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Iowa, The Democrats and the Media

Jeff Cohen

As a supporter of Dennis Kucinich, I've talked to dozens of activists over the months (perhaps representative of thousands nationwide) who said that while Kucinich was their favorite choice, they were working for Howard Dean because Kucinich was not taken seriously enough by mainstream media. In the last 10 days of the Iowa process, it's clear that many Dean supporters and leaners bought the incessant media line on Dean that he is too angry, too far left, too lacking in national security credentials to win -- and moved to candidates touted by media pundits as more centrist, more electable (especially in the South): Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.

Some Iowa Democrats, of course, changed their views based on independent scrutiny and analysis. One hopes that activists will remain firm enough to make up their own minds and stick to candidates disfavored by mainstream media; otherwise, they risk letting the punditry -- which is usually wrong -- choose their candidates for them.

It was the pundits who kept saying in the fall of 2002 that any Democratic presidential candidate who voted against the war would be committing political suicide. If Kerry had ignored this conventional wisdom and joined his colleague Ted Kennedy in courageously voting against the war, he'd have the Democratic nomination sewn up already. There'd be virtually no Dean campaign, probably no Clark campaign -- and Kerry would have been an ideal candidate to take it to Bush in the general election on Iraq deceptions and quagmire.

Warning: If we keep moving toward the candidate getting the softest mainstream media treatment, we'll end up supporting Bush.

Some of the media attacks on Dean were fueled by the negative approach of rival campaigns, including Kerry's. By the end of the Iowa campaign, Kerry was hurling insults: "When I came back from Vietnam in 1969 I don't know if John Edwards was out of diapers then." (He later apologized.)

Given that Kerry played the "I served and you didn't" card to the hilt and with apparent success in Iowa, it was inevitable that the game would be joined with a vengeance by Gen. Wesley Clark -- whose campaign is based on little more than his military status and whose credentials as a Democrat are such that even Joe Lieberman attacks him...from the left.

On the night of the Iowa caucus, Clark kept pulling rank on Kerry, telling supporters: "Nobody in this race has got the kind of background I've got. It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that. I respect that. But I've got the military experience at the top as well as at the bottom." Clark went on CNN and declared: "He's a lieutenant and I'm a general. He was a lieutenant in Vietnam. I've done all of the big leadership."

If what matters most is military background and rank, maybe certain Democrats will soon pass over both Kerry and Clark to draft Colin Powell for president: Hey, Clark was just a general --I chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff!


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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