We’ll Always Have Dan Rather
Conservatives gather in D.C. to mock the media and panic about Romney.
A banner introduces one of the awards at the Media Research Center's gala dinner on Thursday in Washington, DC.
Photo by David Weigel.
On to the awards. Every year, in Los Angles, the Razzies parody the Academy Awards by giving worst-of prizes to actors and movies and screenwriters. The DisHonor Awards ceremony doesn’t actually satirize real journalism prizes. It’s a clip show, formatted like an Oscars night, with special guests opening red envelopes and giving “The Obamagasm Award” or the “Damn Those Conservatives to Hell Award” to some MSM chucklehead.
The focus on videos means that the MRC is mocking the demand side of news, not the supply side. The clips don’t often capture reporters spreading actual misinformation, or breaking the wrong news. They’re asking leading questions. They’re quoting devil’s advocate groups. NBC’s Ann Curry, briefly the co-host of the Today show, wins the “Damn Those Conservatives” prize because she asked Paul Ryan to respond to numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities about his proposed budget cuts.
“Listen as she rattles off a series of talking points from an official-sounding group,” says National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who is editing an MRC script as he goes along. “Unfortunately it isn’t. It’s just another far-left, pro-Obama outfit.”
The screen displays the MRC’s logo, which transforms into video—literally, the metallic voodoo sound from Transformers blasts through the PA. Curry reads the CBPP’s numbers to Ryan. “This says that 8 to 10 million people would be kicked off of food stamps,” says Curry. “Where is the empathy in this budget? Do you acknowledge that poor people will suffer in this budget? That you’ve shown a lack of empathy to the poor?”
The audience groans. “Paul Ryan deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for not beating her about the head and neck with a frozen flounder,” says Goldberg.
The presentation is long—two and a half hours of videos and speeches. It’s been extended by the MRC’s added video tributes of TV news bias “through the years.” Watching it, I agree with the Perkinses and Kincaids—conservative media isn’t having the leveling effect that it used to. We see many minutes of Dan Rather going on air with his 2004 story about George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, then retracting the story because the key document was forged, then, years later, refusing to apologize.
New conservative media—talk radio, blogs, message boards, Drudge—claimed his scalp. One of the key blogs, Powerline, was profiled by Time magazine. “Rathergate” changed the audience’s relationship with the media. The problem came when the left figured that out. The MRC inspired a left-wing, bizarro twin: Media Matters. If ThinkProgress or Talking Points Memo has a hit, it winds up on MSNBC or The Daily Show, and gets into the conversation.
All of this can dampen a night of ha-ha-media japery. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus accepts an award on behalf of Chris Matthews, then—in the sort of language you don’t always hear at a 501(c)3’s gala—assures the audience “we’re going to fire Barack Obama and end this European nightmare.” Laura Ingraham, one of the celebrity presenters, reveals a “remember when that thing happened?” approach to comedy, and reminds the crowd of Barack Obama’s tribute to Al Green.
“Ahhhm sooo in love with yoouu,” Ingraham sings. “Wasn’t that—I mean, come on! Can you imagine Mitt Romney doing that?” She sings the same lines, in a soulless voice. The laughter’s not there. “I know this is the MRC, but we take on both sides.”
Do we have to? The dinner ends, and we move over to the second bar. Romney’s campaign is still the only conversation starter, the black hole into which all other gossip is pulled. One Republican media strategist tells me that Romney has failed to go large on tax policy. A Newsbuster tells me that Romney should use more charts. We can make fun of the media, but we can’t seem to break through them. Whose fault is it?
At midnight, the lights go up and the party moves to a nearby hotel. Friends of the MRC get red wristbands, open bar access, and access to trays of bar food. Before I leave, I talk to the Republican mega-donor Foster Friess, one of the evening’s “diamond” sponsors. (The other was “Anonymous.”) “I’m going to hang out and raise a little hell!” he jokes. He ends up sitting with a reporter for the Daily Caller, the news site that Friess helped found with some 2010 seed capital. The parodies are done for the year. The battle to replace the liberal MSM never ends.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.