The media, Sarah Palin, and Howard Dean

One of the oldest canards in our national discourse is that the “mainstream” media hews to a liberal bias.   Evidence that this just isn’t true has been mounting for years.

Consider the fawning treatment of the Bush administration’s build-up to the Iraq war by reporters.  Or the constant right-of-center tilt of the influential Sunday morning talk shows.

The most convincing recent evidence that the media is far from infatuated with the American left can be found in the relative fates of Sarah Palin and Howard Dean.

The two politicians have, in some respects, fairly similar resumes.

Both were small-state governors (Alaska and Vermont are two of the least populated states in the US.)

Both emerged onto the national scene in dramatic fashion, with Dean making an insurgent bid for the presidency and Palin running as John McCain’s surprise veep pick.

Both were treated harshly at times by the media, with Palin’s accent and Dean’s purported howl becoming staples of the late-night comics.

What makes them interesting, though, isn’t their similarities but their differences.

After stepping out of the presidential race, Dean took leadership of the Democratic National Committee.

He is, beyond dispute, one of the key architects of the Democratic surges of 2006 and 2008.

He showed real savvy in organizing the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, but also worked to develop more moderate candidates in swing-districts.

His “fifty state” strategy laid the groundwork for victories in states once viewed as “too red” for a Democratic revival.

Palin, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction.  In the months since the 2008 campaign, she quit her job as governor of Alaska.

Her primary influence on politics has been a series of Tweets, including the infamous “death panels” salvo.  The candidates she has supported for public office have generally been defeated.

It would be unfair to pile on by mentioning the awkwardness of her family’s personal life (Bristol & Levi anyone?), if not for the fact that Palin’s main focus of late has been launching a reality TV show on TLC.

Which brings me back to the “lamestream” media, as Palin describes it.

For some reason, despite her lack of a credible track record, news organizations can’t get enough of Palin.  The Washington Post is running a story this morning headlined “The Power of Palin’s Touch.”

What’s interesting about the article — which describes Palin’s endorsement of a House candidate in Maryland — is that it doesn’t suggest that her backing is lifting the candidate among voters.

(A recent Pew poll found that twice as many Americans thought a Palin endorsement was a bad thing than thought it a good thing…)

No, the only evidence offered of Palin’s “touch” could be seen among reporters.

Just a few months ago, Brian Murphy’s friends would roam the halls of the Maryland State House, practically begging reporters there to go outside for news conferences by the unknown Republican candidate for governor.

Last week, a parade of those scribes lined up to see him.

What changed things was a single unexpected moment: Sarah Palin’s endorsement Wednesday of the like-minded 33-year-old business investor from Montgomery County, who is making his first bid for public office against former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the GOP primary.

“What this campaign has always needed is a megaphone,” Murphy said, “and Sarah’s endorsement gave that to us.”

It’s hard to imagine a similar event — reporters developing a sudden crush on a longshot candidate — happening after a Howard Dean endorsement.

Which is odd, given that the former Vermont governor has a far more credible track record of picking and supporting winners.

So what do you think?  Why is Sarah Palin given the spotlight and the “megaphone,” while Howard Dean is reduced to guest spots on MSNBC?

Your comments welcome below.

30 Comments on “The media, Sarah Palin, and Howard Dean”

  1. Bret4207 says:

    “Consider the fawning treatment of the Bush administration’s build-up to the Iraq war by reporters. Or the constant right-of-center tilt of the influential Sunday morning talk shows.”

    3 months of “fawning” support in the aftermath of 9/11 when the world thought Sadam was out to finish what the Taliban had started vs. 7 years, 9 months or ripping everything he did and said to pieces?

    4 hours of Sunday morning shows you find right of center vs. the remainder of the week when just the opposite is true? Sorry, I find the opinion you express debatable at the least.

    As for Dean, the guy is doing what he’s good at. But what he does is relatively dull and I’d bet the vast majority of people couldn’t place him if asked. Sarah? Just the opposite.

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  2. mervel says:

    Well I guess all publicity is good publicity in the world we live in today.

    Howard Dean is a serious person a physician a successful Governor, and now successful leader of the Democratic Party, and I say that not agreeing with 60% of what he says.

