It was a bad election for Old Media. More than in any other election in the last half-century, Old Media -- The New York Times and CBS News, joined often but not always by The Washington Post, other major newspapers, ABC News and NBC News -- was an active protagonist in this election, working hard to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush and doing what it could for John Kerry. The problem for Old Media is that it no longer has the kind of monopoly control over political news that it enjoyed a quarter-century ago. And its efforts to help John Kerry proved counterproductive.
...The left liberalism that is the political faith of practically all the personnel of Old Media is now being challenged by the various political faiths of New Media. Old Media no longer controls the agenda.
But it tries. At two crucial points in the campaign, Old Media used leaks from dubious sources to run stories intended to hurt the Bush campaign. The first was Dan Rather's Sept. 8 "60 Minutes" story on Bush's Texas Air National Guard record based on documents supplied by Texas Bush-hater Bill Burkett. CBS, admirably, posted the documents on its websites, and within 14 hours bloggers -- led by frontpage.com, powerlineblog.com and littlegreenfootballs.com -- had demonstrated that these purported 1972 documents had been produced on Microsoft Word. CBS's document experts, it turned out, had refused to authenticate them. Not until Sept. 20 did Rather acknowledge the documents were dubious. The story hurt Rather and CBS, not Bush.
Then there was the New York Times's front-page headline story Oct. 25 on supposedly missing weapons in Iraq. The story, based on leaks from International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed el-Baradei, who was trying to keep his job, turned out to be full of holes. But John Kerry decided to center his campaign for four of the five weekdays of the last full week of the campaign on the story. This, even though polls showed Bush had an advantage on handling Iraq. The Times story ended up hurting Kerry rather than helping him.
Finally, consider the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story. Kerry strategists are now saying that Kerry should have responded to the Swifties' charges sooner. But they didn't because they were confident Old Media would bury the story. Which it did, for months, from the formation of the group in April, the publication of its book "Unfit for Command" and the TV ads that started running in the summer. Old Media loved the Kerry narrative (decorated hero returns from Vietnam and opposes the war) and didn't want to disturb it by airing the Swifties' charges.
Kerry would have been better served, it turned out, by apologizing early on for his 1971 testimony that besmirched all troops in Vietnam. He could have done so in the spring when questioned by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," but decided not to. Memo to future Democratic nominees: You can no longer rely on Old Media to hush up stories that hurt your cause. Your friends in Old Media don't have a monopoly any more.