Model Three: I thought Model Two would be a workable model for years, until either the MSM itself went totally online or until almost all voters stopped paying attention to it. I was wrong! The Edwards scandal did Model Two in. For months, the MSM failed to report the increasingly plausible rumors of John Edwards' extramarital affair even as it became the widespread topic of conversation in blogs, in the National Enquirer, and among political types. The disconnect turned out to be painfully embarrassing for the MSM, especially when the rumors were finally "verified" with Edwards' confession. A lot of what we are seeing now is the MSM not wanting to go through another Edwards experience.
Why can't the MSM bear to fulfill its Model Two role? a) No press person likes to not be the center of attention. You want to talk about what people want to talk about. That's how you make money, for one thing. And maintaining a disciplined silence on a rampant undernews rumor--even an unverified one--made too many reporters feel as if they worked for Pravda; b) Suppressing an undernews scandal about a Democrat subjected the MSM to charges of pro-liberal political bias (to which respectable organizations are particularly sensitive, because they are largely true); and c) even much of the left was disgusted by the MSM's behavior regarding the Edwards rumor.
We are now, I think, making the next logical leap, to a model in which unverified rumors about public figures are discussed and assessed not just in the blogosphere or the unrespectable tabs but in the MSM itself. I say welcome! With NYT reporters and bloggers all openly discussing unverified reports,, whatever is true will become un-unverified that muhch faster. And the public is proving, by and large, to be quite capable of distinguishing between stories that are true and rumors that are still being investigated.
We're not quite there yet--the unverified rumors that Palin had faked her pregnancy were printed in the MSM, but the McCain campaign itself gave the MSM implicit permission by saying it was releasing the news of Gov. Palin's daughters real pregnancy in order to scotch the fake pregnancy speculations of bloggers. And Schmidt's tormenters were still only checking out rumors, not printing them. But the avalanche of questions to which Schmidt is being subjected--and his discomfort--suggests that the MSM is in the process of shifting to a new role, in which it aggressively investigates and discusses rumors rather than waiting for the industrious blogosphere to force its hand.
They waited with Edwards. They don't want to go through that again. It helps, of course, that this week's rumors involve a Republican.
Once reporters start peppering campaigns with questions, after all, I suspect it will be impossible to keep a lid on whatever rumors the MSM is peppering the campaigns about. That's particularly true in a "synergistic" world where a reporter like Howard Fineman not only writes for Newsweek but also appears on cable shows that have an imperative to discuss whatever is hot now. It's particularly true in a Drudgian world where the activities of MSM reporters-what they're working on, what questions they're asking--is itself news for the Web. In that world, the line between "checking out" tips and open discussion of at least the non-actionable rumors can't really be maintained and shouldn't be, given the truth-divining virtues of widespread publicity (which functions as an APB to the citizenry to come up with evidence).
It's tempting to assume Steve Schmidt's cries are cynical, reflecting a desire to gin up a war between his candidate and the intrusive, condescending elite media--a war in which voters will side with his candidate. Why doesn't he just do his job, under Model 2, and answer the MSM's questions? But it's also likely Schmidt's anguish is at least in part authentic shock at the looming inability of even Model 2 to keep a lid on unrestrained speculation. When even MSM reporters start behaving like bloggers--when candidates' can't squelch discussion of their rumored sins, but have to wade into a non-stop public debate about them--the job of a campaign strategist will get a whole lot harder. ...
Shrum /McCain '08: Is Bob Shrum working for McCain too? I just went back and watched the video of the McCain/Palin rollout in Dayton, Ohio. I hadn't realized that McCain's introductory remarks were boilerplate Shrumian populism. McCain says he wants the government
to understand what you're going through, to stand on your side and fight for you. That's why I'm running for President, to fight for you to make government stand on your side and not in your way. [E.A.]