    Sarah Palin is a media freak really two steps away from the Kardashians and Lindsey Lohan, I am sure she covets a spot on the View. So the media like her we like her, we like her like we enjoy reading about how much Mel Gibson goes on insane rants or how the latest non-celebrity celebrity is doing in re-hab. I think it is not so much as sign of the media’s slant either right or left but of the lack of serious media at all and a lack of an audience for serious issues in general. Much of the media cover what sells (not all NCPR for example) and Sarah Palin sells.

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  3. Mayflower says:

    What Mervel says….yes. There is just no end to the bogus “news” that plays and plays on the cable. Every now and then one of the targeted lines plays out, eg. a bimbo is sent to rehab and goes dark for a time. But Palin just keeps on and on and on. Her genius, alas, is a real talent for sailing with every undercurrent in the American psyche.

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  4. verplanck says:


    Come back after you review the media’s runup to the Iraq War in 2003 and let us know about that ‘liberal media bias’ again. In fact, come back with major media stories in 2005 about how much Bush sucks. Because in my memory, most cable networks were pro-war through that time, at least.

    As for Dean vs. Palin? It’s a bit of a strained analogy. While both people used the web to further their message, Dean worked before the facebook and twitter era. Also, Dean was more directly involved with his party, where Palin is working outside the GOP. Not until Michael Steele came along did anyone care what a party’s national committee said.

    My take? Palin is determined to create buzz around her and make $$$. Dean was determined to get democrats elected.

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  5. Paul says:

    Brian, interesting comparison. I saw Howard Dean speak at a meeting I was at in NYC recently. He is a very articulate guy and he comes across as quite moderate. Maybe you should be comparing Palin to someone more left wing?

    One problem that Dean had was that he tries to be liberal and then falls moderate. For example someone told him that they thought that the ‘health care bill’ that had passed recently was a disaster. He just couldn’t really defend it. He was a physician, speaking to another physician and he just knew he was wrong.

    Not too surprising since he was clearly against the legislation as it was finally written and then he jumped on board at the last minute? If you want to stand out in the media you can’t be all wishy washy!

    Brian, as you know, there is a lot of indecisiveness in the democratic party. That is partly why they will fall short in November.

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  6. Brian says:

    It is fascinating. Howard Dean served 12 years as governor of Vermont. Sarah Palin quit before finishing a single term. The difference is that the crowd Dean appealed to prized seriousness, while the crowd Palin panders to mocks seriousness (the name calling is truly childish).

    Dean did one mildly stupid thing (and I’m not convinced it was really that stupid, just rather innocuous but way overhyped by the media) and his political career ended.

    Forget the truly venal (like the death panel lies), every time Palin says something even mildly stupid, it actually enhances her reputation among her followers.

    Vice-President Biden says some mildly stupid things too but at least his supporters have enough of a clue to be embarrassed by it.

    But at the end of the day, Sarah Palin’s goal right is one thing and one thing only: to make lots of money for Sarah Palin. As long as that remains her goal, let her flap her gums and whip up all the contrived self-martyrdom all she wants. The second she wants her finger on the nuclear button, then all bets are off.

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  7. Paul says:


    What you write here may be true and perhaps you are correct that money is her only motivation. I am not so sure about that.

    Yes, she may be politically inexperienced but that doesn’t mean much with the type of system we have.

    Like it or not – in today’s world “perception” is as important as substance. We better learn to deal with it.

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  8. PNElba says:

    Mainstream media has a liberal bias. Why? Because we say it does. Let’s see, the major networks are owned by corporations: CNN – Time Warner; ABC- Disney; CBS – Viacom; NBC – GE; Fox – News Corp. Corporations are required by law to make, or at least attempt to make, a profit for their stockholders. How do these corporations make a profit by providing news with a liberal bias to a supposedly center-right nation?

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  9. TurdSandwich says:

    Why is it “mainstream” media and not just “all other” media. Fox News gets more viewers than MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC combined. Do they intentionally mislead their viewers into thinking they are outside the “mainstream”? The facts don’t support that. In fact the opposite is true. Wouldn’t a channel with more like minded viewers than the others be more “mainstream”. Maybe i’m not reading the definition correctly.

