The Problem with Bachmann

Perhaps she has a good reason to be mad at CBS; perhaps she even sees this reason as a good reason to be mad at all media outlets. But in her campaign’s tirade against the same people who allowed her free air time (albeit very little), Michele Bachmann has demonstrated a propensity for overreaction and recklessness.

It all started when CBS News political analyst John Dickerson inadvertently clicked “Reply All,” to an email in which Bachmann’s campaign spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, was an original recipient. Dickerson, responding to a request from a colleague for a post-debate interview with Bachmann replied to “keep it loose,” since Bachmann was not expected to “receive many questions,” and whose poll numbers are dropping “nearly off the charts.” Dickerson wanted to remain open to an interview with a more high profile candidate.

This is Bachmann’s smoking gun of media bias? Well, let’s just say that Dickerson’s email does indicate, at the very worst, CBS’s bias against Bachmann. So what? What did she expect? With her poll numbers struggling to stay aloft at a paltry 4%, can she really blame a private corporation for its wanting to increase profits by holding out for a more ratings-friendly candidate?

Her latest claim is that the media wants to pick the candidates, not the voters <gasp>! Of course they do; they are interested voters, too. I suppose she clings to the romantic idea – for it’s definitely not the classical one – that a media outlet, much less an individual journalist, is actually capable of objectivity and an unbiased approach to politics, and therefore should be completely neutral on every subject and toward every candidate.

But what’s worse is her following statement, that a media outlet’s veiled preference for a candidate is “the same as the government choosing winners and losers. It shouldn’t.”

Excuse me? It is? Did we elect Leslie Moonves (the CEO of CBS)? Did we elect their reporters? Do our taxes pay their salaries? Are they in any way charged by a mutual or social contract with protecting any of our individual or corporate rights as citizens?

Her premise is flawed, that a reporter or media outlet is actually capable of choosing winners and losers in an election. Is the media important? Sure. Does favorable media coverage help a candidate? Absolutely. But it doesn’t determine the outcome, as Reagan and GWB have both demonstrated. No, Michele, the primaries are still weeks and months away, and more voters will make their determination to vote on how you have reacted to an instance of unfavorability. Will they want a president who reacts to harsh reality by lashing out at the messenger? Or would they rather have a president who can turn adversity into opportunity? The voters, not John Dickerson, are the ones who ultimately cast the ballot.

Beyond her premise, however, there is something sinister in her language that smacks of totalitarianism. A politician telling a corporation how it should treat politics is absolutely dangerous. It is dangerous to the liberty of the citizenry, and it is equally dangerous to a politician. Does she really think that ABC, NBC, CNN, or even Fox News is going to treat her better now that she has essentially stated she knows best how to operate their companies? (We used to call this the Fairness Doctrine, which I am sure she is vehemently against.) If she is willing to dictate rules to one industry simply because she thought it was “unfair,” what is stopping her from doing that to another? (U.S. Senate candidates in Virginia, take note.)

“But the media is different from other private corporations!” some might say. No it’s not. It’s made up of people, just like everything else. It’s only different if you accept that perfect and perpetual objectivity is attainable. The minute we start telling private citizens how much they must pay attention to a candidate, and how much they must charge, pay, or ultimately earn for air-time of those candidates, we might as well tell other people they are required to purchase health insurance. Do we really want another president who advocates limiting speech, and an executive who desires to determine for an ovine society what is “fair?”

Julius Caesar was subject to harsher verbal attacks than Michelle Bachmann, who is at worst only a victim of the crime of indifference. No, the Dictator Perpetuo was elevated to his post through popular acclaim despite constant vulgar and heinous slanders and libels, the least of which would be grounds for a defamation suit in today’s society. But one thing was different. People then were not as prone to operate under the false assumption that everything a media outlet says must be devoid of editorializing. They were healthy skeptics. Rather than worry about and try to regulate the inevitable subjectivity of our modern media, we as voters and politicians would do better to allow everyone to speak their piece freely and openly, and worry more about how to properly react to those statements.

If any candidate has reason to complain about media coverage, it is Ron Paul, who consistently outperforms Bachmann in public polling and whose numbers have been far less volatile. But despite his virtual silence on that matter, his supporters have become among the most vocal and energetic advocates of any in the Republican field.

No, I am not comparing Ron Paul to Julius Caesar (or Michele Bachmann to Pompey). But he has at least in his gentlemanly silence and consistency demonstrated that his ideas of the freedom of expression are not mere applause lines, later to be contradicted by absurd mandates on private companies from a federal office. I still don’t know whom I will vote for, but I do know of one person who will not receive that vote.