Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shoot the Messenger

“I leave you gentlemen now and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know — just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference…” Richard Nixon spoke these words on November 7, 1962 after losing the California Governor’s race to Pat Brown. Nixon did not keep true to his word about the end of his political career, because six years later he ran for and was elected President. He did, however, continue his contempt for the media throughout his Presidency.

Nixon went as far as having his special counsel, Charles Colson, compile an “enemies’ list.” The list mainly consisted of Nixon’s political opponents and supporters of those opponents, but the list also included a number of people in the media, including Daniel Schorr, Jack Anderson, and Ed Guthman. If you were lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to make the list, Nixon used the power of the Presidency to “get back” at you with such actions as IRS audits.

The Republicans have taken a page for the Nixon playbook by demonizing the “liberal media.” They have been doing this since the time of the Nixon Presidency, and have been quite successful with their “shoot the messenger” strategy. The strategy is actually quite brilliant and has now become a major part of the Republican playbook. Whenever a negative or embarrassing story appears, Republicans cry “liberal bias” in the mainstream media, without ever having to address the truth or veracity of the story. Believe me, the “shoot the messenger” mantra is commonplace in today’s political discourse.

A perfect example appeared in local newspaper reports on John McCain’s visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania. One McCain supporter said, “I want to ask the media – when are your 30 investigators going to Chicago to start digging? You should start doing your job instead of picking on little children and pregnant teenagers. (A reference to Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.) Shame on you.” She further went on to say that the national media wasn’t covering stories on Reverend Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. Apparently she doesn’t listen to Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or Rush Limbaugh, all of whom have been beating that dead house for months now.

The “shoot the messenger” strategy has created a large class of voters who don’t want to be confused by the “facts,” because their minds are made up. These “unpersuadables,” unfortunately, now make up perhaps as much as thirty percent or more of the electorate, and give us a valuable insight into Sarah Palin’s continued popularity. All the stories from Alaska about Palin’s slash and burn path to political stardom fall on the deaf ears of the unpersuadables. It’s all chalked up to the liberal bias of the mainstream media.

Richard Nixon’s legacy will forever be Watergate, the botched “third-rate” burglary that brought down his Presidency. His accomplishments of developing diplomatic relations with Communist China, the beginning of nuclear arms negotiations with the former Soviet Union, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency will always be overshadowed by the Watergate break-in and cover-up and his subsequent resignation. But, perhaps, just perhaps, Nixon’s most significant contribution to the American political scene is firing the first shot in the war on the media and the genesis of the “shoot the messenger” strategy which the Republican party has embraced for the last thirty years.

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