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  10. The In Box August 9th, 2010
    The list below is supposed to be leaders of our country U.S.A.
    Think Brian, if you can, about my forefathers who were willing to give their very life for this country they founded, UNDER GOD (Yaweh not allah or any other god).
    Now if you have really thought it through you will see only one of them is qualified to become a leader let alone President.
    The first two qualifications are; You must read the two most important books to all Americans,
    The Holy Bible and the U.S. Constitution.
    Just for starters, Sarah Palin is the only one qualified. Try your own research (as I did) on what she has accomplished and compare it with any one of our leaders.
    No I am not a woman’s libber.
    I am a New England, Rogerine Quaker who believes God when He said “Men are the head”.
    BUT notice His Word, not mine:
    “When God looked for a man and couldn’t find one He called a woman.”
    Where are the men?

    To answer your question below; Maybe there are more of Jesus’ followers still here on earth than you can imagine. A few more than you expect are waking up. Hopefully more will follow.
    Bettina Beckford

    The In Box August 9th, 2010
    The media, Sarah Palin, and Howard Dean
    August 9th, 2010 by Brian Mann

    Sarah Palin
    Howard Dean
    Barack Obama
    John McCain
    G. W. Bush
    & a few others

    So what do you think? Why is Sarah Palin given the spotlight and the “megaphone,” while Howard Dean is reduced to guest spots on MSNBC?

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  11. Fred Goss says:

    Sarah Palin may be the “only one qualified” but I’m unsure about qualified for what??

    Let’s just say Md Beckford and I have totally differing views about our country and government.

    I don’t believe any particular sect’s definition of “God” has a place in politics.

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  12. TurdSandwich says:

    How can you argue with that logic? BO is a catholic and constitutional lawyer. I’m sure he at least read the crib notes to both books. Rogerine? What year is this?

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  13. Brian says:

    Funny… Fox News [sic] Channel was given a front row seat at White House Press Briefings because they were chosen for that by the White House Correspondents Association. Now, if the corporate media were so liberal, why would the select a right-wing ‘news’ organization for that seat rather than the ‘liberal’ NPR? The ‘liberal’ media is just one of those canards that’s repeated less because it’s a belief than because it’s an attempt to influence that media.

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  14. JDM says:

    I disagree with the premise that “more” stories means more affection.

    If anything, the typical new story about Sarah Palin is negative about her or her family.

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  15. hermit thrush says:

    not that i’ve actually done anything to look this up, but isn’t the simplest (and in my opinion most likely) reason that sarah gets so much media attention because she sells? websites need their hits. t.v. shows need their ratings. i suspect she’s a wee bigger draw that howard dean.

    i think one really important thing to keep in mind is that news is a lot more like entertainment than most people are willing to concede.

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  16. Dale Hobson says:

    I don’t think the right question is “Does the mainstream media have a liberal (or conservative) bias?” Rather, does it have a “mainstream” bias–marginalizing the stories, voices and views that don’t fit a narrow band of opinion and consensus narrative within each news organization.

    These are some of the questions I would ask:

    What is the value of asking professional political operatives to comment on partisan political subjects?”

    How do you value and use “hot tape”–brief sound bites and quotes that catch the ear, but don’t necessarily represent the facts?

    How much effort is expended on shaping current coverage to be consistent with the narrative created by previous coverage?

    How independent are reporters from management editorial viewpoints?

    How often are they using primary sources, and how often are they getting “reaction” about primary source reporting?

    These go more to the matter of whether the organization is doing good journalism, rather than where their perspective falls on an arbitrary political spectrum.

    Dale Hobson
    NCPR web manager

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  17. JDM says:

    So, to the extent that the media is “editorializing” the news, it really isn’t news, anymore, it’s the “opinion” of either the reporter, or the reporter’s employer.

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  18. Bret4207 says:

    Verplanck- that’s not what I said. The support for the wars was strong from the press because they learned their lesson and knew they’d be persona non grata with pretty much all of America if they trashed the idea of defending the homeland. What I said was that BUSH got 3 months (give or take) of support from the media compared to the rest of his term.

    Some of the rhetoric posted here is truly pathetic.

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  19. mervel says:

    But we do need to be honest about the slanting going on this is all I ask. Fox news I think is very “out” on being conservative, everyone agrees that is the bias they don’t protest that view very much and indeed they are a mainstream media outlet with a big viewership.

