Karl Rove enjoyed prominence on the political talk shows Sunday, whether as guest or as topic. What was a discourse common to both David Gregory on Meet the Press and John McLaughlin on The McLaughlin Group was whether he was engaging in one last bit of press-related political puppetry.
Over at The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked Barack Obama about his reaction to the press’ alleged manipulations of his words.
Has the media reached a new bit of meta-realization, I wonder, or is this level of operation old hat?
Gregory questioned Rove about an interview in which he’d called Senator Hillary Clinton a flawed candidate, asserting that her negative polling was unprecedented among presidential candidates. He said what he’d been getting at was that the public seemed to have made up its mind about Clinton, as she has been in the public eye for “16 or 17 years” and “it’s hard to change opinions.”
Gregory asked Rove outright if he, and the Republican party, were attempting to set Senator Clinton up as the Democratic candidate. He thus gave Rove a platform upon which to enumerate Clinton’s flaws. Yet when he asked, “Has Barack Obama measured up to the hype surrounding him?” Rove deflected, demurring, “you’ve got an excellent panel coming on, I think, later in the program. Why don’t you ask them this question.”
Who won in this exchange, if there even was a winner? Did Rove set out to discuss Clinton’s flaws, while setting her up against Obama? Did Gregory play right into his hands? Or were his assumptions correct, that Rove actually wanted Clinton as the Democratic candidate because he believed that she could be beaten?
Meanwhile, over on McLaughlin Group, John McLaughlin asked Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift: “Does Rove’s attack on Hillary benefit her more than it hurts her?” Clift replied by calling Rove “a Svengali [for Senator Clinton] to campaign against,” adding, “. . . she’s disciplined. She’s on message. She rolls over the opposition.”
So as the media goes in circles discussing earlier media happenings, what effect does the attention have on the ultimate subjects? Is there truly no such thing as bad publicity? Does the opportunity to fight back make for a stronger candidate? Who’s really pulling the strings here?
What about Obama as puppetmaster? Stewart provided the Senator with several clippings in which his words, or his wife’s, had been twisted or taken out of context. He asked Obama if he felt that he was stuck in particular “narrative[s]”, specifically ones for which, “no matter what you do, because it’s easily categorized, the media and everyone else will just slip whatever happens into those two narratives.”
Obama replied that one of his staffers had told him to remember that, in reference to the debates, they weren’t “on the level. I think that really strikes to what people are frustrated with in politics, is that so much of what we talk about, so much of what we say, it’s not true, people know it’s not true, all the insiders understand that we’re just game playing, and in the meantime you’ve got these hugely serious problems which are true.”
Obama later was given the chance to espouse that his campaign tactics were to “break down these narratives, and get to the heart of the question.” He went on to explain what the public meant when they questioned his credentials: “When people talk about experience, what they want to know is does he have good judgment. How do we actually get stuff done, what’s common sense.”
The show had gone from a line of questioning regarding the media’s effect on a candidate, to the candidate using the media’s doubts about his background to publish his strengths.
So I ask you, in these media vs. candidate scenarios, which side, exactly, is wagging the dog?