Sestak Affair Politics as Usual

Thursday, 03 Jun 2010 09:27 AM

By Matt Towery

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It's a painful part of my job. My Sunday mornings are spent remote-controlling my way among the "mainstream" media talk shows. Panels of Washington insiders talk it up and give America the skinny on what's really happening in the world. Except that they too often don't know — or won't say — themselves.

One amusing recent discussion thread had it that, in essence, Republicans would have fared better in the next round of congressional elections had those elections been held last November instead of this November. The thinking on this particular talk show was that the public outrage that's been fueling a shift among voters to the GOP is starting to wane.

It's a long way from now until November, I'll be the first to say. Public moods are volatile. They can shift. But they haven't so far. Just a few days after this TV discussion, Gallup released a relevant survey. It revealed the biggest one-week shift Gallup has ever recorded for public support for Republicans to control Congress instead of Democrats. Credit Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics for spotlighting this glaring fact.

I could go on about one-sided political analyses. But the worst of them recently might have been the media's hesitancy to criticize President Obama's halting response to the Gulf oil spill.

Obama himself had to declare his "ownership" of the situation before many journalists and pundits would do the same. The Sunday shows generally ran with this theme. Obama's to be judged (only) from this point forward, they said, but it's still BP's fault and responsibility.

Maybe. But I don't recall many of these same talking heads giving George W. Bush as much as a 48-hour grace period after Hurricane Katrina before calling for his head on a platter.

Save the Washington spin award, however, for the verbal contortions about Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak.

The issue is whether the Obama White House offered him a job in exchange for Sestak dropping his Democratic primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter and whether such an offer might have broken any laws.

The spin came right out of grammar school. Everybody else was doing it, too! It's just politics, you know.

That actually might be my view, too. But rest assured that had such an offer come from a surrogate of the Bush administration — as Bill Clinton was the surrogate for the Obama White House in the case of Sestak — the media indignation would have blown the doors off.

Sestak himself said emphatically at one point on television that he was indeed offered a job if he would leave Specter alone. He didn't say what job, but he hinted that it was a plum one.

Most insiders believe Clinton may or may not have offered Sestak some sort of modest appointment to a non-paying federal advisory board, as the White House claims. Regardless, they think that in his original televised comments, Sestak was referring to a prospective appointment to a full-time — and prestigious — job. That would be a clear violation of law.

Polls are panned by many, but the aggregate of multiple polling results by multiple pollsters rarely lies.

President Obama's approval rating is about 47 percent. That's not good, but it's probably better than it would be if media were as tough and skeptical with this administration as they were with previous Republican ones — or even with Bill Clinton's.

Here's the deal: The big broadcast news organizations want Washington insiders, and they want them to keep the deck stacked in favor of Democrats. Often they don't even realize their own biases.

The cable networks all play to certain audiences. Often they go overboard to flatter the ideologies of their loyal viewer bases. They simply won't accommodate pragmatic voices that decline to speak on behalf of agendas.

The vast majority of Americans don't read newspapers. They don't watch TV news and commentary shows. They just don't care.

So does it really matter what the Washington pundits say?

Yes and no. Even though most people don't tune in to their every word, the pundits still have the power to turn an offer to a candidate of a non-paying job into an "ElectionGate" scandal.

But only if they want to. After all, they're the real gatekeepers.


Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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