Opinion: Media Mangle

For MSM, There Are No More Gates to Keep

Mainstream media becoming vestigial organ on the body politic

What was it that made Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin go to the well of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening and beg for forgiveness? Fear was in his eyes along with tears as he professed to love and cherish the very American servicemen that he slandered on June 14 at that very same podium.

It certainly wasn’t because most of the Republican leadership had demanded he apologize for likening the American servicemen and women at Guantanamo Bay to guards in Hitler’s death camps, Stalin’s gulags and Pol Pot’s killing fields. Durbin and the rest of the Senate Democratic leadership simply scoffed at the GOP concerns.

It wasn’t because his fellow Democratic senators urged him to do a mea culpa. They were shamefully silent on the issue. And it wasn’t, as some commentators are saying, because Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley criticized him on Tuesday, becoming the first Democrat to do so.

And it most certainly wasn’t because the American mainstream media held his feet to the fire, because they did nothing. The same can’t be said of the Arabic cable network Al Jazeera. Its airwaves and website featured Durbin’s comments prominently, giving real meaning to the words “aid and comfort.”

No major television network news show reported his initial remarks. No national newspaper saw them as newsworthy. So, where did this outrage come from, given that the media ignored his remarks? How did millions of Americans come to know Durbin as “Turban Durbin” if the mainstream media looked the other way? You’re looking at it right now: the Internet.

Durbin was quaking and begging in the Senate Tuesday because of the tsunami of outrage from everyday people. Many of those, presumably, were his constituents. No senator does what he did yesterday without great pressure. He must have seen his political career teetering on the abyss. He was in danger of being remembered as the Democrat who thought American servicemen and women were monsters equal to Hitler’s SS or Stalin’s NKVD. He may still be so remembered, for even with the tears and the choking sobs he never actually took back what he said.

The Durbin affair is yet another example of how the times they are a-changin’ for the mainstream media. Dan Rather and the Swift Vets are others that come to mind. The MSM are no longer gatekeepers or agenda setters. Their attempts to blackout a story that doesn’t fit their template or rise to their level of interest no longer work. Increasingly, the American public is learning that it can go around the ossified hulk of the MSM to get to lively, often better informed, news and commentary.

While the mainstream media saw nothing of note in Durbin’s remarks, “normal” people were appalled at what he said, understanding that he had undercut the war effort, hurt morale in the military and given the enemy propaganda fodder. The outrage in flyover country wasn’t matched among the increasingly out of touch Democratic Party and the mainstream media (is there a difference?).

As it became evident that Durbin’s comments were percolating wildly in the hinterlands despite the media blackout, the media employed the same tactic it used with the Swift vets. They ignored the story until they could run stories defending Durbin and attacking his critics, including quotes, of course, from those blaming the vast right-wing conspiracy for the flap. Even on Tuesday, following Durbin’s cry session, Sen. Barack Obama blamed the whole thing on right-wing blogs.

The arrogant brush-off Durbin’s Senate staffers were giving callers last week (my wife was one of them, so I know how abominably many callers were treated) was the initial response. But as the calls multiplied, as they must have done to make Durbin shake and beg on Tuesday, it finally dawned on Durbin that he’d stepped in it for real.

Small “d” democrats should be happy with this outcome. An arrogant senator, who had every expectation that his allies in the media could protect him from his own words, heard the genuine voice of the people via blogs, internet news sites and Fox News Channel. The mainstream media are fast becoming a vestigial organ of the body politic.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.