    CNN however is also biased on the more liberal side, they are just more subtle about it and that bugs me a little. The stories they choose to run, how they headline things, the stories they refuse to follow.

    The fact is conservative talk radio has brought some things to light that would not have been brought to light otherwise biased or not. In addition trashy media have done the same to I think the shame of the mainstream media who often times end up protecting the pol’s they like.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Brian, I have a better question for you.
    Is it possible that the “media” are not so much influenced by bias (as a whole) or is it that they are just too lazy or too over-worked and on-deadline to give us a better product when we seem perfectly content to swallow slop?

    Obviously there are a couple of outlets with an agenda. They set the talking points for the news cycle and it is easier for everyone else to just follow along rather than point out that there is other news to be talked about.

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  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oh, and thanks for bringing up Howard Dean, really one of the great but under-appreciated political figures of the last decade. For those of you who are convinced that Obama is a flaming liberal consider this:
    Howard Dean developed the methods of grass-roots internet based fundraising and then as DNC chair the 50 State Strategy that combined to make possible a winning presidential bid for Barak Obama. That and a good plug from Oprah.

    So which Cabinet post did Dean get placed in? And why was Dean locked out? Was it because he was blocked by Rahm “Mr. $14million on Wall Street while Howard Dean was painting his own house” Emmanuel?

    At least I can thank God that he wanted to have Democrats select Supreme Court Justices for at least 4 years.

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  22. Bret4207 says:

    Hey Knuck, IIRC Mr Dean is one of the Wall St/NYC Deans, as in Dean Whittier or whatever the name of the Dean investment firm is. Lets not try and make him into a quaint Vermont doctor driving a ’64 Rambler.

    Someone mentioned “mainstream media”. The term is getting outdated now since Fox has such a large market share. But what else can you call the “otherside”?

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  23. PNElba says:

    Hey Bret, Dr. Dean’s father worked for Dean Whittier, he was not one of the Wall St/NYC Dean’s (Dean is the Whittier’s first name). So Dean was brought up in a well-to-do (but not that well-to-do), Republican family. What of it?

    Peggy Noonan wrote about Dr. Dean: There is a disjunction between Dean’s ethnic background and his personal style. His background is eastern WASP–Park Avenue, the Hamptons, boarding school, Yale. But he doesn’t seem like a WASP. I know it’s not nice to deal in stereotypes, but there seems very little Thurston Howell III, or George Bush the elder for that matter, in Mr. Dean. He seems unpolished, doesn’t hide his aggression, is proudly pugnacious. He doesn’t look or act the part of the WASP.

    The Dean’s both practiced medicine in Shelburne, VT, so yes, I would say he was pretty much a quaint Vermont doctor.

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  24. Bret4207 says:

    The expose done on Dean I watched back when he was “fresh” indicated he was of the same family/background as the rest of the investment side of the family. And lets pretend Shelburne is some little hick town in the Northeast Kingdom. He’s a quaint Vermont doctor like Jimmy Carter was a simple peanut farmer.

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  25. Bret4207 says:

    Sorry, “lets NOT pretend…”

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  26. Paul says:

    I am no big fan, but who cares what his background is? He seems to have done pretty well for himself, if he was a “silver spoon” why go to medical school and serve as a doctor and then as a Governor. You guys are crazy. The man seems to have earned his keep.

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  27. mervel says:

    I don’t know I always liked him when he was gov over there I thought he was a relatively conservative Democrat who supported gun rights etc. But media exposure is not about personal competence it is about market.

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    Paul it was only an issue when the Rahm Emanuel line got brought up. I doubt Mr. Dean actually paints houses in his spare time.

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  29. Bret4207 says:

    Mervel, I don;t think it was a matter of competency. His finish was that scream, it was Al Haig saying, “I’m, in charge”, or Dukakis in the tank or Gary Hart with the bimbo on his knee. Somethings just don’t play well.

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  30. oa says:

    Bret said: “As for Dean, the guy is doing what he’s good at. But what he does is relatively dull and I’d bet the vast majority of people couldn’t place him if asked. Sarah? Just the opposite.”

    Bret, you hit it on the head. This is why America is in the state it’s in. Just doing what you’re good at isn’t worth much anymore.

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