In the past few weeks, many liberal bloggers have grown increasingly annoyed with the media’s alleged failure to clarify for the voters of Iowa that Joni Ernst is, as one of the bloggers put it, a “right-wing loon,” and have speculated that this negligence may help Ernst win a U.S. Senate seat. Several of them weighed in over the past couple of days.
On Sunday, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones looked at why the media have minimized Ernst’s extremism and thereby shirked their obligation to “tell the truth” (emphasis added):
For some reason, conservatives get a pass for holding wacky views unless they do it in a particularly boorish way (see Akin, Todd). When they chatter about, say, the Agenda 21 plot to take over our neighborhoods, it's taken as little more than a routine show of tribal affiliation, not a genuine belief in nutball conspiracy theories.
More generally, campaign reporters simply don't care about policy...
The flip side of this is that campaign reporters are smitten with campaign strategy. Far from being disgusted by candidates who successfully hide their real views, they consider it a sign of savvy…
And so we end up with puff pieces about Ernst's folksiness and repeated coverage of Bruce Braley's chicken battles. Agenda 21, personhood, privatizing Social Security, and other far-right hot buttons get buried by the simple expedient of Ernst refusing to talk to reporters about them and then being rewarded for it by reporters who admire her "control" of the press.
Obviously Ernst isn't my cup of tea, but if the citizens of Iowa want to send a right-wing loon to the Senate—well, it's their state. As long as they do it with their eyes open, they should go right ahead. But if they send a far-right loon to the Senate because they mistakenly think she's actually a cheerful, pragmatic centrist, that's not so OK. And if the press is helping her put over this charade, the press ought to take a good, long look in the mirror. They don't need to take sides, but they do need to tell the truth.
On Monday, the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore complained that “the more it became apparent that behind the ‘toothy grin’ and the anodyne general election message Ernst was another Sharron Angle, the more fiercely the MSM stuck to its Joni-the-mother-farmer-soldier descriptions…The MSM, which can’t be bothered to take extremism seriously unless (a) it hits them right in the face, or (b) it’s overtly wrapped in religion, will be surprised all over again the next time conservatives exhibit their true colors.”
Also on Monday, the American Prospect’s Paul Waldman remarked that Ernst benefited from media boredom with the crazy-Republicans narrative:
Ernst has managed to skate away from accountability for her more disturbing ideas, like…her statement that she might have to start shooting government officials if they trample her rights…
…So why hasn't she, like Todd Akin and Sharron Angle before her, gotten all kinds of negative attention for her comments that ultimately drove her to defeat?
…I think the biggest reason is that the media just haven't reported on it very much…
Perhaps it's because reporters are just tired of writing the "Republican candidate says extreme things" story. But I think it's also that the Braley "gaffes," whether it's implying that farmers are not necessarily the font of wisdom in all things, or being upset when his neighbor's chickens crap on his lawn, are personal in a way Ernst's statements aren't. They supposedly imply that Braley might be a bit of a jerk, whereas you can be friendly and nice and also believe the UN is coming to kick you off your land.”
The Drum and Kilgore posts piggybacked on Norm Ornstein’s Saturday Atlantic piece on why the media have largely skirted Ernst’s and Tom Cotton’s hard-right positions. Ornstein wrote, “The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns…The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle...What it suggests is how deeply the eagerness to pick a narrative and stick with it, and to resist stories that contradict the narrative, is embedded in the culture of campaign journalism.”