Katrina: The MSM Bites Back!
James Pinkerton argues at Tech Central Station that the relentless coverage of something like Hurricane Katrina proves that the mainstream media can simply overwhelm blogs and other alternative media.
Mainstream Media RIP? Not yet. Indeed, for now, the headline should read, “Mainstream Media Rips Bush in Wake of Katrina Crisis.” And in fact, the header atop The Boston Phoenix, “Katrina Rips Bush a New One,” was far harsher. As Mark Twain might have said if he had lived, reports of the death of the MSM are greatly exaggerated. The Old Media Empire is striking back.
This is followed by several paragraphs of examples of harsh criticism of the Bush administration’s response to the crisis.
[T]he MSM is still out there, and it’s having an impact.
How much impact? Let’s look at the polls, which show that Bush’s approval rating has dropped three or four points, to between 38 and 42 percent — here’s a graphic look at the same data.
So what happened? To put it plainly, the substantial pro-Bush contingent of the New Media — that is, cable news, talk radio, and the Net — was overwhelmed. Yes, the blogosphere could take down Dan Rather, but that was a dry and slow process of threshing out real and counterfeit typewriter fonts, military phraseology, and antique zip codes. By contrast, Katrina is wetly overwhelming; even Fox News is in high dudgeon. So while a few bloggers are hacking away at the accreting conventional wisdom that Everything is Bush’s Fault, that battle is being lost.
There’s no doubt that more people are watching television than reading blogs. That’s even more true in a major crisis situation.
But Pinkerton is wrong about the impact. As noted yesterday, the polls are already reversing course. A strong majority (58%) now thinks President Bush did a good job. Even the much-maligned FEMA scores (56%).
Further, that same poll–which Pinkerton later cites as evidence that the media has not paid a price for their liberal bias–reveals that the public thinks the media covered the crisis “responsibly” but “Nevertheless, 49% of Americans say the media are spending too much time trying to figure out who is responsible for the problems in the areas affected by the hurricane, compared with 48% who say that about Democratic leaders in Congress, and 31% about congressional Republican leaders.” So, after that deluge of coverage blasting Republicans in a country that has been more or less evenly divided for several election cycles, the Republicans are the ones seen as doing the least finger pointing.
Once again, we see that the mass public can make up their own minds when they are paying attention. They are quite malleable on issues barely on their radar screen, and can be manipulated by a clever ad campaign or a slanted news story. But watching hour after hour of coverage of something, that all filters out.