Bill Clinton Tells WashPost: We Expect Old Media To Fight Our Battles

John F. Harris explores the role of the "new media" in politics in a Friday front-page story related to his new book "How to Win." Bill Clinton told Harris that they expect the (liberal) old media to crush the new media, as Kerry expected the old media to defeat the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth:

Democrats of his generation tend to be naive about new media realities. There is an expectation among Democrats that establishment old media organizations are de facto allies -- and will rebut political accusations and serve as referees on new-media excesses.

"We're all that way, and I think a part of it is we grew up in the '60s and the press led us against the war and the press led us on civil rights and the press led us on Watergate," Clinton said. "Those of us of a certain age grew up with this almost unrealistic set of expectations."

But Harris suggested oddly that the Drudge Report is something that only the Republicans leak to, and that old media are somehow required to follow his leads.

During the 2004 campaign, current and former RNC staff members said, opposition research nuggets on Kerry were almost always leaked first to the Web site. Sometimes they were trivial -- such as the fact that Kerry got expensive haircuts at the Christophe salon -- other times they were controversial quotes from his days as a Vietnam War protester. All together, these and other items contributed to Kerry losing control of his public image.

Ken Mehlman, the RNC chairman and head of Bush's reelection campaign, said his operatives leaked to Drudge because it inevitably drove wider coverage, including to old media organizations: "He puts something up and they have to follow it."

Harris concluded with Dick Cheney, "who said he considers the breakdown of what he called an old media 'monopoly' as among the most favorable trends of his years in politics." But Harris went on to describe how Cheney laughed at being called "Pork Chop" on the Don Imus radio show:

"Sometimes it's pretty trashy," he said of new media's rise. "But I guess I'd put the proposition that there's more time and opportunity for policy discussions and debate than there used to be."

The next several weeks -- in which Republicans will bear the heat of an intense media-driven scandal in the Foley case -- may test Cheney's faith in that proposition.

I'm not sure you really put the Imus show in the "new media" camp, considering it's simulcast on "old media" MSNBC, and its media interviewees are almost invariably old media stalwarts -- including John F. Harris, who plugged his book there on Monday.

Update 8:53 by Matthew Sheffield. Tim's post reminded me of a conversation he and I had the other day about a similar line from a high-level Democrat recounted in veteran CBSer Lesley Stahl's 1999 memoir "Reporting Live." Here's the excerpt:

The Democratic convention in mid-August at Madison Square Garden in New York City was not the triumphant launch Jimmy Carter needed. Though he had the nomination sewn up, he had not made peace with Ted Kennedy, who was refusing to concede. Even Carter’s acceptance speech was a letdown. I reported from the podium, "What struck us up here was the lack of fire in the audience while the president was speaking. It was a good speech, but it wasn’t uplifting." Then, as Carter accepted the nomination, Kennedy went to the platform but refused to join hands and raise them with Carter in the traditional gesture of unity. The closing TV image was one of a divided party.

On the last night one of Carter’s White House officials, Ann Wexler, and I had a conversation on the floor about TV coverage. She seemed to be assuming the press was anti-Reagan. "If you think the press is going to take sides and tilt toward Carter," I said. "If you’re counting on this, you’re making a big mistake." Ann told me later that that’s exactly what she had thought, and that I had run a chill through her.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis