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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Big Media’s Sins

In SC this week, John Edwards has continued his campaign’s complaint that he would be winning in that state and nationally if it weren’t for the news media’s obsession with his two rivals.
He’s obviously right that disproportionate media attention has been paid to Clinton and Obama, even prior to Iowa, though the historic nature of their candidacies was clearly a factor as much as any bias. Since Iowa, however, the focus on the two national front-runners has been completely natural, if somewhat self-reinforcing.
Moreover, the idea that Edwards’ only political handicap has been media negligence just doesn’t bear much scrutiny. He’s been running a relatively poor third in polls in his native state for many months, mainly because of his longstanding inability to attract much African-American support. And you can at least partially forgive the punditocracy for treating his loss in Iowa–his obsessive focus for years, building on a big head start in popularity and organization, and benefitting from an environment where national media coverage wasn’t that big a factor–as the crushing blow that Edwards supporters had long conceded it would be. Live by Iowa, die by Iowa.
The dispiriting Clinton-Obama slugfest in SC has given Edwards one last chance to significantly exceed low expectations–which he failed to do in NH and NV. If he succeeds, and the media continue to ignore him, then he probably has some right to complain.
But if Big Media probably shouldn’t be blamed for Edwards’ travails, I personally think they have played a major role in the “racialization” of the Clinton-Obama rivalry. It’s significant that all the race-talk began on the night of the NH primary, when the networks gave exceptional (and IMO, unmerited) credence to the “Bradley-Wilder Effect” of hidden voter racism as an explanation for Clinton’s upset win. I know some people blame the Clinton campaign for “racialization,” but it should be fairly obvious that if her campaign wanted to “go there,” it would have done so prior to the vote in the whiter-shade-of-pale states of IA and NH. Maybe the race-talk was inevitable in any contest including Obama, and maybe identity-based voting is higher than it otherwise would be in a competition where actual policy differences were visible to anyone other than the most serious wonks. But Big Media definitely let the race-genie out of the bottle, and it’s unclear when or whether it can be bottled back up.

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