Cole Campbell in Press Think

I’m with Cole Campbell at a Kettering Foundation event in Ohio. Cole is the former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a consistently interesting thinker about the media. It so happens that he is also the current “guest blogger” on PressThink. I strongly recommend his piece, which is about the way that the press has created the Democratic primary story line so far. Howard Dean is now the almost-dead-former-front-runner. His “goose is cooked,” according to the latest punditry. But why was Dean the front-runner–indeed, the presumptive nominee–and why is he now on the ropes? All that voters have done is to participate in the overlooked Washington primary and the Iowa caucuses (where just 61,000 people participated). The rest of the epic of dramatic rises and collapses is all a media construction. Cole is able to call the press on this because they were wrong; Dean lost when they predicted that he would win. In the typical case, they are equally or more influential, but their predictions come true, so hardly anyone complains.

Cole adds that reporters refused to take any blame for their mistaken predictions, instead treating Dean as responsible for failing to live up to their expectations of him. Cole concludes:

Conventional wisdom was turned on its head tonight,’ NBC’s Tim Russert said during Monday night?s broadcast coverage of the Iowa caucus. Russert never owned up to who the keepers of conventional wisdom are– he and his colleagues. The press tells itself that it is not implicated in the politics it molds and shapes. It presents itself as a campaign innocent. But everyone involved knows better.

It occurs to me that Dean’s infamous scream during his “concession speech” gave the press some cover. They should have been saying: “We’re sorry that we called the election wrong.” Instead, they were able to say: “Dean’s really a loser. Who knew?”