One of the reasons that Romney lost is that he failed to take on the media. The ultimate lost opportunity came when CNN’s debate moderator Candy Crowley directly inserted herself into the argument between Obama and Romney to declare her favorite right and Romney wrong.
Romney had won the Republican primaries, but had failed to absorb the lesson of his most tenacious opponent. Newt Gingrich did not treat the media as a neutral moderator, but as a debate opponent, challenging its premises and agendas. And so Romney was left unprepared for Crowley’s attack.
On the road to 2016, the latest crop of candidates appears to have learned nothing from Romney’s failure. In response to the media blowing up his vaccine comment, Christie issued a sensible clarification that provided more fuel for the media narrative. And the media narrative is what most people know.
They know that Christie was behind Bridgegate even though the Democrats pushing the story provided zero evidence of it. They know that Congressman Steve Scalise spoke at a Neo-Nazi event even though that never actually happened. But what they know is the story that the media tells them. Not the facts.
The media is using Christie to churn out stories framing the GOP race as a debate over vaccines while painting Republicans as opponents of vaccination. Media attacks on Republicans come in three stages. The first stage reports on an individual Republican’s action or statement. The second stage projects that on Republicans in general as part of a “Culture of X”. The third stage asks whether Republicans will ever be able to break free of the “Culture of X” with “X” being anything from racism to hatred of science.
By now we’re in the third stage. Republican opposition to vaccination has become a media meme.
In response, conservative blogs and outlets have shown that Obama and Hillary Clinton both linked vaccines to autism and that parents who don’t vaccinate tend to be wealthy Democrats.
But the media won’t report that unless the actual candidates stop debating vaccines and start using those facts to challenge its lies and hypocrisy.
A media smear campaign can’t be met with sensible clarifications. They only strengthen the smear. Christie’s clarification that he believes in measles vaccinations has allowed the media to begin spinning him as flip-flopping on vaccines. Any further statements explaining his views will be used to continue reporting on the manufactured story of the “Republican vaccine controversy.”
The only way to break the cycle is for Republicans to stop explaining themselves and to challenge the narrative. The narrative is a lie, but no one will ever know that if the candidates don’t challenge it.
Sensible clarifications might have worked in 1955. They might have even worked in 1985. But they’re completely useless today. No doubt the fact that Obama and Hillary were vaccine skeptics will be acknowledged somewhere near the bottom of a Washington Post fact check of a Hillary commercial that blames her opponent for spreading disease and killing children. Maybe as many as five people will read it.
Today’s media has less respect for the truth than an elevator full of con artists.