March 3, 2007

MSM Coverage Of CPAC

CQ readers have had plenty of moment-by-moment coverage of the Conservative Political Action Conference, but how has CPAC played to the national media? With the exception of the convergence of Republican presidential hopefuls, it has mostly flown under the national radar. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times mostly reported on the speeches from Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and the absence of John McCain.

The Gray Lady focuses almost entirely on the two GOP frontrunners, while using a picture of Sam Brownback:

Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York are both Republican presidential candidates who have been voted into office by largely Democratic electorates. They both have a history of taking liberal positions on social issues. And both are viewed warily by conservative Republicans who are integral to the party’s presidential nominating process.

Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, sought to address those challenges on Friday with speeches to conservative advocates gathered for an annual conference in Washington.

To a certain extent, they approached the task in similar ways: by presenting themselves as devotees of Ronald Reagan who had tamed Democratic excesses in their communities. Mr. Giuliani talked about cutting crime, welfare and taxes; Mr. Romney talked of cutting taxes and the size of government.

Yet they parted company on how they dealt with the more difficult question of their positions on social issues. Mr. Romney made no mention of his past support of abortion rights and gay rights, instead focusing on his current opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He portrayed himself as someone who stood at the barricades as his state sought to permit same-sex marriage and to remove restrictions from abortion and stem cell research.

The Post focuses more on the conservative activists attending the conference, calling them "glum" over the lack of a strong conservative presidential candidate:

Each year for more than three decades, a handful of icons of the American conservative movement have met for a friendly game of seven-card stud in a Washington hotel suite the night before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.

This week, according to several participants, the mood around the poker table could hardly have been more glum.

"Nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging," said longtime conservative fundraiser Richard A. Viguerie, paraphrasing the English essayist Samuel Johnson. "And Republicans feel an impending hanging with Hillary looming on the horizon."

The possibility of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as president was bad enough. Even worse is the absence of a Republican candidate to rally around.

The movement's leaders "are all pretty much agreed that there is no clear conservative choice," said the game's host, David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "Or even an unclear conservative choice."

The LA Times follows its Big Apple namesake, but manages to be the only national outlet that reported on the most controversial moment of the day:

The day's most controversial speaker proved to be conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who at the end of her speech — which followed Romney's — used a slur to refer to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Coulter said she had intended to comment on the former senator from North Carolina, "but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I … can't really talk about Edwards."

I'm not seeing much gloom here at CPAC, despite the mainstream media's reporting on the subject. I didn't watch the Vigurie speech, but it hasn't matched the mood here in the exhibition center. Attendees seem enthusiastic and engaged -- perhaps a little too much so. It's been almost a convention-like atmosphere with a lot of focus on the candidates and not enough on the specific issues of conservative thought, as though control of the event has slipped from the fingers of the organizers.

How so? The Romney campiagn has obviously organized a response from their youth support. We have seen a plethora of teenagers and young adults wearing Mitt Romney gear and acting as barkers in the main passageways. They have tried to harangue people into voting Mitt on the straw poll here at CPAC, and when Mitt made his appearance here, they formed a large and loud entourage, complete with organized cheers. Sam Brownback's campaign has tried to do something similar with their followers, and yesterday afternoon the two contingents ran into each other on Bloggers Row and started conducting a shout-off.

That doesn't say "glum" to me.

All three reports mention the rousing response Romney got for his speech yesterday, and I can tell you he left a lot of people impressed. He improved quite a bit from his NRI appearance in January. However, all three missed the fact that Romney and Brownback organized their followers to get that response, and Giuliani -- who got unfavorably compared to Romney on the basis of audience response -- had no such organization here at all. It seems like a bit of lazy reporting on the part of all three newspapers to not have presented that context.

There's no gloom here except from a few of the ideological purists, and some of the enthusiasm is canned. The majors missed both parts of the story.


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