Many have made the observation that the greatest power the media has is its power to decide not to report something.
News stories, in my view, fall on a scale from blockbuster to fluff. If you have to cut, for space or time purposes, you cut from the fluff end of the scale and move up sequentially before you start cutting from the blockbuster end.
At least that’s what I always was taught by my editor mentors.
I’ve seen big stories ignored for political reasons by the national media many times over the years, but the two most egregious examples have to be the Swift Boat story of 2004 and the Jonathan Gruber story of 2014.
I remember, because I kept track, that it took 17 days after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran their first ad against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for any major mainstream media outlet to mention the story. And then, of course, the story was not that a bunch of guys who served with Kerry thought him “unfit for duty.” Instead, the story was an attempt to refute the charges from the Swift Boat guys, charges that the media had never acknowledged until then.
Something similar happened just a few weeks ago. Jonathan Gruber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the guiding forces behind Obamacare, was found to have made some politically explosive statements about Obama’s signature legislation. They were documented, inconveniently for Democrats facing midterm election, on videos which had not been circulated widely in the two, three, or four years since they were made.
They were discovered by a stay-at-home day trader who had combed through videos of any lengthy and boring conference at which Gruber had been a speaker. He had emailed or sent messages through Twitter or Facebook to many mainstream news outlets, but no one was interested.
Not even Fox News responded to his messages. Finally, a conservative activist began posting links to the Gruber videos, and they soon grabbed the attention of conservative bloggers nationwide. Soon, Fox News got on the story.
But it took nearly a week for any other mainstream news outlet to acknowledge the story, and, as with the Swift Boat story, it was to rebut, refute, and defend Obamacare and the administration. Democrats who had several years earlier held Gruber up as the savior of American health care suddenly were saying, “Gruber who?”
One thing I suppose we can feel good about is that, with all the alternative media out there, the mainstream media couldn’t wait 17 days to report the story, as it did in 2004. I guess that’s progress.
Jon Ham (@rivlax) is a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.