Opinion: Media Mangle

How to downplay an embarrassing story

N&O buries the one display of spontaneity and drama at the DNC

Mainstream journalists grouse every four years that the national political conventions are too scripted, lack drama and spontaneity, and have passed their use-by date as a result. Nothing unexpected ever happens, they say.

Until yesterday.

In a stunning bit of political theater that had all of the missing drama the media says they love, the Democratic National convention proposed an amendment to the already-approved party platform for 2012. According to the party’s rules, to pass or be defeated a 2/3 voice vote was needed.

The amendment was not trivial. It put God back into the platform, after it had inexplicably been excised. And it also added back language that specifically stated that the party considered Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

The amendment was proposed by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland after the party had taken a beating for several days when it was reported, mainly by conservative media, that God and Jerusalem had been airbrushed from the platform. The party’s defensiveness was on display a day earlier when Fox News’ Bret Baier asked Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin why these changes were made.

What happened on the floor is just the kind of theater and dustup that the media proclaims to love. Democratic National Committee chairman Antonio Villaraigosa presented the amendment and then called for the ayes and nays. Twice it sounded like close to a tie, so not nearly the 2/3 needed. On the third try it was the same thing, but Villaraigosa nonetheless declared that the ayes had won. It was clear that the fix was in.

At that point those who didn’t want the changes began booing loudly, resulting in a Drudge headline “THEY BOOED PUTTING GOD BACK!”

Paul Begala called it an unforced error for his party. Conseratives jumped all over it, of course. Twitter exploded over the matter. You can’t get much more drama and spontaneity than that.

So, how did the media cover it? The News & Observer of Raleigh is a good example of how the media, always claiming to want drama and the unexpected, covered this explosive story. It confirms that what they really mean is they like it when things go haywire for Republicans. When it happens to Democrats, they do what the N&O did, bury a watered-down blurb on page 10A inset into their main convention story like an afterthought:

Note several things about this story. First, God is not mentioned in the headline. Second, note that it downplays the God angle and centers on the Jerusalem angle. Third, note that it says categorically and as a fact that the changes were made after the “personal intervention of President Barack Obama.” Many have noted that this is strange since Obama has never considered Jerusalem the capital of Israel and just a few days ago had his spokesman Jay Carney look foolish trying to dance around that very question.

And, finally, notice there is not one reference to the three votes, the parliamentary skullduggery by Villaraigosa, nor to the booing after he declared the measure passed:

This is how the mainstream media de-emphasizes a story that is damaging to the Democratic Party. The News & Observer certainly knows how to do that. As does ABC News.

[UPDATE at 1:48 p.m., Sept. 6: Politico has reported that Obama signed off on the language dropping God and Jerusalem from the platform document. But John Nolte of Breitbart.com notes that Politico has since deleted that sentence from its website.]

[UPDATE at 2:25 p.m., Sept. 6: The Washington Examiner points out that The News & Observer wasn’t the only newspaper to try to hide the Democratic National Convention kerfuffle over God and Jerusalem.]

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