resources that could be used to confront other threats, such as Al Qaeda and North Korea.

And on and on and on ... yet the media still assume that security issues are automatic winners for the GOP.

Never mind that roughly 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq.

Never mind that six of seven ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back to November 2005 found that a plurality of Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job handling Iraq (the lone exception was a March poll that found an even split).

Never mind that a June 2006 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 54 percent of respondents would be more likely to support a candidate who favors "pulling all American troops out of Iraq within the next twelve months," while only 32 percent would be less likely.

Never mind that the public is roughly evenly split on Bush's handling of terrorism.

Never mind all that: Journalists and pundits seem convinced that it is still 2002. What else could explain their stubborn insistence that security issues will naturally benefit the GOP politically? In 2002, that belief had some justification. But this isn't 2002.

In late 2002, an ABC/Washington Post poll found that Republicans had a 31-point advantage on the question of which party people trusted to do a better job dealing with terrorism. The most recent ABC/Post poll found the Republicans had only a seven-point advantage -- and Democrats actually held a five-point edge in May.

In September 2002, a CBS News poll found that 71 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of terrorism. By June 2006, that number was down to 47 percent -- with 46 percent disapproving. A 49-point margin has dropped to one point.

In June 2002, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that only 11 percent of Americans thought the Bush administration had "gone too far" in "restricting people's civil liberties in order to fight terrorism." In May 2006, that number was up to 41 percent.

This isn't 2002 anymore. Four years of lies and failures, of botched and bungled foreign policy have taken a toll. People no longer overwhelmingly support Bush and the GOP on security matters. In many cases, they strongly oppose the Republicans. It's long past time for journalists to realize that, and stop acting like these matters are still sure winners for the GOP. Otherwise, their constant repetition of that assumption could have the effect of making it true.

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