By Chris Daly
Michelle Bachmann, a former flavor-of-the-week in the lengthy, fickle Republican primary campaign for the presidential nomination, has a gripe. Not surprisingly, she is complaining about the media.
This, of course, is a time-tested tactic for Republicans, especially when they are feeling politically desperate. Bachmann claims to have caught CBS News in a “gotcha” moment that she believes confirms her suspicions of liberal bias at CBS. Now, it may well be that there are liberals at CBS, but this episode does not prove her point. In fact, I believe it proves the opposite point.
Briefly. . . As recounted in today’s NYTimes, the guy in charge of political coverage at CBS, John Dickerson, was caught doing his job. He was trying to find an online guest for a show he was orchestrating that would follow the latest Republican debate on Saturday night. In an email to colleagues, he said he would rather “get someone else” other than Bachmann.
His reason? She was “not going to get many questions” and “she’s nearly off the charts” in the polling of voters’ preferences.
(Dickerson’s big mistake was that he included a Bachmann aide among the people in the list of addresses for that particular email, so his thinking went unfiltered to the Bachmann communication director, who then did the professional thing and tried to make hay out of it, in a Facebook blast and elsewhere.)
Back to Dickerson’s email.
If we look at what he actually said, it appears that his criteria for choosing the guests to pursue were non-political, non-partisan, and non-ideological.
Like any good producer, he wanted a “hot” guest — hot in the sense of someone who is trending, someone who is going to create or amplify buzz, someone who is going to add to CBS’s ratings. He does not want someone who was last week’s news. Simple as that.
And the facts bear him out: Bachmann did indeed get few questions in the debate and little air time, and she is dying in the latest polls. (CBS’s own latest poll had her in 6th place with just 4% support.) That is not to say that she could not surge again; if she does, Dickerson and every producer, host, and booker in politics will be chasing her. Not because they like or dislike her and not because they agree or disagree with her. It will be all about blowing on the hot coals.
In his email, Dickerson could be properly charged with telling “vicious truths.”
Was he ruthless? Yes.
Was he liberal? No.
Even the awful site Big Journalism almost got this right. In fact, the blogger
p.s. For another day: What about Bachmann’s implicit claim? Do the news media formulate common policies, then execute them in concert? (Hint: people in the news media can’t agree on whether to capitalize “president” !)