Kerry Loves the Mainstream Media
From the March 21, 2005 issue: . . . And has contempt for the American people.
by P.J. O'Rourke

The Weekly Standard
03/21/2005, Volume 010, Issue 25


JOHN KERRY EFFECTIVELY ENDED HIS political career on February 28, 2005, during a little-noticed event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Senator Kerry was being presented with the library's "Distinguished American Award"--a bust of John Kennedy. The artist had portrayed JFK with head slightly tilted. The bust looked puzzled. The award was presented by Senator Ted Kennedy, who phoned it in. Supposedly Kennedy was rushing to catch the "last plane out of Logan" to get to Washington for a vital debate on bankruptcy reform legislation. Why the other senator from Massachusetts wasn't vital was not explained. Nor was it explained why any Democrat was vital to a debate on legislation that was simply to be passed by the Republican majority and signed by the Republican president.

Paul Kirk, chairman of the Kennedy library, former Ted Kennedy staffer, and head of the DNC back when Kennedys mattered, introduced Kennedy's disembodied voice. Kennedy praised Kerry's "passion for the value of politics" and "practice of the politics of values." (Where is Ted Sorenson when you need him?) Kennedy did his best to laud Kerry's thin legislative record: "a key voice on arms control." He added, "I can't wait for Kerry in oh-eight" and suggested this as a bumpersticker.

The rest of the evening was devoted to "A Conversation with Senator John F. Kerry." Acting as interlocutor was Boston Globe columnist Thomas Oliphant, who simpered and fidgeted and compared Kerry to Adlai Stevenson.

Addressing the audience of tame Democrats, Kerry explained his defeat. "There has been," he said, "a profound and negative change in the relationship of America's media with the American people. . . . If 77 percent of the people who voted for George Bush on Election Day believed weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq--as they did--and 77 percent of the people who voted for him believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11--as they did--then something has happened in the way in which we are talking to each other and who is arbitrating the truth in American politics. . . . When fear is dominating the discussion and when there are false choices presented and there is no arbitrator, we have a problem."

America is not doctrinaire. It's hard for an American politician to come up with an ideological position that is permanently unforgivable. Henry Wallace never quite managed, or George Wallace either. But Kerry's done it. American free speech needs to be submitted to arbitration because Americans aren't smart enough to have a First Amendment, and you can tell this is so, because Americans weren't smart enough to vote for John Kerry.

"We learned," Kerry continued, "that the mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning. But there's a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profound impact and undermines what we call the mainstream media of the country. And so the decision-making ability of the American electorate has been profoundly impacted as a consequence of that. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

Kerry is hilariously bad as a demagogue. A low subculture and its inferior sub-media are thwarting the will of the sacred mainstream? His small sparks of malice were blurred by vast, damp clouds of Kerry-fog--murky budget critiques, hazy pronouncements on Social Security and health care, foreign policy vaporings, leaden anecdotes, and an obscure protest that 45 percent of West Virginians lack sewer hook-ups. Kerry was led back to the main point by a question from the audience: "How [do we] stop the media from creating and perpetuating the divisive red state/blue state situation?"

Kerry looked sympathetically at Oliphant--a representative of the mainstream media--and answered as if Oliphant himself had asked the question. "Tom, I swear I don't have the answer to that. And I'm looking for it just like everybody else is. . . . I think part of what we have to do is have an impact on the economics. The corporatization of the media in America has taken away some of the willingness of the media to do the great muckraking they used to do and to be the accountability folks they used to be. And so you have so many different media outlets that are just bottom-line, and they go where the ratings tell them to go. And there's a top-down hierarchical administration of what they'll go after and what they'll do, and it's driven by the economics more than anything. I think if we were to change the economics a little bit through grassroots effort, then you might begin to see a shift." Kerry did not elaborate on the nature of this grassroots effort. Do we smash the windows of Rupert Murdoch's headquarters? Do we nationalize the Drudge Report? "Now, beyond that," Kerry said, shrugging and pausing, "an epiphany of some kind?" Or do we just get in touch with our inner mainstream?

Kerry smirked at Oliphant. Oliphant smirked back. Kerry went on: "A lot of the mainstream media were very responsible during the campaign. They tried to put out a balanced view, and they did show what they thought to be the truth in certain situations of attack. . . . But it never penetrated. And when you look at the statistics and understand that about 80 percent of America gets 100 percent of its news from television, and a great deal of that news comes from either MTV, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Jay Leno, David Letterman, you begin to see the size of the challenge." (Those were all Kerry supporters or, at any rate, Bush opponents, but this thought--if any thinking occurred--didn't slow Kerry.) "And so I don't have the total answer. I just know it's something that we've really got to grapple with."

Oliphant responded, in a responsible mainstream media way, saying, "Going back to the economics of it, though, isn't this why God created the Sherman and Clayton acts?"

You never know what's going to set someone off. Maybe the mention of antitrust legislation evoked subliminal images of unfair competition, tipping the balance of Kerry's mind and causing miswired synapses to fire. Suddenly he went from having some wrong opinions and even a few wicked thoughts to having--how does one put this in the mainstream media?--special needs.

"That's something," Kerry said, "that a president with a veto pen and with the right of proposal can achieve. But in this particular dynamic don't hold your breath. There ain't going to be no effort to change that or restore the Fairness Doctrine. This all began, incidentally, when the Fairness Doctrine ended. You would have had a dramatic change in the discussion in this country had we still had a Fairness Doctrine in the course of the last campaign. But the absence of a Fairness Doctrine and the corporatization of the media has changed dramatically the ability of and the filter through which certain kinds of information get to the American people . . . "

Kerry kept talking. But it seems cruel to transcribe more. It would be like taking sightseers to Bedlam--or to an '08 Democratic primary.


P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author, most recently, of Peace Kills (Atlantic Monthly Press).

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