Howard Kurtz recaps the Dick Durbin and Karl Rove brouhahas in today’s Media Notes, detailing the differing responses that the mainstream media gave each speech. Kurtz points out the lack of attention given by the Exempt Media to Senator Durbin’s equation of Camp X-Ray to Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, crediting the New Media for forcing the issue to the forefront of debate:
When Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin used a Nazi analogy to describe incidents of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, it wasn’t much of a story at first.
Even when White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Durbin’s remarks “reprehensible,” “NBC Nightly News” gave the matter three sentences and the other network newscasts ignored it. The NBC and ABC newscasts covered Durbin’s tearful apology last week, but the “CBS Evening News” took a pass. …
The Durbin controversy has been fueled by a chorus of outrage from conservative columnists, bloggers and radio hosts, turning widely overlooked remarks into a full-scale furor for a lawmaker who initially refused to apologize. In that sense, it is the mirror image of the Downing Street memo, the British document questioning the Bush administration’s march to war in Iraq, which drew even less media attention until liberal advocacy groups and bloggers spent six weeks berating journalists for burying the story.
For decades, the establishment media were like a walled village, largely insulated from the outside world. But technology has produced so many cracks in the wall that previously ignored stories can seep in — sometimes in a trickle, sometimes a flood — when partisans and pressure groups make enough waves.
Kurtz’ pairing of the DSM and the Durbin speech is apt, at least (and probably also at most) as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the New Media. While we only attract a fraction of the audience that the Exempt Media enjoys, our readers tend to be more participative than normal media consumers, and in many cases work within the Exempt Media itself. Right now, blogs may wield an outsized influence based on readership, but talk radio helps to amplify our message and we tend to broaden talk radio’s reach, which explains how we can affect the course of coverage. These dynamics were in play for both stories, regardless of what one thinks of either controversy.
Kurtz goes one step further to note the immediate national coverage given Karl Rove’s speech in New York to the Conservative Party:
There was no such media reticence when Karl Rove said Wednesday that liberals wanted to offer the attackers of Sept. 11 “therapy and understanding.” With Democrats castigating the White House adviser, major newspapers (including The Post) and the NBC and ABC newscasts jumped on the story.
Kurtz doesn’t make the next leap in analysis, which is too bad, since he comes so close to the right conclusion. Why would the press ignore (for several days) a speech by an elected US Senator comparing American detention facilities to Nazi concentration camps on the Senate floor, while a minor speech by a White House staffer to a state-level political action group drew immediate national attention? For a media analyst, one would think that question should not go unanswered, or even unasked, as it does by Kurtz. It would appear to most people that highlighting controversial statements by senior Democrats in leadership has a low priority for the media, while any kind of controversy involving the Bush administration gets the highest visibility possible.
In that vein, Kurtz’ choice of blogs to represent the two sides of the Rove controversy suggests that Kurtz may be a bit too close to the problem to see it. In his review of the blogosphere on this topic, Kurtz highlights Andrew Sullivan, Kevin Drum, Mahablog, Blondsense, Josh Marshall, and Peter Daou in opposition to Rove. In support of Rove — more accurately, in opposition to his critics — Kurtz cites … Captain’s Quarters.
Six against one? Was that really representative of the blogospheric response? Or do I just have really broad shoulders on this topic? Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy having my work cited by Howard Kurtz, whom I read religiously and recommend to everyone who wants to read serious media criticism. However, just as with the coverage differential between Durbin and Rove, the subtleties communicate a message that one side has substantially more import than the other. It would be better if that argument was made openly, if that’s what Kurtz intends. If not — and I’m sure that’s the case here — then Kurtz, just like the Exempt Media as a whole, needs to exercise more care in their coverage.