John Fund tells us we're all freaks. Well, not really. He's actually reviewing a book by Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News, and John Harris, the political editor for the Washington Post, titled The Way to Win. They argue that the internet has become a freak show that distracts from the old media gatekeeper model.
Whoever runs in 2008, according to Messrs. Halperin and Harris, will have to recognize that the Old Media of TV networks and prestige publications now suffer from "fading power and diminishing options." The New Media of cable news and the Internet are creating a "Freak Show," they say, stripping away the restraints and minor courtesies that used to govern campaigns and public debate. In a chapter called "How Matt Drudge Rules Our World," the authors declare that Mr. Drudge's simple Internet operation has made him "the Walter Cronkite of his era" because what he posts "instantly commands the attention and energies" of Old Media outlets. The authors disdain Mr. Drudge–"salacious, reckless, superficial and unfair"–but they concede that no 2008 candidate will succeed unless he understands the Drudge Report's "singular power" and the related power of sites such as (from the left) the Daily Kos.
Messrs. Halperin and Harris also concede that, whatever the excesses of the New Media, the Old Media are not exactly a pristine and objective force. By deciding which stories to cover and which to ignore, they play favorites, too. The authors believe that the emergence in 2004 of outside political groups funded by left-leaning billionaires such as George Soros was an undercovered story; it would have received saturation levels of scrutiny if the financiers hailed from the right. Similarly, the media dwell endlessly on GOP candidates who make direct appeals to religious groups, but in 2004 reporters yawned as John Kerry and John Edwards "routinely went into houses of worship and served notice that righteous voters would be for the Democrats."
Sounds a bit like sour grapes, doesn't it? Well, that's because it is. They bemoan the loss of their traditional media control of what gets debated and discussed. Fund notes that the two authors do actually have a few interesting insights and strategies for potential candidates.
And what about 2008? Hillary Clinton has studied the practices and principles of both the Bush team and those of her husband, gleaning what the authors call Trade Secrets. These include such Machiavellian precepts as "do opposition research–on yourself" and "compile a mental enemies list of people who have crossed you. Never write it down. Make sure people are afraid to be added to the list." The Trade Secret for answering media questions is to give "an immaculate version of the exact same rehearsed response, every time."
By applying such Trade Secrets, the authors say, Ms. Clinton has been able to alter her image with some voters. She is no longer an "arrogant, power-hungry, corrupt, harsh, hypocritical liberal"; she is a "competent, thoughtful, hardworking, determined, principled role model." She recognizes that Al Gore and John Kerry lost their elections in large part because they "lost control of their public image" and let the opposition set the terms of debate.
Well, it may prove a bit difficult to maintain control of public image with the freak show in the picture now. But we'll likely accommodate all the candidates. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen.