The Democrats Have Been Framed by FOX

First published at in April 2008.

I find it interesting to hear Clinton complaining lately that she is being treated unfairly by the mainstream media it’s as if she’s conveniently forgotten the months and months of news stories that assumed she would be the Democratic nominee. So as Barack Obama continues to gain steadily against her in the Democratic primaries and Clinton continues to complain about media bias against her, we should seriously consider the implications of a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination.

To believe the media pundits before primary season had even begun would have been to believe that Clinton would sail to a nomination victory. In fact, months ago the fact that Florida and Michigan were going to lose official delegates seemingly didn’t bother the party leadership because most apparently didn’t think the race would be close enough for those delegates to matter. Thankfully, Democratic primary voters decided to make up their own minds and Clinton no longer seems like the taken-for-granted candidate in 2008. In a primary season where the polls and the pundits have been so wrong so often we should ask ourselves, “Why was Clinton crowned the likely nominee before a single primary vote had been cast?”

If you paid attention to the pundits almost immediately after Hillary announced her candidacy, you probably noticed that the Republican/conservative pundit drumbeat was one assuring us that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. What we witnessed was a clear case of the media (particularly Fox News, but the other major cable news networks followed their lead to a great extent) trying to create a particular reality for Democrats that would later benefit Republicans. The media did this in two ways. First, through the process of agenda setting, the media helped create a projected reality by focusing story after story or talk show debate after talk show debate on Clinton’s campaign while failing to focus stories or create talk show debates suggesting other candidates had a shot. During this time, the public got many explicit and implicit messages about Hillary being the obvious nominee for the Democrats and few, if any, assuming any other candidate might be the eventual nominee.

Second, as the media continued reporting heavily on Hillary’s campaign, discussions also framed the story for the public, which possibly impacted the public’s perceptions of the race for the Democratic nomination. Stories about Hillary were often explicitly or implicitly about her inevitability. After it was decided (perhaps unconsciously by some media heads, but certainly consciously by Fox News) that stories would focus on Hillary’s inevitability, and hence also on what Republicans would need to do to beat her in 2008, it was difficult to see a program where people weren’t talking about Hillary as the eventual nominee. Indeed, when we did see the other Democratic candidates on cable news channels they were often defending their campaigns against the suggestion that they had no chance to beat Clinton.

To recap, the cable news channels put Hillary and her campaign at the top of their list of things to discuss with regard to the 2008 election. Not only did they make her the principal story, they then also chiefly discussed Hillary in a manner that suggested she would be the eventual nominee. Audiences were therefore invited to believe that she was going to be the Democratic nominee.

But why would Fox News, the haters of all things Clintonian, begin setting this particular agenda and then framing it this way? To me, the answer is as simple as what passes for journalism and argumentation on the Fox News Channel. Of course Fox News and their ilk want Hillary to be the nominee she’s pretty much the only one that they can beat in 2008! In the battle of “Who can beat McCain,” Obama is the clear winner. Polls (including the latest Zogby poll) regularly suggest that around 50 percent of those surveyed wouldn’t vote for Hillary under any circumstances. In addition, CNN reported that in Texas a majority of those Latino/a voters under 30 who voted for Obama say that they would not vote at all in 2008 if Clinton was the nominee. These numbers, along with the fact that McCain has the ability to woo independent voters, mean that we simply cannot risk a Clinton nomination. We shouldn’t give the Republicans what they want.

Why not? Because Hillary Clinton is part of the problem. Her willingness to vote for war in Iraq was political cowardice. Her excuse that she was acting on the only information available to her was insulting to those of us who know that alternative information was only a few clicks of the mouse away. Her refusal to admit that she made a mistake is arrogant and reminiscent of our current president. Thanks, but no thanks been there, done that.

With his willingness to sign NAFTA into law and deregulate the media (allowing for even fewer people to own the majority of the world’s media), Bill Clinton was indeed, as Michael Moore has crowned him, the best Republican president we’ve ever had. Hillary would simply be more of the same a president in the pockets of big business. Add to these facts that initially Clinton argued that superdelegates should be allowed to ignore the will of the primary voters, and I seriously worry about whose interests she has at heart.

Not beating McCain in 2008 means four more years of Bush policy, 9/11 fear appeals, and according to McCain himself, perhaps even 100 more years in Iraq! Clinton will have a very tough time beating McCain and the Republicans know it. They can rally people against Hillary who would normally probably vote for the Democratic candidate but who will vote for anyone but Hillary. Is it fair? Maybe not. Is it related to ridiculously old-fashioned gender politics? Undoubtedly. Can we afford (financially, morally, and in terms of our security and civil rights) to risk another four years of Bush-like policies by giving the Republicans the Democratic candidate they want? Absolutely not.
Voters should pay attention to what stories the media deem important enough to help set the agenda. We should think about what stories aren’t being told in order to tell and tell again the stories they deem important, as well as why have they decided that some stories are more important than others. We should also pay attention to how those stories are told how are the media framing one issue or another? Are there unstated assumptions that underlie a report and therefore quietly frame an issue for us?

Even as I’m angered by the obvious attempt of Fox to create the 2008 political reality that they want, and saddened by the willingness of the rest of the mainstream media to follow their lead, the fact that the Obama campaign has overcome the obstacle of a media initially determined to crown Clinton the Democratic nominee before a single primary ballot had been counted gives me renewed faith in our country.