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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

In politics, as in life, you can usually identify losers by their tendency to blame the messenger.

To hear the historic revisionism coming from some conservatives since the election, you would think Sen. John McCain and his sidekick, Princess Bonehead, were well on their way to a soaring victory when their wings were clipped by the big bad liberal media. Nevermind the feckless campaign, the capricious response to economic turmoil and the toxic connection to President George W. Bush; McCain lost because the media prefers communists to war heroes. Typically, this alternate reality is constructed by people who know as little about journalistic objectivity as I do.

It's an exercise in fancy that was painstakingly crafted by McCain's campaign, which regularly scorned reputable news organizations as "in the tank" for President-elect Barack Obama and routinely summoned the image of latte-sipping, East Coast journalist "elites" who speak French and hate real Americans.

The McCain campaign's damsel-in-distress routine, this martyrdom complex about the supposed left-wing media, laid the framework for a post-election narrative in which the broken spine is blamed on the X-ray machine.

In this convenient fiction, any negative coverage of the Republican ticket was further evidence of some inherent leftist bent among the press corps, a shameless bias that made fair coverage impossible. Any negative coverage of the Democratic ticket, on the other hand, was an insufficient and insincere gesture, a laughable attempt at balanced reporting from journalists who knew perfectly well how shamelessly biased they were.

Any inconvenient evidence to the contrary is explained away. The almost compulsive press coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright this past April? A rare example of the media doing its job. No slant or sensationalism there. But those audacious questions about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's credentials? Well shucks, that's just those elite journalists talking down to ordinary folks, trying to take Middle America down a peg or two.

It requires a peculiar kind of logic to accept this distinction between liberal media and legitimate media, but if you lost in such spectacular fashion by your own device, wouldn't you want an opportunity to rewrite reality? When issues, history and public opinion stand in your way, you make lemonade with the lemons you have. Fiction is often more soothing than fact.

It's still fiction, though. In the end, these shell-shocked conservatives are free to reconstruct reality however they would like. Here's the reality I saw last Tuesday: A freshman senator from Illinois, dogged by rumors of extremism, assailed as the most liberal member of the Senate, mocked as unelectable by former (and defeated) rivals and elected president with almost 53 percent of the vote, winning the biggest popular majority of any Democrat since 1964. No amount of cognitive manipulation can change this.

Perhaps Stephen Colbert was right when he declared, "Reality has a liberal bias." How else do we explain what happened on Nov. 4? American voters heard the endless denunciations of the liberal media, the righteous indignation about unfair coverage, the wild accusations of radicalism and every other attempt at shifting the discussion away from the unprecedented train wreck of the last eight years. We just didn't care. McCain lost because America disagreed with his agenda, not because the press disagreed with his candidacy.

Sometimes you don't need a butcher to tell you the meat is rotten.

Jake Miller is a political science and anthropology senior. His column appears on Fridays.

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